Lay Representation

Lay Representation The participation of the laity, by their representatives, in the government of the Church, is one of the fruits of the Protestant Reformation. The ground of their claim to be represented in ecclesiastical government is found, however, in the nature of the Christian priesthood, and the constitution of the Church itself. Christ having satisfied, by his offering of himself, that sense of need which leads men to seek for mediators, there remains to the Christian community the offering of themselves, as a priestly body, in sacrifice and service to their Redeemer. Towards God, all are spiritually equal, and the Church. therefore, as originally constituted, was without an external priestly caste. "As all believers," says Neander, in his Planting and Training of the Church, "were conscious of an equal relation to Christ as their Redeemer, and of a common participation of communion with God through him, so on this consciousness an equal relation of believers to one another was grounded, which utterly precluded any relation like that found in other forms of religion subsisting between a priestly caste and a people of whom they were mediators and spiritual guides. The apostles themselves were very far from placing themselves in a relation to believers which bore any relation to a mediating priesthood; in this respect they always placed themselves on a footing of equality." Yet apostolic churches were by no means without a distinct method of government. Following the example of the synagogue, elders very soon appear in the Christian community; and. the choosing of deacons by the people, with the approval of the apostles, is one of the earliest facts recorded in the New Testament history of the organizing Church. The charisms, or gifts of the Spirit, included that of government (1 Corinthians 12); yet this gift was used, not as of exclusive right, but in cooperation with other gifts for the common welfare. The gift of the Spirit was a designation to the Christian community of the persons fitted for the exercise of this function. The Gentile churches adopted substantially the form of government in use among their Jewish fellow-Christians; "but their government," says Neander, "by no means excluded the participation of the whole Church in the management of their common concerns, as may be inferred from what we have already remarked respecting the nature of the Christian communion, and is also evident from many individual examples in the apostolic Church. The whole Church at Jerusalem took part in the deliberation respecting the relation of the Jewish and Gentile Christians to each other, and the epistle drawn up after these deliberations was likewise in the name of the whole Church. The epistles of the apostle Paul, which treat of various controverted ecclesiastical matters, are addressed to whole churches, and he assumes that the decision belonged to the whole body. Had it been otherwise, he would have addressed his instructions and advice principally, at least, to the overseers of the Church." In the post-apostolic age, with the growth of the sacerdotal system, the laity gradually disappeared from participation in the government of the Church. As religion became more external. the minister became more a mediating priest, until finally the churches were represented in the provincial and other councils solely by their bishops. SEE LAY. The hardening process went on till the fabric of mediaeval Christianity was complete. The laity were held in a state of pupilage, their capability of self- guidance in matters of faith and practice was denied, and the powers of the Church were wholly absorbed by the hierarchy. This continued till the spell of mediaevalism was broken by Luther.

T'he doctrine of justification by faith alone abolished human mediation between man and God. Luther fully recognized the New-Testament idea of the priesthood of all believers, and proclaimed it with all the force of his eloquence. His language on this subject is very explicit: "Every Christian man is a priest, and every Christian woman a priestess, whether they be young or old, master or servant, mistress or maid-servant, scholar or illiterate. All Christians are, properly speaking, members of the ecclesiastical order, and there is no difference between them except that they hold different offices" (see citations in Hagenbach, Hist. of Doctrines, 2:24). By the inculcation of this fundamental principle the laity recovered their position in the Church of Christ, and lay representation again became possible. "The restoration," says Litton, in his work on the Church, "in theory at least, of the laity to their proper place in the Church, was an immediate consequence of the Reformation. By reasserting the two great scriptural doctrines of the universal priesthood of Christians, and of the indwelling of the Spirit, not in a priestly caste, but in the whole body of the faithful, Luther and his contemporaries shook the whole fabric of sacerdotal usurpation to its base, and recovered for the Christian laity the rights of which they had been deprived. The lay members of the body of Christ emerged from the spiritual imbecility which they had been taught to regard as their natural state, and became free, not from the yoke of Christ, but from that of the priest." The right of the laity to representation has ever since remained one of the points of difference between Protestantism and Romanism. The Council of Trent reaffirmed the mediaeval doctrine in the strongest terms. In its decree on the sacrament of "order" it says, "And if anyone affirm that all Christians indiscriminately are priests of the New Testament, or that they are mutually endowed with an equal spiritual power, he clearly does nothing but confound the ecclesiastical hierarchy, which is as an army set in array; as if, contrary to the doctrine of the blessed Paul, all were apostles, all prophets, all evangelists; all pastors, all doctors." In the development of Protestantism the lay power was unfortunately absorbed by the state. The State-Church system has hindered the free growth of the Christian community; but wherever Protestantism has had the opportunity of freely unfolding its principles, lay representation has been recognized as just and fitting.

The form of lay representation varies in the Protestant churches. Among the Presbyterians the laity are represented by ruling elders, who are chosen for life. A presbytery usually consists of all the ministers, and one ruling elder from each congregation within a certain district; a synod is a similarly constituted body from a larger district, embracing several presbyteries; and a general assembly consists of an equal delegation of ministers and elders from each presbytery, in a certain fixed proportion. In the General Assembly of the State Church of Scotland, the crown is also represented by a lord high commissioner. The Lutheran Church adheres to the doctrine of the universal priesthood of believers, as taught by Luther: "The ultimate source of power is in the congregation, and synods possess such powers as the congregations delegate to them." In the United States most of the synods are connected with a more general body (the General Synod, the General Council, or the Southern General Synod). Among the Friends, or Quakers, the legislative power is exercised by a yearly meeting, which embraces the whole society within a certain district. In this the proceedings of the quarterly and monthly meetings are reviewed. There are also "district meetings" for the supervision and care of the ministry, which are composed of ministers and elders. The Congregationalists hold the entire independence of each Christian congregation, and its right to manage its own affairs without interference from other churches. In each church all the brethren have equal rights. Councils may be called by letters addressed to neighboring churches, and, when assembled, are composed of a pastor and a delegate from each church invited. They have, however, no authoritative power. In the United States all the congregational bodies (Baptists, Orthodox Congregationalists, Unitarians, and Universalists) hold general conventions, in which the laity are always represented.

In the Established Church of England the lay power has been jealously retained and guarded by the crown and Parliament, but the Disestablished Church of Ireland has reorganized with lay representation. In the councils of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States the laity have an important place. In each diocese there is held annually a convention composed of the bishop, the clergy, and a lay delegate from each church. This is the governing body of the diocese. The legislative authority of the entire Church resides in a general convention, which meets once in three years, and is composed of the bishops and four clerical and four lay delegates from each diocese, elected by the diocesan convention. The bishops form one house, and the clerical and lay delegates another. The concurrence of both houses is necessary for the passage of any law, and, if asked for, the concurrence of the three orders becomes necessary.

Direct representation of the laity is not established among the Wesleyan Methodists of England. There are, however, preparatory committees appointed by the conference, and composed of ministers and laymen, who revise the connectional business in advance of the annual assembling of the conference. These committees shape the measures adopted subsequently by the conference, their recommendations being usually concurred in. Direct lay representation has been proposed by the Rev. William Arthur and Mr. Percival Bunting, and no doubt the proposal will hereafter be much discussed. The Irish Wesleyans are making steady progress towards lay delegation. The minor Wesleyan bodies in England (the Primitive Methodists, New Connection Methodists, etc.) have adopted lay representation. Lay representation first went into effect in the Methodist Episcopal Church South in 1869. It also exists in the Methodist Protestant, the Methodist, the African Methodist, and the African Meth. Episcopal Zion churches.

The history of lay representation in the Methodist Episcopal Church has been quite eventful. Originally and for many years the Church was governed by the traveling ministers, through annual conferences and a delegated general conference. Early in this century symptoms of a desire for a change in the form of government appeared. About 1822 the Wesleyan Repository, a paper advocating reform (as it was then called), was established in Philadelphia. This was followed by a convention of "reformers" in Baltimore in 1824, who established as their periodical organ in that city The Mutual Rights. The objects of attack were the episcopacy and the clerical government of the Church. In 1827 Dr. Thomas E. Bond issued an appeal to Methodists against lay delegation which exerted a great influence in determining the maintenance of the existing system. At the General Conference of 1828 the subject was discussed in the celebrated "Report on Petitions and Memorials," which denied the claims of the petitioners. This report was unanimously adopted. By this time Church proceedings had been instituted against some of the "reform party" in Baltimore, which resulted in expulsion. Others withdrew, and in 1830 the Constitution of the "Methodist Protestant Church" was formed. The controversy was accompanied and followed with great bitterness on both sides. Looked at from this distance of time, it is apparent that both parties numbered among their leaders good and strong men, who unfortunately stood upon extreme and irreconcilable propositions. The "reformers" claimed the admission of the laity to the General Conference on the ground of the right of the people to share in ecclesiastical legislation; this claim was denied by the conservative side chiefly on the ground that the General Conference possessed "no strictly legislative powers." The discussion rested, after the organization of the Methodist Protestant Church, for more than twenty years. Shortly before the General Conference of 1852, a convention of laymen was held in Philadelphia to take measures for bringing the subject before the Church once more. This convention, however, disclaimed all connection with the principles of the reformers of 1828, and asked for lay representation on the grounds of expediency solely. Dr. Thomas E. Bond, the great antagonist of the "radicals," met the members of the convention in the most friendly spirit, and conceded to them that lay delegation put on the ground of expediency was an open question. While still denying the claim of right, he went so far as to suggest a plan of lay cooperation in the annual conferences. The petition of the convention to the General Conference was denied. In the General Conference of 1856 an appeal for lay delegation was presented again, but received very little attention. By 1860 such progress had been made that the General Conference, assembled in that year, referred the measure to a popular and ministerial vote, to be taken in 1861 and 1862. Both votes were adverse to lay representation, but the vote, though adverse, developed the fact of a growing favor for this important measure. The Methodist, which was established in 1860, devoted itself to the advocacy of it; other papers, especially the Zion's Herald and the North- Western Advocate, urged it upon the Church. A largely-attended convention of laymen wass held in New York in the spring of 1863. At this meeting it was resolved to hold another convention, concurrently with the session of the General Conference at Philadelphia, in 1864. The convention was so held, and presented through a deputation of its delegates a memorial to the General Conference though without immediate result. A third convention was held, concurrently with the session of the General Conference at Chicago, in 1868. At this conference a popular and ministerial vote was ordered for a second time. The vote of the lay members, which was large, showed a majority of two to one for lay delegation, and the necessary three fourths of the ministry were secured. At the session of General Conference which assembled in Brooklyn May 1, 1.872, the measure was fully inaugurated, and the lay delegates already elected were admitted to equal powers. The plan thus adopted provides for two lay delegates for every Annual Conference, — with separate votes of the lay and clerical members on any question in case one third of either order demand it.

References. — Neander, History of the Planting and Training of the Christian Church, book 1, chapter 2, and book 3, chapter 5; Hagenbach. History of Christian Doctrines, 2:277-283; Litton, History of the Church, book 3, chapter 2; Waterworth, Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent, page 172 sq.; Constitution of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. (publ. by Presb. Board, Philadelphia); Life of Bishop Emory, chapters 10, 11; Economy of Methodism Illustrated and Defended, by Dr. T.E. Bond, Introduction and Appendix; Perrine (Prof. W.H.), The "Wesleyan Axiom" expounded: a Plea for a Lay Delegation thoroughly Scriptural, Wesleyan,

and Democratic (N.Y. 1872), attacking the plan adopted by the General Conference of 1868. SEE LAITY. (G.R.C.)

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