On the organization of churches, and the administration of the Supper

Chapter X.

On the organization of churches, and the administration of the Supper.

I. The form we have presented in another chapter as the Constitution of a religious society, might also, in the main, be adopted as the Constitution of a Christian church; but as it is necessary in the most of cases, in Massachusetts, to establish a church in distinction from the society, and will be so as long as the present state of societies shall continue, we have judged it best to prepare a Constitution for a Christian church, which we commend to the attention of all our fellow believers throughout the land. In some cases, especially in Boston, it is impossible to guard the society against the admission of members, whatever their religious opinions may be. For what is a religious society in Boston? It is the proprietors of the meeting-house, the owners of the pews therein. These pews may be transferred from one to another, at the will of the owners; and the purchaser has the full and legal right to attend all the proprietors’ meetings, and vote in all concerns of the corporation, whether he be Christian, Jew, Mahometan, or heathen. The whole business is in the hands of the proprietors of pews, and we suppose, of right, ought to be, not excepting the selection and settlement of the pastor. Such a corporation may continually change. At one time a majority of the proprietors may be of a [338] certain faith, at another time, they may be of a faith the very reverse of this. Men very frequently purchase pews without any reference to religious considerations; they may do it for pecuniary profit; they may be obliged to take them in security of a debt; the pews may descend to them legally on the death of the owner. Under this state of things, it is not certain, that a body of proprietors will remain professors of the Christian religion. There is no security for this. They have no power to prevent any man from becoming one of their number, whatever his opinions, or whatever his motives may be, if he can obtain the possession of a pew. The state of things exists not only in Boston, but in various other parts of the Commonwealth; and the same remarks will apply, where the ownership of the meeting-house is lodged, not in the hands of pew-owners, but in the hands of the builders, or in any other way.

II. To preserve, therefore, the Christian institution pure, it is necessary to have connected with each society a body of Christian believers, who shall have the power to admit or exclude members, according as they shall judge their duty, and the directions of the New Testament require. Such an institution we call a Christian church, — a body, or assembly of Christian believers. The New Testament certainly calls on Christians to make a profession of their faith. What is the meaning of that forcible expression, that the followers of Christ shall have the Father’s name written in their foreheads, except, that they are to make the most open and undisguised profession of their faith? “And I looked, and lo, a Lamb stood on the Mount Sion, and with him a hundred and forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads.” “These were redeemed from among men, being the first fruits unto God and the Lamb.” Rev. xiv. 1, 4. The forehead is the most conspicuous part of the human form; and when it is said, that Christians had the Father’s name written in their foreheads, it means that [339] they were not ashamed of God and his cause, — they made the most public profession of their faith in Him, — wherever they went they bore about with them the fullest evidence of their attachment. This it was their duty to do; and this duty is repeatedly enjoined in the New Testament. Hear the language of the Saviour. “Whosoever, therefore, shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father, with the holy angels.” Mark viii. 38. The early Christians were required to hold fast the profession of their faith, Heb. x. 23; and Paul commends Timothy for having professed a good profession before many witnesses,” 1 Tim. vi. 12. The early disciples professed their Master in the midst of the greatest trials and persecutions. They knew, that if they named the name of Christ, it was at the peril of their lives. The history of their trials is enough, one would think, to draw tears from eyes that never wept before. Paul says, they “had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover, of bonds and imprisonment; they were stoned; they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword; they wandered about in sheep skins and goat skins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” Heb. xi. 36-38. Such is the melancholy picture of their sufferings. But in the midst of these dangers and trials, they “held fast the profession of their faith.” Shall we, then in this age, — who have no persecutions to endure, — we who live in a land in which we are protected by the laws, in following the dictates of our consciences, — we who find it an honor rather than shame, to profess our trust in our Master, — shall we hesitate to make a profession of our faith? Why are we indifferent? Is not Christ as precious to us, as he was to his early disciples? Did he not die for us as well as for them? Is he not the propitiation for our sins? Why, then, we ask again, are we indifferent. It [340] is the duty, the solemn duty, of every believer in the Son of God, to profess his Master before men, as did the early disciples.

III. But what do we mean by a profession of religion? it may be asked. The answer is at hand. We mean an open avowal of your faith in Christ; — we mean, that you should take rank among the followers of Jesus, — that you should take upon yourself the distinctness of a Christian, — that you should join publically and formally the Christian church, — and observe the institutions which Jesus recommended to his followers. Such we regard to be a profession of religion, and such is the duty of every person who believes in Christ, will appear still more evident, if we consider what the consequences would be, if this duty were totally neglected by every one. What would become of the cause of religion? It would sink and come to nought. The Lord’s Supper would go into disuse. There would be no line of distinction between the believers in Jesus and the world; and soon, we fear, the cause of Christ would die, and be forgotten. The church must be preserved; and we have the promise, that it shall stand, and that the gates of hades shall not prevail against it. It is the duty of every believer in Christ to come forward and make a public profession of faith, and unite himself with the visible church of Christ upon the earth. Do not attempt to excuse yourself by saying, that if you do not make a profesion of faith, others will, and, therefore, the visible church will be preserved. It is no more the duty of others, than it is your duty; and if there were any reason by which you might be excused, the same reason would excuse them.

IV. Constitution of a Church

Preamble. We, whose names are affixed to this instrument, believing it is our duty to make a public profession of our religious faith; and feeling sensible [341] that our happiness, and our growth in virtue and grace, depend, in a great degree, under God, upon our obedience to the divine requisitions, and upon an observance of the institutions of Christ, do hereby unite ourselves into a church, that we may watch over each other in love, and enjoy all the advantages of the visible church of God on the earth: and we adopt the following Profession of Faith and Form of Church Government.

Profession of Faith.

1st. We believe in the existance of one God, the Creator of the Universe, the Giver of life and every blessing, who is infinite in wisdom, power, and goodness, and in every possible perfection.

2d. We believe in Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God, the promised Messiah, and the Saviour of the world.

3d. We believe in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as being a revelation from God, as containing the rules for the regulation of our conduct in all the relations and circumstances of life, — as declaring the character and government of God, the rewards of virtue, the punishments of vice; and in also revealing the great truth of the final reconciliation of all things to God, so that He at last shall be All in All. 1 Cor. xv. 28.

4th. We believe it is to be the duty of Christians to meet together on the first day of the week, for public worship; to seek their advancement in knowledge and virue, by reading the Scriptures, and attending to the means of grace; to abstain from vice of every decription, and to imitate, as far as possible, the perfection of God, and the examples of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Form of Church Government.

Article 1. The church shall hold an annual meeting, for the purpose of choosing its officers, and transacting such other business as may be brought before it, and deemed necessary to its prosperity, on the _____ of _____.

[342] Article 2. The officers of the church shall consist of a number of Deacons as shall be thought requisite, and of a Clerk and Treasurer. These officers shall be chosen by ballot, annually, except the Deacons, who shall continue in office during good behaviour, or until they resign.

The duty of the Clerk shall be to keep a true and faithful record of all the meetings and proceedings of the church, and also a list of all the members.

The duty of the Treasurer shall be, to take care of all the furnishings of the church, — to receive the money collected on communion days, and keep a regular account thereof.

The duty of the Deacons shall be, to furnish the table, and assist in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. It shall also be their duty to inquire into, and relieve, the wants of the poor of the church and sociey, as far as they may be enabled so to do, by collections taken for charitable purposes.

Article 3. Any person giving assent to the Profession of Faith, and desiring to become a member of this church, may make his or her request known to the Pastor of the society, or to either of the Deacons; and, after the application hath laid one month, he or shall become a member, if approved by a majority of the members present, at any regular meeting of the church. Each member shall sign the Confession of Faith, and the Form of Church Government.

Article 4. If any member wishes to withdraw from the church, by making his request known in writing, he shall have the liberty of so doing.

Article 5. It shall be the duty of the Church to deal with offending members according to the directions given our Saviour, Matt. xviii. 15, 16, 17; and Luke xvii. 3, 4. The church, however, disclaims all authority over obstinate members, except the mere withdrawal of its fellowship.

Article 6. Any of the forgoing articles of Church Government may be altered, amended, or stricken out, [343] or others may be annexed, by two thirds of the members of the church, if it may be thought necessary.

V. Celebration of the Supper

It is the usual custom of Christian churches in this country, to celebrate the Lord’s Supper once in each month. There are no directions as to the frequency of the celebration in the New Testament. The early Christians placed more importance on the object and design of the service, than upon the exact time in which it should be performed. Paul says, ” For as often as ye eat this bread, (not stating how often it should be done,) and drink this cup, ye.do show the Lord’s death till he come.” 1 Cor. xi. 26. We think it well to follow the general custom, and celebrate the communion monthly, though this rule may not prevent the celebration at other times, if special circumstances should render it necessary.

Proposed Form of Administering the Supper.

The usual time for celebrating the Supper is at the close of the afternoon service, upon the Sabbath, once in each month. The table having been prepared by the deacons, between the forenoon and afternoon services, is covered with a cloth during public worship. At the close of that service, the minister leaves the pulpit, and takes his seat at the table, and waits until the members of the church have taken theirs. places as near the table as convenient, and until silence is restored in the house. He then removes the cloth with which the vessels and elements are covered, and says,

“Beloved Christian friends, we are now about to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, in imitation of the example of our Blessed Redeemer and his apostles; and as we are dependent on God for mercy and wisdom to guide us in all things, let us draw nigh the throne of grace in solemn supplication for the divine blessing. Let us pray.

[Here the clergyman will offer a suitable prayer.]

“Beloved Christian friends, the service of the Supper [344] was instituted by our Lord himself, on the same night in which he was betrayed. Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, take, eat, this is my body, which is given for you.

[In the mean time the clergyman will be breaking the bread.]

During the breaking of the bread, he will occupy the time by offering such remarks as seem to him to be suited to the occasion. He will not fail to show the original design of the institution, viz. to keep the Lord Jesus in the remembrance of his followers. “This do in remembrance of me.” The broken bread is an emblem of his broken, crucified body; and is always so to be looked on in this service. The clergyman should not, therefore, fail to carry the minds of the communicants to the scene of the crucifixion. Direct them to view the Saviour’s sufferings, — the cross, the crown of thorns, the death scene, and especially to remember the dying prayer for his murderers, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” But it is not necessary that the clergyman should confine himself at all times, to the events of the crucifixion. Let him think of the Saviour’s words, “This do in remembrance of me,” and he will see, that any portion of the Saviour’s life may furnish subject for reflection at the table. The feeling that will pervade his heart will be that of a solemn joy, — a deep sense of affectionate gratitude; nor should any remarks be offered, inconsistent with such a feeling. O what an opportunity is there here for solemn reflection. With what force may the speaker impress on the communicants the necessity of humility, and of setting their affection on things above.

“When I survey the wondrous cross,
On which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.”

The remarks, however, should not be long; [345] from three to five minutes is sufficient. Let the words be few and fitly chosen.

The bread being broken, he will pass it to the deacons, (serving himself as he passes the last plate,) saying, “Take, eat all ye of it, in the name of Him who loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood.”

He then sits, (his mind being intently fixed on the subject before him,) until the plates are returned to the table; or he may, should he judge it best, make some remarks, while the officers are serving the communicants. But all remarks should be made standing.

The bread having thus been served, he next proceeds to serve the wine. He takes the cups towards him, saying, Jesus took the cup and gave thanks. In imitation of his example, let us once more approach the throne of grace. Let us pray.

[Here he will offer a prayer suited to the occasion.]

While he is pouring the wine, (and he may have intervals between the filling of the cups, if he wishes to extend his remarks,) he will offer suitable thoughts to guide the minds of the communicants. And what thoughts are appropriate while serving the wine? 1st. It is an emblem of the shed blood of the Redeemer. For whom was his blood shed? For all. For what purpose did he die? Will that purpose be accomplished? Again. The Saviour made the cup also a figure of the New Covenant.” This cup is the New Testament in my blood, which is shed for you.” See Luke’s account. The wine is not only an emblem of the shedding of the Saviour’s blood upon the cross, but it is also a figure of his doctrine. And so it was employed by the prophets. “Come, buy wine and milk, without money and without price.” Jesus says, we must drink his blood. He does not mean in the outward and literal sense. See John vi. 53-60. He explains his metaphor to mean his doctrine, verse 63. “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing; the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life.” From all these subjects, he [346] who administers the ordinance, cannot fail to draw profitable reflections.

He passes the wine to the deacons, as he had done the bread, and then sits until the communicants are served, and the cups returned.

This being done, an appropriate hymn is sung, which it is always best should be sung by the communicants; the minister, or one of the church, starting the tune.

After the hymn, the collection is generally taken, to defray the expenses of the church, and for charitable objects; after which the benediction is pronounced.

And now the author will not close this chapter, without a humble petition, that what he has written may be the means of inducing those who agree with him in faith on the great salvation, to pay a due respect to the holy, purifying service of the Lord’s Supper.