Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 24, 1951
NUMBER 4, PAGE 10-11b

Simplicity Of The Divine Economy -- No. 3

Benjamin Franklin

Why should (some men) try to get rid of the idea that the original church is a model? I will proceed to tell you why.

3. Because the idea of congregations with humble overseers and deacons—plain men—it may be farmers, mechanics, merchants, doctors, or lawyers, at the head of affairs, as in the first church—is not to be endured in this advanced age of refinement, taste and learning. Such a state of things can not be endured. No matter if we do not know half as much about the Bible as these humble men did in the first church, or as similar men did among us fifty years ago, we have more taste, polish, and refinement, and we cannot endure these plain men. It is not always "taste, refinement, or polish," that is in the way, but much of it is pride, ignorance and unregenerated humanity; and we must be brought into subordination to our Lord, reconciled to God, conformed to the image of Jesus. When this shall be done thoroughly, we shall love the things of God, that which God has sanctioned and approved, because it came from God, was dictated by His wisdom, and thus proved to be right.

4. Because, if the primitive church is a model, and we must mold the churches after it, and make them like it, and do as it did, we can have no aggregation of churches into one great body, like "other denominations," with presidents, vice-presidents, secretaries, etc., for there was nothing of the kind in the original church. This is humiliating in the extreme. What shall we do with our great talent, learning, and great men generally? If they can have no great meetings in which to preside, make speeches, and display their talent, learning and oratory, we are coming to a strange pass indeed! These great men cannot go out among plain, humble, obscure people, and preach Christ to them, as the ministers of Jesus did in the time of the apostles. Their talent, learning, and eloquence do not lead them in that way. The thought of going out to the people, and preaching the cross to them, and turning them to the Lord, in all parts of the land; to the high and to the low, to the rich and to the poor, to the cultivated and uncultivated; in one word, to cultivate, elevate, and educate men and women wherever they may be found, and make a lifetime work of it, as some who now live have done, and as the first preachers of Christ did, is a work they have not studied. If the original church is a model, this is the kind of work for the men of talent and power, and not confederating the congregations of the Lord into an ecclesiasticism, with them at the head of it. This is one reason our great men cannot see it. It does not suit their ideas.

6. Because, if the original church is a model, we have no precept, or example, of any arrangement for a great center, where the money is to come from the churches into a treasury, and be at the disposal of a few men. We saw a man once who had a large sugar-orchard, on an extended hillside, the trees standing remarkably thick. He tried to plan guttering poles, split in two, and extending tributaries from the trees into the main trunk, and thus bring the water all into one vessel at the lower side of the orchard, without the labor of gathering and hauling.

This would have served his purpose very well, if it had not cost more than it would be worth. But in the original church there was no "Plan" like this to extract money from the pockets of the people and make the churches tributaries, and by some kind of machinery convey the money into one common treasury, and arrange it for a few men to appropriate the money of the whole people. In the first congregations they had no great moneyed centers for avaricious men to wrangle over. The appropriations were made by the individual congregations, and not by boards at a distance. The congregation that gave the money could also appropriate it.

7. Because, if we go back to the original churches for a model, we find no account of any action but congregational and individual. Congregations acted, in their capacity, as congregations; and individuals, in their capacity, as individuals. A number of churches, in a body, never acted. We have not a trace of such action in the Bible, or any other writing of the first and second centuries. The whole idea of any such action is lost the moment we regard the first church as a model.

8. Because, if we regard the first church as a model, we have neither precept nor example for an Association of Churches, a Conference of Churches, a Missionary Society, Publication Society, Bible Society, or Annual Meeting or a Monthly Meeting. This will cut us off from many fine things, now occupying more space in the prints than the gospel of Christ. But, no matter how closely it prunes us, we must submit to it or surrender our idea of "ancient order," the "Bible alone," a "thus saith the Lord" for everything, and the first church a model. All this must go for nothing, and much more, or we must submit. I am ready to submit, for the wisdom of God was in the formation of the first church. Whatever was not in it was left out by infinite wisdom because it was not needed. We must not assume deficiencies in the work of infinite wisdom, nor that finite wisdom can supply such deficiencies. Such assumption would be arrogant in the extreme, and open the way for any heresy men could invent.

What has the wisdom of men done for us, in departing from the original church as a model? One class of men have claimed that their human organizations made by uninspired men, are scriptural, and can be sustained by scripture; and they enter the arena, open the Bible, and undertake the proof. The Pope claims Scripture for his confederation of congregations, and his long list of officers, and quotes Scripture in its behalf. The Episcopalians, in like manner, claim Scripture for 'the Episcopal form of church government, and open the Book to find it. The Presbyterians also claim Scripture and enter the list, quote Scripture and apply it, as if the church of which we have an account in the Bible, and of which these Scriptures treat were Presbyterian. But the Bible testifies not about that church. It is an outside body, brought into the world many long centuries too late to have any record in Scripture, unless a prophetic one, like all the sects.

But men have become weary of the tedious process of hunting for Scripture; and another class, and a much larger one, admit that there is no Scripture for any of them; but they are left free to form any kind of conference, association, cooperation, or confederation, they may see fit; or, as expressed in a paper at hand, "that the Scriptures leave God's people free to adopt whatever plan of general organization and co-operation may seem to them best calculated to promote the unity and prosperity of the churches." This assumes that the Lord has given no rule, or law; no "plan of general organization and cooperation;" and as he has given no law, we are left free to adopt any law that may seem best!

(Continued next week)