Images de page
PDF
ePub

is inconsistent with their professed relations and hopes as members of Christ's body. These reasons are of permanent force. Differences among men are often decided, in human law, not according to equity, but by legal technicalities; this rule was intended to secure a judgment according to equity and the spirit of Christianity.

IV. PROCEDURE IN CASES OF PUBLIC OFFENCE, EMBRACING ALL OFFENCES AGAINST THE FAITH AND LIFE REQUIRED IN A CHURCH MEMBER, such as immoralities, heresy, covetousness, the making of divisions, habitual neglect of covenanted duties, and persistent violation of church order.

In the apostolic churches the elders, as overseers-rulers -of the flock, had the special responsibility of maintaining the discipline of the church. This is implied in Paul's address to the elders of Ephesus (Acts xx.), and in the qualification for the eldership stated 1 Tim. iii. 4, 5: “One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity: for if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God ?” The method of procedure indicated (Matt. xviii. 15–17), though there applied only to cases of personal grievance, is doubtless in spirit to be observed in all cases; for, in Tit. iii. 10, it is directed that the heretic be excluded only “after the first and second admonitions." The

. process, then, would be substantially this: 1. The officers, becoming aware of reports implicating a member, would proceed privately to investigate them, and, if found true, would endeavor to reclaim. This is the most important step, since, if taken tenderly and privately, it is generally effectual. 2. The first effort failing, another would be made with every additional appliance which Christian fidelity and kindness could suggest. 3. This also failing, they would bring the case before the church with all the evi

[ocr errors]

dence; and if their statement of the case was controverted, the accused would have full opportunity for defence. The church would then decide, and, if adversely to the accused, they would require reparation or would proceed to exclusion.

The following points are here to be observed: 1. The rules of evidence which obtain in courts of law, since they are founded on essential justice, must govern in the reception of evidence in a trial before the church, except that the witnesses are not placed under oath; no evidence, therefore, which would be rejected in a legal trial can be accepted by a church. The application of this rule is specially important, since in cases of church scandal the popular gossip is so often mistaken for solid evidence. 2. In case of gross immorality, where the evidence is public and unmistakable, the exclusion is immediate and without formal trial, and the steps to bring the offender to repentance and restoration are taken afterward. This is evidently the course pursued in the case of the incestuous person described 1 Cor. v. and 2 Cor. ii. 1-11. The ground of this summary procedure is that the circumstances are such as to make confession worthless as evidence of penitence; only a subsequent life of purity can furnish this evidence. The church, however, is bound to use every effort afterward to save and restore those thus excluded. In this duty there is too often a lamentable failure, and the offender, whom persistent love and kindness might have reclaimed, is left by neglect to perish in his sin. 3. In our churches, as now organized without a plural eldership, the initiation of discipline commonly devolves on the pastors and deacons, who constitute practically, for this and other purposes, a church presbytery. In some churches there is a standing committee of discipline, on whom this responsibility rests. In others no definite arrangement exists, and it is left to any member to bring offences to the notice of the church; too often, from lack of early and private attention to offenders, the case has gone so far that the public discipline, when instituted, is almost necessarily unavailing to reclaim.

Exclusion is the final act of church power. It is the solemn withdrawal of fellowship from the offender, by which he ceases to be a member and is placed back in the world. Its effect on reputation, however, is modified by the nature of the offence requiring it. Hence, a distinction is sometimes made in the form of the act. In cases of vital error or immorality, involving the forfeiture of Christian character, the hand of Christian fellowship is withdrawn; while in cases of the violation of church order and of other offences, where the substance of Christian character may remain unimpeached, the hand of church fellowship is withdrawn. This, however, is a matter of mere custom; in any case, the formal relation of the excluded person as a member of the church is terminated.

The discipline of a minister is peculiar in two respects : 1. An accusation is to be received with unusual caution, both because his position creates a presumption in his favor, and because, as a minister, he is peculiarly exposed to malice. Paul enjoined: “Against an elder receive not an accusation but before two or three witnesses” (1 Tim. v. 19). 2. The action of a Council, as it was had to invest him with the ministerial office, should also be had to divest him of it. When, therefore, charges are preferred against a minister, it is the duty of the church so far to examine them as to determine whether the case is sufficiently serious to require an investigation; and, in the event of it so appearing, the church is then to summon a Council to investigate the charges. If the trial

a

results in a conviction, the Council first proceeds to withdraw from him what the ordaining Council had imparted —that is, the fellowship, on the part of the ministry and churches, for him as a minister of the gospel, and the authority to exercise among them the functions of the sacred office; and it then advises the church to divest him of his pastoral office, his license, and his membership. These, as they were originally conferred by the church, can only be withdrawn by it; in reference to them, the action of the Council is only advisory.

A scriptural discipline, administered with tenderness and fidelity, is of the highest moment for the welfare of the church. It is an urgent necessity alike for the help of individual souls and for the purity, peace, and moral power of the body. Disorderly, inconsistent life in the church paralyzes the power of the pulpit; no other cause, probably, is so potent for evil in the churches as the general neglect of a true church discipline.

SECTION X.

THE CHURCH: VALID ONLY AS CONFORMED TO

GOD'S WORD.

The principles relating to the church which have thus far been established may be concisely stated as follows: 1. A divine constitution of the church is given in the New Testament, and is the only form authorized by Christ; it is, therefore, of solemn and permanent obligation. 2. A church, being an institution within the kingdom of Christ, is properly composed only of subjects of that kingdom; its membership consists, therefore, only of credible believers in Christ, baptized on a personal

[ocr errors]

profession of their faith in him. 3. All members of a church, as alike related to Christ, have equal rights; the vital powers of the body, therefore, are to be exercised by the whole congregation. 4. Each church is independent, and, while owing important duties to its sister-churches, is accountable, not to them nor to any outside body, but directly to Christ as Head of the church. 5. The officers of a church are bishops and deacons, the former supervising the spiritual, the latter the temporal, interests of the body.

The question remains to be considered : How may a true church of Christ be known? What constitutes a body of professing Christians a true church of Christ? We answer :

I. NOT MERE HISTORIC SUCCESSION FROM THE APOSTLES.

1. Were such an historic succession essential to the validity of a church, it would follow that the Scriptures are an insufficient guide in faith and practice, since the fact of such succession in the case of any church could not be ascertained from Scripture, but only from tradition. In this case, also, the great body of Christians could never certainly know the true church, as they could not make the historical investigation; and even if the investigation were made, their confidence must then rest on the testimony, not of God, but of man. 2. There might be an historic succession from the apostles, yet, in the lapse of ages, the whole form, doctrine, spirit, and life of the body be changed. The mere outward historic connection, therefore, might be no proof of identity of character.

It is possible, indeed, that there has been a continued succession of true churches from the Apostolic age to the present, although, in the present stage of historic investi

« PrécédentContinuer »