I. For the better government, and further edification of the Church, there ought to be such assemblies as are commonly called synods or councils [a]: and it belongs to the overseers and other rulers of the particular Churches, by virtue of their office, and the power which Christ has given them for edification and not for destruction, to appoint such assemblies; and to convene together in them, as often as they shall judge it expedient for the good of the Church.
[a] Acts 15:2 When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question. Ver.4 And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them. Ver.6 And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter.
II. As magistrates may lawfully call a synod of ministers, and other fit persons, to consult and advise with, about matters of religion [b]; so, if magistrates be open enemies to the Church, the ministers of Christ, of themselves, by virtue of their office, or they, with other fit persons upon delegation from their Churches, may meet together in such assemblies [c].
[b] Isaiah 49:23 And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers: they shall bow down to thee with their face toward the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet; and thou shalt know that I am the Lord: for they shall not be ashamed that wait for me.
1 Timothy 2:1 I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; Ver.2 For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.
2 Chronicles 19, 8 to the end
Moreover in Jerusalem did Jehoshaphat set of the Levites, and of the priests, and of the chief of the fathers of Israel, for the judgment of the Lord, and for controversies, when they returned to Jerusalem. Ver.9 And he charged them, saying, Thus shall ye do in the fear of the Lord, faithfully, and with a perfect heart. Ver.10 And what cause soever shall come to you of your brethren that dwell in their cities, between blood and blood, between law and commandment, statutes and judgments, ye shall even warn them that they trespass not against the Lord, and so wrath come upon you, and upon your brethren: this do, and ye shall not trespass. Ver.11 And, behold, Amariah the chief priest is over you in all matters of the Lord; and Zebadiah the son of Ishmael, the ruler of the house of Judah, for all the king’s matters: also the Levites shall be officers before you. Deal courageously, and the Lord shall be with the good.
[2 Chronicles 29-30 throughout]
Matthew 2:4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. Ver.5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet.
Proverbs 11:14 Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.
[c] Acts 15:2,4 [See in letter a] Ver.22 Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; namely, Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren: Ver.23 And they wrote letters by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia: Ver.25 It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul.
III. It belongeth to synods and councils, ministerially to determine controversies of faith, and cases of conscience; to set down rules and directions for the better ordering of the public worship of God, and government of his Church; to receive complaints in cases of maladministration, and authoritatively to determine the same; which decrees and determinations, if consonant to the Word of God, are to be received with reverence and submission; not only for their agreement with the Word, but also for the power whereby they are made, as being an ordinance of God appointed thereunto in His Word [d].
[d] Acts 15:15,19,24,27,28,29,30,31 [See in the Bible] Ver.15 And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written. Ver.19 Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God. Ver.24 Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment. Ver.27 We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who shall also tell you the same things by mouth. Ver.28 For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; Ver.29 That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well. Ver.30 So when they were dismissed, they came to Antioch: and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle: Ver.31 Which when they had read, they rejoiced for the consolation.
Acts 16:4 And as they went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem.
Matthew 18:17 And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Ver.18 Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Ver.19 Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. Ver.20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
IV. All synods or councils, since the apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err; and many have erred. Therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith, or practice; but to be used as a help in both [e].
[e] Ephesians 2:20 And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.
Acts 17:11 These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.
1 Corinthians 2:5 That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
2 Corinthians 1:24 Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand.
V. Synods and councils are to handle, or conclude nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs, which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition, in cases extraordinary; or, by way of advice for satisfaction of conscience, if they be thereunto required by the civil magistrate [f].
[f] Luke 12:13 And one of the company said unto him, Master, speak to my brother, that he divide the inheritance with me. Ver.14 And he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?
John 18:36 Jesus answered, My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.
End of Lesson, Day 119
For Further Study:
CHAPTER XXXI. - Of Synods and Councils - Commentary by Gordon H. Clark
Chapter XXXI. Of Synods and Councils - Exposition by Robert Shaw
Chapter 31: Of Synods and Councils - Commentary by A.A. Hodge
The Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy - Vision Forum Ministries