THE CHRISTIAN DISCIPLINE.
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
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
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.