The Proposed Polity Of The United Church -- By: William Eleazar Barton

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 063:250 (Apr 1906)
Article: The Proposed Polity Of The United Church
Author: William Eleazar Barton

The Proposed Polity Of The United Church

William Eleazar Barton

[The question of the church polity of the new organization was so important, and the opportunity for discussing the report of the Committee so brief, that it was regarded as entirely provisional and open to discussion. In view of this, Dr. Barton has been asked to state the problems, and shed such light upon them as he may obtain from the Congregational ministers in the vicinity of Chicago.—Ed.]

The report of the Committee on Polity consumed more time, and was less carefully considered, than either of the other reports; but, taken as a whole, it is good. The fundamental principles which it enunciates at the outset are those on which not only these three but other denominations may unite; and the plan that follows is comprehensive and flexible.

There are, however, certain infelicities, and these, which the Council did not take time to consider, must now be considered by the churches.

First, as to the constitution of the National Conference. It is provided that this shall be determined by the annual conferences in a manner prescribed. The district conferences each nominate two persons,—one lay, the other clerical,—and from these nominations as a whole the annual conferences elect one delegate for each ten thousand members. The annual conferences correspond in a general way to the Congregational state associations. The right of direct representation of the churches through their local associations or conferences is reduced to the right of nomination.

But the state body also elects, without nomination from below, one delegate for each ten thousand members; and, where there are churches not in local conferences, the state body elects for these churches according to its own methods. Thus the state body controls, at the outset, a slight majority of all delegates, and elects the rest out of twice as many nominations. Over this state body presides the superintendent, who is also the chairman of the committee of pastoral supply. Why is so much of power within the state lodged so near the top of the system? Why may not the churches elect the large majority of delegates to the national conference through the body closest to the local church, and the smallest unit, with a sufficient membership to afford a basis of representation?

Here is wholly needless invitation to ring-rule. If Congregationalists accept it without effort to modify it, the result will be a wide departure from their past; and it will perpetuate some things which the United Brethren have been seeking to escape.

It is wise that there should be more delegates at large...

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