Bannerman: Church Power For The Good of It’s People

II. The power of the Church has for its aim and end directly the general benefit and spiritual good of the Church as a body.

That this is the case is very explicitly announced by the Apostle Paul, when speaking of the authority vested in himself as an apostle and an extraordinary office-bearer in the Church: “Therefore I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the power which the Lord has given me to edification, and not to destruction.” And what is true of the extraordinary and temporary office of the apostleship which Paul held, and of the power belonging to it, is also true of the permanent and standing office-bearers of the Christian society, and of the ordinary power which they are commissioned to wield. Such power is instituted for the interests and spiritual edification of the whole Church, and not for the advantage of the few who administer it. It is not to create a separate class, or to aggrandize a privileged order in the Christian society, that Church power is given and limited to a few, any more than it is to create a caste, or to benefit a particular order in the civil society, that political power is given and restricted to a few. In the case of the state, the ordinance of power established by God is an ordinance for good not to a small body, but to all within it. The distinction of ranks, the privileges of civil rule, the authority of government, the rights of power, exist not because of the ambitious desires or interests of those invested with office, but because of the necessity of such things to secure the blessings of order, and justice, and peace in the community at large. And so, in the case of the Church, the power which belongs to it exists for the moral and spiritual good of the whole body, and not for the creation of a priestly caste, or for the aggrandizement of a few at the expense of the many. Government exists in the Christian society for the interest as much of the governed as the governors. Office exists for the benefit no less of those who have it not, than of those who have. Power belongs to the state ecclesiastical, not for the ambition or aggrandizement of a Church order, but for the edification and well-being of those who have no place in the Church but as members. Authority is exercised and enforced within the Christian Church, not for the gain of a few, but for the spiritual good of the many. The Church of Christ knows of no spiritual order distinct from the order of Christians,—no priestly caste separated from all others by internal rights and prerogatives peculiar to itself,—no separate interest for the members of which alone power and privilege and authority exist,—no lordly rank, to whom belong mysterious authority and transcendental privileges unknown to the rest.

The Church of Christ confesses to the existence within it of no clergy, as in the Church of Rome, distinguished by indelible “character” and internal powers from the laity or the Christian people. The true clergy of the Church of Christ are, according to the original import of the word, the κληρος, the “lot,” or “possession,” or “heritage” of Christ,—the whole body of His called and chosen people. And in nothing is the spirit of Rome more apparent than in that distinction which she has set up between the clergy and the laity,—between a sacerdotal and profane caste,—between those to whom, according to her Church principles, the power of the Christian society inherently belongs, and those who are appointed to be its slaves or its victims. The very last thing intended by its Divine Head in the institution of office, and authority, and power in His Church, was the creation or aggrandizement of a separate interest or privileged class, who should inherently possess a right to place, and power, and honour, at the expense of the rest. And although, for the sake of order, and for the sake of order alone, some were set apart in the Christian society to office and for the purpose of administering the authority of its government, yet it must never be forgotten that such an arrangement was made not for their sakes, but for the sake of the whole; and that in virtue of being so appointed to administer the power and manage the affairs of the body of Christians, they become all the more the “ministers” or servants of the rest. The spiritual edification of the whole body of believers is the one end and aim of Church power. It knows of no object apart from this. It confesses to no aim of a private and exclusive kind, distinct from the universal good. It is not the gain of a few at the expense of the many. It is not the peculiar prerogative or the peculiar interest of a privileged and separate order, who claim to be the heirs of apostolic power by “apostolic succession.” “Not for that we have dominion,” said an apostle not by succession, “not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy.” “We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.”

The direct design and end of Church power is the spiritual edification of the Church,—meaning by the word not a privileged class, but the whole body of the faithful, whatever place or name they may have in the Christian society. For this one object Church power in all its forms and exercises was instituted, and ought to be administered within the Christian society. We can see, indeed, in regard to every department of Church power, whether it regards doctrine, ordinance, or discipline, that it is subservient to this great end, and that it is fitted as well as intended to advance the spiritual interests of the society.

Bannerman, J. (1868). The Church of Christ: a treatise on the nature, powers, ordinances, discipline, and government of the Christian Church (Vol. 1, pp. 252–254). Edinburgh: T&T Clark.

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