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Essex Baptist Association
Circular Letter, 1831
"Christian Discipline"

This association was located in northeast New York. There were eight churches who were members at that time: Crown Point, Essex, Elizabethtown, Jay, Keene, Moriah, Plattsburgh and Westport. - Jim Duvall

The Ministers and Messengers of the Churches composing the Essex Baptist Association, to the several churches which they represent, send christian salutation:

As we usually address to you our circular, in connexion with our minutes, we wish to call your attention to a subject, though somewhat common, yet too much neglected -- we mean Christian Discipline. This we consider very important for Christians to understand. For private offences, the rule given in the New Testament enjoins, "if thy brother trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between, thee and him alone." This plain duty is many times neglected. The circumstances are whispered to a third person, and become current through the neighbourhood, before the offending person has heard from his brother that he has injured his feelings. Slander never grows smaller by circulation; but like a snow ball rapidly increases, and a breach is made which years cannot heal, that at first a few words in the spirit of brotherly love might have removed. If every brother would pray fervently before visiting the offender, doubtless he would be more successful in reclaiming him. If the matter be destitute of proof, and the member denies his offence, it will be proper to tell him his fault on every suitable occasion, and exhort him to repentance; but by no means to reveal it to another. Tell him, "My brother, I know your fault, it is known to God, and I think it must be known to you: in your present state I cannot feel united with you: But I am constrained in duty to admonish you. I shall pray for you, and leave it to the judgment of the great day. But I love my brethren and esteem the ordinances
[p. 7]
of God's house as full of consolation, I shall therefore keep my place in the church; and though I have no communion with you, I shall not neglect my duty to them." But if the fact can be proved, and the sinning brother will not hear, and make satisfaction, then take one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses, every word may be established. If possible, these two brethren should be witnesses of the fact; that in case of his repentance the knowledge of his fault may not be spread farther than is necessary. If he neglect to hear them, then tell it to the church. -- From this direction, it appears that these witnesses are to admonish and entreat. A most important consideration, which should lead them in prayer to ask wisdom of God. -- If prayer should attend their admonitions and exhortations, undoubtedly the promise would be oftener realized. "If any two shall agree on earth, as touching any thing which ye shall ask, it shall be done for you of my Father which is in Heaven. If he shall neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican."

Offences against churches comprise all those actions which are a breach of covenant obligations, as well as open immoralities. It is not always necessary that an individual brother should be sent to admonish the offender; he may be called to answer for his offences in a public church meeting. -- In general, admonition is necessary, and should be continued as long as there is any hope of return. But in some cases, immediate exclusion seems to be the duty of a church toward a heinous offender, I Cor. 5:4, 5. "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and my spirit, when ye are gathered together, deliver such an one to Satan," &c. Whenever churches neglect the discipline of the gospel, coldness and languor of feeling ensue, unfaithfulness increases, and open transgressions will soon appear. If we ought to withdraw from every brother that walketh disorderly, a neglect to do so, involves in it the guilt of transgression, and we must expect chastisement. If we would honor Christ, if we would do good to his people, and appear like a city set on a hill, discipline must be maintained. Sometimes discipline is neglected on account of our own frailty; and because we are fallen ourselves, we think we can avoid our duty to another. Such disciples must expect the rod for their disobedience. The Lord blesses his people in the performance of their duty; and discipline is as much the duty of Christians as individuals, and of churches -- as prayer and the ministry of the word. Our consciences would feel pressed with a burden of guilt, if we should neglect to pray or attend the assembly of worship; but we should be equally grieved when we neglect the order of the house of God.

Is it not time to awake from our inattention to this subject,
[p. 8]
to weep over our neglect and pray for pardon of the great Head of the Church. Surely the subject deserves our attention; and while we search the scripture for doctrine, and direction in practice, let us remember that the rule of discipline was given by the same authority, and should be observed with equal devotion. We pray that he who walks in the midst of his saints may stir us up to diligence, and make us BLAMELESS; THE SONS OF GOD WITHOUT REBUKE.

[From Essex Baptist Association Minutes (NY), 1831, pp. 6-8. This document is from a microfilm copy at Southern Baptist Seminary Library, Louisville, KY. Transcribed and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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