The Ancient Faith
THE BODY OF CHRIST
THE MYSTICAL BODY IS COMPRISED OF ALL FAITHFUL CONGREGATIONS
That institution which separate from the world, and consociates the people of God into a peculiar community; having laws, ordinances, manners, and customs of its own, immediately derived from the Saviour of the world, is called the congregation or church of the Lord. This is sometimes technically called the mystical body of Christ, contradistinguished from his literal and natural body. Over this spiritual body he is the Head, the King, Lord, and Lawgiver, and they are severally members of his body, and under his direction and government.
The true Christian church, or house of God, is composed of all those in every place that do publicly acknowledge Jesus of Nazareth as the true Messiah, and the only Savior of men; and, building themselves upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, associate under the constitution which he himself has granted and authorized in the New Testament, and are walking in his ordinances and commandments–and of none else.
This institution, called the congregation of God, is a great community of communities–not a community representative of communities; but a community composed of many particular communities; each of which is built upon the same foundation, walks according to the same rules, enjoys the same charter, and is under the jurisdiction of no other community of Christians; but is to all other communities as an individual disciple is to every other individual disciple in any one particular community meeting in any given place.
Still, all these particular congregations of the Lord, whether at Rome, Corinth, or Ephesus, though equally independent of one another, as to the management of their own peculiar affairs; are, by virtue of one common Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one common salvation, but one kingdom or church of God; and, as such, are under obligations to co-operate with one another in all measures promotive of the great ends of Christ’s death and resurrection.
But, in order to this holy communion and co-operation of churches, it is indispensable that they have an intimate and approving knowledge of one another . . .Thus the “congregations in Judea” intimately knew one another, and co-operated. Those in Galatia also knew one another, and co-operated.
THE FAITH, WORSHIP, RIGHTEOUS, DOCTRINE OF THE CHURCH
But in granting to the communities of the saints this necessary license of deciding what is expedient, orderly, decent, and of public and practical utility in the circumstantials of Christianity, no allowance is implied authorizing any interference with a single item of the Christian institution. Hence the necessity of a very clear discrimination, not between “the essentials and non-essentials,” for in Divine Christianity there are no non-essentials.
The Christian institution has its facts, its precepts, its promises, its ordinances, and their meaning or doctrine. These are not matters of policy, of arrangement, of expediency; but of divine and immutable ordination and continuance. Hence the faith, the worship, and the righteousness; or the doctrine, the piety, and the morality of the gospel institution are not legitimate subjects of human legislation, alteration, or arrangement. No man nor community can touch these and be innocent. These rest upon the wisdom and authority of Jehovah; and he that meddles with these, presumes to do that which the cherubim and seraphim dare not. Whatever, then, is a part of the Christian faith or the Christian hope–whatever constitutes ordinances or precepts of worship, or statutes of moral right and wrong, like the ark of the covenant, is not to be touched with uninspired and uncommissioned hands.
But . . . whether we shall meet oftener than once on the Lord’s day, or at what hour, and in what sort of house; whether we shall commemorate the Lord’s death forenoon or afternoon, before day or after night; whether we shall sit round one board, or in our respective pews; whether we shall sing from book or from memory, prose or verse, &c. &c., are matters in which our conceptions of expediency, decency, and good order may have free scope. Also, whether the churches in a given district shall, by letter, messengers, or stated meetings, once or twice per annum, or oftener, communicate with one another; whether they shall send one, two, or twenty persons, or all go and communicate face to face, or send a letter; and whether they shall annually print, write, or publish their statistics, &c. &c. &c., are the mere circumstantials of the Christian institution.
The necessity of co-operation is felt everywhere and in all associations of men. It is a part of the economy of Heaven. What are mountains, but grains of sand! What are oceans, but drops of water! And what the mightiest and most triumphant armies, but collections of individual men! How much more good or ill can be done by co-operation, than by individual enterprise, the history of the world, both civil and ecclesiastic does little more than detail. One hundred churches, well disciplined, acting in concert, with Christian zeal, piety, humanity–frequently meeting together in committees of ways and means for building up Zion, for fencing in the deserts, cultivating the enclosed fields, watering the dry and barren spots, striving together mightily in prayer, in preaching the word, in contributing to the necessities of the saints, in enlightening the ignorant, and in devising all practicable ways of doing good–would, in a given period, do more than twice the same number acting in their individual capacity, without concert, without co-operation, and that united energy, always the effect of intelligent and cordial combination.
But, in order to this, Christians must regard the church, or body of Christ, as one community, though composed of many small communities, each of which is an organized member of this great national organization; which, under Christ, as the supreme and sole Head, King, Lord, and Lawgiver, has the conquest of the whole world in its prayers, aims, plans, and efforts. Hence, there must be such an understanding and agreement between these particular congregations as will suffice to a recognition and approval of their several acts; so that the members, or the measures of one community shall be treated with the respect due to them at home, in whatever community they may happen to be presented. On this principle only can any number of independent and distinct communities of any sort–political, commercial, literary, moral, or religious–act in concert with mutual advantage to themselves, and with a proper reference to the general good.
Anyone who seeks apostolic sanctions for these view of co-operation, will find ample authority in the Acts and Epistles of the Apostles. Paul addresses “all the saints in Rome” in his Epistle to the Romans (1:7) . . . These all he addresses as one single community (16:5, 10, 11, 14, 15). Again he represents “all the churches of the Gentiles” as uniting in thanks to Priscilla and Aquila, 16:4. He also represents “the churches of Christ” as uniting salutations by him to the Romans, ver. 16. In his letters to the Corinthians he addresses the church of Corinth, “All the saints which are in all Achaia,” and “all them in every place who call upon the name of Jesus Christ.” 1 Cor. 1:2; 2 Cor. 1:1. There he exhorts to “be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgments.” 1 Cor. i. 10. “The churches in Asia united in their salutations to the Corinthians,” chap. 16:19.
He speaks in the second epistle of all the churches in Achaia, as “helping together in prayer for him” and his companions, and of their helping him on his way in the work of the Lord. In the 8th chapter he informs them of the grace of God bestowed on “all churches in Macedonia,” evinced by the liberality of their united contributions to the saints. He also speaks of an equality in the mutual contributions of churches in one co-operation–and of a brother chosen by sundry communities to travel with the Apostles, 8:14,18,19; and of his accompanying brethren as “messengers of the churches.” The whole 9th chapter of this epistle speaks of the co-operation of the churches in public contributions for common objects.
Paul, and all the brethren with him, unite in the epistle to “all the churches in Galatia” (Gal.1:2). These he commands to “bear one another’s burdens, and thus to fulfil the law of Christ” (Gal.6:2). But, indeed, all the catholic epistles are unequivocal proofs that co-operation is of the very essence of the Christian institution. Such are some of Paul’s epistles, both the epistles of Peter, the 1st of John, and that of James and Jude. The very basis of such general or universal letters is the fact, that all the communities of Christ constitute but one body, and are individually and mutually bound to co-operate in all things pertaining to a common salvation.
[Taken from The Christian System, 2d. ed. (1839) by Alexander Campbell]