of Church Discipline
OF CHURCH CENSURES
1. Church censures are properly but two; admonition or rebuke, and excommunication: for suspension in most cases, is rather a delay or postponement of censure.
2. Admonition and rebuke are nearly synonymous. The first is of the nature of advice, entreaty, warning, I Cor. x. 11. Acts. xxvii. 9. 2 Thes. iii. 15. 1 Tim. v. 1. Tit. iii. 10. The other carries in it more of reprehension, severity, and authority, Levit. xix. 17. Luke xix. 39. 2 Tim. iv. 2. Tit. ii. 15.
3. Admonition or rebuke is either private or public.
4. Private admonition is when the offence, whether against God, or more especially against a particular person, is private and not much known, Rom. xv. 14. Luke xvii. 3.
5. In this case, the offended brother is not to divulge the matter, but to go to the offender, and endeavour in a tender, friendly manner, to convince and reclaim his brother. If he succeeds, and the offending brother shews signs of repentance, and promises amendment, the matter is to end there. But if not, the offended brother is to take one or two of the brethren with him, such as he shall judge most likely to gain on his brother. If this admonition also should take no effect, the matter is to be brought before the church, Matt. xviii. 15?17.
6. This rule holds good, let the offence be of ever so heinous a nature, provided it be private.
7. When it is brought before the church, after the charge is proved, should he deny it, the minister is to admonish, and endeavour in the spirit of meekness to reclaim the offender, I Tim. v. 20. Tit i. 13. Should this prove ineffectual, and the offender continue obstinate and impenitent, the church is to proceed to higher acts of censure, and, in some cases, if he is penitent, as we shall see in the 16th verse, Matt, xviii. 17.
8. Should any private matter be brought into the church, before the previous steps have been taken, the person that brings it in ought to be severely reproved and admonished, and that publicly before the church, for his irregular and injurious conduct therein: yet nevertheless, the church must now take it in hand, forasmuch as it will then be no longer private, but will require public satisfaction.
9. Public admonition or rebuke also takes place in regard to public offences, of a less heinous nature, but unseemly in christians, and unworthy of their vocation, Rom. xiv. 22. Matt. v. 22. I Cor. viii. 12.
10. Suspension is to be used, when a person, under the first admonition or rebuke in the church, proves incorrigible. For, since there is to be a second admonition, Titus iii. 10. he ought, while we are waiting to see the effect of the first, to be put under suspension, and debarred the privileges of the church, Rev. ii. 21.
11. When a charge is brought into the church against a person, if he denies it, and witnesses are not at hand, or some other circumstances make it inconvenient for the present to discuss the matter, it will be necessary to lay him, in the mean time, under suspension from the Lord?s table, until the matter can come to an hearing, Lev. Chapters XIII, XIV.
12. Suspension is also used, when the offence is not sufficiently great, or is not yet ripe for the great sentence of excommunication. Such is not to be accounted as an enemy, but to be exhorted as a brother; in union, though not in communion. 2 Thes. iii. 6, 7, 10, 11, 14, 15.
13. To the above three cases, wherein suspension is to take place, we may add a fourth, and that is, when a person is called in question for some high misdemeanor, for which he ought to be excommunicated, it is thought, that if there are strong signs of genuine repentance, the infliction of the sentence ought to be dispensed with, yet nevertheless, the guilty person ought to be suspended from communion for a time, as a testimony of the church?s indignation against every species of wickedness, and in vindication of the honour and glory of God. Thus the Lord appointed concerning Miriam, that she should be shut out of the camp seven days, and then received in again, Numb. xii. 14. 15.
14. The last and highest act of church censure is excommunication, to which recourse must be had, when previous censures have not their due effect, in bringing persons dealt with to repentance, provided the matters for which they are under dealing, with the circumstances of aggravation during the course of said dealing, manifestly involve immorality or heresy.8
15. Acts of immorality include not only the particulars of the decalogue, but also the commands, appointments, institutions, and ordinances contained in the New Testament: for a breach of any positive injunction, or requirement of divine authority, must involve in it a breach of morality.
16. There should be care taken, however, not to make forced constructions of implicit immorality, as for instance, to charge a person with transgressing the rule in Heb. x. 25. and breach of covenant, because he neglects his place, attends worship elsewhere, and perhaps with those of a different persuasion, but pleads greater edification, and perhaps, conscience,9 lest we should act the part of Diotrephes. 3 John 10.
17. When a member is found guilty of some gross act of immorality, and which is notorious and scandalous, the church should proceed to this censure in the first place, without the previous steps of admonition and reproof, in order to vindicate the credit of their holy profession, and to manifest their abhorrence of such abomination, I Cor. v. 1, 2, 7, 13. I Tim. v. 24.
18. Such as are heretical in their principles, denying some essential doctrine, or holding and teaching such as may be unsound and scandalous, come under the notice of this ordinance, Gal. i. 6, 7. compared with Chap. v. 12. I Tim. i. 19, 20. vi. 3-5. 2 Tim. ii. 16-18. Rev. ii. 14, 15, 20. 2 Cor. ii. 6.
19. The charge being sufficiently proved in the opinion of the church, and they having determined on the person?s exclusion, and set the time for that purpose, the minister is to lay open the heinousness of the crime, with the aggravating circumstances thereof, and the scandal such an one is become to religion; he is to apply the particular places of scripture, that may be pertinent to the case, in order to charge the offence home on the conscience of the offender, if present, and that others also may fear; he is to open the nature and end of the censure, expressing the solemn sense of himself and church on this awful occasion; and then he is, in the presence of the church, to cut off and seclude such an offender by name from the union and communion of the church, so that he is not, henceforth to be looked upon, deemed or accounted a brother, or a member of such a church, until God shall restore him again by repentance, for which they pray.
20. This exclusion is an authoritative putting of such a person out of the church, to keep it pure, and in order to his being humbled and broken under a sight and sense of his sins, and where there are signs of this he ought to be restored, 2 Cor. ii. 6, 7, 8.
21. When a person about to be excommunicated judges himself aggrieved by party influence or otherwise, he has a right to insist on a council being called from a neighbouring church or churches, and the church ought to agree to it, and allow him the choice of one half of the council.
22. If the church should refuse to call in a council, and cut the person off, or should they do it contrary to the advice of the council, the person aggrieved may lay a statement of his case before the Association, who may appoint a council, and if the church should refuse to admit of a rehearing before said council, or should refuse to abide by the decision of the council, the Association may bring said church under dealing, and, if the church continues obstinate, a neighbouring church may receive the aggrieved person into their communion.10
23. In transacting church business, it is not to be expected that unanimity will always prevail: Some will, at times, be in the minority. These have sometimes taken offence, and declined keeping their places in the church for a while. This is very wrong and irregular. For suppose a church does ever so wrong, yet any individual, after bearing his testimony against it, has done his duty, and cleared his conscience, and ought therefore to keep his place, except in case of material defection from the faith. It has been thought by good men, that our Lord communed with Judas, though he knew at the time what he was.
24. Although a church may refuse a person when he offers for membership, if they have good cause to suspect, that he is not truly religious, yet they have no right to exclude him afterward, upon the like suspicion. They may at first judge in his favour, but cannot afterwards, reverse the sentence. Excommunication is only for immorality or heresy. As for their dying away, or seeming to die away in religion, the rule is, "Let them grow together until the harvest," Matt. xiii. 30.
25. There ought to be meetings of business every month, two months, or quarterly, and not do all their business on days of preparation, lest something should happen, that might discompose the minds of some, and so unfit them for the holy communion next day.
26. Every church should keep a book of records, and enter therein all their transactions, that it may at any time afterwards be known, what was done and how it was done.
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