How The Cambridge Platform
Relates to the
Heresy of Decisional Regeneration
The practice of "Owning The Covenant" began when American Puritan church leaders agreed to the Half-way Covenant. The document that codified the changes was the Cambridge Platform. Here is the full text of that document.
CAMBRIDGE PLATFORM OF CHURCH DISCIPLINE ADOPTED IN 1648 AND THE CONFESSION OF FAITH ADOPTED IN 1680.
1. Platform of Ecclesiastical Government
Our Saviour, in the beginning of this chapter, exhorts his followers to become humble and harmless, as little children. — " Verily, I say imto you. Except ye be converted and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven." He next warns the world against abusing his harmless and inoffensive disciples. " Wo unto the world because of offences ! for it must needs be that offences come; but wo to that man by whom the offence Cometh! " He then directs his followers how they should conduct under the offences, which they may receive from the world. And immediately after this, he proceeds to direct Christians what steps they must take, to settle difficulties and maintain peace and purity among themselves. "Matt 18:15-17 "Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican".
I. To consider the materials of which a church of Christ is formed;
II. To consider how these materials are formed into a church of Christ; And, To consider what power, or authority, Christ has given to his church after it is regularly formed.
1. Let us consider the materials of which a church of Christ is formed. There is a visible and invisible church. The invisible church comprehends all real saints, or all of mankind, who will be finally sanctified and saved. But by a visible church we are to understand a society of visible saints. By visible saints are meant such as profess to be real saints and appear to be so in the eye of Christian charity. Such persons as these are the materials, of which a church of Christ is formed. None were admitted into the church, under the Mosaic dispensations, but those, who made a public profession of real grace, or true love to God. All, that belonged to that church, solemnly avouched the Lord to be their God and engaged to love him with all their hearts and to obey all his commands, which rendered them visible saints in the judgment of charity.
And as to the gospel church, it is plain that it was composed of none but visible saints. No other but baptized persons were admitted to communion; and no adult persons but 'such as professed repentance and faith, were admitted to baptism, which shows that they were visible saints. Of such materials was the church of Corinth composed; for the apostle speaks to them as saints by profession, "Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord." And he inscribes his epistle to the church of Ephesus in similar language. " Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the will of God, to the saints, which are at Ephesus and to the faithful in Christ Jesus." These inscriptions plainly suppose, that the apostles considered the various churches which they had planted in different places, as visible saints, or professed friends and followers of Christ. Accordingly, Peter, in his epistle to the churches in general, addresses them under the character of real saints. "Ye also as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ" Here all the churches in the days of the apostles are represented as composed of livmg members; such as were renewed, sanctified, and made meet for the Master's use.
They were living branches of Christ the living vine, or living members of Christ the living Head. But such materials, while separate and unconnected, do not constitute a church of Christ, any more than the materials of Solomon's temple were a temple, before they were collected and framed into that sacred building by the hands of artificers. This leads us to consider, How the materials, that have been mentioned, are formed into a church of Christ.
The materials must be prepared, before they can be formed into this spiritual building. You remember, that all the materials for the temple were prepared before they were collected; and when they were collected, there was nothing to do, but to put them together in that beautiful form, which was divinely prescribed. In this respect, I apprehend, the temple was intended to be a type of the church, as well as of the incarnation of Christ. For the materials of a gospel church are all to be fitted and prepared by Divine grace, before they are collected.
It was certainly so in the days of the apostles. They prepared materials before they erected churches. They went from place to place and preached the gospel; and as many as professed to believe the gospel and were baptized, and being of a competent number, they formed into a distinct church. But how did they form churches? and how are churches now to be formed? or what is it that constitutes a number of visible saints a proper church? I answer, A mutual covenant. It is by confederation, that a number of individual Christians become a visible church of Christ. A number of professing Christians cannot be formed into a church without their freely and mutually covenanting to walk together in all the duties and ordinances of the gospel.
They may be real and visible saints, while they remain unconnected and separate; but they cannot be a proper church, without entering into covenant and laying themselves under certain obligations to each other, to live and act like Christians. And as this is a point of great importance in the present discourse, I shall offer several considerations to support it.
1. Confederation is the band of union among civil societies; and analogy requires the same band of union in a religious society. Civil government is founded in compact. Individuals are not a civil society, until they have formed themselves into one, by an explicit, or implicit compact, agreement, or covenant. Before they have laid themselves under a mutual engagement, they are unconnected individuals, and have no power or authority over one another. But after they have freely and voluntarily entered into a compact, or covenant to live and conduct towards one another according to certain laws, rules, and regulations, they become a civil society, vested with civil power and authority. And it is only by confederation, that individual Christians can form themsdves into a church and bind themselves to walk together according to the rules of the gospel.
2. It is universally allowed, that a church of Christ have a light to watch over and discipline their own members. Bat individual Christians, before they are formed into a church state, have no such power over one another. They may, indeed, reprove or exhort one another privately; but they have no right to call any one to account and censure him for breaking the laws of Christ, publicly and authoritatively. But after they have engaged to watch over one another and discipline one another for scandalous offences, then each individual becomes bound to submit. to the reproof, admonition, and censure of the whole body. His obligation to submit arises from the bond of the covenant, which he has made. I may add,
3. That nothing besides a covenant can give form to a church, or be a sufficient bond of union. Mere Christian affection cannot. Though all Christian churches ought to be connected by the bond , of brotherly love, yet this alone is not sufficient to make a number of Christians a church of Christ This bond of union runs through all the Christian world, and cordially unites real Christians of all denominations, though divided into various distinct societies. This common bond of union cannot be the principal bond of union in any particular church. Nor is cohabitation a sufficient bond of union in a congregational church. A number of Christians merely living in the same city, town, or parish, does not make them a church. Nor do they become a church, by usually meeting together for social, or public worship. Nor does baptism constitute a person a member of any particular church. Many of those strangers in Jerusalem, who were baptised on the day of Pentecost, probably never saw one another again after they left Jerusalem; so that their baptism could not make them members of any particular church. Thus it appears, that a number of Christians may form themselves into a religious society, by a mutual covenant all the commands and ordinances of the gospel. It still remains to consider,
III. What power, or authority, belongs to a particular church. It is granted by all, that every particular church has some ecclesiastical power. And since a particular church is formed by compact, or covenant, it hence appears, that a particular church does not derive its power from the church universal, but directly from Christ, the source of all ecclesiastical authority. We shall, therefore, consider it as an established point, that each particular church is possessed of ecclesiastical power; and, of course, we have only to inquire what kind of power is lodged in a particular church. And as to this, I would observe in general, that it is only Executive power, Christ is the sole Lawgiver in the church. He has made all the laws by which it is to be governed. He has delegated no legislative power to a church, by which it has authority to make ecclesiastical laws, or canons. The church of Rome has manifested herself to be anti-christian, by claiming and exercising such a power. No particular church whatever has a right to make a single law, or canon to bind its members. It has only the right to execute the law, which Christ has made and published in the gospel.
These laws are summarily comprised in the words of our text and are abundantly sufficient, if properly and faithfully executed, to preserve the existence and to promote the edification and purity of the church. So much power every church needs, in order to prevent its crumbling to pieces, and to prevent, or cure any corruptions and disorders, that may arise in it. But to be more particular, I would observe,
1. That every church has a right to admit members into their own Christian communion, according to the rules of the gospel. It is essential to every voluntary society to admit whom tbey please into their number, and competent judges to determine, who are worthy or unworthy to be admitted. It would be very irrational to suppose, that any particular church is obliged to admit every one that offers to join their holy communion. They have an undoubted right to judge, of the qualifications of proponents, and receive, or reject them, according to an impartial judgment of Christian charity. This right they never ought to give up.
2. A church has a right to watch over and reprove one another in private. This right they have voluntarily given to each other, by their mutual covenant. They might, indeed have done this in a friendly manner, if they had not engaged to do it; but after they have engaged to do it, they have a right to watch over and reprove one another authoritatively, when they see any member visibly depart from the precepts, or prohibitions of the gospel. This is Christ's direction in the text. "If thy brother trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone." And the apostle directs Christians, "to exhort one another daily, lest any should be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.
3. A church has a right to discipline its members for
unchristian conduct, by admonition and excommunication.
This authority is expressly given to them by Christ himself
in the words of our text. " Moreover, if thy brother trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee
and him alone. And if he hear thee, thou^hast gained thy
brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee
one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall
neglect to hear them, tell it to the church; but if he neglect to hear the church let him be unto thee as an heathen
man and a publican." This is all the ecclesiastical authority,
that Christ has given to any particular church ; and this is
only executive authority. As soon as a number of Christians have voluntarily united and bound themselves together, by confederation, to walk together and attend Divine ordinances, they are a regular gospel church, and invested with an ecclesiastical power. But after they are regularly formed into a church, they still need to be organized, which they have an independent power to do for themselves.
Every civil society has an inherent right to organize its own government, by choosing and installing its own officers. The same essential right every regularly formed church has to organize its own ecclesiastical government, by choosing and installing its own officers. This Commonwealth have a right to organize their own government, and this they do every year, by choosing their new officers and appointing the lieutenant-governor, or some other magistrate, to administer the oaths of office to the governor and other state officers whom they have chosen. He, or they, who administer the oaths of office, do not convey any of their own power, but only the power of the State of those, to whom they administer the qualifying oaths. Just so the members of a church have a right to organize their own ecclesiastical government, by choosing and installing their own officers. They have a right to choose deacons and then to ordain them, as they judge most scriptural. And they have the same right to choose their own ministers; and after that to install them into office. For ordination is nothing more than installing a minister into office.
ordainers do not convey any authority of their own, but only
the authority of Christ, through the medium of the church,
to the man they ordain, by which he is duly qualified to
preach the doctrines and administer the ordinances of the
gospel to his own people, and wherever he is called in
providence to execute his ministerial office, with which
Christ has invested him. I know that many suppose that
the power of ordination is lodged in the hands of the clergy
Independently of the church; and that this power was handed down in a lineal succession of ordained ministers
from the days of the apostles to this day. But this is a
very groundless opinion. For the line of succession has
been often broken. It was broken in the time of Luther.
He was excommunicated by the Pope, and all his ministerial
authority taken away. It has been broken once and again
in Britain. This Bishop Hoadly and all moderate church
clergymen acknowledge. It has been broken in this country;
for the first ministers who came here, renounced all Episcopal authority, and in one or two instances, stood by and
saw a minister ordained by the brethren of the church.
Besides, there is something very absurd in the supposition, that ordained ministers have the sole right of ordaining others. Upon this supposition, let a particular church be ever so pure and orthodox, and choose an able and orthodox preacher to settle with them, they cannot have him for their pastor unless ministers are pleased to ordain him. This throws all the churches into the hands of ministers; and can we suppose that Christ meant to deprive churches of their inherent right to choose and install their own officers?
What would have become of the Dissenters in England, if they had no right to choose and install their own ministers? What would have become of the churches in New England,
if they had not had the right of choosing and installing their own ministers? They would not have had one regular gospel minister to this day. And on this ground, the high church
clergy maintain that there is not one regular Congregational minister in this country, who has a right to ordain others, or to administer baptism and the Lord's Supper. The truth is,
ministers have no exclusive right to ordain others. The right of ordination is primarily and solely in the hands of the church. And when ministers do ordain, it is because
they are incited and appointed by the church to do it.
Thus the church has a right, after it is formed by confederation to organize itself by choosing and installing such officers as Christ has appointed, and these are bishops and deacons, and no other. There are but two orders of officers in the Christian church. There were three orders in the Jewish church, high-priest, priests, and Levites. But in a Christian church, there are only two distinct officers, bishops and deacons. And bishop, in the apostolic times, was a mere pastor, teacher, or watchman, without any superiority or power over any of his fellow pastors. He had only the watch and care and instruction of the particular church in which he was placed. No modem minister is a bishop, (jure divino,) but a mere creature of the State, and destitute of all divine authority to exercise dominion over any regular, gospel minister.
In the 20th of Acts we read, "From Miletus Paul sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church, and said unto them, take heed unto yourselves, and to all the flock over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God which he hath purchased with his . own blood." Overseers in this passage is translated from the word Episcopous in Greek, which properly signifies watchmen. The elders of Ephesus, whom the apostle calls bishops, were mere ministers of churches, who had no right to watch over one another, but only over the particular church and congregation over which God had made each of them a distinct pastor. That there were only two orders of officers in a primitive Christian church, appears from Paul's inscription in his Epistle to the Philippians.
It is in
these words: "Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus
Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus, which are at Philippi, to the bishops and deacons." That is, with the pas-
tors and deacons, who were the only officers in that church. When a number of visible saints have formed themselves into a church, by confederation, and have organized it, by choosing and installing a pastor and deacons,come a regular Christian church and are prepared to exer cise every act of ecclesiastical power, according to the direc tions, which Christ has given them in our text.
This is the only code of laws, which Christ has given to any church, in order to maintain their own peace and purity, harmony and edification. The steps specified in this code of laws, the church are bound to take in every act of discipline towards their brethren. Every church has an inherent right to discipline its own members, without consulting any pastor, or church, or presbytery, or synod, or council, or bishop, or pope, on the face of the earth. Councils, presbyteries, synods, and general assemblies, are of mere human device, and have no ecclesiastical authority over any individual gospel church.
It is at the option and discretion of any particular church, whether they shall, or shall not ask counsel in any case of church discipline, and if they do ask counsel of others, their advice is only advisory, which they have a right to accept or reject. If we depart from the platform of church discipline, which Christ has given us in this 18th chapter of Matthew, there is nothing in Scripture to prevent our being Presbyterians, or Episcopalians, or Papists.
1. Every church be formed by confederation and has an independent right to exercise all ecclesiastical power, then they have a right to dismiss their own minister, whenever they judge he has forfeited his ministerial character. As the church has a right to choose and ordain their own minister, so they must have, of course, a right to dismiss him for what they deem good reasons. Those who have a right to put into office, have a right to put out of office. The church puts their ministers into office, and has no power over neighboring ministers, just as neighboring ministers have no power over them. the same thing as doing it themselves. Therefore, as neighboring ministers could not place a pastor over them without their consent; so they cannot put away or dismiss their pastor without their consent. The voice of the church must always be had in every act of discipline. Now, if a council cannot dismiss a minister without the consent of the church, then it clearly appears, that the right of dismission belongs solely to the church, who may dismiss their minister without the advice, or contrary to the advice of a council, if they think he has forfeited his ministerial character; but not otherwise.
Before he was ordained, he was a mere candidate for office; and whilst he stood in that predicament, they had a right to dismiss him from their service, if they were displeased with his voice, his style, or any other mere personal defect; and call another upon trial. But after he is ordained, he no longer stands in the situation of a candidate; and the church have no longer a right to dismiss him unless they judge he is so heterodox in sentiment, or corrupt in practice, as to be unqualified for the sacred work of the ministry. If a church dismiss a minister without his consent, they must dismiss him as a man unfit for the pastoral office in any other place, and refuse to recommend him. The connection between a pastor and people is too sacred and important to be dissolved upon every trifling mistake on either side.
2. It appears from the nature of church government, that a pastor has no right to negative the votes of the church.
This right has been too often claimed and exercised by
Congregational ministers. But there is no ground in reason,
or Scripture, for this arbitrary power. The church, we have
seen, is only an executive body, who have no power to make
laws, but only to execute the laws which Christ has made
and given them. It is absurd to suppose, that an executive
body should have a negative upon one another. The chief
Judge of the supreme court has no negativejudges, nor they upon him; for this plain reason, that they
must bring the matter before them to get a decision. But this
could not be if they had a negative upon each other. So in
a church, if a pastor could negative their votes, he might
prevent them from bringing any cause to a decision. If the
pastor might negative all the votes and doings of the church,
they would really have no power at all, and never be able to determine any point, or decide any cause.
The truth is, he is
but a mere moderator; and in respect to voting, stands upon
the same ground with a private brother. If the church
vote any thing contrary to his opinion, he may object, like
any other member, but is bound, ex-afficio, to put the vote,
without personally approving it. Or if the church should
pass a sentence of such a nature and so circumstanced that
he thinks himself bound in duty to do all in his power to obstruct the execution of the sentence, he may refuse to put the vote, and relinquish his office. No man is obliged to
violate his conscience in any office he sustains. If a sheriff were required to execute a man, whom he knew to be innocent, he might refuse to act at the risk of his office. The
minister has no more controlling power over the church, than a speaker of the house of representatives has over that house; and that house has no more controlling power over
the speaker, than he has over them. So the church is a mere executive body, and the minister is a mere executive officer.
Neither the church, nor the pastor has any other power, but to execute the laws of Christ according to his directions in the text. Ecclesiastical power is one of the plainest things in nature; and had churches and ministers only followed the directions of Christ in 'our text, there never would have been any disputes and controversies about ecclesiastical authority, or about councils, presbyteries, synods, bishops, patriarchs, or popes. These are not to be found in the 18th of Matthew, and not in the words of Jesus, and mere human inventions, and the church is a mere executive body, and have no power to do any thing, but only to execute the laws of Christ according to his plain directions in this eighteenth of Matthew.
All the present disputes about councils mutual, and ex parte councils, in respect to their authority, are vain and useless; because they have no divine authority at all. And all the present disputes about the power of ordination, and the power of ordained ministers, are equally vain and absurd. For there is no power of ordination but what is lodged in every church of Christ; and no church of Christ can give any power to their officers, but what Christ has given to every one of his ministers. The disputes about ecclesiastical power never will be, nor can be settled, until the churches will return to the platform of ecclesiastical power contained in our text, from which not only Papists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, but even Congregationalists, have too far departed.
3. Since every church is formed by its own voluntary confederation, one church is neither superior, nor inferior to another in point of authority; but every church is entirely independent. There is no other necessary bond of union between individual churches, but brotherly love. This all Christian churches ought to exercise towards one another. Any number of professing Christians may form themselves into a church by confederation, and exercise all ecclesiastical power among themselves, without any special connection with, or dependence on any other church in the world.
All ecclesiastical authority comes from Christ and not from any particular church, or churches. One church has as much power as another. All churches are sisters, and stand upon a level. They may associate, or consociate for mutual advantage. But no church have a right to give up their power to an association, or consociation, or council, or any other ecclesiastical body. Churches have no right to unite for the purpose of concentrating and increasing ecclesiastical authority.
An association, or consociation, or council have no more power than any single churches of which
those bodies are composed. But it seems to be a very
general opinion, that churches can concentrate and increase
their power, by union. It is upon this principle of union, that
a presbytery is supposed to have more power than a single
church; that a synod has more power than a single presbytery; that the general assembly has more power than a
single synod; and that the pope at the head of what is
called the universal church has more power than all other
ministers and churches in the world. If the premises are
granted, these consequences must follow. If churches may
concentrate and increase their power by union; then an
association may have more power than a single church; a consociation may have more power than an association; a synod may have more power than a presbytery; a general assembly may have more power than a synod; and the church universal, with his holiness at their head, may have more power than all other churches and all other clergymen in the world.
Congregationalists often complain of Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Papists, on account of their church
government; but they have no reason to complain , when they
concentrate and increase their ecclesiastical power by union
with associations, consociations, and ecclesiastical councils,
for then they act upon precisely the same principle. When
any church gives up its independence to any other ecclesiastical body, it gives up all its power. But Christ has given no power to churches which they may give away. Congregational churches, at this day, ought to be on their guard, and strenuously maintain their independence.
4. It appears from the veiy nature of church govern ment, that there is no appeal from the authority of a particular church to any higher ecclesiastical tribunal. Every church have a right to treat matters independently of any organization, and undertake to discipline any member, they have a right to pursue the steps which Clirist has pointed out and continue the process, until they have brought the matter to a final conclusion. This is agreeable to Christ's platfonn of church government. "Moreover, if thy brother tresspass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone; if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church, but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican."
Christ here gives no direction to the censured person to appeal to any higher tribunal to take off the censure; nor to the church to call a council for advice. The censured person has no right to appeal to any higher ecclesiastical tribunal for relief, because there is no higher ecclesiastical tribunal on earth, to which he can appeal; and the church have no right to submit their decision to the decision of any higher tribunal. But what if the church should misjudge and censure a man unjustly, is there no way to rectify their mistake? If the man feels himself injured, he may ask the church to reconsider the case and they may comply with his request. Or he may ask them to call a council and lay his case before a council; and they may comply with his request. But what if they do reconsider his case and not reverse their decision? or what if they do call a council, which advises them to reverse their decision, but they will not follow their advice ? Is there no other way for him to find relief? None at all. There must be a final decision; and the church must make it. But is not this hard? It must be allowed that it is hard. But no harder, than if his case were referred to a council and they should not advise the church to reverse their decision; or than if his case should be referred to a second, or third, or ever so many councils;