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Glasite Conception Is Close To My Lesson

John Glas (1695-1773) was a Scottish clergyman/Presbyterian who came to realize pastors and church officers were contrary to the NT with the exception of neutral overseers (bishop). Nor was there to be any suspension from the Lord's Supper. This came to be known as the Glasite system.

Unfortunately, while it began well in 1725-1730, and relied only upon Jesus's words initially, it eventually tried to meld Glas's original conceptions with Paul's doctrines. As a result, the church became unbearably subject to a panel of pastors and a requirement of unanimity of all members. See below "Degradation and Collapse of Glasites Due to Incorporating Pauline Doctrine."

So let's just focus up to the point in time when Glas emphasized solely Jesus' words, and see what truths he extracted.

First, Glas rejected the use of a national hierarchical church system. In their place, each church was supposed to be independent. Glas said the NT gives no concept or examples of para-church organizations beyond the local level.

In response, the Presbyterian party in England actually argued against John Glas by asserting the term "brethren" was a superior class over the ordinary churchgoer. And thus supposedly hierarchy was implicit in the early church in Jesus' statement that we are all "brethren," and none can excercise leadership authority but Christ over the other. Jesus was supposedly talking about an elite class in the church known as the "brethren." Glas showed this was never the usage of the term "brethren" in the NT. See Works of John Glas at 244-46, e.g., Matt. 28 "if your brother trespass...")

How did Glas come to this realization about the error in the modern structure of the church? It came about when Glas in 1725 was preaching on "How Would Christ Execute The Office of the King?" His preparation led him to begin questioning the common church structure of England. Thus, in 1725, Glas wrote a letter to Francis Archibald, minister of Guthrie, Forfarshire, in which he repudiated the obligation of national covenants to a church hierarchy.

In Wikipedia's article on Glas, it summarizes his views on the correct structure of the church:

In the same year [sic: 1730] he formed [at Edinburgh] a society separate from the multitude, numbering nearly a hundred, and drawn from his own and neighbouring parishes. The members of this ecclesiola in ecclesia pledged themselves to join together in the Christian profession, to follow Christ the Lord as the righteousness of his people, to walk together in brotherly love, and in the duties of it, in subjection to Glas as their overseer in the Lord, to observe the Lord's Supper once a month and to submit themselves to the Lord's law for removing offences. From the scriptural doctrine of the essentially spiritual nature of the kingdom of Christ, Glas in his public teaching drew the conclusions that:

  • there is no warrant in the New Testament for a national church
  • the magistrate as such has no function in the church
  • National Covenants are without scriptural grounds
  • the true Reformation cannot be carried out by political and secular weapons but by the word and spirit of Christ only.

In Glas's writings, we learn his scorn for a "single pastor" preaching "at a single time." (See, e.g., Works of Glas, at 236.)

However, Glasite churches were viewed as undermining the social fabric for there was no one to control the activities inside the church. The article "Glasite" in Wikipedia records what happened in Danbury, Connecticut when the community understood what the Glasite church run by Glas's son-in-law, Robert Sandeman, truly represented:

Colonial resistance to Sandemanianism initially stemmed from the absence of ministerial authority within their congregations. This lack of a central authority challenged the existing social fabric throughout New England which relied upon the state to enforce church orthodoxy.

Glas himself pointed out that in Acts, when a missionary visited and preached, the missionary did not leave behind a single officer called the "pastor." (Works of Glas at 244, citing Acts 14.) Glas regarded the true church system was "congregational" as opposed to "presbyterian." (Works of Glas at 244.) Everyone at church had an equal right to speak:

At Glasite services, any member who "possesses the gift of edifying the brethren", was allowed to speak. The practice of washing one another's feet was at one time observed; and it was for a long time customary for each brother and sister to receive new members, on admission, with a holy kiss. ("Glasite," Wikipedia.)

What Glas evidently intended was that everyone in the congregation simultaneously had the equal right to speak up with a teaching or word from Scripture. It was a congregational structure versus presbyterian where only the elders/pastors could preach and teach. It appears that only later did Glasites employ a panel of pastors. Yet, still in keeping with the original doctrine, these pastors had no special qualifications. At all times in the Glasite system, no single church member was above another and none could serve as a single pastor.

It also followed that anyone, even a layperson untrained in a seminary, was competent to speak with the spirit and teach. For example, Jamieson organized the Scotch Baptists on Glasite principles, and taught likewise that laypersons could teach/preach in church. (See British History fn. 34.)

The impact of such an open system of teaching and preaching led to what others criticized as "enthusiasm." Evidently, when all believers worshipped as equals, this led to what others condemned as enthusiasm. Glas rejected such criticism, and said this was "true Christianity," as it reflected "praying in the spirit." (Works of Glas at 3.)

To the criticism that this allowed the activity of false spirits to participate, Glas said that valid cautiousness should never deny a "true spirit" too could be present. Id. Glas said the real motivation to affix this stigma is there "does not seem to be any humor for anything like spirituality." Id., at 3-4. Rather than reject all spirits, Glas quotes Apostle John who told us to "try the spirits" to see whether they are from God. Id., at 4. The Spirit that "glorifies Christ," and does not deny "the father and the son," and does not speak of himself, and does not deny Jesus "came in the flesh" is a Spirit we should never hinder. Id., at 4.

Glas also regarded the concept of a national church as contra-indicated by the NT reference to churches in various cities. Never was there a reference to the "Church of Israel," etc. (Works of Glas at 239 and 240.)

Using Scripture, Glas refuted that it was proper to bring religious disputes before magistrates of the state. (Works of Glas at 5.) Thus, Glas sought to disentangle the church from the state.

Glas also refuted any authority by a church government to suspend the right to take the Lord's Supper. (Works of Glas at 372.) Paul only told members to "examine themselves" whether they are worthy; Paul did not invest any pastor or elder with the job of excluding one from the Lord's Table. (Id., at 373.) Glas challenges his critics if they believe otherwise: "Give such scripture for the suspension from the Lord's supper, and I'll embrace it." Id., at 372. A man far ahead of his time.

Glas defended his teachings were solely based on the words of Jesus. Yet, he was condemned throughout England. Glas says he was now "debarred from access I once had to preach the gospel of the kingdom of Christ." (Works of Glas at 2.) To this reprisal, Glas responded in 1729:

The true cause of my sufferings is the open confession of the testimony of Jesus Christ. (Works of Glas at 2.)

Glas explained his discoveries in Christ's word were "never designed to please any faction or party of this world." (Id., at 3.) His goal was to please Christ. Now barred from preaching in any national church, Glas explained that his only option now was to use the press, which thanks to God is "yet free." (Id., at 3.) (Amen!)

The physical layout of the Edinburgh church of the Glasites reveals some of its doctrine. The church took communion upstairs from the main meeting hall in what was called a "love feast." See this link from the Royal Architecture Conservation. Obviously, the seating at a table created a sense of equality, not differentiation. The photo of the pulpit makes it obvious it was not a traditional pulpit, or that the meeting place required focus on one person. As the Royal Society describes it: there was "a main meeting with a prominent central pulpit for preaching-centred meetings." Id.

Degradation and Collapse of Glasites Due To Use Of Pauline Passages

The Glasite movement began in 1730 and Glas died in 1773. But his son-in-law Robert Sandeman took the movement into England and America, where the members were called "Sandemanians." ("Glasite," Wikipedia.)

At some point, the Glasites felt the urge to conform  to Paul's doctrines on pastors, preachers, etc., and excluding heretics "after two warnings." Thereby, the simple doctrine of Glas to rely upon Jesus's teachings was lost and the system turned unbearable. Instead of the tyranny of the one as in most churches, it became the tyranny of the many. The "Glasite" article in Wikipedia explains:

In their practice the Glasite churches aimed at a strict conformity with the primitive type of Christianity as understood by them. Each congregation had a plurality of elders, pastors, or bishops, who were chosen according to what were believed to be the instructions of Paul, without regard to previous education or present occupation, and who enjoy a perfect equality in office.[6] To have been married a second time disqualified for ordination, or for continued tenure of the office of bishop.

In all the action of the church unanimity was considered to be necessary; if any member differed in opinion from the rest, he must either surrender his judgement to that of the church, or be shut out from its communion.[7] To join in prayer with anyone not a member of the denomination was regarded as unlawful, and even to eat or drink with one who had been excommunicated was held to be wrong.

For excluding and then excommunicating members, the Glasites relied upon Paul: "Exclusion, following I Corinthians, was the first of two steps to excommunication from which there was no return." ("Glasite," Wikipedia Fn. #7.)

Glas's Theology

Glas's views on theology are not well-known. It is known his son-in-law Sandeman was an extreme faith alone adherent. Glas's own views seem to be deliberately in the background, perhaps to try not to be too controlling. One doctrinal foray proves he did not like certain predestination doctrines:

Hervey's doctrine of "imputed righteousness" called for select individuals as being predestined and having a special relationship with God. Glas viewed this position as being self-serving and devoid of Biblical support. See page 24 of Cantor (1991) [Wikipedia #36.]

The Glasite church view of charity was a high priority:

"[They] consider it to be their duty to abstain from blood, and from things strangled, considering the decree of the first council of Jerusalem to be still obligatory upon all Christians… They regard it as unlawful literally to lay up treasures on earth, and each member considers his property liable to be called for at any time to meet the wants of the poor and the necessities of the church." (Wikipedia Fn. #9.)

It appears they rejected baptism of babies:

[They] emphasizing immersion of adult believers. (Klang Church of Christ)

It is unclear what Glas's position was on the law. But it seems he was likely opposed to antinomianism, i.e., the idea that the Mosaic Law was abrogated. This is based on the fact that Jamieson, who led the Scotch Baptists -- which followed the Glasite system, held this view against antinomianism:

About ten years ago, a Mr. George Jamieson opened a place of worship in the Bigg Market, for a party of Scotch Baptists, whose ministers are laymen, who refrain from eating blood, observe the kiss of charity, and, like the Glassites, avow a complete equality among the brethren. Mr. Jamieson published two pamphlets, in 1817, against Antinomianism, which were answered by Mr. Briggs, in a pamphlet entitled "More Work for George Jamieson." (See Eneas Mackenzie, Historical Account of Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Including the Borough of Gates Head (1827) fn. 34.)


A Broader Movement

The very nature of the Glasites was to inspire, not control. Thus, the Glasite's ideas spread by imitators and disciples setting up similar independent congregations. In the 1800s a nonsectarian movement arose that tried to restore primitive Christianity in a series of church settings similar to the original Glasite system. This included the early Scotch Independents, which would by description include the Glasites. There were the Scotch Baptists who were of like mind. There were the Plymouth Brethren of England, etc. For an article on this movement of the spirit, see this link.

Impact on American Politics

In colonial Massachusetts, the church entirely belonged to the state of Massachusetts. Each citizen was mandated to pay taxes to support the church even if they did not believe in Christianity or wish to attend. In opposition arose Glasite ideals. In 1772, frustration at abridgment of freedom of religion boiled over in the words of Rev. John Wise.  Wise had been a former pastor of the Glasite church in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Now in 1772, he declaimed against the rule of state over church, and instead emphasized the equality of all brethren. He claimed this meant:

"Democracy is Christ's government in Church and State."  ("Development of Religious Liberty")

In light of this pamphlet, joined by similar ones, in May 1777, the taxes in support of the state church were abridged if one could prove they attended some other church. The summary of this development is as follows:

Yet in May, 1777, such toleration was broadened by the "Act for exempting those Persons in this State, commonly styled Separates from Taxes for the Support of the established Ministry and building and repairing Meeting Houses," on condition that they should annually lodge with the clerk of the Established Society, wherein they lived, a certificate, vouching for their attendance upon and support of their own form of worship. Said certificate was to be signed by the minister, elder, or deacon of the church which "they ordinarily did attend." ("Development of Religious Liberty")

Yet, in this change of politics was the underlying ideal that Christ did not intend there to be a superior class over an inferior class. We were all brethren. The administration of our affairs were by neutral overseers who imposed no individual/personal will on us. They served the will and direction of the people within the church who were, with testing, led by the Spirit of God. This led eventually to the republican ideal that elected officials were agents of the people in whom such equal and joint right to rule resided at all times.

Influence: Pastor-Free Churches

A series of Churches arose which only went by the name of "Christian," and adopted much of the creed of the Glasites. Some within the modern Church of Christ claim their church arose from these non-sectarian independent evangelical churches -- where the key modern root is the Glasite system. For example, the Klang Church of Christ records this history which they contend proves the church where Christ is the sole pastor has always subsisted in the midst of traditional churches. After finding the Glasite link, here is the history that they tell about the American experience in this admirable direction -- this text being taken from this link:

In North Carolina, America, in 1790, Presbyterian James McGready began preaching congregations should be independent and should have only the Bible as its creed. In 1793 in North Carolina and Virginia, Methodist James O'Kelly tried in vain to convince his episcopate that congregations should be independent, and the New Testament their only creed, so his congregation became independent. At first known as Republican Methodists, they later resolved to be known as Christians only with no head but Christ and no creed but the Bible.

19th century: Not knowing about these movements, in Vermont Baptist Abner Jones pleaded that sectarian names and creeds be abolished. His congregation became independent in 1800. In 1803 a similar group of the church of Christ formed in New Hampshire.

About the same time, not knowing about the others, Baptist Elias Smith of New Hampshire influenced his congregation to become independent. The church spread all over New England, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Canada. They, too, went only by the name Christian.

Not knowing about them, down in Kentucky Presbyterian Barton W. Stone, who had earlier been a Methodist and a Baptist, preached the same thing to over 20,000 people in a camp meeting. Presbyterians McNamar, Thompson, Dunlavy, Marshall and David Purviance in Kentucky declared their congregations independent of any denomination. Some people called them the "Christian Connection."

In 1808 Presbyterian Thomas Campbell arrived in Pennsylvania preaching that denominational creeds should be discarded in order to bring people of all (Christian) faiths together. Later his son Alexander preached the same thing.

By 1860 it was estimated that there were some half million people in North America declaring themselves to be Christians only, with no creed but the Bible, and no head but Christ.

20th century: By the mid-20th century, there were estimated to be around 3,000,000 Christians only. However, an accurate count is impossible because churches of Christ as set up by Christ and his apostles do not have a world headquarters, their only headquarters being in heaven.

Missionaries have found the church of Christ among people in India, Africa and other places of the world. They had copies of the scriptures and do not know how they got them because they'd "always had them." They baptized adult believers by immersion and kept the Communion every Sunday. The Apostles of Jesus Christ went throughout the world. Perhaps that is who they got the scriptures from. Congregations do not have to know about other congregations in order to be the true church that Christ founded. All they have to know is the Bible and have a desire to follow it alone.

And thus we see that the church of Christ, the church that has only Christ as its head and in its name, has always existed.