SYNODS wee acknowledge being rightly ordered, as an Ordinance of Christ. Of their Assembly wee find three just causes in Scripture.1. When a Church wanting light or peace at home, desireth the counsell and helpe of other Churches, few or moe. Thus the Church of Antioch being annoyed with corrupt teachers, who darkned the light of the truth, and bred no small dissension amongst them in the Church; they sent Paul and Barnabas and other messengers unto the Apostles and Elders at Hierusalem, for the establishment of Truth and Peace. In joyning the Elders to the Apostles (and that doubtlesse by the advise of Paul and Barnabas) it argueth that they sent not to the Apostles as extraordinary and infallible, and authenticall Oracles of God (for then what need the advise and helpe of Elders?) but as wise and holy guides of the Church, who might not onely relieve them by some wise counsell, and holy order, but also set a Precedent to succeeding ages, how errours and dissensions in Churches might be removed and healed. And the course which the Apostles and Elders tooke for clearing the matter, was not by publishing the counsell of God with Apostolick authoritie, from immediate revelation, but by searching out the truth in an ordinary way of free disputation, Act.15, v.7, which is as fit a course for imitation in after ages, as it was seasonable for practice then.
2. Just consequence from Scripture giveth us another ground for the assembly of many Churches, or of their messengers, into a Synod, when any Church lyeth under scandall, through corruption in doctrine and practice, and will not be healed by more private advertisements of their own members, or of their neighbour Ministers, or Brethren. For there is a brotherly communion, as between the members, of the same Church, so between the Churches. We have a little sister, (saith one Church to another, Cant.8.8.) therefore Churches have a brotherly communion amongst themselves. Look then as one brother being offened with another, and not able to heal him by the mouth of two or three brethren privately, it behooveth him to carry it to the whole church so by -proportion, if one Church see matter of offence in another, and be hot able to heal it in a more private way, it will behove them to procure the Assembly of many churches, that the offence may be orderly heard, and judged, and removed.
3. It may so fall out that the state of all the churches in the countrey may be corrupted and beginning to discern their corruption, may desire the concurse and counsell one of another, for a speedy, and safe, and generall reformation. And Then so meeting and conferring together, may renew their covenant with God, and conclude and determine upon a course, that may tend to the publike healing, and salvation of them all. This was a frequent practice in the Old Testament in the time of Asa, 2 Chron.15.10 to 15, in the time of Hezekiah, 2 Chron.29.4 to 19. In the time of Josiah, 2 Chron.34.29 to 33, and in the time of Ezra, Ezra 10.1 to 5. These and the like examples were not peculiar to the Israelites as one intire nationall Church: For in that respect they appealed from every Synagogue and Court in Israel to the nationall high Priest, and Court at Jerusalem, as being all of them subordinate thereunto (and therefore that precedent is usually waved by our best Divines, as not appliable to Christian churches;) but these examples hold forth no superiority in one church or court over another, but all of them in an equall manner, give advice in common, and take one common course for redresse of all. And therefore such examples are fit precedents for churches of equall power within themselves, to assemble together, and take order with one accord, for the reformation of them all.
Now a Synod being assembled; three questions arise about their power: 1. What is that power they have received? 2. How far the fraternity concurreth with the Presbyterie in it; the brotherhood with the Eldership? 3. Whether the power they have received reacheth to the injoyning of things, both in their nature, and in their use indifferent?
For the first: we dare not say that their power reacheth no farther then giving counsell; for such as their ends be, for which according to God, they do assemble, such is the power given them of God, as may attain those ends. As they meet to minister light and peace to such churches, as through want of light and peace lye in error (or doubt at least) and variance; so they have power by the grace of Christ, not only to give light and counsell in matter of Truth and Practice; but also to command and enjoyn the things to be believed and done. The expresse words of the Synodall letter imply no lesse; It seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and unto us, to lay upon you no other burthen, Act.15, 27. This burthen therefore, to observe those necessary things which they speak of, they had power to impose. It is an act of the binding power of the keys, to bind burthens. And this binding power ariseth not only materially from the weight of the matters imposed, (which are necessary necessitate præcepti from the word) but also formally, from the authority of the Synod, which being an Ordinance of Christ, bindeth the more for the Synods sake. As a truth of the Gospel taught by a Minister of the Gospel, it bindeth to faith and obedience, not only. because it is the Gospel, but also because it is taught by a Minister for his callings sake, seeing Christ hath said, Whoso receiveth you receiveth me. And seeing also a Synod sometime meeteth to convince, and admonish an offending Church or Presbyterie; they have power therefore, (if they cannot heal the offenders) to determine to withdraw communion from them. And further, seeing they meet likewise sometimes for generall information; they have power to decree and publish such Ordinances, as may conduce according to God, unto such reformation: Examples whereof wee read, Neh.10.32. to 39.2 Chron.15.12.13.
For the second question; How far the Fraternity, or the Brethren of the Church, may concurre with the Elders in exercising the power of the Synod?
The Answer is; The power which they have received is a power of liberty: As 1. They have liberty to dispute their doubts modestly and Christianly amongst the Elders: For in that Synod at Jerusalem, as there was much disputation, Act 15.7. so the multitude had a part in the Disputation v.12. For after Peters speech, it is said, the whole multitude kept silence, and silence from what? to wit, from the speech last in hand amongst them, and that was from Disputation.2. The Brethren of the church had liberty to joyn with the Apostles and Elders, in approving the sentence of James & determining the same as the common sentence of them all.3. They bad liberty to joyn with the Apostles and Elders in choosing and sending messengers, and in writing Synodall letters in the names of all, for the publishing of the sentence of the Synod. Both these points are expressed in the text v.22.23. to 29. Then pleased it the Apostles and Elders, with the whole Church, to send chosen men, and to write Letters by them. See the whole church distinguished from the Apostles and Elders; and those whom he called the whole Church v.22. he calleth the Brethren v.23. The Apostles, and Elders, and Brethren, &c.
But though it may not be denyed, that the Brethren of the Church present in the Synod, had all this power of liberty, to joyn with the Apostles and Elders in all these acts of the Synod; yet the authority of the Decrees lay chiefly (if not only) in the Apostles and Elders. And therefore it is said, Acts 16.4, That Paul and Silas delivered to the Churches for to keep the Decrees that were ordained of the Apostles and Elders; So then it will be most safe to preserve to the Church of Brethren their due liberties, and to reserve to the Elders their due authority.
If it be said, The Elders assembled in a Synod, have no authority to determine or conclude any act that shall binde the Churches, but according to the instructions which before they have received from the Churches.
Answ. Wee do not so apprehend it For what need Churches sent to a Synod for light and direction in ways of truth and peace, if they be resolved afore-hand how far they will go? It is true if the Elders of Churches shall conclude in a Synod any thing prejudiciall to the truth and peace of the Gospel, they may justly expostulate with them at their return, and refuse such sanctions as the Lord hath not sanctioned. But if the Elders be gathered in the name of Christ in a Synod, and proceed according to the rule, (the word) of Christ, they may consider and conclude sundry points expedient for thee state of their Churches, which the Churches were either ignorant or doubtful of before.
As for the third Question, whether the Synod have power to injoyn such things as are both in their nature and their use indifferent? We should answer it negatively, and our reasons be:
1. From the pattern of that precedent of Synods, Act.15.18. They laid upon the Churches no other burthen, but those necessary things necessary, though not all of them in their own nature, yet for present use, to avoid the offence both of Jew and Gentile: of the Jew by eating things strangled and blood; of the Gentile and Jew both, by eating things sacrificed to idols, as Paul expoundeth that Article of the Synod, 1 Cor.184.108.40.206. and Chap.10.28. This eating with offence was a murther of a weak brothers soule, and a sin against Christ.1 Cor.8.11.12. and therefore necessary to be forborn, necessitate præcepti, by the necessity of Gods Commandment.
2. A second reason may be from the latitude of the Apostolicall commission, which was given to them, Mat.28.19.20. where the Apostles are commanded to teach the people to observe all things which Christ hath commanded. If then the Apostles teach the people to observe more then Christ hath commanded, they go beyond the bounds of their commission, and a larger commission then that given to the Apostles, nor Elders, nor Synods, nor Churches can challenge.
If it be said, Christ speaketh only of teaching such things which he had commanded as necessary to salvation.
Answ. If the. Apostles or their successors should hereupon usurpe an authority to teach the people things indifferent, they must plead this their authority from some other commission given them elsewhere: for in this place there is no foot-step for any such power. That much urged, and much abused place in 1 Cor.14.40 will not reach it. For though Paul requiring in that place, all the duties of Gods worship, whether Prayer or Prophesying, or Psalmes, or Tongues, &c. that they should be performed decently and orderly, he thereby forbiddeth any performance thereof undecently; as for men with long hayre, and women to speak in open assemblies, especially to pray with their hair loose about them. And though he forbiddeth also men speaking two or three at once, which to do, were not order, but confusion; yet he doth not at all, neither himself injoyn, nor allow the Church of Corinth to injoyn such things as decent, whose want, or whose contrary is not undecent; nor such orders, whose want or contrary would be no disorder. Suppose the Church of Corinth (or any other Church or Synod) should enjoyn their Ministers to preach in a gown. A gown is a decent garment to preach in: Yet such an Injunction is not grounded upon that Text of the Apostle. For then a Minister in neglecting to preach in a gown, should neglect the commandment of the Apostle, which yet indeed he doth not. For if he preach in a cloak, he preacheth decently enough, and that is which the Apostles Canon reacheth to. In these things Christ never provided for uniformitie, but onely for unity.
For a third reason of this point, (and to adde no more) it is taken from the nature of the Ministeriall office, whether in a Church or Synod. Their office is stewardly, not lordly: they are Embassadours from Christ, and for Christ. Of a steward it is required he be found faithfull 1 Cor.4.1.2. and therefore he may dispense no more injunctions to Gods house, then Christ hath appointed him: Neither may an Embassadour proceed to do, any act of his office, further then what he hath received in his Commission from his Prince. If he go further, he maketh himself a Prævaricator, not an Embassadour.
But if it be enquired, Whether a Synod hath power of Ordination, and Excommunication; we would not take upon us hastily to censure the many notable precedents of ancient and later Synods, who have put forth acts of power in both these kinds. Onely we doubt that from the beginning it was not so: and for our own parts, if any occasion of using this power should arise amongst ourselves (which hitherto through preventing mercie it hath not) we (in a Synod) should rather chuse to determine, and to publish and declare our determination. That the ordination of such as we find fit for it, and the excommunication of such as we find do deserve it, would be an acceptable service both to the Lord, and to his Churches but the administration of both these acts we should refer to the Presbyterie of the severall Churches, whereto the person to be ordained is called, and whereof the person to be excommunicate is a member: and both acts to be performed in the presence, and with the consent of the several! Churches, to whom the matter appertaineth. For in the beginning of the Gospel in that precedent of Synods, Act.15. we find the false teachers declared to be disturbers and troublers of the Churches, and subverters of their souls, Act.15.24. but no condigne censure dispensed against them by the Synod. An evident argument to us, that they left the censure of such offenders (in case they repented not) to the particular Churches, to whom they did appertain. And for Synodical! ordination, although Act.1. be alledged, where Matthias was called to be an Apostle, yet it doth not appear that they acted then in a Synodicall way: no more then the Church of Antioch did, when with fasting and prayer they by their Presbyters imposed hands on Paul and Barnabas, and thereby separated them to the work of the Apostleship, whereto the Holy Ghost had called them, Act.220.127.116.11. Whence as the Holy Ghost then said, Aphorisate de' moi ton te Barna'ban kai to`n Saulon so therefore Paul styleth himself Apo'stolos aphorisme'nos, Rom.1.1. And this was done in a particular Church, not in a Synod.