In Respect to Weddings, Funerals, Ordinations, Dedications, Recognitions, And Other Special Services
Marriage is both a civil and a religious institution. It has its legal relations, and is subject to and provided for by the enactments of civil law. But as divinely instituted, its moral and religious bearings are manifest. Its higher relations to the law of God are set forth in the Scriptures, and its nature, benefits, and obligations are there explained and enforced.
1. Marriage as a civil contract consists in the parties making a declaration before competent witnesses that they take each other as husband and wife, pledging themselves to a faithful and life-long discharge of the duties reciprocally involved in that relation.
2. The persons designated by law to take the acknowledgment of the contract and make certificate of the same—to solemnize the bans—are regularly ordained and recognized clergymen of all denominations, justices of the peace, judges of courts, mayors of cities, and governors of States.
3. Marriage, solemnized by any person, if the parties properly make their declaration in the presence of competent witnesses, is valid in law; but the person who solemnizes the bans is subject to fine if he be not legally authorized to do it.
4. Divinity students, licentiates, and lay preachers are not by law regarded as ordained clergymen, and cannot lawfully perform the marriage service.
5. As a social festival, the bearing and influence of the clergyman will go far towards giving it character. He is to remember that it should not be sad, solemn and oppressive, like a funeral, nor yet a scene of thoughtless and extravagant levity.
The one is as foreign to the true purposes of a wedding as the other. It should be cheerful, joyous, and inspiring, without losing the dignity and serenity of a social festivity sanctioned by religion. Its religious aspect is recognized in the fact that clergymen are usually sought for to solemnize the bans.
6. When the marriage takes place at the minister's own house, or in church, the occasion will be under his own control; when it is at the bride's home, he will not feel at liberty to interfere directly with the arrangements, and can only indirectly influence the occasion beyond his own official performance. His known wishes will, however, generally be respected.
7. The ceremony itself should not be so very brief as to seem trifling and unimpressive, nor yet so protracted as to be tedious and annoying. Extended counsel, however important, will be little considered during the excitement of such a service.
8. As to the form of the ceremony, the wishes of those to be united should be regarded, if they have any choice. If they have not, the clergyman will naturally proceed in his accustomed way.
9. One thing he should always do, strictly and conscientiously, viz., proceed without deviation according to law. No persuasion of friends, nor fear of losing a fee, should induce him to violate legal enactments. Ministers of the gospel should be the last men to break the laws.
10. Nor, even where the law permits, should he unite in marriage persons who he believes should not be so united. Run-away matches, and parties under suspicious circumstances, it is wiser to decline; prudence in this respect may save himself and others much trouble.
11. The minister should strictly question strangers, so as to satisfy himself that all is right. But those who would evade the law will be likely to evade the truth in such a case. In the State of New York the clergyman is now allowed to put the parties under oath, and to preserve their sworn and certified statement.
12. The law should be also strictly followed as to the registration of marriages, whether in city or country. Such laws are wise and salutary, and involve important interests.
13. Each clergyman will of course keep a private register of all marriages performed by him, with all essential particulars, for future reference and personal security, and at the same time give certificates of marriage to all parties desiring them.
14. Good social custom is supporting the law of the land against intoxicants by discountenancing their use at a wedding or on any social occasion. Certainly the minister of Christ will never by word or act approve the use of such drinks at such a time. It would be worse than a blunder for him to allow himself to be persuaded to taste, or take, or in any way encourage so pernicious a practise.
15. It will be very proper for the clergyman to see the parties privately for a few minutes, previous to the ceremony, to obtain names, ages, etc., and to fill blanks, if the law requires such to be done. But especially that they may understand each other as to the ceremony, and thus avoid the likelihood of any blunder in its performance.
16. If through excitement, or inadvertence, any little mistake or blunder should occur, when the parties are on the floor, the clergyman should pass it off easily and pleasantly so as to relieve, as far as possible, the embarrassment that others might feel.
17. Especially should the minister himself avoid all mistakes, by being thoroughly self-possessed, and thoroughly familiar with the ceremony he uses, whether he reads it from a book or repeats it from memory.
18. When the marriage is in church, the ceremony may well be somewhat more formal and protracted than when in a private house, inasmuch as it takes on something more of the character of a public official, than of a private social service.
19. The minister should guard himself equally against unsocial reticence and flippant levity. The latter is the more to be shunned, since the tendencies are the stronger in that direction. And while he should be cheerful and easy, he should not sacrifice the dignity of his office to the festivity of the occasion.
20. Attendance at weddings often opens to the pastor new opportunities of usefulness, which he should not fail to improve. By subsequently calling, not only on the newly married pair, but on their relatives, he may often spiritually benefit individuals, and perhaps win new families to his congregation.
21. The question has frequently been raised, whether ministers may properly unite in marriage persons who have been divorced for other causes than adultery. There are many and good men on both sides of this question; and whichever side one may take, he will find himself in good company. There can be no doubt that the rule given by our Saviour, in Matthew 5, is the rule of Christian morality. But whatever views the minister may have as to extreme cases, he should always hold inviolate the sanctity of the marriage relation. He should never allow himself, by word or deed, to favor or further the loose notions respecting it which so frequently prevail, and according to which divorces are often procured by the most unworthy means, and under the most trivial pretenses. Marriage is too sacred an institution, and too vitally connected with the best interests of society, to be sacrificed at the demand of lust, caprice, or self-interest.
The visitation of the sick and attendance on funerals constitute a large item in the list of pastoral duties. And if faithfully attended to, they make a very serious demand upon both the time and energy of a Christian minister. Attended to faithfully, they certainly should be; because in this direction lies the path of duty, and because he never gains so ready access to the hearts of the people, whether for counsel or consolation, as in their times of trouble.
The minister is seldom consulted as to the time, place, or conditions of funerals. Usually, the arrangements are all made before he is notified and requested to attend. This is a mistake. He ought to be conferred with in respect to the matter, before the arrangements are fixed.
The following suggestions may be of use:
1. It is desirable that funeral services be held in the church, rather than in a private house, where the attendance is expected to be large, and more particularly if the private house be not commodious. At the church, all can be comfortably seated, and listen without inconvenience to whatever may be said. At a private house this is difficult, if not impossible, with any considerable number present.
2. At private houses, considering the inconve nience of the audience—sitting in uncomfortable positions, standing, some outside and some not hearing the speaker—the service should be brief, seldom exceeding thirty or thirty-five minutes.
3. Very unreasonable and sometimes very absurd demands are made upon the officiating clergyman, as to the position he shall occupy while performing the service. The undertaker, or some friend of the family, informs him that he had better stand in the hall, so as to be heard in all the rooms; though in the hall he may be in a draft of air, liable to take cold, and possibly himself to become the subject for a funeral, besides the annoyance of being disturbed by persons coming in and going out. Or he may be desired to stand in a doorway between two rooms, so as to see neither. Or, worse still, he may be placed half-way up the stairs, so as to be heard both above and below stairs, though he may have to talk to the wall, the baluster, or to empty space and an imaginary audience. Now, the minister should select the place to stand which best suits himself, yielding only so far as may be consistent to the wishes of friends.
4. Clergymen who use a prescribed liturgy have the order and matter of service arranged, and will seldom depart from them. Others will arrange the service according to their sense of propriety. It may be supposed, however, that reading portions of Scripture, remarks, and prayer, will constitute the three essential and unvarying elements of the service.
The most natural, and presumably the most common order, is this: Reading selected portions of Scriptures; remarks on the occasion, and address to the mourners; prayer to close, with perhaps the benediction. Some may offer prayer to open and also to close the service. Singing may properly be introduced when convenient, particularly if the service be in church.
5. Preaching funeral sermons is not expected, except on rare occasions. When on account of the prominence of the deceased, or for other reasons, it may be desirable, the better way is to have it take the place of a regular service on the Sabbath, and in the church; if that be not convenient at the time of burial, a brief service can be held at that time, and the sermon be preached at a subsequent time, notice to be given accordingly.
6. The custom, now much prevailing in cities and larger towns, of having the mourners sit up-stairs, secluded, and entirely out of sight of the speaker, during a funeral service, is much to be condemned. Where such usage prevails, the speaker may talk about them, and pray for them, but cannot be expected to address those whom he cannot see, and who may not even hear what he does say.
7. It is bad taste and bad policy both, for a minister to harrow up the feelings of relatives by dwelling on the most sorrowful circumstances, in order to make the service affecting and impressive. But the most distressing features, if referred to, should be mentioned tenderly, and for the purpose of giving counsel or consolation.
8. Remarks at such a time are for the living, not for the dead. The virtues of the departed may appropriately be mentioned, especially if they have been conspicuous; but not in terms of extravagant laudation. Nor is it wise or prudent to specify and condemn, at such a time, the faults and sins of the dead. The great truths of Christian morality should no doubt be urged. But to offend and grieve afflicted friends is no way to benefit them.
9. A clergyman will ascertain in some way, before he begins the service, the peculiar circumstances of the case, so as wisely to guide his remarks. Also concerning the near relatives of the deceased, whom he may be expected to remember in his prayer, if not in his remarks.
10. It will be proper, also, to speak personally to the principal mourners, both before and after the service—especially before, and particularly if they are strangers. A few kind words privately may give the minister more direct access to their confidence.
11. In cities and large towns it is not usually expected that the minister will go to the grave. It would be greatly inconvenient, and serve but little purpose. But where this service is usual, it is difficult for the minister to refuse, without offense, unless there be some excellent reason for so doing. If he does refuse, they will think him wanting in sympathy and consideration for the people in their trials.
12. When he does attend the burial it would appear proper for him to offer a very short prayer at the grave, or very brief remarks with the benediction. Thus his presence would mean more than a mere compliment to the occasion, or to the friends. But a service at the grave should be very short.
13. When the service is in church, it is usually expected—though not of course important—that the minister shall walk up the aisle in front of the coffin. Nor can there be any good reason why he should not, at the same time, repeat appropriate Scriptures, after the manner of the Episcopal Service. When the coffin is taken out, he would also walk in front of it, to the hearse.
14. It seems quite unfortunate that funerals are so generally arranged to take place on Sunday. They impose a needless and severe tax on the time and energies of the minister, on the day when he can least afford it. They interrupt the ordinary services of the day, and do not tend to the sacred observance of the Sabbath. And yet special pains are taken to fix them on that day, in order that they may be largely attended, or that friends may save the time, and not be interrupted in their secular pursuits.
15. The minister should take occasion to visit the bereaved relatives in their homes, as soon after and as often as convenient, in order that he may follow up the lessons of Providence by his counsels, for their spiritual profit. They are more likely to listen to advice and receive spiritual comfort while under the shadow of their afflictions.
While a minister may or may not frequently call on his people at large, in pastoral visitation, no ordinary circumstances can excuse his neglect of the sick. The sick-room and the house in sorrow constitute an imperious demand upon his sympathies and his services. It is his duty, as the shepherd of the flock. It is one of his broadest and most inviting fields of usefulness.
It is undoubtedly true that not a few ministers dislike and shrink from this department of their work. They claim that they are not adapted to it, and cannot do it profitably. While it is true that visits to the sick and dying may impose a painful obligation on some, especially young men, yet it can scarcely be doubted that where such service seems repugnant, it is rather for want of a deeper and more fervent piety, to bring the soul into a closer spiritual sympathy with the suffering. The minister of Christ who has the spirit of his Divine Master and of his sacred calling, can carry the gospel as glad tidings to the sick-room, as well as proclaim it from the pulpit. He will be a blessing, and will himself be blessed by such a ministry. He can never be in full fellowship with his calling until he can be the messenger of consolation to the sick and dying. Such, let every minister become.
1. Visits to the sick should be brief. How brief, circumstances must determine, judged by the good sense of the pastor. Protracted calls would consume too much of his own time, and too much of the time of the family, while they might harm rather than benefit the patient.
2. As a general rule, it is better to visit the sick during the forenoon, since they usually feel better, and are stronger to bear any excitement in the early part of the day. This is particularly true if they be very feeble.
3. Much of the advantage of pastoral visits depends on the deportment and manner of the minister. He should approach the sick gently and quietly, with a pleasant countenance, and with kind and gentle words. No true Christian gentleman will approach a sick-bed in a rough and boisterous manner, and with a loud voice, as destitute of sympathy as it is of courtesy. Nor should he come with a melancholy countenance, or with doleful and depressing words.
4. The minister must remember that his visit is to be a religious visit. It is for that purpose he is expected and desired to call. His conversation should therefore be of a religious kind—hopeful, gentle, and inspiring. No disinclination on the part of the sick should prevent faithfulness in this respect, on his part.
5. In many cases, especially of the unconverted, it may be desirable for the minister to ask to see the sick alone; since they may show their true religious state, and converse on religious subjects more freely alone than in the presence of others.
6. Persons very feeble should not be required to talk much. The effort, mental and physical, of conversing, and even of answering many questions, may be very exhausting. They can listen to conversation when they cannot converse. But if they desire to make statements, they should not be hindered, however feeble.
7. The minister should practise no deception on the sick, either as to their spiritual condition or in regard to the prospect of their recovery. It may not be best to express one's greatest fears as to recovery, but the sick should not be deluded with false hopes. The souls of backsliders and the unconverted should be dealt with faithfully—though always in kindness.
8. Prayer should almost always be offered; in which the condition of the sick can be mentioned, with even more plainness than in conversation. It should be brief, tender in spirit, and gentle in tone; and should embrace the members of the family, according to their condition, as well as the sick. Whether the whole family, with attendants, should be present at the time, must depend on circumstances. Sometimes this is impracticable. Sometimes it is better for the sick that but few should be present, to vitiate the air and confuse the sufferer.
9. A few brief and appropriate portions of Scriptures may well be read, preceding prayer; or what would prove quite as profitable, and perhaps less tiresome to the patient, let these appropriate portions be repeated in the conversation; to which brief comments may be added. Short, selected portions—single verses, well chosen—will meet the condition of the sick better, afford more instruction and comfort, and be less tiresome, than entire chapters, or long continuous portions. The mental effort necessary to follow the reading of long passages is very considerable, especially if they be read rapidly, or indistinctly; and is quite too much effort for a very sick person to make.
10. It is fortunate if the minister can sing. If he can sing well and wisely, his presence will be a special benediction in the sick-room. Song, soft and sympathetic, inspires devotion, carries truth to the heart as well as to the judgment, helps to lift the soul into a spiritual atmosphere, and performs a ministry peculiarly adapted to such a service. But, better no singing than bad singing.
11. The whole manner, deportment and utterance of one who visits the sick, should be calm, cheerful and serene, assuring and not agitating the patient. A noisy, harsh, and blustering deportment is as cruel as it is discourteous, in the sick-room.
12. The minister should be very careful and not intrude upon the province of the physician. Most people have some favorite remedy of their own, for almost every ill. From their great familiarity with sickness, ministers necessarily obtain considerable knowledge of diseases and remedies. But they should carefully avoid playing the doctor. Their sphere is chiefly spiritual. They may safely second the physician's counsels as to careful nursing, pure air, quiet surroundings, if there seems to be need of this. And if thoroughly satisfied that the sick are not receiving proper medical treatment, they may at times, no doubt, advise a change, and the procurement of a competent physician to attend them.
13. Clergymen in visiting the sick-room should avoid every possible condition of annoyance and discomfort to invalids. If their clothing be damp, the outside garment should be laid aside, or they should sit at a prudent distance from the bed. If the hands be very cold, avoid taking the hand of a very feeble patient. Some clergymen who use tobacco—what no clergyman ever should use—are so thoroughly saturated with its fumes, as to offend and almost nauseate even the well, much more the sick, whom they approach. Cases have been known where the sick and dying were obliged to exclude from their presence their own pastors, because the stench of tobacco upon the minister's person was unendurable, in their feeble condition.
14. The pastor will often—especially in cities and large towns—be called on to visit the sick in homes of poverty and want; perhaps in habitations of squalor and degradation. He must, so far as is in his power, preach to such a gospel of food and raiment, as well as a gospel of repentance and faith. Let him, as he is able, of his own personal means, relieve the wants of the sufferers. But he should enlist the kind services of the generous, to minister to such sufferers. Such charities will be doubly blessed: to those who give, as well as to those who receive. It will give the minister greater influence in spiritual work, among such families.
It is usual on various occasions of ecclesiastical action, to convene councils for advice and cooperation. Ministers, as the chief actors in such bodies, should understand the proper sphere of council action, and the true limits of council authority. Especially important is it for ministers to understand this, since, though councils are usually composed in part of laymen, the clerical members are commonly in the majority, and are supposed to take the lead of affairs and give direction to the action taken. A few of the leading features and principles are the following:
1. Councils have no antecedent right of existence, and no original authority for action. Their existence depends on those who convene them, and their authority to act is derived from the same source. No company of persons, not a church, have the right to convene themselves, organize, and take action on ecclesiastical matters which have not been committed to them.
2. Councils may be convened by churches or individuals—more commonly by churches—to give advice and aid in matters to be submitted to them when convened.
3. Councils are usually convened by sending letters to such churches as they may choose—a majority of which should be those in the immediate neighborhood—asking them to send their pastor, and one or two—usually two—messengers to sit in council with them. These letters are called letters missive, and constitute the only authority for the assembling of the body, and the charter under which it is to act, when assembled.
4. The letters missive should distinctly state when and where the council is to meet, and what churches and individuals are invited to attend.
5. The letters missive should also distinctly state what are the matters on which it is expected to act. It is an admitted principle, sanctioned by general usage, that an ecclesiastical council cannot be convened under a roving commission, to act on any subject that may chance to come up; but must confine its action strictly to the matters specified in the letters by which it was convened. Of course all those letters should be uniform.
6. Parties cannot properly convoke a council to investigate or pass judgment on the case of persons with whom they hold no ecclesiastical connection; such as a member or pastor of a church other than that with which those convoking the council are connected. But one church may call, and ask a council to advise them as to their duty in respect to some other church with which they are in fellowship.
7. It is not an uncommon practise for those calling a council, to invite, in addition to churches, certain individuals, whose presence may, for reasons, be desirable. To this custom, although it constitutes a somewhat mixed commission, there seems to be no reasonable objection.
8. Councils differ from Committees of Conference, in the fact that the former are composed wholly or chiefly of messengers appointed by churches, and the latter, of individuals personally invited, and acting without any church appointment.
9. The Council, when convened at the hour designated, organizes by the election of some member as chairman, and some other one as clerk. These elections are usually on nomination. Prayer is then offered for divine guidance. After this the credentials of messengers are called for, and the clerk makes a list of members. Then the object for which the body is convened is stated—usually by reading a copy of the letter missive. By this the Council knows what it is desired to do. Further explanations, and a discussion of the subject then follow, concluding with such action as the body may decide on.
10. A Council when organized can neither increase nor diminish the number of its members. Its composition is formed by those who called it, and cannot be changed by any other authority. For that reason it cannot admit other persons to membership, nor can it exclude any of those who have been called and appointed to constitute it.
11. But, as an exception to this rule, all deliberative bodies have the primal and inherent right to protect themselves against insult, disgrace, and such interruption as would prevent the object of their meeting. Such conduct on the part of any member, therefore, during the proceedings, would make his expulsion justifiable.
12. But if any member of a Council be dissatisfied with the presence of any other member, he can himself withdraw, and refuse to act. He has no other remedy.
13. Usage has not decided that any specified number of messengers appointed, shall constitute a quorum essential for action. Any considerable number, or even a very small number present, usually proceed to action, especially if the case be one involving no special difficulty. If the case be important and difficult, action should not be taken without a full representation. In all important cases certainly, it would be a salutary rule if adopted, that no action should be taken, unless a majority of those actually called to constitute the. council were present. But so diverse are the opinions of those who act on councils, as well as those who have convened and desire them to act, that no rule fitted to all occasions can probably be adopted.
14. It must be accepted as a fundamental and universal rule, that within the area of Congregationalism and Church Independency at least, all councils are advisory only; they never have, and cannot have any ecclesiastical authority. They can only consider such subjects as are submitted to them; and they bind individuals and churches only so far as they choose to submit themselves to their judgment and advice. Their province is simply counsel, what their name implies; never and in no sense, are they church courts for adjudication, much less legislative bodies for the enactment of laws.
15. A council may adjourn from time to time, if necessary to complete the purpose for which it was convened. But it cannot perpetuate a continued existence, as a standing court of appeal. When its object is accomplished, it expires by limitation; but a formal vote to dissolve, or to adjourn sine die, is usually passed.
16. Before adjournment, the minutes of the proceedings are read, corrected, and approved, and a certified copy is ordered to be given to the parties by whom it was called.
17. When once dissolved or adjourned, the body is extinct, and cannot convene again at its own option or by its own authority. If convened again, it must be by the same authority, and by a process similar to that which first brought it into existence.
18. It is not proper for one Council to sit in judgment on, or review the action of, another Council. But a matter, not satisfactorily adjusted by one, may be referred to a second.
19. When a second is called to consider some matter already submitted to a previous Council, the second should, so far as possible, embrace all the members of the previous one, with such additional members as will be likely to counterbalance any local or personal prejudices or any want of information or experience, which may possibly have influenced the former meeting.
20. A Council may be called by a single church, or by several churches acting in concert; or by a single individual, or by several individuals acting in concert. The letters missive should of course distinctly state by whom the call is issued, as well as the object for which it issued.
21. Councils called to adjust and settle difficulties are usually designated as either mutual or ex parte. A mutual Council is one as to which the different parties to the difficulty, unite in the call and reference. An ex parte Council is one called by one party to the difficulty.
22. An ex parte Council should not be called until all proper efforts have been made, and failed, to secure a mutual Council.
23. Parties not uniting in calling a Council, can have no rights or standing in the body when convened; but as a matter of courtesy, and for the sake of obtaining all possible information, they may be heard by consent of the body and those who called it.
24. Parties calling a Council cannot be members of it, and have no rights of action with it, except to place before the body all the information in their possession.
25. An ex parte Council, when convened, cannot by its own action transform itself into a mutual Council. This change can be effected only by the consent and agreement of the different parties involved in the difficulty.
26. When a mutual Council is to be called to adjust difficulties between a church and some of its members, the letters convening it should be sent out, by and in the name of the church, and not of the individuals. But the fact of its being by mutual agreement of the parties, should be stated in the letters.
27. A Council cannot sit to review and pass judgment on the action of any church other than that which has called it, and submitted its case to it; nor can a Council properly be called for such a purpose. No body of men has the right to try, and pass judgment on an independent church. Such a body would thereby become judicial—a church court.
28. But either churches or individuals may call a Council to advise them what is their duty in relation to a church deemed heretical in doctrine, or irregular in practise; or for other reasons thought important.
29. Members when aggrieved by the action or attitude of their church, and failing to secure a mutual Council, before proceeding to call one ex parte, should lay the matter before some neighboring church or churches, and request them to call one, for advice, either to the aggrieved members, or to the churches calling it; or to both. This effort failing, the members can themselves proceed to issue a call.
30. If when invitations are received to unite in a Council, those receiving them do not approve the object of the call, and decline to act, they should at once notify the party calling it, to that effect, giving their reasons for non-concurrence. These facts should be laid before the body when convened. But it is better to respond, if the call be issued from any respectable source, and by one's presence prevent any unfortunate action, rather than permit it by absence.
31. It is a course of very questionable propriety for a Council to require the parties to a difficulty to bind themselves at the beginning, to abide by whatever decisions the body may reach. For it is hardly consistent with the rights of conscience to pledge oneself beforehand to a course of action contingent on future and unforeseen events. And as a matter of fact, such pledges, when made, are seldom kept.
32. Councils for the adjustment of questions involving church action should not be called unless the need seems imperative. And against all tendency to relieve churches from their appropriate responsibility, to intrude upon the sphere of their just authority, or to undermine their absolute independence—against all this, Councils should constantly and sacredly guard.
On occasions of the induction of candidates into the public and official work of the ministry, the counsel and cooperation of others is usually sought by the church whose minister is to be ordained. This is done not for the sake of authority, but for the sake of order; not because it is essential, but because it is customary, and moreover because it is expedient and wise to pursue such a course.
Any church has the undoubted right to have any man whom they may elect, serve them as pastor, without interference by any other man, or body of men whatever; and to ordain, or set him apart, by such formal services as they may choose, either with or without the assistance of any other persons than themselves. The presence of ordained ministers, though desirable, is not essential.
But as every church desires to stand in cordial relations of fraternity and fellowship with all the other churches of its denomination; and as the man to be ordained is about to take his place in the brotherhood of ministers, and desires to sustain relations of sympathy, fraternity, and fellowship with them all, it is a wise and prudent course to call together messengers from the various churches to examine the matter, and advise as to the propriety of inducting the candidate into the ministry; giving him their approval and commendation—if they do approve—as he enters the sacred office.
This is accomplished in one of two ways. Either by requesting a given number of churches to send messengers to constitute a Council for action in the case; or, by inviting certain ministers to come together as a Presbytery, and perform the service desired. As to which shall be done, is a matter of opinion and choice with the church and the candidate, and wholly a matter of indifference so far as the results are concerned. At the North, the Council is commonly chosen; in the South, the Presbytery is usually preferred. As a matter of fact, ministers perform almost the entire service, though the Council may be composed in part of laymen.
1. The Council, or Presbytery, is to be called together by the church over which the candidate is to be ordained, and not by the candidate.
2. The candidate should be a member of the church calling the Council, and over which he is to be ordained.
3. The church, before calling the Council, should take all proper care and pains to be satisfied as to the fitness of the candidate for the important position he is about to assume, as their pastor. It is not simply the question as to whether he can interest an audience by a public discourse, but whether he gives evidence of having been called of God to the work; whether he is fitted to instruct and build up the church; his ability to conduct the social services; his adaptation to pastoral work, and his prudence and ability to be a wise and safe guide and leader of the people.
4. The church should also inform itself as to his general character, and reputation, and what has been his walk and deportment hitherto. For all this the church is responsible, and this duty should not be thrown upon the Council.
5. When the Council is convened, and organized, the church—which does not compose a part of the Council, but reports to it—through some one appointed to represent it, reports what action it has taken in the case, the information it possesses, and asks the advice and cooperation of the Council, as to whether its action has been wise and is to be approved.
6. The Council then proceeds to examine the candidate. This examination is usually in three specific directions:
On each of these he makes his statement, and at the conclusion of each, is asked any questions, which any member of the body may see fit to propound.
It would not only be proper, but desirable, for the candidate to be examined on matters not specifically included in the above list. As for instance, what would be his treatment of certain matters of church difficulty, or perplexing questions of discipline, or any of the many practical matters with which a pastor has to deal.
7. A Council having accepted the position of adviser to the church, the members should be faithful to their convictions, and not allow themselves to act contrary to their best judgment, merely to please either the church or the candidate.
8. A young man may not have had opportunity to make himself familiar with the details of scholastic theology, but no man should assume to enter upon the important work of the Christian ministry, or be encouraged to do so, until he be grounded and settled in the fundamental truths of the Christian system. The work is too important and responsible. To say, "He will learn as he goes on," and that "He will come out all right," is to trifle with sacred things.
9. On some minor points a candidate may not be thoroughly settled, but if he have fixed opinions contrary to the standards of his denomination, either as to doctrine or practise, on matters deemed by the Council important, they should not approve his ordination, nor assist in it. For even on the assumption that he be right and they wrong, his induction into the ministry would introduce an inharmonious element into the denomination, and almost certainly lead to dissension and discord.
10. When the examination of the candidate is completed, he retires, and the Council deliberates by itself, and decides whether it approves of proceeding to ordination. If it does, it so determines and notifies the church, or its committee, to that effect. And as the church has referred the matter of public services to the Council, it proceeds to make arrangements for the same.
11. Usual ordination services are in the following order:
Singing may follow, and the benediction is pronounced, usually by the candidate.
12. It is proper for a certified copy of the minutes of the Council, embracing the order of exercise, to be given the candidate, as the certificate of his ordination.
13. It must be kept in mind that ordination does not make a minister of Christ. It endows him with no gifts, graces, or capabilities which he did not before possess. Nor does it impart any ecclesiastical authority; for those who ordain, have none to give. His call to the ministry must be from God; his call to the pastorate must be from the church. The ceremony of ordination is no more than a recognition of his divine calling to the work, an approval of the church's action and of his entrance upon the duties of the office; while the public ceremonies are but an appropriate and an impressive public commendation of the candidate, sending him forth to his work with a fraternal benediction.
14. Nor is the form of public service by which a candidate is inducted into the office to which he had previously been chosen, important. The "laying on of hands" has usually been deemed essential to ordination. It has the force of long prevailing and widely extended usage. Moreover, it is, if rightly understood, an appropriate form of fraternal benediction. But there is no instance found in the New Testament in which a man was inducted into the gospel ministry by the imposition of hands; nor any precept enjoining it. It is not, therefore, of divine authority, and cannot be made essential to ministerial character or standing. But, since it is customary, and since uniformity of usage is desirable, the usual forms should be followed, unless they be regarded as a violation of conscience or of principle.
15. It may not unfrequently happen that a Council, while recognizing the divine call of the candidate to the ministerial office, may yet be convinced that he is not fully prepared to assume the sacred functions, and enter at once upon the responsible duties of the position. He may need clearer views of divine truth, in order to be a safe teacher, and more maturity and experience in order to be a competent leader. The prudent and kindly course in such a case, would be for the Council to adjourn, for so long a time as it might deem necessary, in order that he might at a later day give entire satisfaction as to his preparation for the sacred office.
Installation, though with some denominations it means a more formal and official act, yet with independent churches, implies an unofficial service, by which a pastor is introduced to a new field of labor. Installation services are not held with any uniformity; indeed but few of the many pastoral changes are attended by them.
They constitute a fraternal greeting to a pastor, at his entrance upon a new field of labor, and bring the new era of the church's history prominently before the community, by a public service. Beyond this, they have no ecclesiastical significance.
No Council is called, and no examination is had; but several ministers are invited in, to take part in the services. Some one is selected to preach a sermon on the occasion; some one to give an address of welcome to the newly elected pastor; and some one to address the church, by way of congratulation and counsel. This is substantially the form and meaning of an installation service.
When a minister, having changed his ecclesiastical views, enters the denomination from some other communion, he is admitted to the ministry in his new religious connection, either by a reordination or a recognition service. Usage is not uniform, and so far as his ministerial character and standing are concerned, there is no difference which is chosen. Whichever the minister and the church should prefer, may well be adopted, without prejudice to either.
In either case a Council, or Presbytery, should be assembled, and the candidate pass a sufficiently careful examination to give assurance that in matters of faith and practise he is in harmony with the denomination into which he is admitted. Otherwise, he cannot expect a cordial recognition by them.
The services in reordination are usually the same as those of ordination; while those of recognition differ only in omitting the laying-on of hands. The imposition of hands may safely be left to the candidate, the church, and the Council. The man will be a minister none the more by the use of this ceremony, and none the less by the omission of it.
Sometimes a church will admit to membership, and put into the ministry as its pastor, one received from another denomination, without Council for advice, or public ceremony. This they have an undoubted right to do, but it is neither wise nor expedient; neither for the church nor for the pastor. Whether ordination confers an indelible character, and he who is once a minister, is always a minister, or, whether the ecclesiastical acts of one denomination are to be recognized as valid by another, are questions of no great practical moment, and in respect to which opinions widely differ. They can be settled by no authoritative decision, and may safely be left to the disposition of those with whom they may chance to arise. It is, however, better for each denomination to conform to its own polity, and follow its own order. It implies no want of Christian courtesy and suggests no disrespect, that the acts of one are not accepted as valid by another.
Wherever there may be living near each other a number of Christian disciples, who entertain like views of Scripture doctrine and church order, it is their privilege to organize themselves into a church, by entering into covenant to be a church for the purpose of observing the ordinances of religion, and maintaining public worship. Such a company of believers, if they are members of churches already, would obtain letters from their churches, for this purpose. If not members, they would seek baptism, and make a public profession of their faith, preparatory to entering into the constitution of a church.
And such a company of believers, so becoming a church by uniting in covenant together, are in fact a church, possessing all the rights, privileges, and authority of a church of Christ, without the sanction, permission, or authority of any man, or body of men whatever, aside from their own number. No person or persons have a right to hinder, or interfere with them in the exercise of these rights.
But since churches of like faith and order wish to be in fellowship with other churches of similar faith and order, and to exercise the courtesies of Christian fraternity towards each other, it is customary for one, when it is constituted, as above, to invite a Council to look into the circumstances, and give approval—if it does approve—of the step they have taken in their organization. And thus also, to express fellowship for them, as a regular and properly constituted church of Christ.
The Council usually examines their articles of faith, to see if they are in harmony with the denomination, as to doctrine and church order. It also considers whether a church be needed in that locality; whether the members could not be accommodated with religious privileges without the constitution of a new church; and whether they have promise of being able to sustain worship, and meet the expenses to be incurred.
The approval of a Council secures for the new body the confidence and sympathy of other churches, and gives them credit in the denomination. But should the Council refuse their commendation and disapprove the organization, still they would be a church, and possess all the rights of one, did they chose to maintain their position. But in such a case they would not be likely to command the public confidence.
Some public recognition services are usually held, to give expression to the approving action of the Council. These generally consist of a sermon and addresses of welcome, encouragement, and counsel to the church, the people, and the pastor—if there be a pastor.
In the opinion of some, the proper time for calling a Council is before the organization of the church takes place, and not afterwards. The Council can then advise whether it is best that a church should be formed, rather than to express approval or disapproval of the act after it is accomplished.
The action in such cases, as in others, is advisory, and not authoritative.
The construction of church edifices—and often of other buildings designed for religious or benevolent purposes, or even for special public use—is signalized by the ceremony of laying the cornerstone. The significance of the service is supposed to be, a declaration of trust in God for the success of the work, which is professedly for his praise; and on the enterprise his blessing is invoked.
The cornerstone itself is a block usually different from the material of the foundation in which it is placed. On the front of it the year in which it is laid is engraved in figures.
A vertical cavity is made in the stone sufficiently large to hold a metallic box, in which may be enclosed various documents—the history of the church, and the building enterprise, copies of current newspapers, and anything else thought desirable—the box to be sealed up before it is deposited.
The place of the stone is in the main corner or angle of the foundation—the right-hand corner to one who stands facing the main entrance of the building—under the sill and water-table of the main floor of the edifice. Of course the foundations must be completed, including whatever of basement there may be, before the cornerstone can be laid.
The ceremony consists in putting the metallic box in its place, then laying the stone lid or cover upon the cavity, and with a trowel covering it with cement or mortar, and thus completely enclosing and sealing the box within the stone.
There are usually preparatory exercises, consisting of singing, reading the Scriptures, prayer, and one or more addresses appropriate to the occasion, by persons selected for the purpose.
Sometimes preceding the erection of a public building of special importance, the breaking ground —the removal of the first earth preparatory to laying the foundations—is made an occasion for some public services; mainly an address declarative of the purpose and importance of the structure to be erected.
The dedication of a church edifice, when it is complete and ready for use, is supposed to be the solemnly setting it apart to its designed purpose, the worship of God, with appropriate religious services. The principal feature of the ceremony is usually a sermon by the pastor, or some one else chosen for the purpose.
Unfortunately, the raising of money to pay for the house has come to be an almost inevitable concomitant of dedications, pressed so persistently as well nigh to obliterate the religious character of the occasion.
It is by some contended that a house of worship should never be formally set apart and dedicated to the service of God, until it is entirely paid for; that the presentation to Almighty God of a house to his praise which is encumbered with debt, and on which creditors hold claims, is unbecoming and inconsistent. This view may be extreme, but it is better and safer than to dedicate houses with debts so heavy as to crush the energy and discourage the hope of the church.