Ecclesiastical Questions In The National Council -- By: A. Hastings Ross

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 050:200 (Oct 1893)
Article: Ecclesiastical Questions In The National Council
Author: A. Hastings Ross


Ecclesiastical Questions In The National Council

A. Hastings Ross

The Southern Question

In reviewing certain ecclesiastical questions which have appeared in the National Council of the Congregational churches of the United States, we give the first place to the Southern question, as it is the most vital. There was a sharp contention over it at Worcester, in 1889, and again at Minneapolis, in 1892. How did it happen that in both Councils principles and practices which should have admitted at once the delegates from certain conferences in Georgia and in Alabama to seats in the Council, were invoked to keep them out? It is worthy of inquiry how a method of procedure in fellowship, foreign in its origin, subversive of our constitutive principle, and therefore revolutionary, obtained such currency in Georgia and Alabama as to hinder union there among our churches, and in the North as to stir two Councils as nothing else had stirred them, except the attempt in the last Council to belittle the question of representation of our churches in their benevolent and missionary societies.

Fortunately the outcome of the discussion in each Council was substantially in harmony with our polity.

Origin of Congregational Churches in Georgia and Alabama.

This inquiry is necessary in order to explain how the Southern question came into the National Council. About the year 1850, the elements of a separation from the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, began to take form, largely in consequence of “the degraded station which local ministers were obliged to take and maintain in said church. Although a great deal of the work of the church was done by them, they were neither allowed to exercise any governing function, nor to have any voice in saying who should govern either their converts or themselves. This truth, perhaps, was to a greater extent operative in the production of the Congregational Methodist Church than any other one thing. The great sun and centre of their system was the desire that there should be no artificial, unscriptural, and hurtful distinction among” the ministers of Christ.1 Two years later, in 1852, the cleavage began, and the Congregational Methodist Church emerged, “whose doctrine [was] exactly Methodistic,” but “whose government [was] in accordance with our civil institutions and their own ideas of propriety.”2 This communion, born of the love of Christian liberty, like our own and the “Mission Union” in Sweden, spread into several Southern States, being Methodist in doctrine and Congregational in polity, numbering, in 1881, about twenty thousand members.

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