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Circular Letter
Leyden Baptist Association
Held at Dummerston, (England) — 1831

The Elders and Messengers of the LEYDEN BAPTIST ASSOCIATION, to the Churches which they requested, send Christian Salutation.
As was proposed at our last Annual Meeting, we now address you upon the subject of Church Discipline.

The question "What is Church Discipline?" first demands our attention. It is the execution of those rules or laws which JESUS CHRIST has given for the government of his Church. The Church being his house, he would not leave it without just laws to regulate the conduct of his subjects. These rules or laws are found in the New Testament, which is the statute book of the Church. The Great Head of the Church did not give power to any particular class of men in the Church, to execute his laws, but to the Church itself, collectively. It is, therefore, necessary that every member should diligently study these laws, that he may well understand and be guided by them in all his conduct. These laws teach us what persons are to be admitted into the Church; how they are to conduct in it; and when they are to be expelled from it. All who propose themselves to a Church, and give satisfactory evidence, that they have passed from death unto life; that they are truly penitent; that they firmly believe the Gospel; and that they intend to walk in all the ordinances and commandments of the LORD blameless, are to be admitted. In admitting members, it is necessary to be very careful, and mark well the entering in of the house, lest you receive strangers, who are uncircumcised in heart, and thereby pollute the sanctuary of GOD.

The laws of CHRIST require all the members of his Church to be rooted and grounded in the truth; to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints; to let their light so shine before men, that others seeing their good works, may glorify our FATHER who is in Heaven; to deny themselves of all ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world; to continue steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread and in prayers. Brotherly love is frequently and specifically enjoined. It is the business of the Church to see that these precepts are properly regarded. If they were properly attended to by all the members of the Church, discipline would not be so difficult a thing as it frequently is. — We proceed to show when persons are to be expelled from the Church. Although there may be cases which require immediate expulsion, yet, in general, instruction and admonition are to be employed as means of reclaiming offenders; if these prove ineffectual, then the law of excommunication must be enforced — the law which requires the Church to withdraw from every brother that walketh disorderly and not according to the tradition received from the apostles. When members deny the essential doctrines of the Gospel and manifest, by their conduct, that they have no regard for the authority of CHRIST; the welfare of the Church, nor for the salvation of souls, they are no longer worthy of a place among the saints of GOD, and ought to be put, as polluted, and such polluting, from the visible kingdom of CHRIST. Particularly, such persons as these ought to be removed from the Church: They who deny the Divinity of our LORD JESUS CHRIST and his Atonement; the Divinity and operations of the HOLY SPIRIT; the inspiration and utility of the Sacred Scriptures; the doctrine of salvation by grace alone; the necessity of holiness in this life, to prepare men for Heaven; or the eternal duration of future happiness and punishment. Such persons may be moral, and may urge their morality as a sufficient reason why they should continue in the fellowship of the Church, but Church fellowship is founded in the truth, is regulated by the truth, and cannot consistently be extended to any but those who believe, love, embrace, and walk in it. The law of CHRIST does not tolerate any kind of vice in his followers. Contentious and quarrelsome persons; tattlers; slanderers; filthy talkers; liars; thieves; extortionist; the covetous; adulterers and drunkards, ought not to have a name to live in the Church of GOD. All who refuse to support, and they who neglect public worship and the Lord’s Supper; all covenant and Sabbath breakers, are transgressors of the divine law and are to be disciplined accordingly; for if such persons are allowed to retain their standing in the Church, there is danger of our having churches without ministers, public worship and ordinances, or rather of our having no Churches at all, distinct from the world.

How ought Church Discipline to be administered?
It ought to be administered seasonably.

As soon as the Church knows that the law of CHRIST has been violated by any member, they ought to inquire into the matter. Delays in this case are very dangerous and often injurious. If a breach has been made, the sooner it is closed the better; it will seldom be narrowed by neglect. There ought to be a readiness to revenge all disobedience. The example of Phineas is worthy of consideration: when he found there was pollution in the congregation of Israel he went about to remove it immediately.

Discipline ought to be impartial, both with respect to persons and offences. There are none above, none beneath the laws of CHRIST'S house; one member is under as much obligation to keep them as another. Churches are not to inquire, whether the offender is rich or poor; whether he is a man of great or little influence; but, has he offended? If the transgressor is rich, or learned, or powerful, he is so much the more guilty, for where there is much given, there is much required. There ought to be no conferring with flesh and blood in this business. The relations of husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers and sisters, must not influence us; worldly and political connections must be forgotten, lest they make us partial in the law. Discipline must be impartial, with respect to offences. Some offences are, no doubt, more heinous than others, and on that account require different modes of treatment, but no retention, inconsistent with the law of CHRIST and the purity of the Church, ought to be esteemed light, nor be treated with impunity. By passing by slight offences, (so called,) many Churches have fallen by little and little, till they have sunk to rise no more. A little leaven, leaveneth the whole lump. Let Churches, be thorough in exterminating every vice. The Israelites were not to spare the Canaanites, because they were small, nor because they smiled and plead their incapacity to do harm. They slew the giants, because they were giants, and they slew the children for fear they would become giants also.

Discipline is to be conducted with tenderness. The bruised reed must not be broken, nor the smoking flax quenched. They who are strong are to bear the infirmities of the weak. If any be overtaken in a fault, they are to be restored, or their restoration is to be attempted in a spirit of meekness and love. The disposition of Diotrephes ought never to be found in a Christian Church. Malicious words and harsh measures are always injurious and unbecoming. When brethren are in a proper frame of mind to attend to cases of discipline, they will manifest a spirit of prayer and an anxious solicitude for the honor of their REDEEMER and the welfare of the Church. They will feel a deep and tender concern for the character and peace of the offender. Their first inquiry will not be how shall we get rid of him? but how can we retain him consistently with truth, and the purity of the Church?

Church Discipline should be administered with decision. A want of this in the government of families and nations, has produced great and irremediable evils, and the same may be said of many Churches. A lax and undecisive course of discipline will always bring a Church into contempt, and destroy its strength. The laws by which the disciples of JESUS are to be guided are plain; the authority under which they act is awful; their work is highly important; the hand that supports them is almighty; the Saviour in whose name they trust, and whose glory they desire to promote, approves, and will bless them. — Why, then, should they hesitate? Why should they tremble for the safety of the ark while GOD sustains it? Why not do duty promptly, and leave consequences with him whom they obey? Why not proceed with the same decision that Ezra and his faithful companions did, soon after the return from Babylon? They read the law, and separated from Israel all the mixed multitude. Some Churches, like Gideon's army, are too many. Numbers appear among them without the armor of GOD. They seem to have made a gross mistake in getting into company for which they have no love, and in which they take no delight. Their names are enrolled upon the Church-Book, but their hearts are in the world. They are like the man who puts his name on the stage-book, and never occupies a seat in the stage-book, and never occupies a seat in the stage. They have a name to live; but are dead. Can such be kept in the Church consistently? Will the Lord be pleased with his people while they harbor his enemies? Will he bless them while they cast contempt upon his statutes? No. Awake, then, brethren, to this subject, and adopt a seasonable, impartial, tender and decisive discipline in your Churches, and you will realize the most beneficial effects. Such discipline will promote the union of the Church. The proverb of Solomon will apply in this case, "cast out the scorner, and contention will cease." Our Saviour teaches us the great importance of union when he says, "A kingdom divided against itself shall fall." How frequently do the Apostles command and exhort the disciples of Christ to be united in sentiment and practice. And how severely does Paul reprove the Corinthians for their intestine divisions. Consider, brethren, how good and how pleasant it is for you to dwell together in unity and that this blessedness cannot be realized, while you in open violation of the will of CHRIST retain among you, — those who are contentious and do not obey the truth. In humble reliance upon GOD, speak and act according to the perfect law of liberty, and then, although you may be constrained to withdraw yourselves from many who walk disorderly, yet, being united to one another and to your Almighty Friend, in the strong bonds of truth and love, you will be able to stand against all the wiles and power of your adversaries. Such discipline will promote will promote the purity of the Church, in doctrine and practice. It would purge out the old leaven. It would rid the church of every root of bitterness, whereby many are defiled and of all profane persons, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. Then would the church appear, what she indeed ought to be, the pillar and ground of the truth; a peaceable kingdom, and the dwelling place of holiness. She would go forth in the strength of the LORD and in the power of his might. Being united in the faith, sanctified by the truth and strengthened by the mighty hand of GOD, she would look forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners. Many would behold her light, be won by her good conversation, imbibe her spirit, and their joyful language would be, was also, will go with you, for we are convinced that truth, righteousness, peace, holiness and GOD are with you; and that you are in the way to glory, honor and immortality.

[From Leyden Baptist Association Minutes, 1831, pp. 4-7. — jrd]

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