The discipline of the English Baptist churches was in harmony with their doctrines. It was a commentary on 2 Corinthians vi. 17. As they would not knowingly admit any to fellowship, who did not appear to be the subjects of regenerating grace, so they placed members under censure, or excluded them, for immorality or any unscriptural or disorderly conduct, without respect of persons. We will adduce a few examples illustrative of their care in this matter.
The Broadmead Church would not admit Mrs. Bevis to fellowship, "by reason of her selling of drink, and some defects in her conversation about her husband's debts that he had contracted." The same church has this record of "Sister Watkins:" - "Tidings came to the ears of the church that she walked disorderly and scandalously in the borrowing of money, up and down, of many persons - of some ten shillings, of some twenty shillings, of some more, some less, as she could get them to lend - and took no care to pay it again, promising people and not performing, spending much if not most of her time going up and down; and so did not work, or but little, to endeavour honestly to live and eat her own bread. And thus, she walking disorderly and scandalously in borrowing, contrary to the rule (2 Thessalonians iii. 6, 10, 12), the church, after her crime was declared, and proved to her face by divers in the church, and that they had heard she had so served some not of the congregation, they consented all universally to withdraw from her. Then the ruling elder, Brother Terrill, declared to her, before the church, how that for her so sinning against the Lord, she rendered herself among the wicked ones, as Psalm xxxvii. 21, and, therefore, the church, in faithfulness to the Lord and to her soul, must withdraw from her, seeing she had by several of the members been admonished once and again, and by several together witnessing against her evil in so doing; yet she had lately done the like, so that there was a necessity upon them to do their duty. And also acquainted her that if the Lord should hereafter give her repentance of the evil that she should reform to the satisfaction of the congregation, they should be willing to receive her into full communion again. And then the sentence, by the said ruling elder, was passed upon her, viz.: That in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the authority he had given to the Church, we did declare, that Sister Watkins, for her sin of disorderly walking, borrowing and not paying, making promises and not performing, and not diligently working, was withdrawn from, and no longer to have full communion with this church, nor to be partaker with them in the holy mysteries of the Lord's Supper, nor privileges of the Lord's house [that is, 'if she doth come to the meeting, not to be suffered to stay when any business of the church is transacted']; and the Lord have mercy upon her soul." 1
The Fenstanton Church made an order, "that if any members of the congregation shall absent themselves from the assembly of the same congregation upon the first day of the week, without manifesting a sufficient cause, they shall be looked upon as offenders and be proceeded against accordingly," and "it was desired that if any member should at any time have any extraordinary occasion to hinder them from the assembly, that they would certify the congregation of the same beforehand, for the prevention of jealousies, &c."
Several members were excluded by the same church, at different times, for marrying irreligious persons, or such as were not "members of the congregation." Joan Parker was excommunicated for absenting from the assembly of the congregation," for "running from her service, without the consent either of her master or dame, and letting herself to another man," and for "contempting all reproof." John Blows, a preacher, was not only absent on a day appointed for fasting and prayer, but was that day "at a great foot-ball play, he being one of the principal appointers thereof." Being called to account for it, he was at first disposed to justify himself, but at length confessed that he had been wrong, and "promised to abstain from the like for time to come." Nevertheless, as he had "dishonored the Lord," "grieved the people of God," and "given occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully," it was resolved that "he should not be suffered to preach until further fruits meet for repentance did appear."2
The church at Warboys withdrew from Mary Poulter, "for forsaking the assembling with the church and neglecting holy duties, and walking disorderly in pride and vanity;" and from John Christmas, "for not loving Ann his wife as he ought, and for speaking hateful and despising words against her, giving her occasion to depart from him by his unkindness." But "John Christmas, afterward sending for Ann his wife again and promising amendment, after her coming again to him, desired to be a partaker with the church, in holy duties, was joined in fellowship again." "Mary Drage, for sundry times dissembling with the church, and out of covetousness speaking things very untrue, at length it being plainly proved against her in her hearing, and she having little to say for herself, was withdrawn from." "Thomas Bass, for telling of lies and swearing, was withdrawn from." "Ellen Burges, for lying and slandering of her relations, and counting them and her mother witches, which we have no ground to believe, was withdrawn from."3
The church at St. Alban's withdrew from "Brother Osman," because one day in harvest time "he did very shamefully with others betray his trust, and left his work, his master not being there, and went to an alehouse, where he spent most part of the day sinning against God, and spending his money, which should relieve his family, unto excessive drinking." A few months afterward he "did, in the presence of the congregation, publicly declare his fall, acknowledge his sin, and manifest great trouble for the same. The church gladly embraced him again, believing that God had given him repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth; he was admitted to his membership." "Sister Searly was by the church accused as to matter of fact. In the first place, she selling strong water let a person drink to excess; and, secondly, did give herself in marriage to a wicked drunkard, contrary to the rule of our Lord, who saith, 'Let her marry to whom she will, only in the Lord;' thirdly, and was married in the national way with common prayer, with all the Romish ceremonies to it. All these things being considered, the church did think it their duty to withdraw their communion, and yet she lieth under admonition."4
1 E. B Underhill, editor, The Records of a Church of Christ meeting in Broadmead, Bristol, 1640-1687, London, 1847, pp. 211, 413.
2 E. B Underhill, editor, Records of the Churches of Christ meeting in Fenstanton, Warboys, and Hexham, 1644-1720, London, 1854, pp. 126, 169, 244.
3 Ibid., pp. 274, 278.
4 Joseph Ivimey, History of English Baptists, (published in 1811-1830), ii. 177.
[From J. M. Cramp's Baptist History, London, 1871; reprint, 1987, pp. 335-339. The title for this essay is supplied by the editor; full titles of endnote citations are given. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall]
Baptists: Various Subjects
Baptist History Homepage