Images de page
PDF
ePub

of members of the church are violated. It not only includes offences against all the rights that society guaranties to us, but also against those peculiar privileges that Christianity creates and confers.-Hence, no matter what the difficulty between brethren may be, it is to be proceeded in according to the Christian system of pleadings, and referred to such tribunals and by such forms as the Christian code has constituted and appointed.

As our object is now to classify offences according to the legal forms by which they are to be settled, we must therefore consider private offences as of two kinds—1st. Those inflicted upon our feelings as brethren in Christ, and 2d. Those relating merely to the rights of property. In the first there is always a personal injury which must be confessed and forgiven; in the second, there may be such injury; but, perhaps, only a question of right, involving only the accuracy of the judgment. Both parties may be perfectly honest, while contending for opposite claims, and without any alienation of feeling or personal offence, subrnit their cause for the better decision of impartial and more competent judges.

In cases of the Srst kind, that is those in which the offence is against our personal Christian rights, the rule of procedure is found in the 18th chapter of Matthew, vers. 15–18. This rule contains three proceedings:-1st. He whose personal rights have been injured must go to the offender and tell him his fault alone-between themselves alone. If they can agree, the case is settled and goes no farther. But if they cannot agree, the offended party must take the second step, to wit:-Go to him again, but with one or two brethren to assist him in effecting a reconciliation, and to act, in case of a failure, as witnesses in the further proceedings. These brethren are to hear and advise; but if the offender remains obstinate and re. fuses to comply, then the third and last appeal is to be made, to wit:

- to the church. When the difficulty has been properly brought before the church and decided upon by it, then if the offender refuses to submit to its decision and will not conform, not only the party offended but the whole church is required to treat him as a heathen man and a publican; that is, to exclude him from their Christian fellowship; and so withdraw from him their former social intercourse, as to manifest, both to him and the world, their disapprobation of his conduct, to his mortification and shame, and to the honor of Christian morality." Nothing can be simpler or better adapted to the end proposed than this prescription of infinite wisdom. The other kind of private difficulties is that in which the right of SERIES JII-VOL. VI.

4

property alone is involved, and the course to be pursued in the set. tlement of these is the same as that given for the first kind of pri. vate offences; for the rule applies to the whole class; but after it has come to the church, a special rule for this case is given us by Paul in the 5th chapter of Ist Corinthians. The parties are not to take their case before the civil tribunals of the land, but must submit it to the decision of brethren who may be appointed for the purpose. These may be the Elders of the congregation or not, just as may prove prudent. At the first, persons were generally selected especially for such cases; but as a congregation is likely to have more contidence in the judgment of the Elders, even in cases of a purely secular character, than in any one else among them,--at a very early date, as was very natural, such matters were committed entirely to their hands: still it does not appear to have been theirs ex officio, from the beginning to decide in difficulties of this nature; and where the nature of the difference is such, that other members of the church can decide it with more wisdom or to the fuller satisfaction of the parties, both the suggestions of the Apostles and the oracles of prudence require that such should be called to its arbitration. The decisions thus made are the decisions of the church, because made by a tribunal acting under her appointment, and they must therefore be submitted to, or the party refusing must suffer the penalty due to his contempt.

Let it be noted that the question to be thus decided is only the right of property. If, as is most generally the case, there is, in connexion with a dispute about such matters, also an injury done to one's personal rights as a Christian, this is to be separated from the proceedings about the right of property, and must be settled according to the forms and before the tribunals already referred to as appointed in such cases.

2. The second class of offences, or those against the church only, and which we designate as public, includes those cases which, while they are against the rights of no particular individual, nevertheless involve the purity of the Christian morals and the hono and influence of the Christian society. These it is the duty of the Elders directly to challenge and investigate. They must be vigilant, (1 Tit. iii.) taking heed to the flock over which they are appointed overseers, (Acts xx.;) and the first appearance of an uncliristian temper in word or deed must be looked to. The first step is a clear and scriptural exposition of the fault, accompanied with such affectionate exhortation as will most likely lead to a reformation.Every thing in Christianity is to be done under the supreme law of

love; hence even the appearance of legal severity is to be avoided as far as the nature of the case will possibly allow. Elders must, therefore, “confute, rebuke, exhort, with all long suffering when TEACHING.” If this course succeeds the point is gained, and unless the offence has been one of such public notoriety as to require a public rebuke, the discipline need go no farther. But they that sin before all MUST BE REBUKED BEFORE ALL. In such cases the president of the eldership must state publicly before the congregation the offence that has been committed, in connexion with the name of the offender, accompanied by such references to the scriptures and observations upon them as will at the time expose the unscriptural character of the case and be likely to deter others from a similar course. The confession of the offender must then be heard, either from himself, or if there be good reasons why he should not be required publicly to acknowledge for himself, from the president for him and with his consent, openly and publicly signified before the whole congregation.

These preliminary steps being gone through, the congregation should then be called upon to express their forgiveness by publicly rising up or such other intelligible sign as may be most expressive of this part of the duty. Such an expression, however, is not to be considered as voting the member into the church, but simply as a formal expression of the willingness and determination of the church to comply with the law of Christ, making it their duty to forgive him that confesses his fault and asks their forgiveness. It is the utterance of an answer which the law itself requires to be given.

Should the Elders, after having duly employed the word of God and their own iniluence in teaching and exhortation, fail to lead the offender to repentance and an acknowledgment of his fault, then the most painful part of discipline becomes necessary, and the offender must be cut off from the congregation. But this is the last extremity and must not be resorted to till all other means authorized by the scriptures have been earnestly and prayerfully applied.Painful as it is, however, and mortifying to the personal friends of the offender and the whole neighborhood, it cannot be neglected without an exhibition of disloyalty injurious to the high character of the church and offensive to the King Messiah. With all gentleness, therefore, but with great firmness and impartiality, must the church proceed in this solemn and mournful duty. A sentence so grave and humiliating must never be lightly given or carelessly made out. Every thing connected with it must be in keeping with

its afflicting influence and with a solemn reference to the honor of the church ard the reformation of the guilty.

When, therefore, all the facts of the case have been fully ascer. tained by the Elders and canvassed in the presence of the offender, and the full measure of teaching and exhortation, required by the law of love and the design of discipline, has been applied—and in vain, then the whole church must be assembled by a public notice to attend for the purpose of administering discipline. This is expedient, that every lover of order and Christian purity may be at bis post. The facts of the case must then be stated, with the evidences by which they are supported, accompanied by a full recital of all that has transpired before the Elders in their previous management of the matter. Next, the law of scripture, applicable to the offence, must be read and its relevancy to the facts made clear; and then the whole congregation must be called upon to stand up and execute the law upon him who has violated it. But here, as in the administration of a public rebuke, we must not misunderstand the nature of the action which the church is required to perform. It is not to vote whether the person arraigned is to be excluded or not. No such usage as this is hinted at by the Apostle. On the contrary, in the case, recorded in 1st Cor., ch. vi., and which we take as the basis of the rule, the Apostle decided the case himself and commanded the congregation simply to execute his decision. We do not mean to say that the Apostle decided the fact for which the discipline was inflicted—this was determined by the testimony which he had heard and to which he alludes; but he decided the question of punishment, that is gave the law and left it to the congregation simply to execute it upon the offender by a public and formal declaration of his excommunication. This decision, as every other one contained in the New Testament and intended for the regulation of the church, is still a law, which the church can neither change nor rightfully vote aside, and in any case of discipline arising under them the only question of investigation is clearly that of the fact. This, if denied, is to be determined by proof, but that this proof is to be elicited before the whole congregation and under the auspices of every volunteer querist and cross-examiner who may choose to speak, is to reduce the church to an unorganized democracy, and at once stultify the entire theory of church order, as developed in the New Testament. The divine model is not thus exhibited. The King Messiah has ordained an eldership for this purpose in every church, and for these purposes clothed them with authority, made them both rulers and teachers, and thus constituted them the tribuna

[ocr errors][merged small]

before which questions of proof and discipline are to be investigated and set in order for final church action. Can any one suppose hat the Apostle would have taken the precaution to give the rule about the settlement of mere business matters and required that they should be investigated by a few wise men, and not by the whole congregation, and at the same time have left such questions as are connected with the higher principles of the Christian morality to be themes for debates by the mixed multitude of a church and questions to be decided by the indiscriminate voting of men, women, and children! Or can we conclude that only the more simple and ordinary affairs of church government are entrusted to the Elders, but such weighty and delicate questions as the examination of testimony, the interpretation and application of law, and the adjustment of perplexed and angry differences are to be committed to the raw wisdom of excitable masses, swayed by the unbridled sophistry of wary and unprincipled offenders; and at best, many of them, but babes in the doctrine of Christ! It is to be regretted, that ever such a conception of the divine wisdom entered into the head of pious Christians, much more that it should have, in some cases, been embodied in the practice of churches, and thus allowed to become the means of degrading the kingdom of Christ and trampling under foot the wise and efficient model of church organization delivered to us in the scriptures.

After a member has been thus cut off, the course to be pursued towards him by the church, and the terms and circumstances upon which he may be readmitted, are matters of the highest importance in discipline; but, as we must here notice a few queries that have been sent us, these points must be deferred till another number.

QUERIES ON XVIII. CHAP. OF MATT. 1. “What is trespass” as spoken of in the 18th chapter of Matthew? Is it a generic or a specific term?

2. In the injunction, “Let him be to you as a heathen,” &c., does the word "yourefer to the congregation or the person trespassed against?

3. What is meant by “as a pagan or publican”?

I have spent many anxious days and nights in studying the 18th chapter of Matthew, and long since come to the conclusion that there is no chapter in the New Testament less understood than it. If you can elucidate it, you will doubtless add much to the common stock of religious knowledge and confer a real favor on your breth

AN INQUISITIVE READER. SERIES 111.-VOL. VI.

ren.

4*

« PrécédentContinuer »