Manual of Church Discipline
REV. ELEAZER SAVAGE
CLASSIFICATION OF OFFENCES.
The simple announcement of this subject, may awaken in many hearts a degree of pain; because, it is at once seen, as necessarily involving the consideration and the correction of the sins of professing Christians. We feel a pungent sympathy with all who may be the subjects of such an emotion; and we would have avoided the occasion of these painful exercises, could we in faithfulness to our high trust, have done so. Our present situation awakens a lively fellow-feeling with the physician. He has portions of professional duty exceedingly painful and trying. Nevertheless, he may not shrink from them through the twinges of delicate feeling, or the gushings of rising sympathy. Nor may the ministers of religion. To treat on the imperfections and sins of Christian professors, and the methods of correcting them, is to imitate the Oracles of God. The Bible takes things as they are; and so must we. It proceeds, in its instructions of every form, upon the principle, that the best men in the Church, may fall by sin; and that the mere professor and hypocrite will fall; that "offences must needs come;" because, remaining and prevailing depravity will induce them; and, therefore, that certain rules of procedure?certain methods of treatment, would be indispensable, in all such cases. The precept, therefore, is provided against the time and the occasion for its employment?against the "coming of offences."
And the sole design of this work, is to bring out that provision. It is not to make new laws of Discipline; but to explain old ones. It is not to be understood ourselves, independent of the Lord; but to have the Master of the house understood, independent of all men; when he speaks, describing the "offence;" and specifying the rule for its treatment.
Corrective Church Discipline is "the right treatment of offending members." That is, the application of right principles, in a right spirit, to their wrong conduct. An offending member is one, who has transgressed some law of Christ?s kingdom; for, "where there is no law, there is no transgression"?no "offence." Offences, as to their magnitude, are to be estimated by the importance of the law violated. Hence, as there are different laws of Christ?s kingdom?laws having different degrees of value and importance, just as there are different laws in a State; so there are different kinds of offences?offences of various magnitude; and, of course, requiring different treatment.
The consideration, therefore, of the nature and kinds of "offences," with their proper methods of treatment, must constitute the theme of that volume, which professes to treat Corrective Church Discipline, in the light of the Holy Scriptures.
There are Five Kinds of offences, namely, minor, the smaller offences; such as should be borne;?private, or such as cannot be proved;?personal, as when one brother injures another in his person, reputation, or property, and there is proof of the fact; public, or such as equally injure all the members, and for which all require an equal satisfaction; and insufferable, that is, offences of such enormity as require the immediate and positive removal of the member from the body, for the honor of the cause.
Before entering upon the particular examination of these different kinds of offences, with the rule of treatment required by each, we wish to make a few general remarks, anticipating some exceptions to the classification of offences which we have made; and showing the reasons on which it is based.
Under some one of these five heads, we think, every offence may find what, on the whole, may be justly considered its proper place. Yet there are what might be regarded, at first view, apparent exceptions. For example, a minor offence may inflict, to some extent, a personal or a public injury; and therefore, be, in some sense, a personal or a public offence; and yet, because it is one of such nature, as to require us to act on the rule of forbearance, we place it under the distinct head of minor offences. Again; a private offence is a personal one, and might be said to be one class of personal offences; but the ground on which the distinction is based, is the total lack of evidence in the case; and, consequently, the requisition of a different rule of treatment. For, if there are two cases, in one of which there is no evidence, and in the other, proof, do not all see that necessity will give birth to different rules of treatment? In this first case, nothing can be done beyond private interviews. In other cases of personal offence, that is, where there is proof, investigation may be carried on to any desirable extent, because the means of conviction are in the possession of the injured brother. Hence, the ground of the distinction between private and personal offences, is the lack of evidence in the one case, and the possession of it in the other; and the necessity of treating them by different rules. Again; there might seem to be another exception in the case of certain personal offences which are quite public, and therefore nearly allied to public offences. But mark the ground of the distinction here. All real public offences, properly so called, equally injure all the members; but public personal offences do not equally injure all. All, by such an offence, may be injured, and all, because it is public, may require satisfaction; but is not one member, after all, injured more than all the other members taken together? And will he not, therefore, feel more sensibly; and by a natural necessity take hold of the work of correction? Moreover, the two cases require different rules of treatment. In all cases of public offence, the offender may be called upon by the church, if he be present, directly; or, if absent, in any kind, efficient manner, to give satisfaction. But in all cases of personal offence, there requires private interviews, with a view, if possible, to settle the matter of difference; and prevent its being brought to the church. The reasons of this position will appear in their proper place. Once more; a case of insufferable offence, that is, one which requires immediate exclusion, may be personal or public; and yet, because it is an offence of so high an order, as to demand prompt excommunication, it receives the appellation of insufferable. For example, forgery. An offence of this kind may be to the special injury of a brother, and therefore, be personal. It may be against a man of the world, thus equally injuring all the members, and therefore, be a public offence; and yet, is properly denominated insufferable, because the rules specially applicable in other cases, are at once superseded, and the only true rule?the ascertainment of the fact, is promptly acted upon; and his excision is made, at once, as far as it can go, to wipe out the deep crimson stain upon the reputation of the church and the cause.
It will be perceived, then, that the grand reason for the classification of all offences under the preceding five heads, lies in the nature and necessarily different treatment of offences. Offences are almost endlessly various in their aspects; and yet, each offence, when duly considered in its attendant circumstances and degree, will readily suggest its own class, and thus fix its own rule. Every offence is, on the whole, minor, requiring gentle admonition and forbearance; or private, requiring private correction, but justifying no farther proceedings, for want of evidence; or strictly personal, requiring the employment of the three steps of labor, according to the 18th of Matthew, if the wrong be persisted in; or public, requiring the notice and public correction of the church; or insufferable, demanding prompt exclusion for the honor of Christianity among men.
Having made these remarks by way of justifying the foregoing classification of offences, we proceed to the particular examination of the different kinds of offences; and the rules prescribed for their treatment.
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