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V. The exercise of discipline in such a manner as to edify the church, requires not only much of the spirit of piety, but also much prudence and discretion. It becomes the rulers of the church, therefore, to take into view all the circumstances which may give a different character to conduct, and render it more or less offensive; and which may, of course, require a very different mode of proceeding in similar cases, at different times, for the attainment of the same end.
VI. All baptized persons are members of the church, are under its care, and subject to its government and discipline: and when they have arrived at the years of discretion, they are bound to perform all the duties of church members.
VII. Offences are either private or public to each of which, appropriate modes of proceeding belong.
OF PRIVATE OFFENCES.
I. PRIVATE offences are such as are known only to an individual, or, at most, to a very few.
II. Private offences ought not to be immediately prosecuted before a church judicatory, because the objects of discipline may be quite as well, and, in many cases, much better at
tained, by a different course; and because a public prosecution, in such circumstances, would tend unnecessarily to spread the knowledge of offences, to exasperate and harden offenders, to extend angry and vexatious litigation, and thus to render the discipline of the church more injurious than the original offence.
III. No complaint or information, on the subject of personal and private injuries, shall be admitted, unless those means of reconciliation, and of privately reclaiming the offender, have been used, which are required by Christ, Matt. xviii. 15, 16. And in case of offences, which, though not personal, are private, that is, known only to one, or a very few, it is proper to take the same steps, as far as circumstances admit.
IV. Those who bring information of private and personal injuries before judicatories, without having taken these previous steps, shall themselves be censured, as guilty of an offence against the peace and order of the church.
V. If any person shall spread the knowledge of an offence, unless so far as shall be unavoidable, in prosecuting it before the proper judicatory, or in the due performance of some other indispensable duty, he shall be liable to censure, as a slanderer of his brethren.
OF PUBLIC OFFENCES.
I. A PUBLIC offence is that which is attended with such circumstances as to require the cognizance of a church judicatory.
II. This is always the case when an offence is either so notorious and scandalous, as that no private steps would obviate its injurious effects; or when, though originally known to one, or a few, the private steps have been ineffectual, and there is, obviously, no way of removing the offence, but by means of a judicial process.
III. An offence, gross in itself, and known to several, may be so circumstanced, that it plainly cannot be prosecuted to conviction. In such cases, however grievous it may be to the pious, to see an unworthy member in the church, it is proper to wait until God, in his righteous providence, shall give further light; as few things tend more to weaken the authority of discipline, and to multiply offences, than to commence process without sufficient proof.
IV. When any person is charged with a crime, not by an individual, or individuals, coming forward as accusers, but by general rumour, the previous steps prescribed by our Lord in case of private offences, are not necessary; but the proper judicatory is bound to take immediate cognizance of the affair.
V. In order to render an offence proper for the cognizance of a judicatory on this ground, the rumour must specify some particular sin or sins; it must be general, or widely spread; it must not be transient, but permanent, and rather gaining strength than declining: and it must be accompanied with strong presumption of truth. Taking up charges on this ground, of course, requires great caution, and the exercise of much Christian prudence.
VI. It may happen, however, that in consequence of a report, which does not fully amount to a general rumor, as just described, a slandered individual may request a judicial investigation, which it may be the duty of the judi catory to institute.
OF ACTUAL PROCESS.
I. WHEN all other means of removing an offence have failed, the judicatory to which cognizance of it properly belongs, shall judicially take it into consideration.
II. There are two modes in which an offence may be brought before a judicatory: either by an individual or individuals, who appear as accusers, and undertake to substantiate the charge; or by common fame.
III. In the former case, process must be
pursued in the name of the accuser or accusers. In the latter, there is no need of naming any person as the accuser. Common fame is the accuser. Yet a general rumor may be raised by the rashness, censoriousness, or malice, of one or more individuals. When this appears to have been the case, such individuals ought to be censured in proportion to the degree of criminality which appears attached to their conduct.
IV. Great caution ought to be exercised in receiving accusations from any person who is known to indulge a malignant spirit towards the accused; who is not of good character; who is himself under censure or process; who is deeply interested, in any respect, in the conviction of the accused; or who is known to be litigious, rash, or highly imprudent.
V. When a judicatory enters on the consideration of a crime or crimes alleged, no more shall be done, at the first meeting, unless by consent of parties, than to give the accused a copy of each charge with the names of the witnesses to support it; and to cite all concerned to appear at the next meeting of the judicatory, to have the matter fully heard and decided. Notice shall be given to the parties concerned, at least ten days previously to the meeting of the judicatory.
VI. The citations shall be issued and signed by the moderator or clerk, by order, and in the name of the judicatory. He shall also furnish