Society, a combination of persons uniting in a fellowship for any purpose whatever, and having common objects, principles, and laws. Many such combinations have been made of late years for the purpose of promoting different religious objects, among the earliest of which are the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, for the circulation of Bibles, prayer books, and tracts, founded in 1698; the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, for carrying Christianity to the colonies and other dependencies of the British empire, established in 1701; and others, most of which will be found under their appropriate heads, as SEE BIBLE SOCIETIES, etc. Since convocations and diocesan synods have fallen into disuse, the duty of providing for missions, the circulation of the Scriptures, the preparation and publication of devotional works, and similar objects, have devolved upon voluntary associations. These societies, being formed independent of ecclesiastical authority, are necessarily free from ecclesiastical rule or regulation, and their constitution is thus determined by the nature of their object. In the Church of England a controversy has arisen in relation to these societies, respecting the necessity of members of the Church having the sanction of their diocesan before joining such associations. The real question is, whether any such society involves in its constitution or practices a violation of canonical law or established discipline. The matter was finally left to the judgment of the individual. In the United States such societies are often organized by the authorities of the Church they represent, or are endorsed by several churches, and thus become their acknowledged agency in that direction. Of the latter the American Bible Society is a notable example.

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