DEVELOPMENT OF THE SCRIPTURAL
PRINCIPLES UPON WHICH IT IS BASED.
Questions Suggested by the Previous
Question.?1. SUPPOSE the aggrieved attempt to bring strictly private offences into the Church without taking "gospel steps:" what should be done?
Ans.?It is the duty of the pastor or other Moderator to inquire whether the Saviour?s directions have been followed, and, if he finds that they have not been, he should rule as out of order the introduction of the case. If the pastor should fail to discharge this duty, then it will be competent for any member to raise the point of order, and to appeal from the decision of the chair, if it be in violation of the Saviour?s rule. And the Church, when thus appealed to, is in duty bound to overrule by vote the decision of its presiding officer. This is said of offences exclusively that are purely personal,?when the act is not a crime against religion and morality, and the object affected by it is a brother. In "mixed offences," where the act complained of is a gross immorality,?as theft, slander, seduction, fraud, personal violence, and libel,?it will not be out of order for the Church to entertain the charge though no "gospel steps" have been taken, since, as has been shown, these and the like gross offences against religion and morality are "public offences," though they may have been committed against a church member.
But it may be asked, "May not the arraigned himself raise the point of order?" Most assuredly. "And if raised by him, how is it to be decided?" By the ruling of the Moderator first, and, if this be appealed from, by the vote of the Church. And the decision of the Church is final. "But if he claims to think it to be purely a private offence, and that, therefore, the proceedings are premature, is it not a great hardship and injustice to the accused for the Church to entertain the charge?" Assuredly not, if he is innocent. In our courts of justice, parties arraigned for crime pick flaws in the indictment, and endeavor to quash the proceedings on technical grounds, when they feel themselves in doubt as to their ability to meet the main issue successfully. But when they are satisfied that they are able to clear their character from aspersion before their fellow citizens, they waive all plea from informality of proceedings, and court a thorough investigation. It would be a great outrage to withhold from an arraigned man the charges alleged against him, or to press him to trial without giving him reasonable time to prepare for it; but a slight mistake in the technical wording of the indictment is neither outrage nor injustice to him,?nor would he avail himself of it to quash proceedings, unless he felt conscious that he needed such a plea, and placed a higher estimate upon a mere release from trial than upon his good name and standing among his fellows. In no respect can injustice be done to the accused by what he is pleased to consider a premature entertainment of the charge. He is either guilty or innocent of theft, or fraud, or personal violence, or libel, or other gross crime committed against another, a church member or not. If guilty, no arraignment after the commission of that act can be premature. If innocent, he cannot too soon be afforded an opportunity to free himself from the charge. And when one thus charged strives to divert attention from the indictment, and endeavors to fix it upon some alleged informality, he goes far to show to all discerning persons that he is conscious of an inability to meet the issue; and, to say the least, he excites in their minds a strong suspicion of his guilt.
In another connection the question will be discussed as to how far responsibility attaches to the arraigned when the Church, in the management of his case, treats as "public" that which is purely a "private" case; and what in the premises are his duties to the cause of Christ.
Strictly private offences, however, should be ruled out of order when attempted to be brought into the Church without previous "gospel steps" resorted to ineffectually. If the complainant, through ignorance, attempts to introduce it, he should be kindly instructed as to his duty. If he acts thus with willful disregard of his obligations, he should be reproved and compelled to follow the Saviour?s rule.1
Question.?2. Suppose the complainant drops the subject and takes no further action: what then?
Ans. 1.?If he silently bears his grievance and suppresses all resentment, making it not the occasion of disturbance, his patience and meekness (if he is influenced by these) is commendable; but he is guilty of sin in not obeying his Saviour and attempting to "gain his brother."
Ans. 2.?If the variance continues, the Church may, and is in duty bound to, arraign both parties,?one for failing to follow the instructions of Christ, the other for his trespass; and both for being, by their wrangling, disturbers of the peace.
Question.?3. Whose duty is it to arraign a public offender?
Ans.?Any one who witnessed the act, or has heard the rumor of it, or has felt the effect of it. On no plea of obscurity, or youth, or sex, can church-
members excuse themselves for silence and inaction, while public offenders are wounding Christ in the house of His friends. Nothing said above, though, is designed to condemn those who, on account of obscurity, youth, or sex, prefer to put the facts into the hands of more aged and influential brethren, holding themselves in readiness to act as witnesses when called on.
Caution.?It may, however, in some cases, be best to see the offender first, before you act.
1. You may have been the only one who witnessed the deed. In that case, it would be best to ascertain whether he will acknowledge it. He may, when you arraign him, plead not guilty. Should he do so, and his previous character be unimpeached, you may place yourself and the Church in an embarrassing position. Your charge will be met by his denial; and there will be simply a question of veracity between you. Now, it is not impossible for a charge of gross immorality in overt act to be brought miraculously against an innocent person. Unless, then, you can present corroborating circumstances to sustain your allegation, in the event he will plead not guilty, painful as it may be, you had better remain silent, and wait until the developments of Providence shall further expose him. Instances have been known in which Churches have been compelled to excommunicate both the arraigner and arraigned from not being able to know whether the latter had been guilty or only maliciously slandered, and because of the irritation caused by the question of veracity. When more than one, however, are able to testify to the fact, or circumstances strongly corroborate the allegation, the offender need not be seen first.
2. By seeing the offender first, he may be induced to bring the matter forward himself, and thus relieve others from an unpleasant and sometimes hazardous duty.
3. In the case of a report to the disadvantage of a brother, it is especially important that you see him first before you act. The report you have heard may not be general rumor, but a falsehood of limited circulation and recent origin. For you to announce this in the public meeting of the Church will be to give it a wider circulation. It is always proper, then, for you first to put your brother in possession of the report circulating to his discredit, and aid him to trace it up to its source. If, after this, the rumor increases, and seems to be well founded, and the brother tries to hush it up,?declining to take any further action in the premises,?it is your duty to name it in the Church, that a committee of investigation may be appointed.
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