by Robert E. Kirtley
To the Churches represented in the North Bend Association:
VERY DEAR BRETHREN -- In addressing to you this, our Annual Epistle of Love, we can not call your attention to a subject of greater practical utility than that of Church Discipline -- the faithful maintenance of which is indispensable to the purity, peace and prosperity of the Churches, and is due to the honor and glory of Christ.
That discipline which the Gospel inculcates, enters into the growth of the Christian life, is fitted for the development of Christian character, and is divinely appointed, to remedy all the irregularities and disorders attendant upon the present church state of God's people.
It may be stated as formative and corrective.
1. Formative discipline is the training of church members in the way of holy living. A sound knowledge of the will of God, and a practical conformity to that will, enter into the very nature of holy living. By holy lives we glorify God; and it is the aggregate of holy lives which constitutes "the light of the world and the salt of the earth."
To the attainment of this desirable end, food and exercise are indispensable -- to be "nourished up in sound doctrine," and to have all our gifts and graces drawn out in active and vigorous exercise.
"The Lord Jesus, that Great Shepherd of the sheep," and who is "head over all things to the church," has, in the economy of his Gospel, most amply provided for all our wants. Having "ascended upon high," he has bestowed gifts upon the churches. "And he gave some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ; till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ." -- Eph. iv:11-13.
"Having then gifts, differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophecy according to the proportion of faith; or ministry, let us wait on our ministering; or he that teacheth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness." --Rom. xii:6-8.
Upon the church devolves the duty and responsibility of seeking out and encouraging and calling into active employment all the varied gifts which Christ, "the head," has bestowed for his own glory in the enlargement and glory of his kingdom; whether there be a gift best suited for expounding the word of God, as a teacher, or a gift more particularly adapted to ministering the "sincere milk of the word," and the strong invigorating meat of gospel truth, as a pastor; whether there be a gift of winning persuasiveness as an evangelist; or a gift in exhortation; or a gift in prayer; whether there be a gift in directing and prompting to the scriptural order and government of the church; or a benevolent disposition of heart; or a merciful disposition; all are to be cherished, encouraged and fully employed. They are "for the perfecting of the saints," and "the edifying of the body of Christ." Gifts unemployed, and graces undisplayed, bring no strength or beauty to the church, and no fruit to the glory of God. As in the natural world of men and things, food and employment are indispensable to the peace, order and prosperity of society, so in the churches of our Lord Jesus Christ, spiritual food and religious activity are essential to the grand objects of our redeemed state. Our spiritual appetites must be cultivated and sustained by gospel food; or amidst our starvings we gasp after "winds of doctrine." Our gifts and graces must be employed, or we fall into irregularities and disorders.
From a derelict inattention to the scriptural training of their membership in the way of holy living, many churches are withered in their growth, paralyzed in their strength, and threatened with the removal of their candlestick. We must bring all the tithes into the store-house of the Lord if we would be blest and enlarged.
2. Corrective discipline is the executing of the laws of Christ's kingdom in the case of offenders.
Offenders are such as violate the laws of Christ, thereby dishonoring His name, marring the purity of the Church, and bringing reproach upon the cause. They may be unconverted persons, "unawares" brought into the churches. Or they may be Christians, having lapsed into sin, and fallen from "their own steadfastness" -- as did David, "the man after God's own heart;" as did Solomon, the wise King of Israel; as did Peter, the bold and heroic Apostle. With such examples before us, and the varied exhortations and warnings of Scripture, we are admonished to "take heed lest we also fall."
Now the word of Christ, the promptings of a common sympathy, and the dictation of good sense lead us to exercise toward the fallen, neither a spirit of false lenity nor unchristian severity. The former would defeat the objects of a wholesome discipline, encourage disorderly walking, degrade the standard of piety, and dishonor the cause of Christ. The latter would awaken prejudices and unkind feelings, encourage strife, and produce discord generally. We should let the love of Christ, which is "the fulfilling of the law," and which "worketh no ill to his neighbor," constrain us. Then shall we unite mercy and faithfulness in applying the law of the Kingdom. "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such a one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself lest thou also be tempted."
In the exercise of corrective discipline, the question arises what offenses are legitimate subjects of notice, and what are the laws of Christ respecting them? In the 18th chapter of Matthew, the Savior has given us instructions in regard to private offenses, which only become matters of church discipline when private means fail to bring about reconciliation. In that event, the Church must act as the judicial and executive body of Christ, to enforce his laws. And he who persistently neglects to hear the Church, must, for insubordination, be cut off, and henceforward be to the Church as "an heathen man, and a publican."
The Apostle Paul, In Rom. xvi:17-18, directs attention to a very serious offense, and indicates the rule of action to be pursued. "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such, serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words, and fair speeches, decieve the hearts of the simply." Upon the church is enjoined the imperative duty of maintaining the faith of the Gospel, and keeping "the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace." Such, therefore, as by an insinuating address, "deceive the hearts" of the unsophisticated and unsuspecting, thereby causing grievous divisions among those who should be one in Christ, are guilty of no ordinary offense, and the Apost[o]lic direction is to "mark" and "avoid" them, which is only done by excluding them from the membership and fellowship of the church --"Because they serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own lusts."
Again, the Apostle, In I Cor. v:11, specifies certain gross immoralities, which demand a prompt correction. "But now I have written unto you, not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner: with such a one no not to eat." The summary directions of the Apostle with respect to this class of offenses, presupposes a certain incurable persistency in the offenders. And the only effectual way of avoiding their company as fellow-church members and refraining from a joint participation with them in the solemnities of the Lord's Supper, is to exclude them from the fellowship of the Church.
Disorderly walking is also reckoned among the offenses which demand correction. -- II Thess., iii:6. "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which you received of us." By the tradition received of the Apostle, is intended the doctrine and practices inculcated in his oral discourses, as well as his epistolary writings. --II Thess., ii:15. "Stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle." Then to walk disorderly is to walk contrary to the teachings of the inspired Apostle. And as in the former reference, all efforts to reclaim the offending party proving ineffectual, the only remedy is exclusion. "From such withdraw yourselves."
Finally, heresies which consist either in a theoretic or practical denial of the great leading truths concerning our Lord Jesus Christ, (II Peter, ii:1,) and which Paul reckons among "the works of the flesh," (Gal. v:20,) constitute an offense against the honor and dignity of Christ, which must be faithfully met. "A man that is an heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject." -- Titus, iii:10. For "He that is such, is subverted, and sinneth." And his retention in the communion of the faithful is an eating and corroding gangrene upon the "body of Christ."
Brethren, we can not be too jealous of the honor and dignity of our Master, in maintaining the purity of His churches. We must exhibit a greater faithfulness, and a more earnest zeal, for the order of His house, if we would be greatly enlarged. =========
[From microfilm records at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Library, Louisville, KY. Northbend is now known as the Northern Kentucky Baptist Association. - jrd]
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