CHAPTER II. —THE CHURCH
Section 4.—The Place of Church Members.
history of the council suggests to us, that, in important ecclesiastical matters, the Christian people, or the ordinary members of the church, though not possessed of a judicial or authoritative voice in determining them, ought to be consulted; that the merits of the case ought to be expounded to them, and that their consent and concurrence should, if possible, be obtained. There is a very marked distinction kept up through the whole of the narrative we are now considering, as well as through the New Testament in general, between the position and functions of the apostles and elders, or of the office-bearers, on the one hand, and of the people or ordinary members on the other. The assembly, as we have seen, was composed properly and formally only of the apostles and elders; and its decisions were, as they are expressly called by the inspired historian, “the decrees that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem.” All this is very plain, —so plain, that it cannot be explained away; and therefore what is said or indicated of the place and standing of the people or ordinary members, must, if possible, be so interpreted as to be consistent with this.
What, then, is here said of the people ; and what does it fairly and naturally imply? They are mentioned for the first time in the twelfth verse, where we are told that “all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul.” This, of course, implies that they were present, but it implies nothing more; and, for anything that appears here, they might have been mere spectators and auditors, without having anything more to do with the matter. They are next mentioned in the twenty‑second verse, where we are told that “it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, sun th ekklhsia, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch.” Now, the way in which they are here introduced, plainly implies that they did not stand upon the same platform in the matter with the apostles and elders, and that they had not the same place and standing in this, any more than in the preceding part, of the transaction which the office-bearers had. It does imply, however, that after the apostles and elders had made up their minds as to what was the mind and will of God in this matter, and what decision should be pronounced, the subject was brought before the people, that they were called upon to attend to it, to exercise their judgment upon it, and to make up their mind regarding it. It implies that all this was done, and that, as the result of it, the brethren were convinced of the justice and soundness of the decision, and expressed their concurrence in it, as well as in the practical step by which it was followed up, of sending chosen men of their company to Antioch. All this having taken place, it was perfectly natural that the public letter addressed upon the subject to the Gentile churches, should run in the name of the whole body of those who at Jerusalem had adopted or concurred in the decision or judgment pronounced ; and, accordingly, we find at the twenty-second verse, that this letter runs in the name of “the apostles, and elders, and brethren.” There is no reasonable ground to doubt the correctness of the representation we have given of the actual facts or res gestae of the case, as indicated by the narrative, up till the time of the preparation of this letter; and if it be correct, then the mere introduction of the brethren, along with the apostles and elders, into the letter, cannot be fairly held to indicate, as it certainly does not necessarily imply, that the brethren formed a constituent part of the assembly, or that they had acted with anything like judicial authority, as the apostles and elders had done, in deciding upon the question.
Some Presbyterians, afraid that this introduction of the brethren into the letter along with the apostles and elders, might sanction the idea, that ordinary members of the church had some judicial authority in deciding controversies as well as the officebearers, have tried to show that the brethren mentioned here are not the same parties as the whole church mentioned in the preceding verse, but rather the presbyters, or elders, who were not pastors or teachers. But this, I think, is a forced and unnatural interpretation, unwarranted by anything in the passage itself, and unnecessary to the end for the promotion of which it has been devised. Presbyterians have always denied, upon good and sufficient grounds, that Scripture assigns to the ordinary members of the church anything like judicial authority in the decision of controversies, or in the ordinary administration of the general government of the church. But they have very generally admitted, on the ground of what is contained in this chapter and in other parts of the New Testament, that, in important ecclesiastical questions, the nature and merits of the case, and the grounds and reasons of the judgment, should, in so far as circumstances allowed of it, be laid before the ordinary members of the church; and that their consent and concurrence should, if possible, be obtained. Presbyterians, indeed, have never assigned to the ordinary members of the church, because they could see no warrant in Scripture for doing so, the same distinct and definite place and influence in the ordinary regulation of ecclesiastical affairs in general, as they have ascribed to them in the appointment of their own office-bearers; in other words, they have never held their consent or concurrence in the decisions pronounced by the office-bearers in the ordinary regulation of ecclesiastical affairs to be necessary or indispensable, so that the withholding or refusal of their consent nullified or invalidated the judgment, or formed a bar in the way of its taking practical effect.
Upon distinct and specific scriptural grounds bearing upon this particular subject, Presbyterians have usually held that the consent or concurrence of the ordinary members of the church is necessary or indispensable in the appointment of their office-bearers, so that the withholding or refusal of their consent or concurrence is an insuperable bar to the formation of the pastoral relation. But, while they have maintained this principle upon special scriptural grounds, bearing upon this particular topic of the election of office-bearers, they have usually denied that either this, or anything else contained in Scripture, afforded any sufficient ground for assigning to the ordinary members of the church so high and definite a standing and influence in the ordinary government of the church, or in the regulation of ecclesiastical affairs in general. They have, however, generally admitted that, in important questions affecting the welfare and peace of the church, the people should be consulted, and that their consent and concurrence should, if possible, be secured by the fair use of scriptural arguments addressed to their understandings.
The Presbyterians of this country about the time of the Westminster Assembly, had perhaps somewhat higher and more aristocratic ideas of the power and authority of ecclesiastical officebearers and church courts than had been generally entertained by the Reformers of the preceding century; not that there was any very marked or definite difference in opinion or doctrinal statement between them on this subject, but that there was a somewhat different impression produced by the controversy in which, at the later of these two periods, Presbyterians were engaged with the Independents, —a disposition to keep rather at a distance from anything that might seem to favor Congregationalism. Accordingly, there is nothing direct or explicit upon the subject of the place and standing of the people in the general regulation of ecclesiastical affairs, as distinguished from their influence or privilege in the election of their office-bearers, —nothing, indeed, but the general statement formerly explained, that Christ has given the ministry to the church, —contained in any of our authorized standard books prepared at that time. But, at the same time, it is certain that the leading Presbyterians of that period held the principle about the consultation and concurrence of the people which we are now illustrating; and that they ordinarily acted upon it in practice.
As this point has been very much overlooked in modern times, it may be proper briefly to adduce some evidence of the statement which has now been made. In 1641, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland sent a letter to their Presbyterian brethren in England, who had asked their opinion in regard to the Congregational scheme of church government, which contained the following passage: —“Not only the solemn execution of ecclesiastical power and authority, but the whole exercises and acts thereof, do properly belong unto the officers of the kirk; yet so that, in matters of chiefest importance, the tacit consent of the congregation be had before their decrees and sentences receive final execution.” We have statements to the same effect published in the same year by Alexander Henderson and George Gillespie, —the one the most influential actor, and the other the most learned and conclusive reasoner, among the great men who adorned our church at that important era in her history. In the work entitled “The Government and Order of the Church of Scotland,” intended to give an account to Englishmen of the ordinary practice of our church, Henderson says, “Nothing useth to be done by the lesser or greater presbytery—i.e., the kirk-session or the presbytery—in ordering the public worship, in censuring of delinquents, or bringing them to public repentance, but according to the settled order of the church, and with express or tacit consent of the congregation.” And Gillespie, in his treatise entitled « An Assertion of the Government of the Church of Scotland,” has the following statement: “It is objected (by Independents) that what concerneth all, ought to be done with the consent of all. Answer, We hold the same; but the consent of all is one thing, the exercise of jurisdiction by all, another thing.” And, in commenting upon the council of Jerusalem, he gives the same view of this point as we have done, saying, “The apostles and elders met, sat, and voiced apart from’ the whole church, and they alone judged and decreed. In the meanwhile were matters made known to the whole church, and done with the consent of all . . . . . The brethren are mentioned (along with the apostles and elders), because it was done with their knowledge, consent, and applause.”
These were the views entertained upon this subject by the men to whom we are indebted for the standards of our church, who held that they were sanctioned by the inspired narrative of the council at Jerusalem, while they held also that neither this, nor any other portion of the New Testament, warranted or required the ascription to the people of any higher place or standing than this in the ordinary administration of ecclesiastical affairs.
 The theological Faculty of Utrecht thought that too high ground was taken on some points connected with this subject in Gillespie’s (cxi) Propositions. Vide “Voetii Politica Ecclesiastica,” P. i., Lib. I. tract ii., c. vii., tom. I. p. 246. The faculty consisted at this time of Voetius, de Maets, and Hoornbeeck, and the judgement prepared by Voetius was signed by them.
 P. 39.
 Pp. 117-118.
 Vide Discussions on Church Principles, p. 383, etc. —EDRS.