Baptist History Homepage

     In 1824 the Association: "Appointed Elder Richard Wood to write a circular for our next Association and choose his own subject." He was from the Forks of Little Pigeon Baptist Church.

Tennessee Association of United Baptists
"Church Discipline"

The Ministers and messengers of the Tennessee Baptist Association to the several Churches which they represent, Greeting -

Dearly Beloved Brethren -
     We believing that the declension of vital Godliness in almost every church may with propriety be attributed either to false Doctrine or false discipline, have thought it proper on this occasion to invite your particular attention to that course of Church discipline which to us appears to be clearly pointed out in the Scriptures.... In many who call Christ Lord Lord there is a _______ contempt of his positive commands a manifest departure from that narrow path of self denial that holy walk, that heart purifying faith that sin subdising love which every where in the Holy Scriptures are regarded as the only adequate evidence of real discipleship as the only infallible evidence that professors have been born of God and thus translated out of the Kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of his dear Son, Jesus to be feared also, that in some Churches there is a Soul destroying God preaching neglect of discipline, gross transgressors are winked at or at most treated with such laxity of discipline that like the disobedient is not speedily and judishally corrected they take fresh courage to rebellious servent or child who repeat the offence or as the Apostle expresses it, "Sin that grace may abound." If these remarks be true if it be no fiction but a faithful picture of realities how strong the motive, how imperious the call, for us to make to righteousness and Sin not to hew down with the axe of discipline every tree which bringeth forth not good fruit, to purge out the old leaven that the Churches may become a new lump. And that we may be encouraged to engage in this good work of the Lord, it is possible proposed to offer some remarks in the first place on that plain directory, recorded in the 18th Chapter of the Gospel by Matthew concerning private trespasses. Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his faults between him and thee alone, if he shall hear thee thou hast gained thy brother, but if he will not hear thee, take with thee one or two more that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established, and if he shall neglect to hear them tell it to the Church, but if he neglect to hear the Church let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Our Lord, who know all things foresaw the various occassions of private contention and offence which must needs occur between individuals of the same church in these verses, therefore he lays down a plain and positive rule of procedure in all such cases, moreover if thy brother trespass against thee that is in case a professed disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ should injure thee, thou must not in conformity with the fashion of this world complain in the first place to others because in many instances provocations are unintentional in others there may be a misapprehension but supposing the offence to be real, the reporting of it to others, will have a direct tendency to widen the break to alieniate more and more the injured person and to wound the feelings as well as the Character of the trespasser "go and tell him his faults between him and thee alone that is suffer no one else to be present at the interview because, it will thus clearly appear that thou hast no desire to retaliate the injurious conduct but rather to conciliate his friendship by thus consulting his feelings as well as his character, thou wilt evince that thy confidence in him is not lost. Go therefore and display concious of thy own need of mercy at the hand of an offended God and with a heart raised devoutly to the father of mercies deeply sensible of thy own unworthiness for that wisdom which is from above ingeniously unfold to thy offending brother, the cause of thy grievance tenderly state the effects of his conduct upon thy own mind affectionately urge upon him suitable concessions by the love of Christ and the ever binding law whatsoever ye would that others should do unto you do ye even the same unto them. If he shall hear thee, thou has gained thy brother, that is, if the offender being convinced of thy cordial desire to consult his good receive thy private admonition in a Christian temper and be thereby brought to confess his fault and make suitable acknowledgement, peace and friendship love and harmony will be restored. But if he will not hear thee, take with thee one or two more that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established the design of calling these other persons viz assistants is, that by the weight of their Character council and Christian admonition, they may prevail with the trespasser to do that which is right and thus terminate the controversy or that proved their efforts should prove unavailing they may then bear testimony to the church against him. Hence then it necessarily follows that the persons selected for this purpose should be of unimpeachable character, possess the needful qualifications, and be disposed in all respects to act as real peacemakers. Here then every effort should be made for the termination of strife and the restoration of fellowship let then all those who may be called to assist in such circumstances bear in mind that a failure here will almost invariably prove the forerunner of a failure in the Church, if however after these assistants have labored to effect a reconciliation, the trespasser should still remain obstinate in refusing reasonable acknowledgements, then, the subject must be laid before the Church; And if he neglect to hear them tell it to the church. When it is brought before the Church it becomes the duty of the church faithfully to admonish him of his sin, his anger and his duty. And if he should still persist in his course it then becomes the duty to pass sentence of excommunication against him; But if he should neglect to hear the Church let him be unto thee as an heathen man and publican. In testimony of his approbation of such a decision our Lord added his declaration that it should be sanctioned in heaven. Whether expulsion from the Church or restoration to its privilege might be the result; Verily, verily I say unto you, whatever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven and whatsoever Ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven it will surely be admitted by every candid person that this promising assurance of our Lord cannot apply to any case either of excommunication or of restoration which has not been conducted in conformity with the given rule, and from the whole process it seems evident that the Saviour is treating of private offences between individual members of the church and not of open transgressions which entail infamy as well as guilt upon the offender and which would if treated in this way not only contravene other express directions given to the Churches by the Spirit of the Lord Jesus through the instrumentality of the apostles but would abolish all disturbances between the most dissolute part of the world and the gospel Church. It is therefore with reference to such offences that he answers Peters question "Lord how oft shall my brother sin against me must I forgive him, Till Seven times" and by way of illustrating the same doctrine employees the parable of the King who would take account of his servants. The design of the Saviour through the whole is to inculcate the duty of forgiving upon all his followers. Peter's question implies a private offence against himself and not against the honor of Christ and his church it is to be committed to by a Brother; that is by one whose conduct and not mere profession justifies the belief that he is born of God and of course cannot be a habitual transgressor for whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin, for, his seed remaineth in him and he cannot sin because he is born of God. If such a man offends a brother of like description and being made sensible of his fault, begs forgiveness, the offended Brother is bound to forgive him. In the next place dearly beloved brethren we are to offer some remarks respecting the cause of discipline which the Church of Christ should observe towards such members as may be guilty of public scandalous offences and as the Lord Jesus has given us a plain and immutable rule respecting private offences as above exhibited as through the agency of his holy spirit we are supplied in the epistles with a directory (in case of public offences) than is no less plain no less excellent no less immutable. Paul in his epistle to the Church at Rome writes "Now I beseech you brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine ye have learned and avoid them taking it for granted that there might be in the Church at Rome unconverted persons, whether teachers or others whose false doctrine and corrupt example would have a direct tendency to mar the peace and spread divisions among real Christians, the Apostle in most tender and endearing language intreats the followers of the holy Jesus closely to watch such characters and to avoid them as carefully as they would shun a person labouring under infectious disease. For no matter how much such persons might boast of inward joys and sins forgiven it was clearly manifest that they served not our Lord Jesus Christ but heir own belly and by good words, fair speeches, deceive the hearts of the simple. In the epistle to the Philipians, the same Apostle writes "for many walk of whom I have told you often and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemy of the cross of Christ, whose end is destrution, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is their shame. Who minds set on earthly things." And in his epistle to the Thessalonians Paul informs the Christians how they must act towards such profession. "Now in command you brethren in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that you draw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us." But more particularly in his first epistle to the Church at Corinth, by example as well as by precept he gives us a directory which it is difficult to misapprehend after sharply reproving the Church for their insensibility to the great dishonor brought upon themselves and the redeemers cause by the gross offender in the Church he charges them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to proceed immediately to his excommunication, he gives no direction about private admonition he does not tell the Church that provided the notorious offender should come before them, confess his sins and promise amendment, they must still hold him in fellowship as one born of God and entitled to Church privileges. No Paul well knew that this would be eminently calculated to encourage him in his ruinous course of iniquity. But under the immediate influence of the spirit of God and of course possessing that wisdom which is first pure then peacable gentle easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits without partiality and without hypocrisy, he says to the Church in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ when ye are gathered together and my spirit with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ to deliver such a one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. This sentence might seem to the transgressor and to such as had connived at his abomination, arbitrary and cruel would so spake the Lord Jesus by the mouth of the Apostle. This was the remedy and only remedy which in the Judgement of Christ was suited to the case of the offender; purge and therefore saith he the old leaven that ye may become a new lump. But he steps out here "for with the gross offender he ranks others of various names who must not only be excommunicated but whose company every real Christian is required peremplority to show. But now I have written unto you not to keep company of any that is called a brother be a fornicator or covetous or an idolator or a railer or a drunkard or an extortioner; with such one know not to eat." If then it clearly appears to the Church of Christ either upon open confession or other competant evidence that any member is guilty of any offence named in this black catalogue or others of a similar atrocity it becomes their solemn indispensible duty promptly and impartially to obey the apostolic mandate. His language is plain positive authoritative to depart then from this wise holy and immutible rule of Church discipline. Through worldly policy through false tenderness to please friends or favor relations to gain popular applause to conciliate the friendship of the offender or what is still worse perhaps than that the love of filthy lucre is treating the wisdom of God as folly and acting the part of Saul in sparing Agag and the best of the sheep and of the men under pretence of offering a sacrifice to the Lord. That we may illustrate and enforce this view of the subject let us enquire what are the chief ends of Church discipline? 1st -- It is intended for the benefit of the transgressor. The Apostle expressly states that the incestuous person must be expelled from the Corinthian Church, "That the Spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." Paul commands the Church to excommunicate the transgressor as the only suitable means of showing him his awful guilt because if nay thing is calculated to bring an offending Christian to reflect seriously upon the heinous nature of his transgression it is a declaration by the church that they consider him as unworthy of a seat amongst them. In this if he be a Christian will he discover the intent and feel the burthen of his guilt. Here will he see as in a glass the stigma which his conduct has brought upon his character; the high privileges he has forfeited and the awful doom which must await him should he perish in his sinful course. Then Paul like a skillful surgeon knowing that the disease of the offender at Corinth was almost incurable by one bold vigorous stroke reached the core of moral corruption arrested the infection and saved the patient. For we learn from his second epistle written to the same church about twelve months afterwards that the offender low as he had sunk in turpitude and spiritual apathy was by means of his expulsion recovered from slumber and quickened to a sense of his guilt and misery and _______ after the church had truly evinced by his excommunication, that they "would have no fellowship with these unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them and when after a uniform and long continued reformation the offender had given evidence that his was that "godly sorrow which worketh repentance unto Salvation that needeth not to be repented of by doing works meet for repentance." Paul directs them to restore him to fellowship.

     2nd - Another end of church discipline is the purity and consequently the real interest prosperity and comfort of the Church. While Achaus crime remained concealed and himself continued in the camp of Israel the Israelites fled before their enemies, the powers of Jehovah filled them with dismay and numbers perished under his sore displeasure. But as soon as he was detected and punished according to his crime the wrath of God ceased to Smoke against his people and victory crown their arms and thus it is for no small degree in the Church of Christ. By habitual converse with those of lax principles and profligate morals for the two are closely allied even Christians themselves before they suspect their danger, may begin to conform to their maxims and manners: Wherefore come out from among them and be ye separated saith the Lord. And touch not the unclean thing and I will receive you. Real believers love the truth, and esteem the yoke of Christ easy and his burden light; but false professors, Scribes Pharisees and hypocrites most esteem that preaching and that discipline, which allows them the greatest latitude in their conduct, and that is what they call gospel liberty, consequently such characters are not apt to seek for admission into a church where the true gospel is preached and true discipline maintained. 3rd - Another very important end in Church discipline is to Keep the character of the Church unblemished in the estimation of unbelievers if disorderly professors are suffered to retain in the church, it invites in the minds of unbelievers a strong prejudice against religion: when therefore unbelievers see professors retained in Christian fellowship whose lives vary so much from the scripture character of saints, the natural principals of their unbelief are greatly strengthened and they are ready to conclude that there is no reality in religion or that almost all who profess it are designing hypocrites. It was this mournful consideration that grew from our Saviour the exclamation, "Woe unto the world because of offences it must needs be that offences come, but woe unto that man by whom the offence cometh." It is evident that in these words he had reference to those false professors whose ungodly lives prejudice others against his truth and cause them to blaspheme his holy name; and it may be asserted without fear of contradiction that if Voltaire, Humes, Gibeon and Paine have by their infidel writing murdered thousand of souls; the Achaus, Ahithophals and Judases in the visible Church have claim their millions. On the other hand, nothing perhaps presents to the mind of the unbeliever so strong as argument for the reality of religion as the sight of a well organized well discipled gospel church constantly and zealously attending upon the ordinances moving forward constantly harmoniously and affectionately in the faithful discharge of their various secular and religeous duties. Where all the members are seen thus maintaining a character public and private comporting with their high vocation denying ungodliness and worldly lust, and living soberly, righteously and Godly in this present world, pursuing and practicing whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are of good report, then is the Church fair as the moon, beautiful as Tirzah and terrible as an army with _______. Such an exhibition of real and constant virtue reflecting in some degree the image of its divine original cannot fail to impress the mind of the unbeliever with awe, constrain him to bow at least in his heart with reverence to the Supremacy of its influence and to exclaim in the language of baals worshippers when Elijah's God displayed his presence and his power "The Lord he is the God, the Lord he is the God."

Amos Hardin, Clerk
Elijah Rogers, Moderator

[From the Minutes of the Tennessee Association of United Baptists, 1825. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall]

American Circular Letters Index
Baptist History Homepage