Contents The Christian System
by Alexander Campbell



I. MEMBERS should be publicly received into all societies. They are so in the state. It is matter of record. When a person is regenerated, and desires to be enrolled among the disciples meeting in any one place, if his confession to salvation or immersion has not been publicly known to the brethren, reason says those who have been privy to the fact, who can attest his confession, ought to introduce him to the congregation, and he ought to be saluted or received as such by the brethren with whom he unites. This the slightest attention to propriety, the reason and nature of things, fully and satisfactorily demonstrate. Letters of recommendation are the expedient which, in apostolic times, was substituted for this formal introduction, when a citizen of the kingdom visited any community where he was unknown personally to the brethren.

II. A person cannot be under the oversight or under the discipline of a congregation, unless he voluntarily associate with the brethren meeting in that place, and unless it be a matter of notoriety or of record among the brethren that he is one of them. There can be no formal exclusion if there be no formal reception. If there be no visible and formal union, there can be no visible and formal separation. In truth, there can be no discipline in any congregation, unless it be an organized body; and no body can be organized unless it is known who are members of it. On a matter of such plain common sense perception we have seldom thought it necessary to say a word, and should not now have noticed it at all, had we not found some societies which cannot tell their own members, which even hesitated about the necessity of a formal reception of any person into them, or of having it on record who belonged to them. They demanded a positive commandment or precedent for such a reception. They might as pertinently have demanded a positive commandment for persons to be formally married before they could be recognised as husband and wife, as to ask for a positive commandment for one of the most common dictates of reason, though, indeed, every commandment addressed to the Christian congregations on relative duties and privileges, assumes the principle that those who belong to any society are known to each other to belong to it, else they could not even perform the first day to one another - they could not know when they were assembled - they could not "tarry for one another."

III. Whether there shall be a record in print, in writing, or on the memory of all the congregation, is a question which must depend on circumstances. If all the members are blessed with infallible memories, so as never to forget who are members, when they became such, when any one was received, when any one was rejected - I say, if every brother and sister can so well remember these matters, as, when the discipline of the congregation or any particular question respecting any case of discipline may arise, they can infallibly remember all about it; then, and in that case, it is unnecessary to have any record, church book, secretary, or any thing written or printed. But if otherwise, there must be a record; because questions involving peace and good order of society may arise, and have arisen, which require infallible testimony, or the most satisfactory evidence on questions of fact; such as, Was A B ever a member of your community? When did he become a member of it? When was he excluded? When was he restored? When did he forsake the assembly of the brethren? Was he a husband at the time of his removal? etc.
IV. Two things are paramount in all cases of discipline before brought into the congregation - the Fact and the Law. The fact is always to be established by good testimony or by the confession of the transgressor. The thing said to have been done, or the fact being established, the next question is, What is the law in the case? This the elders of the congregation must decide They are to be judges both of the fact and the law. If they are not they are unfit for the office and unworthy the name of "the rulers"' of the congregation. When they have fully decided the case, they lay it before the congregation. If they acquiesce the matter ends, and the accused is retained or excluded as the case may be. If they do not acquiesce, or if the accused appeals to the congregation, the case must be reconsidered; and if on further examination, both the elders, the congregation, and the accused retain the same position, helps must be called for either from the congregation or some other. This is the only ultimatum that Christianity contemplates.
[See a comparison between the USA and English Editions of this paragraph.
The differences are significant. (CD Editor)

V. "Offences must come;" and, if possible, they must be healed. To cut off an offender, is good; to cure him, is better; but to prevent him falling, is best of all. The Christian spirit and system alike inculcate vigilance in preventing; all expedition in healing offences; and all firmness in removing incorrigible offenders. Its disciplinary code is exceedingly simple, rational, and benevolent. It teaches us to regard all offences as acts of impiety, or acts of immorality; sins against our brethren, or sins against God alone; the omission of right, or the commission of wrong.

VI. Trespasses against our brethren are all matters of aggression upon their persons, property, or character. They are either private or public. We can only offend against the person, the property, or the character of a brother; and we can do this only privately or publicly. Christ's legislation on private or personal offences, as recorded in the 18th chapter of Matthew commends itself to the approbation of Jew and Gentile all over the world. It is as plain and as excellent as his golden rule of moral feeling.

VII. Without giving any rules to decide who is the aggressor, or the aggrieved, allowing either of the parties to view the matter as he pleases, he commands him that supposes himself to be aggrieved to go to the aggressor and tell him his fault privately. If restitution is made and reconciliation effected, the matter ends. If not, he takes with him a second or a third person, states the facts of the case, reasons and remonstrates. If this also fails, then he is commanded to inform the church of the matter; and if the aggressor will not hear the church, then he is to be as a heathen man or a publican.

VIII. Some, indeed, imagine a difficulty in this case; for after "tell" there is no it in the original; and ask, "What is to be told to the church - the original fault, or simply that the aggressor will not make restitution? "The most natural construction of the sentence favours the simple statement of the fact - that an offence had been committed and restitution refused, without going into the details of the trespass. But a second difficulty has been suggested on the manner in which the congregation is to be informed. Is it to be told to the whole community in full assembly met? or to those appointed by the congregation to hear and adjudicate such matters? Certainly the congregation has ears as well as a tongue, and it is not all ears nor all tongue. Every well-organized church has its eldership, who hear all such matters, and who bring them before the whole assembly only when it is absolutely necessary, and even then at a convenient season.

IX. The elders hear the matter; and if the case be one that requires a special committee, which Paul calls "secular seats of judicature," 1 Cor. vi. 4, they appoint it; then, and not till then, if their decision of the matter be refused, they bring it before the whole congregation, and he is excluded from among them, that he may be as a heathen man and a publican - one entitled only to civil, and not to Christian respect - one whose company is to be eschewed rather than courted.

X. The whole community can act, and ought to act, in receiving and in excluding persons: but in the aggregate, it can never become judges of offences and a tribunal trial. Such an institution was never set up by divine authority. No community is composed only of wise and discreet full grown men. The Christian church engrosses old men, young men, and babes in Christ. Shall the voice of a babe be heard, or counted as a vote in a case of discipline! What is the use of bishops in a church, if all are to rule - of judges, if all are judges of fact and law! No wonder that broils and heart-burnings, and scandals of all sorts disturb these communities ruled by a democracy of the whole - where every thing is to be judged in public and full assembly. Such is not the Christian system. It ordains that certain persons shall judge and rule,1 and that all things shall "be done decently and in order."

XI. Besides matters of private trespass between brethren, there are matters of public wrong, or acts of injustice towards the whole Christian community, and also towards them that are without. Drunkenness in a professor, for example, is a sin against God and against all the Christian brotherhood. It is, moreover, a public nuisance to all men, so far as it is witnessed or known. The transgressor in such a case, if he be not penitent and reform, must be convicted of the offence. An attempt at convicting him of the offence is not to be made till he fail to acknowledge it. A failure to acknowledge, or an attempt to deny, calls for conviction, and precludes the idea of repentance.

XII. In all cases of conviction the church is to be addressed through its rulers. No private individual has a right to accuse any person before the whole community. The charge, in no case, is to be preferred before the whole congregation. Such a procedure is without precedent in the Law or in the Gospel - in any well regulated society, church, or state. If, then, any brother fall into any public offence, those privy to it notify the elders of the church, or those for the time being presiding over it, of the fact, and of the evidence on which they rely. The matter is then in the hands of the proper persons. They prosecute the investigation of it; and on the denial of the accused, seek to convict him of the allegation.

XIII. When a person is convicted of any offence, he is unworthy of the confidence of the brethren; for conviction supposes concealment and denial; and these, of course, are evidence of impenitence. We do not say that such a one is never again to be worthy of such confidence; but that until he has given satisfactory proofs of genuine repentance, he is to be treated as one not of the body of Christ.

XIV. In all case of hopeful repentance the transgressor is to be restored with admonition. The acknowledgment of an offence, and of repentance for it, are, in all cases, to be as public as the sin itself. Peter's sin and repentance are as public as his name. So was David's. So should be those of all transgressors. Those who have caused the Saviour and his faithful followers to blush, ought themselves to be made to blush before the world; and if their sorrow and amendment be genuine, they will do it cheerfully and fully. "Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear." 1.Tim. v. 20.2

XV. Whether it may be always prudent in the incipient stages of every case of discipline to have open doors, or whether some cases may not require closed doors, are questions referred to human prudence; but in the case of the ultimate decision of the congregation, and in that of exclusion, there can be but one opinion on the necessity and utility of its being done in the presence of all who may please to attend.
[See the additional paragraph in the USA Edition]

 1  1 Tim. iii. 5; v. 17. Acts xx. 28-31. Heb. xiii. 17, &c., &c.
 2  By a reference to an Extra on ORDER, published 1835, the curious reader may find other useful hints on the subject of discipline.

Contents Back to the beginning Index