CHAPTER XII Of Church Discipline
"HAVING spoken of the gathering together of a particular gospel church, and its officrs, and the rules whereby we are to be guided inchoosing and ordinaing them, and of the admission of members, etc., it is meet to give a short view of a church's duties and authority in respect to censures upon offenders.
Of Admonition "I. Admonition should be a holy, tender, and wise endeavor to convince a brother that he has offended in matter of fact, or else is fallen into a way, wherein to continue is like to be prejudicial to the party himself, or to others; where the matter, whatever it be, and the sinfulness thereof, with the aggravating circumstances attending it, is to be charged on his conscience, in the sight of God, with due application of the word of God, which concerns his condition, thereby leading him to his duty and true reformation.
"2. Admonition is private by one or more of the brethren, or more public by the whole church.
(1) When one brother trespasses against another, the offended brother is not to divulge the offense, but to go in a gospel way to the offender and to use his endeavor to reclaim his brother; and if he repents the offended brother ought to forgive him. But if the offending brother will not hear, then the offended brother ought to take two or three other brethren, and they such as may be most likely to gain upon the offender; but if this admonition also takes no effect, it is to be brought before the church. (2) The church, when matters come thus before it, shall admonish and endeavor to reclaim the offender in the spirit of meekness, and if the brother that offended continues obstinate and impenitent the church is directed to exclude him. (3) Whence it follows, that every church-member has somewhat to do in his place. (4) In case of private offenses it is preposterous to publish them or acquaint the church or elders thereof therewith before the two lower degrees of admonition are duly accomplished and the offender has neglected to hear. (5) That when matters are thus regularly brought to the church then the private proceedings may cease. (6) That when private offenses are brought to the church without such proper private procedure, that the church may and ought to refuse it as not coming according to the gospel rule aforesaid. (7) But when those things that begin in private are thus regularly brought into the church
they must be received and adjudged according to the same rule. So that it may and doth oftentimes fall out, that those things that begin with a private admonition do end in public excommunication.
Of Suspension"1. A suspension may be when the church is informed that a member has acted amiss, either in matters of faith or practice, and not having satisfactory proof whether the information is true or false, and the case requiring time to inquire therein, it is expedient to suspend such a person from communion at the Lord's table until the elders of the church can make a suitable inquiry, as might be signified by the law in the case of leprosy.
"2. Suspension is rather to be looked upon to be when a church debars a member from communion for some irregularity that he may be guilty of, which yet does not amount so high as to be ripe for the great sentence of excommunication, but that the person for such irregularity ought to be debarred of the privilege of special communion and exercise of office in order to his humiliation. Such is not to be accounted as an enemy, but to be exhorted as a brother in union, though not in communion; but if such an one remain impenitent and incorrigible, the church, after due waiting for his reformation, is to proceed to excommunication, for that would be not hearing the church in the highest degree.
Excommunication "Excommunication is a judicial act or censure of the church upon an offender by the authority of Jesus Christ, and by his direction delivered to his church by himself or his apostles in the New Testament, which a gospel church ought to put into practice, when matters of fact require, according to the gospel rule; as first, when a member, after all due admonition, continues to be obstinate and will hear no reproof. Secondly, when a member has committed a gross sin, which is directly against the moral law, and being notorious and scandalous, and proved beyond dispute, then a church is immediately to proceed unto censure, notwithstanding any present signs of conviction or remorse, for the necessary vindication of the glory of God, the vindication of the church also, and its holy profession; and to manifest its just indignation and abhorrence against such wickedness. Thirldy, when a member is found erroneous, defective, or heretical in some fundamental point, or to swerve from the right faith in the prinicples of the Christian religion.
"The manner of proceeding unto the great and awful instituted ordinance is, the church being gathered together, the offender also having notice to come and make his answer and defense (if he comes not he aggravates his offense by despising
the authority of Christ in his church), the body of the church is to have knowledge of the offender's crime fully, and the full proof thereof as of plain matter of fact; and after mature, deliberate consideration, and consulting the rules of direction given in the word of God, whehter the offender be present or absent the minister or elder puts the question to the whole church: Whether they judge the person guilty of such crime now proven upon him, is worthy of the censure of the church for thesame? To which the members in general give their judgment; which, if it be in the affirmative, then the judgment of the members in general beng had, or the majority of them, the pastor, minister, or elder sums up the sentence of the church, opens the nature of the crime with the suitableness of the censure, according to gospel rule, and having thus proceeded, a proper time is fixed to put the sentence in execution, at which time the pastor, minister, or elder of the church, as his place and duty requires, is to lay open the heinousness of such sin, with all the aggravating circumstances thereof, showing what an abominable scandal such an offender is become to religion, what dishonor it is to God, etc., applying the partiuclar places in Scripture that are proper to the case, in order to charge the offense home upon the conscience of the offender, if present, that others also may fear, showing also the awful nature of this great censure,
and the main end thereof, for the salvation and not the destruction of the soul, and with much solemnity in the whole society calling upon God for his gracious presence and his blessing upon his sacred ordinance, that the great end thereof may be obtained, still expressing the deep sense the church has of the fall of this brother, with the great humiliation of the church, and the great sorrow for and destestation of the sin committed. The said pastor, minister, or elder, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, in the presence of the congregation, and by and with the consent and according to the judicial sentence of the church, cuts off and excludes such an offender by name from the union and communion of the church because of his offense; so that such a person is not thenceforth to be looked upon, deemed, or accounted as a brother or member of such church, until God shall restore him again by repentance.
"Which exclusion carries in it the full sense of our Lord's words. "Let him be unto thee as an heathen man, as a publican:" or of the apsotle, to deliver such an one to Satan; which is an authoritative putting of such a person out of communion of the church, the kingdom of heaven into the world, the kingdom of Satan, the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience, in order to his being humbled and broken under the sight and sense of his
sins, which is meant by the destruction of the flesh, and to the end that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.
"Among the many disorders which church-members may be guilty of, and for the obstinate continuance therein, a church may and ought to use the power that Christ hath given to exclude from her communion, that is one which is when a member doth seclude himself, and that not in any regular way but contrary to all rule and order; for when a church-member, by reason of some offense he hath taken at the church or some of the members thereof, and hath not done his duty according to the rule of the word, or else is dying away in religion by one means or another, as by the love of the world, change of conditon in marriage, or not having his expected preferment in the church, or the like, does, as it were, excommunicate himslef, the church, according to its duty, ought to use its endeavors to reclaim such; which endeavors, if they prove fruitless and the party obstinate, the church ought not to acquiesce in his irregular departure from them, as if all their bonds of relation and duty were over and no more was to be done, seeing the party has usurped the power of the keys to himself; the Church hath committed unto it, though it cannot hinder the obstinate and unruly passions of such an one of God leaves him to it. He
will run away from the church, rending himself schismatically off, breaking through all order and covenant obligations in opposition to brotherly endeavors to hinder him and to stay him in his place; the church is to proceed judicially to turn the key upon such a sinful, disorderly departure, and publicly declare that such an one by name has been quilty of such a thing, naming his disorders, he is no longer in their communion nor under their watch and care, etc., and such a person is not to return to his communion until he has given satisfaction to the church. Such a separtation or departure is very sinful for these and like reasons: (1) Because the church is an organization privileged with laws and rules for admittance and demittance, which ought to be observed. (2) Such a departure is rude and indecent, therefore dishonorable. (3) Because, if members may take this liberty, all the officers of the church, ministers, ruling elders, and deacons, may take the same liberty, which would soon unchurch any church, or at least be destructive to its beauty, comfort, and edification. (4) All members do covenant the contrary, and therefore it is a breach of the covenant, which is a black character. (5) It destroys totally the relation between elders and people, which God hath ordained. (6) It is a usurping of the keys, or rather a stealing of them. (7) It is a schism; if there is such a thing in the world, it is of particular churches. (8) It is
high contempt of Christ in the government of his church. (9) It is to break the staff of beauty (covenant) and of bands and brotehrhood too. It argues either some great undiscovered guilt lying on the party, or some by-ends in his first seeking admission into such a church. All which put together it declares the great unity of the congregational gospel church and the sinfulness of such disorderly persons in breaking off without a just cause; but if any church becomes heretical in principles, or idolatrous in worship, or immoral in life, it is lawful for persons, after they have discharged their conscience and duty in reproving and bearing witness against such gross defections, to depart."
Comments Baptist follow in strict and literal observance the rule of the Lord Jesus in regard to the dealings and discipline of offenders. But admonition, which is implied in the expression "If he will not hear the church," etc., is usually done by the pastor or some brother or brethren.
"Brethren," wrote Paul to the Galatians, "if a man be overtaken in a fualt, ye which are spirutal, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted" (Galatians 6:1)
This, of course, induces admonition, prayer, entreaty. It is the duty of every member of the
church to feel pity for the erring ones, to exercise patience toward them. Church action should be avoided unless when private efforts fail.
Suspension is sometimes imposed by a church; not generally, however. But so soon as the church takes the matter of misdemeanor in hand the member charged is virtually suspended and is so considered. But now comes the invariable rule, never to be evaded. "Moreover if thy brother shll trespass against thee" ( a personal offense), "go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother" (Matthew 18:15). This is the imperative law. It is sinful to evade it, and the church that permits its violation brings on itself almost endless trouble. It is a personal (not merely private) offense and should be personally adjusted.
Now comes the second step. One or two men, wise ones, should go to the offender, and in faithfulness and tenderness try to convice him of his wrong-doing and restore him to fellowship. If this is unavailing - but not till every proper method of conciliation and reconciliation has failed - the matter is to be brought before "the church." It is the church which is to consider the matter. It is the church which is to decide. To turn this solemn duty over to the "Board of deacons" is a violation of the Lord's inspired rule. It is wrong, and no excuse of expedience can make it right.
A general offense, that is, an offense against morals or the advocacy of false doctrine, should be taken up by the church at once. Mere preliminary admonitions and endeavors to convince and restore the offender may or may not be necessary. But it is a general and not a personal matter, and a church should take prompt action in regard to it.
In all such cases the action of the church is final. There is no court of appeal on earth. "Let him (who is excluded) be to thee as an heathen man, as a publican." =============
[Samuel H. Ford, Baptist Waymarks, ABPS, 1903. Typed from the original document by Linda Duvall; the document was provided by Pastor Steve Lecrone, Burton, OH. - jrd]
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