For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.—1 Cor. 11.19.

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A Brief Testimony Against

Several Sectarian Movements

Of Later Times.

By the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland.

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TrueCovenanter.com Editor’s Introduction.

This text is excerpted from the 1875 Testimony of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland, where it appears near the end of Part 1 as Period 7, Section 7, “Testimony against various other Systems existing in Ireland.”  In our own day, many other “systems” or schisms could be added to the list.  Efforts of this sort are useful to give due warning to church members for their spiritual safety, to make explicit the responsibility of members to abstain from attending services and sermons of false teachers, and to reclaim those who have fallen into the errors of these systems.  This example demonstrates the plausibility of identifying and handling several of these systems in a practical way, without developing a discussion too tedious for ordinary church members.

2018.10.24::JTK.

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Introduction.

1. Unitarianism.

2. Anabaptism of the Baptists.

3. Congregationalism.

4. Methodism of the Wesleyans.

5. Plymouthism of the Brethren.

6. Pre-Millennialism.

7. Voluntaryism.

8. Latitudinarianism.

Conclusion.

WHilst loving all who love Christ the Head, and are engaged in maintaining any part of His Truth, we are constrained to bear public testimony against systems of error more or less dangerous and extensive.

1. UNITARIANISM.—In the strongest manner we testify against Unitarianism, as it exists in this country, embracing Sabellian, Arian, and Socinian sentiments, and manifesting of late Rationalistic and Infidel tendencies.  By propounding and disseminating soul-destroying errors respecting the Godheadthe Person of Christ—the work of Atonement—the character and work of the Holy Spirit—the present state of human nature—the inspiration {131} and authority of the Scriptures—and the future condition and destiny of men, it exhibits itself to be a mere system of natural religion.  Denying the fundamental articles of revealed truth, it removes out of view all that is distinctive of the glorious Gospel of the Saviour grace; and is guilty of subverting the sinner’s hope of salvation, and, at the same time, of smoothing the way to open infidelity and universal scepticism.

2. ANABAPTISM.—We testify against the Anabaptists, or, as they style themselves, Baptists, because, by denying that the infant seed of professed believing parents are proper subjects of baptism, they break the connection divinely established between the New Testament Church and the Old, in which the infant children of God’s people were recognized as members, and received the seal of God’s gracious covenant.  They also take away a precious privilege from believing parents and their children—practically reject the command given by the Saviour in the Apostolic Commission requiring us to disciple all nations, baptising and teaching them—are opposed to the practice of the Apostles and the primitive Church of baptizing whole households—and exclude from the seal of the Covenant those who are expressly included in its promise.—We testify likewise against the Anabaptists on account of their teaching that immersion is the only allowable mode of baptism—inasmuch as this dogma receives no support from the Scriptural terms employed to declare the manner of administering the ordinances—as immersion is not in harmony with the practice recorded in the New Testament, and is inapplicable to and unsuitable for the state and circumstances of the Church universally diffused throughout the earth, and is in opposition to the symbolical import of the ordinance as referring to the gracious outpouring of the Holy Spirit.  Anabaptists, too, have set aside the Presbyterial government and order of the Church, following generally the Congregational form; and, to a large extent, the ordinance of praise is corrupted by the use of uninspired hymns.  On such grounds, we testify against the system as being opposed to the faith and practice of the Church, as it has existed {132} in all ages, as being intensely sectarian, and as inflicting real privation and injury upon a large and interesting class—the infant members of the Church of Christ.

3. CONGREGATIONALISM.—The system of Congregationalism, or Independency, assumes that each separate assembly of Christians meeting in one place for worship, is a church, separate from and independent of all others—that the whole power of government and discipline is lodged in the hands of church members—that ministers and elders have no spiritual authority—and that there is no warrant for Presbyterial assemblies and courts of appeal.  In all these respects it is opposed to the order instituted by Christ and established by His apostles, in the primitive Christian Church.  Inconsistent with the unity of the church as one body, it divests ecclesiastical officers of the power which Christ has given them for rule as well as for edification, and deprives the members of the church of the right of appeal to higher courts.  Congregationalists moreover, reject and denounce creeds and confessions, meaning such creeds and confessions as have been carefully prepared and adopted by the church as subordinate standards and tests of orthodoxy for the whole body—groundlessly asserting that these are thrust into the place of God’s Word, and tyrannically enforced on the consciences of men.[1]  At the same time, they themselves exact from ministers at ordination, and from others, on admission to membership, a public creed or confession of faith, of the orthodoxy of which the church is supposed to judge at the time without any fixed standard, and thereupon to grant or refuse admission.  These extemporized creeds, which are as numerous as the members of their church, must, in general, be very crude, incomplete, and unsatisfactory productions—being liable to most of all the abuses, without the undeniable advantages of a common and accepted confession of the united faith of the church, based upon and subordinate to the Word of God, which alone is the infallible rule of faith and practice.  This system cannot maintain doctrinal purity in the Church, or restore it when corrupted; and it precludes combined ecclesiastical action {133} for extending the kingdom of Christ.  We gladly admit that the doctrines of evangelical religion are in general held by Congregationalists, and there is considerable regard shown to spirituality of communion; yet it is notorious that loose sentiments and even fundamental errors respecting the Inspiration of the Scriptures, the nature and extent of the Atonement, and other doctrines, are taught in Independent churches.

4. METHODISM.—This system, which was originated in England by John Wesley, in the year 1729, and propagated by his coadjutors and followers, has spread to a large extent throughout this country.  Commencing in the Church of England, it claimed at first to aim only at the revival and greater efficiency of its worship.  The various changes and divisions that have taken place among Methodists have made its connection with the National Church less intimate than that which was contemplated by its founder.  Methodism is still to be regarded as favourable to Prelacy rather than protesting against it.  It embraces the errors of Arminianism.  Dishonoring the finished work of the Saviour, by the dogma of an indefinite atonement; detracting from the glory of the Spirit, by teaching the freedom of the human will in conversion, and that there is inherent power in the sinner to receive savingly the offers of the Gospel; and laying undue stress upon uncertain frames and feelings, it excites prejudice against the truth and injures the Gospel system.  The government and arrangements of the Methodist Societies are modelled by human policy, and are not in conformity with any Scriptural prescription.  They have, therefore, in many cases issued in despotism, taking away Christian rights and liberties both from ministers and people.  This system undervalues a proper call and appointment to the ministry, and gives the largest scope to the unscriptural practice of lay-preaching.  The worship of the Methodist Body is characterized by the almost total disuse of inspired Psalms, and by the use of hymns, many of which are erroneous and deceptive; and its obvious design and tendency is to encourage undue excitement and a dangerous sensationalism. {134}

5. PLYMOUTHISM.—This members of this sect, who are generally known by the name DARBYITES, from one of their leaders, or PLYMOUTH BRETHREN, from the place where, in 1830, they had their origin, assume to themselves the title of Christian Brethren.  Like others who loudly denounce all human creeds and confessions, and yet require every brother to make his own confession, they have no common standard of doctrine for which they can be held responsible.  It is, therefore, difficult to ascertain exactly what are their peculiar views.  In some points they resemble Quakers, in others they are at one with the Baptists, and generally they hold millenarian views of the second coming and kingdom of Christ.  On nearly all the leading doctrines of religion they teach erroneous or one-side and exaggerated opinions, and by these mainly, as well as by their intensely sectarian and proselytizing spirit, are they distinguished from other Christians.  The doctrine, that the Moral Law is no rule of duty to believers, or binding upon them at all, which is Antinomianism—that repentance is unnecessary—that Sanctification is imparted and perfected at once—that Faith is the assurance of personal salvation—that Prayer is not the duty of unbelievers—and that believers should not ask for pardon, or for the Holy Spirit, are commonly taught by them.  By such doctrines they have separated themselves from the faith of the Reformed churches, and must be regarded as dangerous and schismatical.  We testify against them, moreover, for their rejection of the Scriptural office of the Christian ministry, recognizing as ministers all whom they consider to be sufficiently gifted—for their denial of the duty of the church to support the ministry according to the ordinance of Christ and of the sanctity and obligation of the Christian Sabbath—and for their uncharitable and sectarian spirit, in refusing to admit, as Christian churches, those who do not embrace their extreme views, and who are opposed to their disorderly and unscriptural proceedings.

6. MILLENARIANISM.—Against a gross and literal system of prophetic interpretation, which has obtained chiefly at periods of religious excitement—anciently designated {135} CHILIASM, and in modern times, MILLENARIANISM [or Premillennialism]—we regard ourselves as solemnly called to testify.  This system, which is publicly taught from the pulpit and the press by ministers of the Establishment, and by Presbyterians and Nonconformists, maintains that, previous to the Millennium, the Redeemer will come personally to judge the quick and the dead; that He will then raise either the martyrs who suffered for His sake, or the whole of the saints who had lived before, and will reign with them at Jerusalem, in visible majesty and glory, for a thousand years.  Contending for the literal interpretation of prophecies that refer to the last times, they furthermore maintain that a new and enlarged temple shall be built at Jerusalem—that animal sacrifices shall be revived, as a eucharistical [thanksgiving] commemoration of the atonement finished; and some even hold that our present Bible, which they say is fitted only to a suffering state of the church, will be superseded by a new revelation suited to her triumphant condition.

We testify against such sentiments, as opposed to the general faith and hope of the church, and of most mischievous tendency.  The doctrine of the pre-millennial advent and personal reign of Christ on earth is based upon false principles of Scripture interpretation, and is plainly opposed to those passages which represent His second coming as immediately connected with the general resurrection and the last judgment, the universal conflagration, and the allotment of the righteous and wicked to their eternal state of reward and punishment.  This system is manifestly inconsistent with the spirituality of the Mediatorial dominion; and its whole tendency is to fill Christians with carnal expectations—to revive the exploded opinions and rites of Judaism, and to bring back the church to the “beggarly elements,” [Gal. 4.9,] from which Christ has, by His atoning death, and the mission of His Spirit, for ever made free.  The Millenarian system is not only detrimental to the unity of the church, and the progress of true spirituality, but obstructive to Christian efforts for the universal establishment of the Redeemer’s kingdom in the earth.  By declaring, as its {136} advocates do, that the design of the present dispensation is not the conversion of the world and the ingathering of the Jews, but “only the calling of an elect people out of the Gentiles,” and that the conversion of Jew and Gentile will be effected only by the Redeemer’s personal appearance and reign on the earth, the church’s great Commission is virtually set aside, the motives to exertion for the world’s evangelization are removed, and the many precious promises that guarantee its success are rendered vain and delusive.  Discarding such views, our duty is to labour and pray for the conversion of all nations, and for the establishment of the Redeemer’s kingdom over all the earth—looking for His Millennial coming in the glory of His Word and Spirit, and in the power of his judgments on Antichristian, Mohammedan, Pagan, and all opposing systems—and for the second coming, and “glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour,” [Titus 2.13,] to judge the world in righteousness, and to terminate the present dispensation, by receiving the redeemed to heaven, and consigning the wicked to everlasting destruction.[2]

7. VOLUNTARYISM.—The principle that the State, as such, has nothing to do with religion, and that the Church and State should be entirely separate for all moral and religious purposes, we condemn as utterly at variance with the contendings and attainments of the Scottish Reformers, as opposed to the Headship of the Mediator over the nations, the universal supremacy of His Word, as calculated to exert a baleful influence on religion and morality, and as having a tendency to prevent the nations from returning to a Scriptural standard of civil government.  In relation to the small bodies of SECEDERS whether in a separate organization, or merged into the United Presbyterian Church of Scotland, we regard the original grounds of our fathers’s condemnation of their Testimony as still remaining unchanged.  There are, besides, additional grounds of testifying against such as accept endowment from a corrupt Government—given on a principle that is essentially infidel and indiscriminate—and against those who, in palpable contradiction of the original principles of the Secession, avow Voluntary {137} sentiments.  While we rejoice that there are any, however few, that refuse to accept endowments, which are conferred equally on the advocates of error and those who maintain evangelical truth; and while we sincerely lament that obstacles exist to prevent the closest union among the professed friends of the Reformation, we yet regard the principle of the entire separation of the Church from an immoral civil system, and, at the same time, the principle that rulers and nations, in their public capacity, are nevertheless bound to act in professed subjection to the law of Christ, as essential to a permanent basis for union and ecclesiastical fellowship.

8. LATITUDINARIANISM.—The Latitudinarian principle is, that a few plain and general articles in religion are essential or fundamental, and that all else is unimportant or circumstantial, and should in no wise affect ecclesiastical communion.  Those who adopt this principle call loudly for charity and union in the Church; and denounce a faithful testimony as bigotry, and intolerance.  This scheme is plausible, and well fitted to mislead the unthinking and unwary; and in an age when strict religious principle is disliked, and there is much profession without corresponding godly practice, it seems likely to become more widely diffused.  Notwithstanding its pretensions to liberality, it is both destructive and intolerant, rejecting as it does the crown rights and glory of the Redeemer, and the imperative claims of Divine truth, in which the best interests of human society are involved.  By undervaluing truths clearly revealed, and duties plainly inculcated, and by resorting to the arbitrary and ever-varying distinctions between doctrines essential and non-essential, it sets aside Divine authority, and thus tends gradually to weaken and undermine Christianity itself.  By pleading for open communion, and, at the same time, upholding separate religious denominations, [as a normal and proper order,] it perpetuates division in the Church, and prevents that perfect union which is promised, when “there shall be one Lord, and His name one in all the earth.” [Zech. 14.9.]

Those who advocate the Latitudinarian scheme differ in their views, as to the extent to which union should be {138} carried.  Some would represent the difference between Pedobaptists and Antipedobaptists—between Calvinists and Arminians—and between the various unendowed Church as unimportant; others would embrace in one broad National Church all the different sections of Protestantism; and some would even make the difference between Protestants and Romanists no barrier to union and fellowship.  With persons of Latitudinarian sentiments, the utmost repugnance is manifested against a Scriptural testimony in behalf of the Redeemer’s royal prerogatives and the proper application of its principles, in condemning Erastianism, and in promoting purity in the communion of the Church, and the due observance of all divinely appointed ordinances.  It is observable that this scheme is generally advocated by those who are in connection with the larger ecclesiastical bodies, that are characterized by corruption in worship, and laxity in practice, and that seek to draw into fellowship with them smaller and purer bodies.  Even in the least objectionable form in which the Latitudinarian scheme is held in our day, its obvious tendency is to lead persons to undervalue and reject one truth after another, and to make little or no account of the progress of error and corruption, provided what are vaguely termed the fundamentals of religion are still preserved.

In opposition to such lax and dangerous views, our duty is—“Whereto we have already attained, to walk by the same rule, to mind the same thing.” [Phil. 3.16.]  The Apostolic command, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, is to “withdraw from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.” (2 Thess. 3.6.)  Zion’s exalted King offers the highest encouragement to those who faithfully maintain His truth amidst opposition and reproach.  “Because thou hast kept the word of my patience, I also will keep thee from the hour of temptation which shall come upon all the world, to try them that dwell upon the earth.  Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown.” (Rev. 3.10,11.)


Footnotes:

1. Though these descriptions may have generally fit with those called Congregationalists in 19th century Ireland, it is noted that not all Independents historically bore the same character.  This should not be surprising, since a variety of beliefs is the inevitable out-growth of their Independency.  On the subject of Confessions of Faith the reader may see the Preface to their Savoy Declaration of 1658, which gives approval to Confessions of Faith for some purposes, although already tending in the direction described above.  Notwithstanding, some Congregationalists did see the clear dangers of a weak implementation of Confessions of Faith, and were ready to receive them as “tests of orthodoxy” and “terms of communion” just as much as Presbyterians of the 1600s and 1700s.  An example may be seen in the “Letter to Scripturista” written by Joseph Bellamy and published in 1761.—JTKer.

2. For a more detailed description of the End-Times prophecies of the Bible, explained by the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland, see the chapter on Scripture Prophecy as Affecting the Church’s Testimony and Practice formerly uploaded as The Official Eschatology of the Reformed Presbyterian Church or Ireland—JTKer.