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Doctor, after setting out with a proper definition of the word schism, "that it is an unlawful breach of the orders and institutions of the Christian Church, and an unwarrantable separation from its communion," by degrees steals off from the ground upon which he set out; till, after having proved that there is no Church, that Christians can be called upon to hold communion with, he concludes, "that those profane persons are the true separatists from the Church, who never worship God in public." So that, according to the Doctor's ingenious disquisition on this subject, to separate from the Church, and set up a communion in opposition to the communion of the Church, means no more than to absent from the worship of it.
According to the Doctor's first position in favour of separatists from the Church, that they cannot possibly be schismatics, because "there is not one individual assembly that worships God according to the manner prescribed in scripture, but they are ready to communicate with it:" there will be no such thing as obligation to Church unity, and consequently no such thing as schism in the world. For I would be glad to know, what manner of worship was prescribed in scripture for the direction of Christians in this respect, when the Apostles considered every separation from the communion of the then established Church, as schism. If the obligation to Church unity depend upon a manner of worship described for that pur pose in scripture, and no such manner of worship is to be found, there can be no such thing as Church unity at all: consequently, those who created
divisions in the primitive Church, might have told the Apostles, in reply to their censures on that subject, that they could not possibly be schismatics, because they were ready to communicate with any assembly that worshipped God according to the manner prescribed in scripture. According to the Doctor's curious logic, therefore, at the time they were actually guilty of the sin of schism, by separating from the established Apostolic Church, they were at unity with it.
The Doctor's concluding position, by which he makes separating from the Church, and absenting from it, to mean the same thing, proves that he thought his cause fairly run out, and that he was quite at a loss for an argument to prevent its falling breathless to the ground.
There is still one plausible idea upon this subject, which, from its great prevalency, must not be passed by unnoticed. It is found in page 156 of your book, where, speaking of the established clergy and their Dissenting brethren, you say, "whilst they are agreed in essentials and fundamentals, let them not fall out about ceremonials and circumstantials." This is an idea, I beg leave to say, that was never heard of in the Church till these latter days; and it is an idea perfectly inconsistent with the unity of the Christian Church. But, to take this matter on your own ground: if the members of the established Church, and dissenters from it, are agreed in essentials and fundamentals, as you seem to allow them to be; it follows, that the separation of the dissenters from the established Church, which constitutes the sin of
schism, is occasioned, by an attention to mere nonessentials. Still, in this case, you think the clergy of the Church should not dispute and fall out with the dissenters, about ceremonials and circumstantials; at the same time, no notice at all is taken of the dissenters having fallen out with the Church on that very account.
Now, Sir, allowing that ceremonials and circumstantials, when compared with essential doctrines, are matters of indifference; still, would it not be more reasonable and more consistent with that order and government, without which no society can subsist, and which in this country has received the sanction of legislative authority, that the dissenter should not fall out with the Church on such an account; than that the clergy should themselves go out of the Church to countenance a schism, that is to be traced up to so unjustifiable a cause? Address this argument to the dissenter, to induce him to return to the Church, from which, according to the principle here laid down by yourself, he ought not to have separated, and it is unanswerable; but when addressed to the clergy of the Church, to induce them to communicate in schism, it becomes an argument, which it might have been hoped no member of the Church would have used.
But if we examine this subject a little further, it will appear that the plausible ground you have here taken, will prove very unsound, when tried by its proper standard.
By essentials and fundamentals you mean the pure word of God, and the administration of the sacraments. According to Dr. Edwards's position,
which you seem to have embraced, those places of worship among the dissenters, "where the pure word of God is preached, and the sacraments duly administered according to Christ's ordinance, are true Churches, and therefore not schismatical.”
I am sorry to be obliged to object, both to the premises, and the conclusions. In the first place, the sacraments are not duly administered according to Christ's ordinance, unless they are administered by those who (in Bishop Burnet's words) have been ordained, according to that constitution which was settled in the Church by the Apostles." The congregations of dissenters are, on that account, in the language of our Canons, "not true and lawful Churches." But, allowing that they were true Churches, they would still be schismatical; because they have broken away from the communion of the established Church: for as the Church of Christ is but one, there cannot be two separate communions in it without schism; and the schism lies on the side of that party which separates; for to separate from a Church established by public authority, which has nothing sinful in its communion, is both disobedience to the supreme authority in the state, and a schism from the true Church.
Admitting, then, the congregations of dissenters to be true Churches, it is not sufficient to prove that they are not schismatical, because they agree in all the essential articles of faith and worship with the Church of England. This was the case of the Donatists, who yet were schismatics from the Catholic Church. Whereas, as we have above
observed, where there are two Churches which are not members of each other, there is a schism, though they should agree in every thing but a communion; and the Church on whose side the schism lies, is, according to the primitive language, extra ecclesiam foris, out of the Catholic Church.
The mistake which prevails on this subject, and which has led many members of the Church to communicate in schism without being conscious of it, has arisen from want of attending to the true nature of the sin of schism. Many wellmeaning persons have been apt to think, that provided they hear the doctrine of the Church, it signifies not where they hear it ; or with what congregations of Christians they assemble. But they should remember, that the sin of schism respects not only the doctrine taught, but also the place where it is taught. A departure from the doctrine, properly speaking, constitutes heresy; a departure from the Church communion, constitutes schism. There may be heresy where there is no schism, as in the case of a corrupt Church; and there may be schism where there is no heresy, as where division takes place in a pure Church. The first schism or division of the Church, that we read of, took place among the Christians at Corinth it consisted in each congregation of disciples attaching themselves to one particular minister; thereby dividing and breaking the unity of the Church, by which all Christian congregations were to join in communion with each other. 66 Every one of you saith, I am of Paul, and I of Apollos, and I of