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to such churches as are connected with towns or parishes, and wisely provides that these shall not be interrupted in their appropriate duties, but “shall at all times have, use, exercise, and enjoy all their accustomed privileges and liberties.”
We appeal to the candor of the public to decide, whether this is not the proper interpretation of the law we have quoted; and if it is, it surely goes not a step towards establishing the views of the Judges respecting the church.
7. Chief Justice Parker urges the correctness of his opinions from the consequences of supposing the opposite. “Property bestowed upon churches has always been given,” he says, “with a particular view to some associated body of Christians." And were churches allowed to "remove to any other place, perhaps without the Commonwealth, and carry their property with them,” the will and design of the donors would be frustrated.* The right of churches to remove with their property out of the Commonwealth, need not here be asserted or denied. It will be in time to settle the question of this right, when such a removal is seriously attempted. In the case of the church in Dedham, on which his Honor was called to decide, the place of worship was removed only to the other side of the street. But even such a removal cannot be allowed, because, says the Judge, “the property bestowed on churches has always been given with a particular view to some associated body of Christians;" or, in other words," the property bestowed on churches has always been given” with a view to the benefit of some associated town or parish. But a discussion of this point would only bring over the question again—a question which we think we have already settled—whether the church is a mere trustee for the town or parish. We say, and we think we have shewn, that this is not the case ; and accordingly we deny, that “the property bestowed on churches has always been given,” with a view to the benefit of some associated town or parish, or has indeed ever been given with such a view, especially in the ancient grants, except as the inhabitants of a town may be willing to come, and unite in the worship which the church has instituted.
Having now examined the principle arguments by which Chief Justice Parker has endeavored to establish his views of a church, we proceed to offer our objections. And,
1. The views he has expressed are inconsistent with the natural, inherent rights of the churches, particularly in respect to the choice of their pastors, and the disposal of their property. Many of the churches of this Commonwealth are now in the actual and honest possession of property.
Some of this they have acquired by purchase, and some by grant or donation. But, however acquired, it is theirs, and (except where some trust or use is expressed in a contributions for the support of the Lord's table. As it was lying useless in the hands of the deacons, it was thought best to purchase with it a piece of land, to be holden by the church, and to be improved, under their direction, for the benefit of their pastor. The plan was carried into effect accordingly, and the land came legally into the possession of the deacons, to be holden by them in trust for the church. Everything was transacted harmoniously, and the plan proved to be a very good one, during the ministry of the existing pastor. But, after his decease, about five years ago, the church and parish disagreed. The parish undertook to impose a pastor on the church, one not only of different sentiments, but, as many believed, of immoral life. The church remonstrated, and entreated; but to no purpose. Supported by the late decisions, the parish would have its own way. Their minister was settled, and the church had no alternative, but to withdraw. It was hard for them to leave the house of worship, and abandon their pews;
* Mass. Term Reports, vol. xvi. p 506.
but, as circumstances were, they thought it harder to remain. They voted, therefore, by a very large inajority, to withdraw. But they were soon given to understand that they could not withdraw, except as individuals ; and that if they withdrew in this way, they must leave all their property, even to their communion furniture and records, behind them. In these circumstances, what could they do? They knew their property was their own. They had purchased it with their own money ; it was held in trust for them by their own deacons; and the parish had no more right to it, than they had to the garments which the church members wore. But what could the brethren of the church do? They could submit and suffer. They could in patience possess their souls, and wait for justice at a higher tribunal than that of their country.
We may suppose another instance. About ten years ago, there was a feeble church and society, situated in a large and wealthy town. They had struggled through many difficulties, and against much opposition, from Universalists and Deists, from the irreligious and profane; but they had been united among themselves, and had succeeded in maintaining the ordinances of the Gospel. At the time of which we speak, one of the best and wealthiest members of the church died, and left a large landed estate, duly and legally secured to the church. No trust or use was expressed in the legacy, but it was to go in succession, and the income to be annually appropriated according to the discretion of the church. About six years ago, many inhabitants of the town were seized with a great desire to have the control and management of this property. Accordingly they made themselves members of the society, dismissed the existing minister, and proposed setting a man of their own liking. The church did all they could to prevent it, but they were disregarded and overwhelmed, and the society's minister was settled. Still, the church supposed VOL. I.
that they might withdraw, retain their property, and re-establish the minister who had long and faithfully served them. But what was their astonishment and grief, when they found that even this last resource of the afflicted was denied them? They could not withdraw, but as individuals ; and in doing this, they must commit ecclesiastical suicide, and leave their inheritance to their persecu
And the legacy of their dear brother, on whose grave the grass had scarcely begun to grow, must, in any case, be perverted to the support of a ministry which he would have abhorred.
We hope indeed, that instances like those here supposed, will not often occur in this country, under any civil regulations. But why should they ever? And especially why should they, under the sanction of judicial decisions, which have the force of law ? Better have no laws on the subject, than laws which hold out, not merely license, but encouragement to wrong.
It is an aggravation of the evil, that, in all the instances, like those we have given, which can occur, the injury will invariably fall upon the more conscientious and religious part of the community. The man of easy principles and conscience, who can slide along any way, as his convenience, bis interest, or his passions may dictate, will always escape; while those who feel their obligations to God, and who dare not violate them, must be left to suffer for their integrity.
In reply to what we have here offered, it will no doubt be urged, that cases of great hardship would be likely to occur, were the sole power of electing a minister, and of managing parochial funds, to be vested in the church. But we repeat here, for the last time,-and whatever else may be forgotten, we hope this will be remembered,—that we do not claim or wish for the church the right to choose a minister for the parish, or the right to hold or control parish property. We only ask, that the church may
be allowed to choose its own pastor, and to manage its own funds; and, in case of inevitable disagreement between church and parish, that it may be permitted to withdraw, and support such worship as it can approve. Is not this a reasonable demand? Is it not conformable to all our ideas of Christian liberty and propriety? Can any cases of injustice or hardship possibly grow out of it? We appeal again to the candor of the community.
5. It may be necessary to observe, although it should be making but a small advance, that the decisions in question are inconsistent with Scripture, and with the institution of Christ. On a subject such as this, express declarations are not to be expected. It will be sufficient if we shew, that they are manifestly inconsistent with the general spirit of the sacred writings. And is not this abundantly evident, from what has been already said? If these decisions are inconsistent with the independence of the churches, and with their dearest natural rights, taking from them that which
Christ and the apostles gave, and opening the way for their oppression and plunder; then they must be inconsistent with the Scriptures. What Scriptures can be found, to give their sanction to proceedings such as these? The churches of Christ are invested by their divine Lord with certain necessary powers and rights, such as that of admitting and excluding members, electing their own officers, and managing, in the general, their own concerns; and no man can wrest these from them, and be guiltless. They are exhorted to “stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made them free;" and wo be to the hand which attempts to bind them.
6. We object to the views expressed in the decision of the Dedham case, that they are too evidently of a sectarian character. We do not complain, on the ground merely that this case was decided in favor of Unitarians. But we do complain, that the highest judicial officer in the State, while seated on the bench of justice, should allow himself to go into a discussion of theological questions, and make them a ground of his decision, in a way to favor one religious denomination, and to prejudice others. The Constitution wisely provides, that “no subordination of any one sect or denomination of Christians to another, shall ever be established by law.” We would inquire, then, whether it can be constitutional for an officer of the government, whose decisions are to have the force of law, to attempt determining points of theology which are at issue between different denominations of Christians. What would be thought, if such points were brought before the Legislature, to be decided by literal enactments? But they might as well be decided there, for aught we see, as on the bench, since the decisions of the bench, until reversed, are much the same as laws. Why, then, did Chief Justice Parker, in the decision, to which we have referred, take it upon him to say, that “the practice of the Episcopal churches,” in regard to the sacrament, “is more conformable to the practice of the primitive Christian churches, than that of most who dissent from their form of worship"? And why did he decide, in exact conformity to the religious views of Unitarians,* and in as exact opposition to those of the Orthodox, that there was no distinction, in primitive Christian times, between the church and the congregation, but all the assembly were considered the church, and all were invited, without distinction, to come to the communion table, and receive the sacrament.”+ The learned Judge will pardon us, if we think these subjects not a little out of his professional sphere. To be sure, as a man, he has the same right as
The views of Unitarians on these subjects may he gathered from the Christian Examiner for January and February, 1826, and from the Christian Disciple for July and August, 1820. This number of the Christian Disciple contains a Review of the Dedham controversy, and was published but a short time previous to the decision now before us. We think no person can read the Review, and the decision, without discovering a striking resemblance in opinions, if not in the language, of some parts of the latter, to those of the former.
+ Term Reports, vol. xvi. p. 499.
any other man, to form his opinions, and to express them, on all religious subjects; but, as the highest judicial officer in the Commonwealth, sitting on the bench of justice, and acting the part, not only of a Judge, but, in some sense, also of a legislator, we really think he may better leave disputed points in theology to be determined in their proper place.
7. The late decisions of which we complain, are inconsistent with other and previous decisions. In the case of Burr vs. Sandwich, we have the following sentiments from the late Chief Justice Parsons. “We have to decide,” says he,“ upon the nature and powers of a Congregational church, as distinct from a parish."-"A parish and church are bodies with different powers. A regularly gathered Congregational church is composed of a number of persons, associated by a covenant or agreement of church fellowship, principally for the purpose of celebrating the rights of the Supper and baptism. They elect deacons; and the minister of the parish is also admitted a member. The deacons are made a corporation to hold property for the use of the church, and they are accountable to the members. The members of a church are generally inhabitants of the parish ; but this inhabitancy is not a necessary qualification for a church member."*
Chief Justice Parker tells us, that "the only circumstance which gives a church any legal character, is, its connexion with some regularly constituted society," and, indeed," that a church cannot subsist, without some such society to which it is attached.” But Chief Justice Parsons decides “
upon the nature and powers of a Congregational church, as distinct from a parish,” and tells us, that “a church and parish are bodies with different powers.
Chief Justice Parker tells us, once and again, that the church is a mere trustee for the parish, and holds its property for the use of the parish. But Chief Justice Parsons says, “ The deacons are made a corporation to hold property for the use of the church, and they are accountable to the members.”
Chief Justice Parker tells us, (what every clergyman in the State knows to be incorrect, that those " who withdraw from a society, cease to be members of that particular church" with which the society is connected. But Chief Justice Parsons says, “ The members of a church are generally inhabitants of the parish; but this inhabitancy is not a necessary qualification for a church member.”
Chief Justice Parker insists that the property of the church in Dedham was designed to be appropriated for the support minister; and, as such, is rightfully entrusted to the care of the deacons, to be held by them for the benefit of the parish. I But it was decided by Judge Sedgwick, in the case of Boutell and
* Mass. Term Reports, vol. ix. p. 277.
+ Ibid. vol, xvi. pp. 504, 505.
Ibid. p. 495.