Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Newton on the problem of Congregationalism

Here is another gem from Newton's collected letters to John Ryland Jr (the book is titled Wise Counsel, and is published by Banner of Truth). This quote is from page 223:
That sovereign power, which Independents assume over their ministers, appears to me to great to be trusted in such hands. If a man ranks as a member of the Church of Christ [1], however ignorant, illiterate and illiberal he may be, though he has seen nothing beyond the bounds of his own parish, though his temper be sour, and his spirit obstinate as a mule, still he thinks himself both qualified and authorized to teach his pastor. Half a dozen persons of this description are sufficient to make a minister and a whole congregation uneasy throughout life. Whatever burden we are supposed to have in the Establishment [2], we are free from this.

While such an idea is not very popular in the West, which is marked by a pervasive anti-authoritarian sentiment, I could not help laughing at the accuracy of Newton's description of our churches. Far too often we kick against the very men that God has risen up to lead us. Still, lest my institutional-leaning church friends take this too far, the New Testament pattern does indicate that the congregation is to be actively involved in many matters of the church.

[1] In Newton’s time this was another way of referring to the Independent churches (such as the Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Baptists).

[2] The Establishment referred to the established church in England (e.g. the Anglican Church).


  1. Oh, I have a comment or two 'about THAT.

  2. In the first version of this post I actually referenced you....something alone the lines of "Not that my friend Arthur would approve, but Newton makes a point against congregational church by saying..."---but I deleted it in the revision.