committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs

 

Manual of Church Discipline

REV. ELEAZER SAVAGE

 

CHAPTER VI.

FIFTH CLASS OF OFFENCES, INSUFFERABLE.

 

Offences of the fifth and last class, are insufferable ones, or such as require immediate exclusion for the honor of the cause. Such are cases of notorious and complicated wickedness.

Now when we take into the account the fact, that Christians themselves are only partly sanctified; subject to the sallies of carnal passion, the seductions of the world, and the temptations of Satan: and another fact, that some, perhaps many in the church, are not Christians at all, but deceived or deceivers; and another fact, still, that the sacred enclosure, in these degenerate days, is but feebly guarded, and the influx of the foolish with the wise, very great, we have reason to expect that sins of great enormity will be perpetrated by church members, even high civil offences and capital crimes. For example, perjury, forgery, grand larceny, absconding in debt, habitual licentiousness, murder, treason, and such like gross violations of moral, civil, and criminal law.

Now the rule given by Paul for one of these cases, namely: notorious and aggravating licentiousness, is found in 1 Cor. 5:13 and is the true rule for all of them.

"Put away from among yourselves that wicked person."

Hear the apostle, at large, on the case and its treatment. "It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father?s wife. And ye have not mourned that he that hath done this deed, might be taken away from among you. For I, as present in spirit, have judged already concerning him that hath so done this deed. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such an one unto Satan, for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Therefore, put away from among yourselves that wicked person."

Hence the rule for such high offences, is, exclude, without the ceremony of labor, upon the simple and certain ascertainment of the facts.

The decision and the action, in all such cases, must be, as in case of a gangrene member which threatens the life of the body. Hasten amputation! For, be it remembered, the honor of the cause, bleeding at every pore in such case, is the great consideration. And this will demand prompt exclusion, as certainly in the world?s estimation, as that of the Church. All, with one voice, pronounce the offence insufferable; one that is not to be tolerated, "no, not for an hour." Even strong manifestations of remorse or sorrow for the crime, must not shield from the stroke of separation. The rule is: "Put away from among you that wicked person." This was the apostle?s own solemn inspired direction, in the case of the incestuous Corinthian, as we have seen. It was promptly obeyed; and the results were alike salutary upon the unhappy individual and the shame-stricken church.?2 Cor. 2.

Some may object to this view as being a course too summary, and as savoring of a spirit too uncompromising and too unforgiving, to accord to the genius of the gospel; and especially in case of real penitence. They may think that a transgression, however atrocious, if there be penitence in the case, should be forgiven; and the member retained in the church.

But it should always be remembered that there are two interests to be regarded, in every case of discipline, namely: the honor of God among men, and the good of the offender. On the one hand, those Scriptures which speak of telling offenders their faults in order to "gain" them; of "exhorting" them to obedience; of "admonishing" them; of "restoring" them; and of "delivering them to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" clearly show, that their good is to be one great consideration in their treatment. On the other hand, those passages which speak of the "name of God being profaned among the heathen," by his people; of his "name being blasphemed among the Gentiles through them;" of the necessity of "having a good report of them without;" and of "letting our light so shine before men, that they may see our good works, and glorify our Father which is in heaven," all show, with equal clearness, that regard in all our conduct, in the Church and elsewhere, is to be had to the honor of God, among those without the Christian community.

Now, in one given case, both these interests may be duly regarded and perfectly secured by the discipline, penitence, forgiveness, and retention in the church, of an offender. A large majority of public offences are of this class.

In a second case, both these interests may be secured by exclusion, far as they can be secured at all. Exclusion may alike clear the Church, honor God, and inflict a merited and salutary punishment upon an offender. The case of the ill-famed Corinthian was of this class.

In a third case, in which the offence is very great, abhorrent in its nature, and aggravating in its circumstances; is generally known and deeply felt; and in which the penitence is real to all appearance, but of course, lacking in that practical evidence of its genuineness, which, lies in the "forsaking?? and the "fruit;" which full repentance includes; which time only can give, and which all the community seem to demand in order to satisfaction, exclusion, it must take place for the honor of God, as well as the good of the offender. And, be it remembered, the painful act, if penitence is not genuine, is just and called for in the case; and if it be genuine, will not injure the offender. He will feel that exclusion in his case, is not vindictive, but perfectly consistent with a spirit of benevolence and forgiveness, as well as justice. And, so far from being injured by it, even in feeling, will invite it for the cause?s sake. And, in his case, will be seen the truth of the Scripture: "Godly sorrow worketh repentance unto salvation." His sorrow will work out the practical demonstration of its genuineness?will work reformation, and ultimate restoration. And thus the awful extremity of exclusion, become the actual security of the two great interests in question: the honor of God among men, and the good of a fallen brother. A case of habitual licentiousness would be of this class.

In a fourth case, in which the offence is of an high order: perjury, forgery, grand larceny, murder, or treason, and so consigning the offender to the State Prison or the gallows; and in which there is every possible demonstration of genuine penitence, that tears, and confessions, and reparation can furnish, exclusion, of course, must take place at once, upon the ascertainment of the fact.

And, hence, the position that every offender, in case of real penitence for his sin, should be retained in the Church, as well as forgiven, is as impracticable, in point of fact, as it is inconsistent with the universal sense of right.

 
 
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