THE Roman Catholic Church is a Church that is chiefly subject to the Pope. This is why Protestants down through History have often justly called Catholicism by the name of Popery. The Presbyterian Church is a Church that is subject to a Presbytery. The Episcopalian Church is a Church that is subject to an Episcopacy. But what is an Independent Church?
When THE SAVIOUR was here, there were many religious establishments in His time. There were such identities as the Pharisees and the Sadducees. But throughout the course of THE SAVIOUR’S Ministry, He most often labored independently of these bodies. He preached directly to the sick and to the common people. After THE SAVIOUR left this world, His Apostles labored after this same manner. They went about preaching the Word; and they established Independent Congregations. This Independency of the New Testament Congregations is remarkably manifested in the Acts of the Apostles and in the Epistles of the Apostle Paul. These illustrious Scriptures clearly prove that every Congregation had the power to govern itself. There was no religious hierarchy above the Congregation.
Down through the years, this Independent persuasion has not remained dormant. When the Early Martyrs died, why did they die? They died because they refused to cooperate with or endorse religious error. They wanted to be independent of apostasy; and they wanted to be dependent on GOD, HIS SON, and the Word. When the Protestant Reformers appeared, it was their desire to reform the Churches of their day. In time, they established Churches independent of the Roman Catholic Hierarchy. It’s peculiar that Luther regarded the Independent Form of Church Government as “the New Testament ideal.” When the Puritans appeared, it was their desire to purify the Public Worship within the Protestant Churches. They, more than any other religious movement in Protestant History, went forward in establishing a glorious testimony to Independency. Some of the Puritans were actually called Independents. Others were called Non-conformists and Dissenters. They all agreed on this— They wanted Congregations separate from the religious corruptions of the times where the Public Worship of GOD could be performed in spiritual purity and simplicity, and where the Congregation could more directly leads in its own affairs.
One of the first direct appearances of Independency in Protestant History was about the year of 1565 in London, England. At that time, the English Civil Laws imposed a particular system of Church Worship. This system was humanly-invented and had no warrant from Scripture. A King and Bishop were telling the people how to worship, instead of JESUS CHRIST speaking out of the Pages of Scripture. Therefore some godly Christians began meeting in private Houses “for preaching and ministering the sacraments.” In June of 1567, this led to the arrest of some fifteen out of a hundred who had assembled. In March of 1568, this led to the arrest of six out of seventy-seven. At least by the end of 1568, these Christians had organized themselves into a Congregation of two hundred souls. They had separated from the National Church and formed an Independent Church. Their Beliefs were embodied in a Confession that appeared in 1570 entitled The True Marks Of Christ’s Church. Some of its sentiments were— “The minds of them that by the strength and working of the Almighty, our Lord Jesus Christ, have set their hands and hearts to the pure, unmingled and sincere worshipping of God, according to his blessed and glorious Word in all things, only abolishing and abhorring all traditions and inventions of man whatsoever, in the name of Religion and Service of our Lord God, knowing this always: that the true and afflicted Church of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ either hath, or else ever more continually under the cross striveth for to have, First and foremost, the Glorious word and Evangel preached, not in bondage and subjection [i.e., by episcopal licence], but freely and purely. Secondly, to have the Sacraments ministered purely, only and altogether according to the institution and good worde of the Lord Jesus, without any tradition or invention of man. And last of all, to have not the filthy Canon law, but discipline only and altogether agreeable to the same heavenly and almighty worde of our good Lord, Jesus Christ.”
In England, a large number of the Puritans were known as Independents. When the Puritans came over to America, they insisted on the name Congregationalists. But, in many ways, the two words Independent and Congregationalist are very similar; and down through Protestant History, these two words have often been used interchangeably. The word Independent is, really, a look at the Independent Church from the outside. For the Independent Church as seen from without is entirely free, autonomous, and desirous of separating from the religious corruptions of the times. The word Congregational, on the other hand, is a look at the Independent Church from the inside. For the Independent Church as seen from within is a Church that is entirely governed by the people in the Congregation. There is no hierarchy above the Congregation. There is no aristocracy. All the affairs and decisions of the Church are run by those who belong to the Congregation. And every Independent Church is only as good as its Congregation. We prefer the name Independent to distinguish ourselves from the "Congregational" Churches as they are called today—who, as a rule, have not been faithful to their glorious spiritual legacy.
The Independent testimony claims some of the most illustrious men in Protestant History. Dr. John Owen (acclaimed to be the greatest British Theologian of all-time) was an Independent. Dr. Isaac Watts (acclaimed to be the greatest Hymn-writer of all time) was an Independent. Other Independent worthies were Drs. Robert Browne, Henry Barrowe, John Greenwood, John Penry, Francis Johnson, Henry Ainsworth, William Ames, John Robinson, Thomas Goodwin, Jeremiah Burroughs, David Clarkson, William Bridge, Philip Nye, William Greenhill, William Carter, Sidrach Simpson, Joseph Caryl, and Matthew Mead. Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell was a staunch Independent; as well as his close Poet-Friend, Mr. John Milton. Nearly all of our first American Preachers were of Independent Principles— Drs. John Cotton, John Norton, John Wilson, John Davenport, Thomas Hooker, John Avery, Jonathan Burr, Thomas Shepard, Peter Bulky, Ralph Partridge, and the Mathers. Dear and blessed men! Men who America should be happy to own and acknowledge instead of forget and slander. The famous Theologian, the best Theologian America ever produced, Dr. Jonathan Edwards, also, was of Independent Principles.
Here are some final considerations— 1. How Rev. Dr. John Owen became an Independent. Dr. Owen was one of the most brilliant men of his generation. Besides his other accomplishments, he also was the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford. When Dr. Owen began the Ministry, he was a convinced Presbyterian. At that time, there was great debate between the Presbyterians and Independents. The Presbyterians thought: “Who could we better enlist in this debate than the mighty mind of Dr. Owen?” So they chose him to answer Dr. John Cotton’s celebrated treatise Of The Keys Of The Kingdom. But as Dr. Owen perused Dr. Cotton’s book, studied it, prayed over it, and compared it with Scripture, he did not conquer the book but the book conquered him. He saw clearly from Scripture that GOD meant for every Congregation to be in charge of its own affairs, with no Pope, Bishop, or Presbytery lording over the Congregation. He also saw all around him that some of the holiest Churches he was acquainted with were Independent. Therefore Dr. Owen became an Independent; and he held to his Beliefs till his dying day. It was no shame to him to be defeated by Dr. Cotton. For, in Dr. Owen’s mind, the Light now shined. And in Dr. Owen, the Independents were given one of the greatest men who ever preached in their Churches. For these melting Facts, consult Dr. Orme’s Life of Dr. Owen and the Biography of Dr. Owen that appears in the First Volume of his Works.
2. From Rev. J.W. Wellman’s The Church Polity Of The Pilgrims. Printed In 1857. “We are distinctly informed that it was usual to have several bishops over one church, as in Philippians 1:1; Acts 20:28; but nowhere in the New Testament is there any intimation that one bishop was placed over several churches.” –P.38.
“There is no authority in the New Testament for making any distinction between a board of elders and a board of presbyters, or between a board of presbyters and a board of bishops; nor for making any distinction between a board of elders and a board of elders and presbyters. All such distinctions are of human origin.” –Pgs. 38-39.
“The only Presbytery, known to the apostles and primitive Christians, was that composed of the presbyters or pastors of a single church.” –P.39.
“The first Christian churches were independent.” –P.41.
“No organization that takes anything away from the completeness of the local church, or in any degree forms a complement to it, or to its authority, has any warrant in Scripture.” –P.43.
“There is no tenable stopping-place between Independency and Popery. If one degree of authority should be exercised over a local church, then it is easy to prove that two degrees should be.” –P.45.
“There must forever be a palpable and fixed line of demarcation between the people’s governing and being governed. Inside of this line is the primitive, scriptural church; but outside all is adrift. If the brethren of a local church govern, they stand fast in the position of the primitive churches; but the moment they suffer themselves in any degree to be governed, they leave that position and begin to travel towards Rome.” –P.47.
“It is sometimes said that the Rev. John Robinson, the godly pastor of the Leyden-Plymouth Church, was the author of Independency. But no. ‘It was instituted’, says John Cotton, ‘and practised in the first ages of Christianity, and our Saviour himself is the true author of this first ecclesiastical state of the church.’ ” –P.53-54.
“It may seem strange that this primitive and scriptural form of the Christian church should have been disregarded for so many centuries, and have been revived again only two centuries and a half ago. But ecclesiastical corruption and despotism crushed it out. The world was not worthy of it; and, therefore, for more than thirteen centuries in the world, it was like its Great Author, who had not where to lay his head.” –P.54.
“It is very significant of the powerful working of this influence of Independency upon the public mind immediately before the founding of the [American] republic, that, in the single year 1772, the famous book, written by the Rev. John Wise more than half a century before, and entitled, “A Vindication of the Government of the Churches of New England,” was reprinted twice, and the second reprint largely subscribed for by leading political men. In this book, two editions of which were thus scattered broadcast among the people only four years before the Declaration of Independence, and fifteen before the formation of the Constitution of the United States, thousands of the intelligent voters of New England read many a profound political truth, which must have stirred their souls with an unconquerable purpose to maintain their civil rights against all usurpation and tyranny.” –P.70-71.
“Nor was the influence of this [Independent] church polity confined to New England. It reached some, at least, of those men beyond her borders who afterwards took a prominent part in laying the foundations of the republic. ‘Several years before the American Revolution, there was, near the house of Mr. [Thomas] Jefferson, in Virginia, a church which was governed on Independent principles, and whose monthly meetings he often attended. Being asked how he was pleased with their church government, he replied that it had struck him with great force, and interested him very much; that he considered it the only form of pure democracy that then existed in the world, and had concluded that it would be the best plan of government for the American colonies.’ ” –P. 73.
“It is, moreover, already the verdict of dispassionate history, that in the Mayflower came hither the germ of our republic.” –P. 73.
“Our fathers first learned that there could be a church without a bishop, and then they knew there could be a state without a king.” –P. 74.
“The independent local church never feels the influence of a mighty, overshadowing church power breathing down upon it, and stiffening all its members so that they dare not stir for very fear. You do not hear them constantly and servilely appealing to the book, the book, and to the authoritative decisions of high ecclesiastical judicatories; nor, in any great question of Christian duty, inquiring, first of all, for the limits of their constitutional power! The Bible is the only book which they honor with the distinctive appellation, The Book. The Scriptures are their only and sufficient rule of Christian faith and practice, and the authority of Christ is alone above that of their local church. Consequently, they are never cowed down into a cringing attitude by an imposing ecclesiastical organism. They are never cramped by formality or fear, or any of the rigidities of a complicated and centralizing church system. When called to decide upon a course of action, they can consult conscience and the Bible without once thinking of their church organization. And in this is disclosed one of the greatest excellences of our ecclesiastical polity. It accomplishes its own work quietly and efficiently, securing to us all the ends of a church, and yet never interposes between us and our duty.” –P. 92.
“The pressure of such personal responsibilities is eminently fitted to lead men to prayer, and a closer walk with God.” –P. 95.
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