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L. Pol. IX.-NEW SERIES.
[FEBRUARY 1, 1806.
* Built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ himself being
the chief corner-stone.”
OUR DESTITUTE CHURCHES.
BY THE REV. W. UNDERWOOD. A Survey of the list of churches without ministers, which is given from year to year in the “ Baptist Handbook,” is well fitted to awaken inf'lry, and to excite serious solicitude. Those who are accustomed to the speculations which are proper to be indulged, and who are curious to know the causes of the things which interest them, can scarcely Terrain from asking the reasons of denominational statistics which look so unpleasing, and which are so unsatisfactory : for the general sentiment with respect to the churches which have no settled pastoral supervision is sufficiently denoted by their being commonly called destitute churches.
A staunch ecclesiastic might hesitate to admit that a company " Christians without a pastor at its head can be a church at all; While those whose theory is not so rigid, who consider that a caurch is constituted of any number of believers in Christ agreeing o walk, and work, and worship together, must yet acknowledge that its organization is incomplete until it is provided with officers bearing We names and discharging the functions which are assigned to them in the New Testament. « The organizing of a church,” says John Owen, * Is the placing in it those officers which the Lord Jesus Christ hath appointed, to act and exercise his authority therein.” Where the Apostles planted churches they ordained elders, either in person or by deputy. If office was not received immediately, by the imposition of their own hands, it was obtained more distantly, but with equal validity, ", by the laying on of the hands of the presbytery." The very metaphors which the inspired writers employed, when referring to the primitive churches-metaphors which were intended, in this case as in other instances, to furnish illustrations rather than arguments—may still be taken as showing what is needed to make our churches organically complete. Flocks of sheep require shepherds to oversee them; candlesticks, though “golden,” are ornamental rather than useful if there are no candles burning in them. Each of the seven Asiatic
Churches had its own" angel” to shine as its particular "star" in the Lord's right hand. Fixed stars in the firmament, shedding a regular and steady radiance, are preferable to meteors which shoot across the sky, and startle the beholder with their brilliancy and beauty. He who best knew the necessities of Israel, sought the best blessing when he asked that “the God of the spirits of all flesh would set a man over the congregation,” at whose word they should go out and come in, and who should precede them both in their egress and ingress. That prophet, also, whose commission obliged him to “speak comfortably to Jerusalem," was authorized to assure the people that “though the Lord gave them the bread of adversity, and the waters of affliction, yet should not their teachers be removed into a corner any more, but their eyes should see their teachers, and their ears should hear a word behind them saying, “This is the way, walk ye in it,' when they turned to the right hand, and when they turned to the left.” A church without a pastor is like a ship without a pilot, or an army without a general, or a corps without a captain over it. " The locusts have no king, and yet they all go forth by bands." Where, however, no counsel, no governor is, in human societies, “ the people fall.”
Regarding the pastorate as necessary to the corporate completeness of any church, to the exercise of the powers with which Christ has endowed it, and to the full performance of the duties which he has imposed upon it, the want of this provision in more than 200 churches comprised in the Baptist body is truly deplorable. To inquire the reasons of such a state of things is natural to all who regret it. It may not be peculiar to ourselves. Other denominations may suffer a similar deficiency. The “Congregational Year Book” shows that our brethren, the Independents, are in a position of nearly equal exigency; while it has been recently stated by Dr. Pusey that in the Church of England there are not sufficient clergy to fill up the new cures, and that if that “ Church is to maintain her place as a teacher of the people, and the saver of souls, the increase to be made is absolutely enormous.” How to obtain this required increase is a question now being anxiously discussed by leading members of the Episcopalian Church; and it is high time that the same spirit of inquiry should be excited and should find free expression among ourselves. The object of this short paper being purely practical, the writer bespeaks attention to it from all who may read his observations; and he will be thankful if the views which he N ventures to put forth shall be succeeded, or even superseded, by other and more accurate opinions, and by the suggestion of proper means for meeting the wants of our destitute churches.
I do not believe that the destitution complained of arises from a paucity of aspirants to the ministerial office. The tutors and committees of our colleges know that the applicants for admission are always plentiful, and that their difficulty is, not to get students, but to select wisely from a number of candidates equally eager, and nearly alike eligible, to share the advantages of academical training.
Probably, too, the young brethren who are admitted into the various
mleges are sufficiently numerous to supply the vacancies occurring in the churches. On this point it would be rash to write very positively, since those who calculate by the rules of arithmetic, and those who (njecture according to the doctrine of chances, are unable to determine Thether we are now educating too few or too many. It may be that tijse who think the number too large do not make proper allowance fr inevitable failures. A certain proportion of those under training for the ministry never enter it at all. Their lives terminate, or their health 1a izpaired, or their views change, or their college course closes without their having a single call to labour in connection with any church. Nor do all who have such calls, and who. commence their public ministry, succeed in maintaining it. Some prove incapable. It might, in the absence of examples, seem strange that young men should get into colleges, should continue thero for years meeting the requirements of tutors in different departments of study, should pass several annual examinations conducted by some of the most competent scholars and preachers, should be acceptable as occasional supplies, and be invited to settle over churches, yet after all be found unable to answer the not unreasonable expectations of the awaiting flocks. But so it is. Those
ho for the time (Slà TOV Xpbvov) “ought to be teachers” often prove to bave no clearness of thought, or force of reasoning, or aptness in illusTrating, or anything in mind or manner that makes preaching instructive and useful. They cannot invent, or discover, or accumulate. Or if Their heads are furnished with matter of their own producing, or their Demories are stored with the stock provided by others, the faculty of appropriation is faulty and the gift of utterance is ungainly.
A further reduction in our ministerial ranks is caused by moral delinquencies. Some pastors become brutish, and cease to seek the Lol. And while the first effects of this degeneracy may be the absence of prosperity or the scattering of their flocks, the next result is their or retirement. Our churches, regarding the ministerial office as spiritual, never can be satisfied with talent without character, or learnng unallied to godliness. The toleration of pastoral peccancy would
De speedy ruin. No desolation was so fatal to the ancient Church as 11 that which the prophets brought upon it by their "lies and by their 1 zutness." Far distant from us be the day when the utter lack of
pety shall not be followed by the instant loss of place! 1. Again: the unpleasing conditions under which the ministry has 1, quently to be discharged become unendurable to some, and they care one sphere before their way is clearly open to enter another.
at yet inured to the “hardness" of the service, or failing in the “much patience " which is essential to their approving themselves as the Linisters of God, they hastily sever the connection which they once bitiously formed, and pass into the ranks of the unattached, perhaps per to resume the full duties of the pastorate. These cases are too upon to require more than a passing reference, and they are suffibariy numerous to demand notice in specifying the causes of the Cestitution we are now considering.
Refraining from the mention of some other of these causes, so far as they relate to the ministerial side of the question, I proceed to notice those which may be found in the churches themselves. The deficiency is not entirely in the supply, great as the deductions already adverted to may show it to be. The demand is not of a nature which insures its being met as fully as could be wished.
I write from personal knowledge in stating that there are churches which prefer to be without pastors. The business of these churches is transacted by deacons, or managed by committees; and the supplying of the pulpits is done by occasional preachers, some of whom are literate and eloquent enough to satisfy intelligent hearers, but others of whom answer better to the antithetic description given long ago by the furious Dr. Featly, “readily teaching that which they never learned, and abundantly pouring forth that which was never infused into them.” These democratic communities remind us of the fabled Blemii, Ethiopians without heads, whose faces were in their bosoms; and they are the survivors of the order of Gospel-levellers, who deemed ecclesiastical equality the very acmé of Christian perfection.
In favourable contrast with the foregoing I could name churches which sigh for appropriate rule and order, but which are too few in numbers, and too indigent in circumstances, to procure the ministrations they desire. Objections are often made to the formation of such feeble churches, and if they originate in sinful secessions from larger ones, no countenance should be lent to them. But if churches are to multiply, the beginnings of some must necessarily be small. Nor even in the more advanced stages of their existence can they ever be very great, owing to the scantiness of the surrounding population, or to the pre-occupation of the land by other settlers therein. The union of those little flocks which are near enough to make fellowship practicable is a favourite idea with many of us; but as this confederation is seldom if ever effected, it follows either that the end is unattainable, or that the right means are not used to accomplish it.
As the greater number of our churches are small, and as these small churches are those which are most commonly destitute, it behoves the men of influence among us to devise some measures for meeting their wants. Not to meddle with them may be thought to show respect to their rights, and approval of their polity; but to let them alone is to allow them to languish until their very existence is imperilled. “ Strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die." If such strength can be given by the amalgamation of two or more neighbouring interests, let our Associations appoint messengers to propose such amalgamations in particular instances, and to do everything within the province of argument and persuasion, and the power which personal character and special deputation can exert, to realize the interjunction proposed. Where this is not feasible, let pastors be sought for them, not indebted to any college for their training, and not de pending on these churches for their pecuniary support. If some of the better class of local brethren, or occasional preachers, could be invited and induced to accept office, and so be constituted pastors of these poor people, they would thereby be brought nearer to the Church order prescribed in the New Testament, and they might enjoy more spiritual prosperity than is at present visible among them. To this course objections are foreseen, but the limits of this paper will not permit me either to answer or to state them. Some of the recommendations of this measure are these. The churches would have pastors which, if not the best per se, would be the best that are procurable, and so would no longer be destitute churches. These pastors need not do the whole of the preaching, but, having charge of the work, might find substitutes when the pressure of their daily business interfered with their preparation for personally occupying the pulpit. Then the task of preaching and presiding in these small churches would be an experiment in which some would succeed, and a discipline by which they would be fitted to fill larger spheres. While our colleges are the ordinary, they should not be the only, avenues to the Christian ministry. Nor need that ministry in all cases be the sole employment of a man's life. Ground has been lost rather than gained during late years, by requiring pastors to give up all other engagements, and to depend on the churches for their entire worldly subsistence. Secular work, if honest and honourable in itself, does not unfit for the service of the sanctuary. Some of our most useful predecessors were farmers, tradesmen, or teachers of schools, as well as ministers of the word. And it would be wise in some of our contemporaries to follow their steps, diversifying their pursuits and augmenting their incomes, instead of confining themselves to their contracted circles, saddening their own souls, and half famishing their families, by depending on salaries which no economy can make sufficient. Without other sources of support than those which these churches can supply, their pastors would be paupers; and “a beggarly clergy,” says one, “is the precursor of a bankrupt religion.”
Certain churches become destitute, not through inability adequately to sustain their pastors, but through disinclination to do so. It is no unusual thing for ministers to begin their work on low salaries, partly in consideration of the depressed state of the churches, and partly because their own present wants are but small. In the course of time, almost before there is much improvement in the congregations, their circumstances alter, and their expenses increase. These changes must be known, but they are not properly noticed, and it becomes necessary for the men to make formal mention of their insufficient incomes: an offensive act to any sensitive spirit, and when performed, however reluctantly and tenderly, often followed by something still more grievous. These ministerial requirements, instead of being generously anticipated, or justly met, call forth responses which startle the ear and wound the heart. The claimant is treated as if he Fere a candidate on trial, and his discovered qualities are canvassed with all the freedom and more than the severity of the first ordeal which he underwent aniong them. The sanguine say they are dis