Part III. Chapter III.
Of just grounds to break off communion: particularly, of making impious and unlawful things, or unrighteous usurpations and encroachments, the terms of their communion.
From what I have said in the two preceding chapters, without inquiring further into any lower degrees and instances thereof, I think it may competently appear, what schism is, and who the persons are that may justly be charged therewith: either as breaking off from their own church, by unjustly throwing off, and dividing from their own orthodox and lawful bishops; or, as breaking off from other churches, by unjustly refusing communion to their members, or by unjustly granting it to their schismatics, or excommunicates. And more particularly, that they are guilty of this great and dangerous sin of schism, who unjustly turn subjects, or side with anti-bishops set up over them, against their own orthodox and lawful bishops. Yea, though such defectors to the anti-bishops, make the greatest numbers; or are set up by the civil state, as the civilly established or endowed church. And that all other churches, and their members, are guilty of the same, who shall own and come in to them, and admit them into their communion, and keep on communion with them.
I say they are schismatics, who by any of these ways shall break off from others unduly, and without just cause. But some things, are a just ground to break off, either dependence and subjection to our own bishops, or communion with other churches: some things, as I come next to show, not being to be born, nor others to be parted with, for the love of external peace and union. And when these can be justly and duly alleged for standing off, it is always justifiable, and commonly necessary, to break communions. However, to break off resorting to their assemblies; though at the same, we should still allow their members to resort to ours. For this later, many times may be allowed longer, where it can be done without scandal; especially, before the church has proceeded judicially to censure and excommunicate the offending parties: as it was allowed to the Romanists, and accepted by them, for several years in the beginning of Q. Elizabeth's reign; and also to the dissenters, in later days. And if there are such pleas for breaking off, either from any persons, or churches, there is no breach of gospel-union, nor blame of schism, in such cases. And of these, I shall now,
2. In the second place give some account, that when we see any persons or people, breaking off, either subjection to their former bishops, or ecclesiastical concord and fraternal communion with other churches, we may understand where schism is, and where it is not to be charged; and be more clear in several matters of importance in this argument.
Now such just ground there is for the members of any church to break off communion, either with their own bishops, or with other churches, when they can allege either some things against the terms of their communion, or others against their persons and doctrines. It is a just ground to break off from them, if they make impious and unlawful things, or unrighteous usurpations and encroachments, the terms of their communion. Or, though nothing of this can be alleged against the terms, if heresy can be justly objected to their persons.
These, I say, are just grounds, and give a liberty to break off from the communion of any persons or churches. And I choose rather to express it, by this giving them a liberty; than by imposing on them a conscionable necessity, to do so. For some grounds, give a liberty to break communion, either with their own bishops, or with other churches, which do not in conscience necessitate men; as unrighteous usurpations and encroachments, when they are made the condition thereof. For though men need not submit to them; yet, if they are pleased to do it, they ordinarily may do so without sin, and suffer such encroachments in then own wrong.
Besides, the duty of uniting with any particular persons, or churches, is bound upon us by certain things, or qualifications, in those persons or churches, which oblige us to their communion and dependence. And, as the being and presence of those things and qualifications, binds it on; so doth the failure thereof, unbind the same, and set men at liberty to go off from them.
I say to go off from them, not to go off from all, and hold on communicating with none. For when they are no longer bound to communicate, with such particular bishops, or churches: yet are they still bound thereto with others, or under a general obligation to communion. I mean, when they have opportunity for the same, which is presupposed to all obligation of actual exercise and discharge thereof, by this, like as it is by all other affirmative duties. The communion of saints professed in the creed, obliges us to communicate as we have opportunity, in all Christian offices, with all true Christians, who still retain those qualifications I spoke of. Though it leaves us free to stand off from any others, who have fallen from them; and ties us up no further to communicate with them.
1. First, it is always a just ground to break off from them, if they make impious or unlawful things, the terms or conditions, of their own members, or of others, keeping on communion with them. I do not say it is the only ground, having mentioned others, but it is always a just ground thereof: and thus it is,
1. When they put impious, or unlawful things, into their sacred offices, and mix sinful matters in that body of prayers, or administration of sacraments, which they call others to communicate with. What allowances may be made herein, for a generally corrupt state of the church; and how far, in necessity and want of others, good people may be at liberty still to resort to such, I shall consider afterwards. But such mixture of sin and profanation, in what they are called to communicate in, I think sets people loose, and leaves them no longer bound to them.
For the communion, which all Christians are obliged to seek in the catholic church, is the communion of saints. This saintship, though it be not always in reality, must at least be always in profession. The persons, must all be professed saints, whom we communicate with. And the things and offices, must all be of professed saintship, which we are called to communicate in. And such, those public offices are not, that have any gross sins or wickednesses, which are all so many profanations, for the matter of them.
This saintship, wherein this communion is to be held, lies more especially in faith, and worship. And where they fail in either of these, we are not bound to communion with any assemblies. It is so plainly, where they fail in point of faith. For heresy, which is a corruption of faith, will set us loose, as I shall show hereafter, from the communion of any persons, or churches. And corruptions of worship, are to the full, not only as offensive, but as openly dishonourable to God, who is not more aspersed or provoked by a false belief and confession, than by a corrupt and wicked worship: so that among those, whose business in religious assemblies, is to see God honoured, and to seek that he may be appeased, any gross sins made the matter of worship, which are a corruption of worship, will do the same. They not only set God's faithful people free, to stand off from such corrupt offices; but oblige his faithful pastors, to stand up for him, and to minister or afford better, out of a just sense of the people's needs, and jealousy for God's honour, as I showed before.
Besides, our chief obligations to unite our selves to any religious assemblies, is, as they are assemblies for worship. We, as so many live stones, are joined together and built into a spiritual house, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, as St. Peter says (1 Peter 2. 5). Yea, and as they are purely for worship; not partly for worshipping, and partly for profaning God: there being obligation enough on the servants of God, to meet together to see him publicly honoured, but none to see him publicly profaned. And therefore we are not obliged to make part of such assemblies, as put up sinful matters, and gross wickedness, in their public offices. For worship is a profession of honour and reverence. But sin and wickedness, are professions of irreverence and reproach; and so are not worship, but profanations. So that the obligations incumbent on God's servants, to meet there, where offerings are to be made that are for his honour, yea, only such as are for his honour; will not bind them, but, if they can serve him any where else, rather forbid them to meet there, where these profanations are.
Thus is the matter of religious meetings, or the worship and service there performed, the chief thing that carries the obligation to them. I say the chief, but not the only thing. For we are members of a church, as well as professors of a religion; and as Christians, are incorporated into a society, as well as instructed in a doctrine. And both these bind us to religious assemblies. For, as good Christians, we ought to meet there, to show our adherence to the church as a society, or our union to it as members; as well as to put up prayers to God by Jesus Christ, or to pay our religious worship and service. That is, our Christianity obliges us to meet together, both to present our religious oblations and acknowledgments to almighty God, and to do it in dependence on our lawful pastors, or in the unity of the church.
But this obligation to these meetings, as thereby keeping union with the church as a society, is but a secondary obligation: and that of paying truly Christian and acceptable worship, is the first and chief therein. For the end, why Christians were formed into a society; was to keep up the profession and payment of that holy doctrine and worship, which are necessary or peculiar to them, as they are a sect or religion. And the members are bound to stick to it, whilst it stands upon this doctrine and worship, not when it starts off from it. It is the religion, which recommends the church. And we are to choose our church or assemblies, for the religions; not our religion, for the churches sake. So that their falling off from pure Christian worship and doctrine, which are necessary to the religion, to its honouring God, or our acceptance by it; loosens the bond of union to any assemblies, and sets men free to join with any others regularly empowered, who stick faster to them.
Agreeably to all this, we find faith and worship spoke of, as the great ligaments, that are to bind and unite us to any church. Of the ligament of faith, I shall treat in its proper place. And as for worship, which lies partly in confessions of faith, but more especially in prayers and sacraments, it is a ligament too, and prayers and sacraments are set off, as compacting us into one body, or cementing us into one spiritual house. Thus, of prayers, St. Peter says we are set together as one spiritual house, to send up spiritual sacrifices, 1 Peter 2. 5. And of the sacraments, it is declared, that we are all baptized into one body, 1 Corinthians 12. 13. And that we are one body, by partaking all of one bread, 1 Corinthians 10. 17. And by having been made all to drink into one spirit, 1 Corinthians 12. 13. Therein referring to the one loaf, whereof we all eat, and to the one cup whereof we all drink, in the holy eucharist.
Now as that faith, which is to unite and bind us to any churches or assemblies, is not any erroneous or heretical tenets, as I shall show anon, but the orthodox and right faith: so is that worship, which is to do the same, not any sinful and profane, but a truly Christian and holy worship; or such an oblation of prayers, and administration of sacraments, as Christ has instituted and appointed, and will not reject and punish, but accept of. It must be a worship, not only in spirit, opposite to the way of carnal sacrifices, and the numerousness of Jewish ceremonies and external rites: but also in truth, opposite to all false, superstitious, or otherwise sinful ways, which really are not worship but profaneness. For in Christianity, the true worshippers, as our Lord says, are they who worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4. 23, 24). Yea, as he adds, the father seeketh such to worship him, v. 23. And if he seeketh such worshippers, his devoted servants, who have no other aim, but to find him, and to be found by him, must seek out such assemblies, where such worship is paid to him. And thus also St. Peter says of those sacrifices, the joint-communion wherein is to bind us together into one spiritual house; that they must be such spiritual sacrifices, as are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ our Lord (1 Peter 2. 5).
So that the unity in worship and prayers, which we are bound to keep with other Christians, or assemblies; is only whilst they meet to put up holy prayers: coming in among them as live stories, to make part of their spiritual house, whilst they offer up such sacrifices, as may be fit to find acceptance, as we heard from St. Peter. And thus the peace, which St. Paul orders us to pursue, is with those, who call upon the Lord out of a pure heart; not with those, who, as the Gnostics were like enough to do, profaned him by a sinful worship, or impure petitions (2 Timothy 2. 22). And the bond of external peace, is where we may lawfully keep the unity of the spirit; which is not to be kept in sinful offices, but only in pure ones (Ephesians 4. 3) or where, in following after the things which make for peace, we may withal follow such things, wherewith we may edify, not corrupt and ensnare one another (Romans 14. 19).
Particularly, as to the pastors, who are the heads of those assemblies, one chief character of theirs as they are set over us, and chief ground of our dependence and obligations to keep under them, is as they are ministers of prayers. And that, as they minister such prayers, as are fit to serve the necessary ends and purposes of all prayer; that is, to worship and honour God, and to benefit us, or to bring down blessings from him. And if we, who must seek out for prayers, are tied to them as ministers of holy and acceptable prayers: that obligation towards them ceases, when, instead of administering such, they fall to minister profane ones.
And thus there is a just ground to break off, or a liberty of separating from assemblies even of rightful pastors, for pure Christian administrations. Not for purity from mere defects, or for administrations more edifying; which is the pretence of our anti-episcopal dissenters: but for purity from sin and wicked mixtures. That is, that they may have a worship and religious service, without mixture, either of idolatry, or of immorality. That they may meet with nothing to reproach, or dishonour God therein; or to disturb, and wound a pious affection, when they should be most helped and encouraged in exercise thereof, being come to serve and worship him. When they are thus barred out, by any wicked mixtures; unless necessity, and want of better drive them to make shift therewith, they are no longer tied to resort to such offices, but are free to seek out for better at the hands of any other regular and authorized pastors, and ought to communicate in them if they can have them. For sinful prayers, are a sinful sacrifice; as the oblations of blemished, of blind, and lame, and sick for sacrifice, were among the Jews, Malachi 1. 8. And Levit. 22. 19, 20, 22. And Deut. 15. 21. And whatever toleration it might meet with, in want of better; yet, if any man hath in his flock a male, or one fit to make a legal and perfect offering, cursed be he, saith the prophet, that voweth, and sacrificeth to the Lord a corrupt thing, Malachi 1. 13, 14.
But the ground of this breaking off, is higher still, if,
2. They do not only put impious, and unlawful things, into their sacred offices or confessions; but admit none to communion, in any of the good parts, unless they particularly concur in these corrupt ones too. The former, sets men loose, that they lawfully may, and, where they have opportunities of better, ought to break off from them: but this, drives and necessitates them, that they must do so, and can not, for the supply of any necessities, stay to associate and assemble with them. And thus it is, when any bishops will admit no members, or when any churches will admit no other churches to communicate with them, unless they will agree, to believe, or profess some false doctrine; or partake and go along with them, in those particular and unlawful matters or evil worship, wherewithal they have clogged and corrupted their communion.
Now when this is the case, nothing can legitimate communion with such bishops or churches. For though it is the duty, and ought to be the desire and care of all good Christians, to keep up the external unity of the church, both under their own bishops, and with other churches: yet must not this ever carry them, to unite, or to go along with them, in ill things? To be one with them in these matters, is to partake with them in their sins; which is not the unity and communion of saints or Christians, but of the ungodly, or of evil-doers. In such points, the more united any society is, the worse it is. Such is the union of all infidel churches, who unite in utterly denying, and opposing the Christian faith. And of heretics, who incorporate under their seducing heads, to undermine or pervert it. Yea, even the infernal spirits, are united polities, without which Satan's kingdom could not stand, as our saviour says; being associated, and knit together to despite God and all that bears his image. But all this union or agreement of men, in damnable errors or wickedness, is only combining against God and their own souls. And our blessed Lord came not to bind up, but to break such combinations, which the world then was full of. I came not to send peace, but rather division, saith he, that is, to call people to break off from error and wickedness, and to divide from the adherers to ungodly ways (Luke 12. 51). So that the lamentableness of men's not going all one way, is true here, where the generality go the right way. But when they are going wrong, in ways of guilt and destruction, to unite in sin and misery is a deplorable thing, and there it is best, when the most divide and stand off from them.
Nor may they be wanting to their duty in some points, to keep on united to them in others. They must not purchase unity, by sinful omissions; or buy peace, with the loss of innocence. And therefore, as I observed, the watchmen must not be wanting in giving necessary warnings, nor faithful ministers let fall their ministrations, in the foresaid cases, on pretence of preserving unity, or preventing schism in the church.
2. Secondly, it is another just ground to break off from them, if they make unrighteous usurpations and encroachments, the terms and condition of their communion. Both bishops, and churches, may turn tyrannical and arrogant usurpers upon their brethrens liberties, not admitting their own members to their communion, without acknowledging and submitting to their unjustly and illegally assumed powers, nor other churches, unless they will give up their own rights and freedoms, and become their subjects. And when they will allow communion to none, unless they are content to purchase it at such rates; good Christians may pass them by, and unite themselves to other churches, where they will be more justly and fairly dealt with. The communion of Christians, is a communion of brethren, upon brotherly terms; not of captives, who must submit to any terms, or bear what hardships and encroachments are put upon them by their conquerors. They are not bound to purchase unity, by enslaving of themselves; or any brethrens communion, by receiving their yoke, and giving up their own rights and liberties, as the church of Rome demands all other churches, both of the east and west, should do to purchase hers. And thus St. Paul declares he would not give up their liberties, when false brethren turned invaders thereof, viz. the judaizers in their pressing the circumcision of Titus, to whom he gave place by subjection, no not for an hour, when they sought to bring them into bondage (Galatians 2: 4, 5).