THE CLAIMS WHICH ARE ADVANCED BY EPISCOPACY.
Episcopacy is a religion of claims. It advances certain pretensions relating to important points in the government and organization of the church, which, if well founded, are binding on all churches, and which, in their tendency, go to unsettle the claims of all others. It is not an argument, on the part of the Episcopalian, drawn from expediency, or human prudence, or a conventional arrangement among men; nor is it an argument which can admit other churches to be on the same basis with themselves, or other ministers to be the commissioned servants of God. If Episcopacy be of divine origin; if it be the form prescribed in the New Testament for the organization of the church; if it was instituted by the Redeemer and the apostles,—then, whatever other consequences may flow from it, or however inconsistent the advocates of Episcopacy may be in carrying out these principles, the regular result of the claim is, that the Episcopal Church is the only true church, and that all other churches are of human origin. This consequence follows inevitably. These remarks are not made with a view of exciting prejudice in any minds against the system, but merely to show the nature of the claims which are thus advanced. It is well known that these consequences are not allowed by many Episcopalians; ami there is much gained on the score of charity in the fact that the- advocates of a system are not always consistent with their own principles. Yet any one can see that the claims of any system to be exclusively scriptural or of divine authority in its origin leads, in fact, as a necessary consequence, to the conclusion that all others are mere human and unauthorized arrangements.
In pursuance of this thought, I remark, then, that the burden of proof lies wholly on the friends of •Episcopacy. They set up a claim—a claim which they affirm to be binding on all the churches of every age. It is a claim which is specific, and which must be made out, or their whole pretensions fall. In what predicament it may leave other churches, is not the question. It would not prove Episcopacy to be of divine origin, could its friends show that Presbyterianism is unfounded in the Scriptures; or that Congregationalism has no claims to support; or that Independency is unauthorized; or that lay ordination is destitute of direct support. The question, after all, might be, whether it was the design of the apostles to establish any particular form of church government any more than to establish a fixed code of civil administration ? The specific point to be made out by Episcopalians is, That there is scriptural authority for that which is claimed for bishops. This is not a claim which can be defended by any doubtful passages of Scripture, or by any circuitous mode of argumentation. As it is expected to affect the whole constitution of the church; to constitute, in fact, the peculiarity of its organization; and to determine, to a great extent at least, the validity of all its ordinances and its ministry, we have a right to demand that the proof should not be of a doubtful character, or of a nature which is not easily apprehended by the ordinary readers of the New Testament.
It is a point of essential importance in this controversy, that the burden of proof lies on the friends of Episcopacy. It is theirs to make out this specific claim. To decide whether they can do so, is the object of the present inquiry.
The claims of Episcopacy, as a peculiar institution, are stated by Bishop Onderdonk, in the tract above referred to, in the following words: " Episcopacy declares that the Christian ministry was established in three orders, called, ever since the apostolic age, Bishops, Presbyters, or Elders and Deacons; of which the highest only has the right to ordain and confirm, that of general supervision in a diocese, and that of the chief administration of discipline, besides enjoying all the powers of the other grades. The main question being thus concerning the superiority of bishops, and the rights of the next order being restricted only so much as not to be inconsistent with those of the highest, we need not extend our investigation of Scripture beyond what is requisite for this grand point. If we cannot authenticate the claims of the episcopal office, we will surrender those of our deacons, and let all power be confined to the one office of presbyters." P. 11. The same view of the main point of the controversy is given by Hooker, in his Ecclesiastical Polity, b. vii. It will be seen, therefore, that the main point of the discussion, in the estimation of Episcopalians, relates to bishops or prelates, and that the claim set up for them extends to several points. One is, the right of ordination; a second, that of confirmation; a third, that of general supervision; a fourth, that of the general administration of discipline. As all that is peculiar to Episcopacy is involved in these claims, it is proposed to examine them in order, to ascertain whether these important matters in the organization of the church are intrusted in the New Testament to prelates. If the claim in regard to each of them cannot be made out from the New Testament, it is worthless; for " no argu
ment is worth taking into account that has not a palpable bearing on the clear and naked topic —the scriptural evidence of Episcopacy." These points must be made out separately by Episcopalians, to wit:—that " bishops" have the sole right gf ordination; that the rite called " confirmation" is directed in the Scriptures to be administered by them; that they have a general supervision of the churches within a certain district ; and that the general administration of discipline is intrusted to them. If these are not made out, it will follow, by the admission above, and by the nature of the case, that presbyters have the right of ordination; that the ministers of the gospel are equal in authority and rank; and that the church, as organized by the Saviour and his apostles, was not episcopal in its form. We enter now, therefore, upon a particular examination of each of these topics.