The Church Question, by Broadbent
The excerpt below is from the conclusion of E.H. Broadbent's distinguished history of the dissenting churches, The Pilgrim Church. For a biographical sketch on Mr. Broadbent, click here.
The Church Question, that is to say, the question whether we can, and should, continue to carry out the New Testament teaching and example as to the ordering of churches, has been answered in various ways:
1. The theory of "development" would make it undesirable to do so, because, as is claimed by the ritualistic churches, such as the Church of Rome, the Greek Orthodox Church, and others like them, something better than that which was practiced in the beginning has been attained, and the Scriptures have been modified, or even supplanted, by tradition.
2. Rationalism gives the same answer, looking upon it as retrogression to go back to the original pattern, since it denies that the Scriptures provide an abiding authority.
3. Reformers of existing churches have tried to effect a compromise, returning in part, but not altogether, to the acknowledged pattern, as Luther, Spener, and others.
4. Some have abandoned the attempt, as the Mystics, who devoted themselves instead to the attainment of personal holiness and communion with God, examples of whom are Molinos, Madame Guyon, and Tersteegen; and the Friends, who set aside the outward ordinances of baptism and the Lord's Supper, and occupied themselves rather with the testimony of the inner Light than with the outward Scriptures; others, as Darby and his followers, repudiated the obligation and replaced it by a witness to "the ruin of the Church."
5. Evangelical Revival set it aside as unimportant, concentrating on the conversion of sinners and organizing what seemed suitable to meet practical needs, as Wesley's Methodist Societies, or the Salvation Army.
6. But there have in all times been brethren who have answered "yes" to the question though they have been called by many names: Cathars, Novatians, Paulicians, Bogomils, Albigenses, Waldenses, Lollards, Anabaptists, Mennonites, Stundists and others innumerable, many congregations also of Baptists and Independents, and assemblies of Brethren; they have been one in their endeavor to act upon the New Testament and to follow the example of New Testament churches.