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does this say on the subject? The only Scripture use of the word "priest" or "priesthood," as it respects Christianity, is in reference to the common priesthood of Christian men, and the "high priesthood" of Christ. Search through the New Testament, and you will find that all such passages substantially agree with Peter's declaration: "Ye," the laity, the common Church, "are a chosen generation;" as much so as was the priestly tribe of Levi, and more, for ye are "a royal priesthood," and therein "a peculiar people." And again: "Ye are . . . built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices." St. John (Rev. i, 6) says: "Unto him who . . . both made us kings and priests unto God and his Father," etc., (v, 10; xx, 6.)
The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews is careful, respecting the high priesthood of Christ, to show that it is peculiar, is not according to the priesthood of Aaron or the Levites, but altogether unique—"after the order of Melchizedek." The old hierarchical system was now abolished, having answered its purpose as preliminary to Christianity. Christ having come, with him came the epoch of universal spiritual emancipation for the race. The rending of the temple's vail at his death had a sublime symbolical meaning. Hitherto the sacerdotal tribe could alone officiate in the temple—the highest priest could alone enter within the vail, the holiest of holies, and that but once a year; now had come the day of the universal ecclesiastical enfranchisement and the priestly consecration of all saints. The vail was "rent from the top to the bottom ;" and now the apostle (Heb. x, 19) sublimely exhorts the Church, the " brethren," to "have boldness to enter into the holiest" the unvailed, innermost place of the abolished priesthood.
Christianity knows no technical or clerical priesthood—none other than this common priestly function and dignity of all regenerated souls, under the sacerdotal headship of Christ. It has its ministry—its divinely-sanctioned administrators of instruction and discipline—but not a proper priesthood. It clothes all its true children with pontifical robes, and commands all of
nor all the councils, though they were innumerable, neither long-continued usage, nor all the world combined, shall ever be able to prevail." He proceeds to show, in detail, that all other clerical functions, such, as the sacraments, etc., originally pertained to the people.
them, as a "royal priesthood," to live, work, and suffer for the common Church, "the kingdom of God" on earth.
The priestly and prelatical ideas which characterized medieval Christianity, and still prevail so generally, sprung from early hierarchical tendencies in Church government. But what was the historical origin of the primitive Church government? what were the contemporary local facts bearing on the subject and illustrating its history? These should enable us to determine its significance.
The founders of Christianity were Jews; they saw the necessity of government in the incipient Church at Jerusalem, in a dispute about the distribution of alms, as" narrated in the Acts of the Apostles; and they adopted in this exigency the usages to which they had been accustomed among their own countrymen; for these usages were simple, unpretentious, practically effective, and familiar to the people of the new communion. But let it be distinctly remarked that they did not go to the divinely-prescribed Levitical system for their Church order. They made no appeal to the writings of Moses, but to the Synagogue—to what may be called the provincial, the popular, religious usages of the Jews; the Synagogue order being not once mentioned in the writings of Moses, nor the Synagogue once alluded to by him, except so far as general admonitions to assemble for religious instruction can be construed as allusions to it. The Synagogue was founded in the local convenience of the people, as they found it to be expedient, after their settlement in Palestine. The Synagogues were chiefly provincial places of resort for the population on the Sabbath, when they could not go to the more or less distant metropolitan temple, the latter being peculiarly the seat of the national religion, the place of the official services of the priesthood. Some authorities suppose that they were first erected under the Maccabean princes, as there is nothing said of them in the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes. Their services were characterized by much popular freedom. Their officers were not priests, but laymen. Though they had appointed readers of the law, yet the right of speaking or preaching in them was voluntary, and free to all whose intelligence and character befitted it. Christ sometimes taught in them. The apostles proclaimed the Gospel in them in the chief cities of the' Roman empire.
Aged men were appointed councilors in the Synagogue, one of their number being its president or "ruler." They were called elders, or presbyters; for these, now technicalized and mystified words, originally signified simply old men. There was also the "servant" of the synagogue, called a deacon, who had charge of the charities of the assembly and distributed them to the poor, and did other minor services. Hence the appointment of deacons in the Church at Jerusalem, for a similar purpose, as recorded in the book of Acts. These men were set apart for their functions by "ordination," or "imposition of hands "—a rite which was not used in tlie consecration of the regular priesthood, (anointing being the rite for that,) but which was a common mode of designating the rabbinical and municipal functionaries of the country.
Here, then, in common customs of their nation, the first Christians found a convenient system of order for the new Church in its emergency at Jerusalem, whence the system proceeded out through Christendom—a system which, we repeat, had no direct connection with the temple or divinely-appointed service of the Jews, which originated in popular good sense and local expediency, and which had not a single explicit prescription in their sacred writings. The apostles in copying it exemplified it, and their example is worthy of imitation, but they nowhere enjoin it.
But what a stupendous system of ecclesiasticism—of prerogatives, dignities, offices, and mysteries—has been constructed on this primitive, simple scheme of expediency! In the larger communities, where there were several presbyters, one of them was chosen to preside over the rest; he thus became the "overseer," (for this is the original meaning of episcopos, bishop;) but this simple distinction of office was perverted into diocesan prelacy, and at last culminated in the patriarchates of the East and the papacy of the West. The merely expedient distinctions of presbyter and deacon became mysterious and essential differences, indispensable priestly "orders," without which there can be no valid Church, tio efficacious sacraments. The ceremony of "ordination," "imposition of hands," (at first only an impressive form of designation to office,) became a "sacrament," a sort of magical rite, communicating and transmitting from age to age a divine virtue, and *
giving origin to the fable of "apostolic succession," with all its priestly arrogations, exclnsiveness, and uncharitableness. The sublime idea of the priesthood of the people was eclipsed throughout Christendom for more than ten centuries, and the Church became, almost universally, a huge mass of commingled ritualism, hierarchism, magical rites, and popular legends.
The whole hierarchical system of Christendom thus arose out of one of the most simple incidents of primitive Christian history: the imitation, at Jerusalem, of the order of the Jewish Synagogue by the Judaic Christians, an order which, though adopted, was, let us remember, never enjoined in the apostolic writings. Methodists, at least, believe with John Wesley that Scripture "prescribes no particular form of Church government ;" that the only New Testament ordinance on the subject is, "Let all things be done decently and in order." And the view we take of the subject is thoroughly compatible with congregational decorum and public order. Luther, after showing that every right of the ministry is a common right of the laity, adds:
Nevertheless, we have said this alone of the common rights and power of all Christians. For as all things are to be common to all Christians, as we have thus far explained and proved, it would be unbecoming for any one to push himself forward, appropriate to himself alone what belongs to us all, venture upon the use of this right, and, in case there be no one present who has also received such a right, exercise it in practice. But the right of the congregation demands this: that one, or as many as the congregation pleases, be elected and accepted, who shall, in the name of all the others, who have the same right, and in their stead, fill these offices publicly, so that there may not occur abominable disorders among the people of God, and the Church of Christ become a Babylon; but that all things shall take place in an orderly manner, as the apostle has taught. (1 Cor. xiv, 40.) This right is twofold: the one a common right exercised through the call of the congregation; the other that an individual in case of necessity use the same right. In a congregation where this right is free to all no one shall arrogate its exercise to himself without the will and call of the whole congregation. But, in cases of necessity, any one, yea, whosoever will, may avail himself of the same right.
No authority has uttered higher opinions of the divine sanction or the divine "call" of the ministry than Luther; but he found no difficulty in reconciling these with the priestly right i
inherent in the congregation. Expediency was, with him, divine law, there being nothing expedient that is not right.*
Having thus reviewed the subject from the identical standpoint of the Reformation and the primitive Church, let us now consider some of the deductions which may be made from it:
First. We infer from it the essential equality of all saints, in the kingdom of God on earth. They are all a "royal priesthood"—all summoned to enter through the rent vail into the "holiest of holies," whither the supreme pontiff of the old dispensation could alone go. To eyes undimmed by the perverse traditions of the post-apostolic ages, the thoroughly democratic constitution of the primitive Church stands out a fact manifest and sublime. On the apostles, as the companions and personal witnesses of Christ, devolved the task of founding it by the general promulgation of his truth. They never pause to construct for it a formal polity; they adopt instead expedient measures, as these may be casually needed, and, having completed their mission, the apostolate expires, leaving the new-born communion free to grow by its own normal development according to the varied conditions of different lands and
* Students of Church polity, who may wish further critical verifications of the above views than are given in the authorities at the head of our article, may be referred to Vitringa's De Synagoga Veteri; Stillingfleet's Irenimm; Lord King's Primitive Church; Archbishop Whateley's Kingdom of Christ Pressensd's recent volume on The Apostolic Era takes extreme but well-authenticated views of the priesthood and general powers of the people in the primitive Church. Published in this country by the Methodist Episcopal Church, it may be supposed to be thus tacitly indorsed by the denomination. The highest Methodist authorities on such questions (M'Clintock and Strong's Cyclopedia, under the word "Clergy ") giving substantially Neandor's opinion, say: "In the Apostolical Church no abstract distinction of clergy and laity, as to privilege or sanctity, was known; all believers were called to the prophetic, kingly, and priestly offices in Christ. (1 Pet. v, 3.) The Jewish antithesis of clergy and laity was at first unknown among Christians, and it was only as men fell back from the evangelical to the Jewish point of view that the idea of the general Christian priesthood of all believers gave place, more or less completely, to that of the special priesthood or clergy. So Tertullian says, (De Baptismo, p. 17, before he became a Montanist:) 'The laity have also the right to administer the sacraments and to teach in the community... .If we look at the order necessary to bo maintained in the Church, the laity are therefore to exercise their priestly right of administering the sacraments only when the time or circumstances require it.' From the time of Cyprian, (A. D. 258,) the father of the hierarchical system, the distinction of clergy and laity became prominent, and very soon was universally admitted. Indeed, from the third century onward the term clerus was almost exclusively applied to the ministry to distinguish it from the laity."