Davidson’s Ecclesiastical Polity -- By: Samuel Davidson

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 005:19 (Aug 1848)
Article: Davidson’s Ecclesiastical Polity
Author: Samuel Davidson

Davidson’s Ecclesiastical Polity

Samuel Davidson

It has been understood for some years, that the author of this work, who is widely known as a theological professor in the Lancashire Independent College near Manchester, and one of the most learned and diligent scholars in Great Britain, has been engaged in the preparation of an elaborate treatise on church polity. Proposing to himself to make an investigation de novo of the principles and usages which respect the government of the church, as they are contained in the New Testament, rather than to undertake the defence of any one existing form of ecclesiastical polity, it is not without reason that in view of his known independence the results at which he should arrive have been looked for with no little interest. These results we will now endeavor in a brief compass to state.

The main questions in dispute in respect to church polity, it is well known, resolve themselves into these three: —what is the meaning of ἐκκλησία, or church; in whom is its government primarily vested; and what relation do its officers sustain towards each other in respect to rank and prerogative.

The first of these is fundamental, since upon the solution given to the question, what we are to understand by church as used in the New Testament, the decision of the others in no small degree depends. Does it mean, then, a single visible commonwealth, spread in separate communities over the earth, but possessing a common organization, and recognizing a common ruler, as the Greek and Romish churches claim? or is it the aggregation of a number of congregations within a province or country, united under a mutually recognized government, like the church of England or Scotland, or the Presbyterian and Episcopal churches in the United States? or does it simply mean a local assembly of Christians associated together for the observance of

Christian worship and ordinances, or as the Cambridge Platform expresses it and as Congregationalists hold, “a company of saints by calling, united into one body by an holy covenant for the public worship of God, and the mutual edification of one another in the fellowship of the Lord Jesus?”

Of these widely different views Dr. Davidson affirms that the last only is supported by the New Testament. Passing by what is said in the Scriptures of the church universal, which, as being composed of all in heaven and on earth who are interested in the blessings of redemption, has no special connection with the question at issue, our author maintains that a church is a congregation—not of course of free citizens assembled for political purposes, as the word

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