Separation From Corrupt Churches

Anworth ChurchJames Wood

Separation From Corrupt Churches

Copyright © 1997 Naphtali Press

[Extracts From James Wood, A Little Stone Pretended to be out of the Mountain, Tried and found to be a Counterfeit. or an Examination and Refutation of Mr. Lockyer’s Lecture, Preached at Edinburgh, Anno 1651. Concerning the Matter of the Visible Church. (Edinburgh, Andro Andrews: 1654).]

… I mind not to insist or enlarge myself upon the Question of Separation from Churches, not only because other learned men have spoken abundantly and well upon that purpose, namely my Reverend and Learned Collegue in the Ministrie, and Superiour in the society wherein I live, Mr. Rutherfurd in his Peaceable Plea and Due Right: But also because I find nothing brought by this Author, upon the matter, worth the staying upon, in handling that matter. I shall only give a few notes upon some things the Author, I think out of heat of passion, hath vented himself in.” (p. 341)

… “We shall not deny but that whatsoever is practiced in the Worship of God, or set up as an Ordinance without God’s warrant in his Word, may be comprehended under Idolatry, taking idolatry in a large sense, but that everything set up or practiced in the Worship of God or in Ordinances is such idolatry as is ground sufficient to separate from a Church wherein it is practiced as no true Church, is a conceit in itself without warrant of the Word, nay directly contrary to the allowed practice of God’s People in the Word, both in Old and New Testament.”(pp. 341-342)

… “Yet this we affirm, that albeit there be in Churches, corruptions, not only in the conversations [walks] of many persons, but also in some things in the Worship and Ordinances, yet if they be not such corruptions as evert and destroy the foundation and substance of Religion: But there is therein, the substance of the Gospel orthodoxly preached, the Sacraments for their substantials agreeable to their institution, the way to be kept is, purge out the old leaven. And there is neither in Old nor in New Testament, warrant for separating from, or pulling down and rooting up such Churches. And as to that [which] Mr. Lockier alleges, that Presbyterians would have down Episcopal Churches: Either he has not understood or misrepresented Presbyterians’ mind in that matter. Indeed Presbyterians were zealous to have the corrupt office of Prelacy plucked up, root and branch, because a plant that God had never planted in his Church, and could not hear of a purging or circumcising of it, that some would have been at, by clipping from them officials and such other appendicles and limiting them thus and thus. But that the whole frame of Churches that were under Prelatical government should be razed down to the ground, plucked up root and branch, cast all in a heap of ruin, that out of the ruins thereof, their should been picked out here and there some stones, to build up new Churches, it never entered in the thoughts of some Presbyterians. Nay, but on the contrary, even in the times that Prelates possessed their government, sound Presbyterians, as with the one hand they did fight against Prelates, the corrupt Officers; so did they at that same time with the other hand, against Separatists (with whom Mr. Lockier here agrees) maintaining the Churches of England to be true Churches from whose communion it was not lawful to separate. Witness among sundry others, that grave and judicious piece written by sundry non-conforming divines jointly, in the times of the Prelates, and published by Mr. Rathband, Anno. 1604.”

After answering a charge that three out of four in Presbyterian churches were corrupt, atheists, etc., Wood after defending the Presbyterian Churches, goes on (346-347) “How often was it so with the ancient Church, that we may say, more than three parts of four were profane and naught? And yet did not the godly and the Prophets of the Lord continue in the exercise of the Ordinances and Worship of God in that Church? Was it not so in the Church of the Jews, in the time of Christ’s being amongst them upon earth? Did ever Christ for that require his disciples to depart and separate from that Church? Or did he not himself, never a whit the less, continue in the Church communion thereof? Yea when in glory writing a letter to the Church of Sardis, of whom he testifies, that they had a name that they were living, but yet were dead, and that there were but a few names there which had not defiled their garments: Yet his wise and meek zeal is not for pulling down and rooting up and separating from the Church Communion in his Ordinances and Worship. But that is his direction (vs 2, 3), Be watchful and strengthen the things which remain and are ready to die. — Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast and repent.

And further, he quotes from Mr. Lockier and answers him:

(pp. 348-353) “Mr. Lockier going on yet to vent his Brownistical separation objects to himself thus: But will not my protest serve the turn? If things be corrupt in the Church, and I protest against them, may not I go on with that Church? As for instance: If they take in corrupt members, or admit corrupt or impenitent communicants; And I protesting against those, may I not go on and partake with these, and yet be innocent, and enjoy as much presence of God in his Ordinances, as if all were holy and good? To which he answers [himself]: 1. If protesting were only words then such a thing will do. But to say, the precious should not mingle with the vile, and yet the man does this daily and continually, is not to protest but to mock, and to dissemble; Because here is not a mere passiveness in this man, as to the going on in that thing which he protests against. 2. Again, in practical things, ‘tis not so much a man’s word as his practice, which gives the dislike. If a man of an idolatrous Church, should stand up and protest against the Mass, and yet still go to Mass, I doubt how well this would please God, or deliver him from guilt. Naaman implicitly protests against the idolatry he had practiced, that he would worship no God, but the God of Israel: and did he continue to bow down? Yes, say some, but he begs pardon for it. But most aptly in our last English Annotations, The word being rendered in the time past: Pardon that I bowed down. 3. Protesting is a piece of revenge which is the vehemence of Repentance, and the clearing of oneself, which how well this will accord with halting and halving, is worthy of deep thoughts of heart: Can two walk together, etc. 4. And our Brethren, when they protest an Assembly do not submit unto it.”

“Here is sweet stuff forsooth, very Brownistical separation ingrained. That if any thing be corrupted in a Church, suppose wicked and scandalous persons be retained therein and admitted to Ordinances, albeit therein be the true Doctrine of the Gospel preached, and worship, for the acts thereof, and other Ordinances for their substance right, godly Christians must separate from such Churches and may not in the very instituted Ordinances of Christ, and true exercise of Worship, join with such Churches, wherein such wicked persons join with them. This is the drift and upshot of the passage, as any discerning man may perceive, though it be very intricately and confusedly expressed. We shall not need to fall upon a refutation of this vile error, which has been so learnedly and fully refuted, of old by the Orthodox ancients, especially Augustine and Optatus in Donatists, by the first Reformers in the fanatic Anabaptists. See particularly Mr. Rutherfurd’s learned disputes on this purpose, in his Peaceable Plea and in his Due Right of Presbytery. I shall for the present note but some few things on that which Mr. Lockier has here.”

“And first to the propounding of the case in the object, as it is so generally and comprehensively expressed. If things be corrupted in the Church, and I protest against them, may I not go on with that Church? We own not the affirmative of it. We acknowledge that it is not lawful to go on with any Church, in the practice of things that are corrupt in it. 2. We acknowledge further that there may be such corrupt things in a Church, or a society taking unto them the name and profession of a Church, as that it is not lawful to go on with such a Church or join with them in Church communion at all, as where the worship is grossly idolatrous, or doctrine is publicly taught or professed contrary to the very foundation of Christianity. But bring the case to the particular corruption instanced by the Author, and then we say, that if in a Church, through negligence or looseness of discipline, corrupt members be admitted, or wicked scandalous persons be admitted to the Communion, the godly indeed ought in an orderly way to testify against such a corruption, to say to Archippus to the Ministers and Rulers, take heed to your ministry, to mourn for such abuses in the Church. But, ought not to separate from that Church, and the exercise of the true worship and ordinances of Christ therein. But, may go on and partake with that Church in warranted acts of worship, participation of the Sacraments, in the exercise of all God’s instituted ordinances, and yet be free of the sin of corrupt fellow partakers of these ordinances, and of the sin of rulers sinfully admitting such; enjoy God’s presence in the ordinances, as well as if all joining with them were holy and good. And to say that other men’s wickedness in abuse of ordinances, prejudices or defiles these ordinances to me using them aright for myself, and testifying against, mourning for others’ abuse thereof, is a wild error contrary to the stream of holy scripture both in the Old and New Testament, as has been abundantly demonstrated by these [authors] I last mentioned.”

“Now for his exceptions against this. To the first, to protest against a thing as evil and wicked, and yet daily and continually to go on in the acting of that thing and practicing it, is indeed a wicked mocking of God and man. But daily and continually to go on in the exercise of a lawful and necessary duty, in the company of wicked persons, against whose wickedness I do testify, and does all that is incumbent to me in my station, is not to mock or dissemble, nor to do the thing I protest against. But there is here in Mr. Lockier’s words, a gross supposing or begging of the very thing mainly in question, viz. that if wicked persons be admitted to fellowship in a Church, as to the communion of the Lord’s Supper, that thing a godly Christian ought to protest or testify against, is all joining in the ordinance when such wicked persons are joining therein with them. This is very begging of the thing in Question and utterly false. The thing the godly ought to testify and protest against, is the wicked’s presuming to abuse the ordinance, and the rulers sinful permitting them so to do. But to say he does or should protest that no godly persons ought to use the ordinance of God, or perform warrantable worship, when wicked persons either thrust themselves in with them, or negligent rulers permit them so to do, is to suppose the thing in question, and is unwarrantable, yea contrary to the current stream of the practise of the godly under the Old and New Testament both, yea to the practice of Jesus Christ himself in the Church of the Jews.”

“To his second expression. ‘Tis true, in practical things it is not so much a man’s word as his practice which gives the dislike. But the question is, whether, the performance of a lawful and necessary duty of worship, or exercise of a true ordinance of Jesus Christ, for instance, partaking of the Lord’s Supper to remember his death till he come again, when and where wicked and scandalous persons will thrust themselves in to do it profanely, or are permitted by rulers so to do, be such a practical thing as I am obliged to dislike, as a thing unlawful for me to do, this is the question, the negative whereof we hold to be the truth of God held forth in his Word. The instance produced by the author for clearing this his second exception, viz. of a man in an idolatrous Church protesting against the Mass, and yet still going to Mass, is so grossly and absurdly impertinent, that one may wonder how it could be alleged in this purpose, by an intelligent man. The Mass is even upon the matter one of the grossest idolatries that ever was in the world. And for a man to go to Mass, when he pretends to protest to go against it, is to add, to commission of idolatry, mocking of God and sinning against light professedly. So that Mr. Lockier needed not make it a matter of doubting how well such a practice should please God, or deliver the man from guiltiness. But what is this, to participating of a true ordinance of Jesus Christ (for instance, the communion of the Lord’s Table) in a Church not idolatrous, but may be, negligent and loose in the exercise of discipline, and permitting wicked scandalous persons to participate in that ordinance, when the godly participating with them, testify against such abuse in the ordinances? Nay, can it be freed, from great rashness (I will not say that which I might) to parallel these two together?” “But yet further to bring in as a parallel to clear the business, Naaman’s practising of heathenish idolatry in the house of Rimmon, amongst a people not so much as professing the true God, but an heathenish people, denying the God of Israel, what will intelligent pious men say to this?”

“To the third exception. Whether Mr. Lockier defines protesting well, to be a piece of revenge, the vehemence of repentance, let lawyers judge. To my simple apprehension, protesting, in the nature of it, has nothing to do with repentance, as not importing guiltiness in the person protesting, but being an act whereby he testifies against the sinfulness and injustice of the deed of some others, that he himself may appear clear and free from the concurrence in or the accession to it, and preserves himself in a legal capacity to challenge it before a judge competent. But whereas Mr. Lockier supposes that a man protesting or testifying against the intrusion or admission of scandalous wicked persons, into the participation of an ordinance of Christ or lawful necessary act of worship, if he participate in that ordinance or worship, when and where scandalous persons participate therein, that in this the man halts and halves, he does but beg the thing which will not be granted to him, and he will never prove. And on begged suppositions to say, how these will accord, is worthy deep thoughts of hearts, savors of contempt of readers, if not of somewhat else.”

“To the fourth, when there is a protestation against the constitution and very being of an Assembly, ‘tis true there is no submitting to it by the protesters. But yet there may be a protesting against some one or more particular deeds of an assembly when the constitution and being of it is acknowledged, and to such an assembly submission is not refused or denied by any principles of ours. So there may be a protesting or testifying against some particular abuses in a Church, and yet communion kept with that Church in lawful, true, necessary acts of divine worship. But if the author means, that if such an abuse be in a Church, as that wicked persons are permitted in it, or coming to communion, that in that case, the godly must protest not only against the deed, but the very thing of that Church, as no Church, and therefore must not join therewith, in warranted acts of worship, but separate from its communion altogether, he will not have the simile of assemblies and our carriage to them, to go along with him, and it is in itself without warrant contrary to the warrant of Scripture, and we doubt not to say a most schismatic assertion.”

“Mr. Lockier in Sect. 56 and 57 brings and answers a new objection, and therein raises much dust to small purpose, about the causality of Baptism, as to the constituting of a Church. The objection, is this, Doeth not Baptism give the form of a true Church? and you say if the form and foundation be right, it may be capable to purge itself right. Sir, you are much mistaken, if you think that we hold baptism alone to give the form of a true Church. We say it is the initial seal and solemn entry and admission of members into the visible church, so this, is a needless objection brought in, it would seem to vent a new conceit borrowed out of Mr. Hooker’s Survey (part 1, c. 5.) of a Church without baptism, of which a word shortly upon his answer to this objection. Only here we say this, that which gives form and being to a Church is the true Doctrine of the Gospel and Covenant of Grace, for substantials at least, solemnly avowed by the sealing of baptism, and preached by a lawful ministry (lawful ministry, I say, as to the essentials of a Gospel Ministry) these three at least are necessary to give the being of a Gospel Church. And where these are, though there be many corruptions and defects in the Church, yet it is capable to purge itself from its corruptions, and to supply its defects; and to urge unchurching of such a society, and dissolving of it, as no Church, or total separation from it, is not of GOD.” (p. 344-345)