Manual of Church Discipline
REV. ELEAZER SAVAGE
1. In the light of the subject of these pages, and as lying at the foundation of it, we have seen that the best men in the Church MAY err; and that the worst men WILL err.
Every thing in this world is stamped with imperfection. Here there is no perfect honor nor happiness; no perfect relations nor friends; no perfect Christians nor Churches. Sin with unhallowed footstep, advances along; and intrudes itself into every dear association on earth; separating very friends; breaking up the peace of home; and oft sundering, by its withering touch the hearts of Christians, though "linked together in many bonds." But, if there were any bounds to its progress, these, we should suppose, would be the confines of the church; if any barrier to its advance, the threshhold of God?s temple; if any place of its eternal exclusion, the family of Christ. But, even here, "offences must needs come."
2. Each kind of offence should be learned and remembered, in its distinctive feature and rule of treatment.
We have reduced all offences to five classes.
1. Minor; the smaller offences; such as should be borne. The distinctive feature of this class is, they are infirmities, natural or acquired. The rule: "We, then, that are strong, ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves."
2. Private, or such as cannot be proved. The distinctive feature of this class, is, a lack of evidence. The rule: "Go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone;" or, "Debate thy cause with thy neighbor himself, and discover not a secret to another."
3. Personal, as when one brother injures another in his person, reputation, or property, and there is proof of the fact. The distinctive feature of this class, is, personal injury and proof of it.
The rule: "If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone; if he shall bear thee thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses, every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church; but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican."
4. Public, or such as equally injure all the members of the church, and for which all require an equal satisfaction. The distinctive feature of this class, is, equal injury of all, and equal satisfaction to all, the members. The general rule: "Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear."
5. Insufferable. The distinctive feature of this class is, such enormity of offence as requires prompt exclusion for the honor of the cause. The rule, "Put away from among yourselves that wicked person."
Now this classification of offences, with the distinctive feature of each class; and the rule of treatment in each case, should be as familiar to every church member, as the multiplication table is, to every active arithmetician. To be able to class ever-occurring offences; and to select the rule of treatment, is a great and noble attainment. A good disciplinarian is a good physician. He can heal the difficulty. And why may not all become such?
Discipline is far less difficult of understanding, than we, at first, might suppose. The Saviour?s provision for the correction of offences, has a most instructive simplicity. He knew that "offences must needs come;" and offences, too, of various type; and that they must be corrected. And yet, all that he himself has said, and all that his inspired servants have said, is embraced in a few, brief, simple sentences. The direction has meaning enough, for the tallest intellect; and plainness sufficient, for the weakest understanding. The essence of all divine principles and rules of discipline, is this. Now, your brother has done wrong. You must not suffer the sin to pass uncorrected. It would injure your brother, and hurt the cause. You must pity him and go and see him, and show him his fault. And if you do not succeed in helping him to see, and realize, and retrace his wrongs; then you must get one or two to go with you to see him; and to use their influence with him; and if still unsuccessful, you must bring his case to the Church. And if all your kindness and care and effort to save him prove unavailing; then you must, still kindly, but solemnly, and formally, and promptly, exclude him from the Church.
This, we repeat, is the essence of all divine principles and rules of Discipline. How plain! How easy of understanding! Why, then, are individuals and Churches so often whelmed in deepest difficulty, in correcting the wrongs of an offender? We answer; plainly, because simple, as are the principles of discipline; easy, as is the classification of offences; and plain, as are the methods of treatment, few have so accurate knowledge of these things, as to know what to do, in any given case. We fully believe that, in nine cases out of ten, for the want of such knowledge, the injured brother or Church has settled upon some improper course of procedure. And "Behold, how great matter a little fire kindleth!" Zion?s sorest troubles have arisen, from the wrong treatment of offences, rather than from the offences themselves, simply considered. Let, then, all thoroughly acquaint themselves with this subject. Let each kind of offence be learned and remembered, in its distinctive feature, and rule of treatment. And we add, with emphasis, let it be done at the right time, when no case is on hand to bias the judgment, if possible. Discipline is generally studied, when we want the knowledge of it, rather than when we may want it.
3. The importance of the strictest practical adherence to the laws of discipline, and the spirit of those laws, can scarcely be estimated.
It is not enough, that these laws be understood; they must be employed in every required case, and that in their true healing spirit. The high and professed object of discipline, is the purity of the Church. In the language of Solomon, that "iniquity may be purged." But mark the grand specific: "mercy and truth." "By mercy and truth, iniquity is purged." This is the celestial combination?these the two simple but sovereign ingredients, in the Divine prescription. And whosoever the subject may be, whether a wise man or a fool, learned or ignorant, rich or poor, the prescription is the same. The provision knows no lurking favoritisms, no invidious partialities. It is "truth and mercy," for each and for all. "Truth" secures the certain application of the law; "mercy," its kind and right application. The one consults the honor of God; the other, the good of the offender. Truth, without mercy, would lead to an unfeeling and crushing severity; mercy, without truth, to a criminal and ruinous laxness. They must both operate, but not apart; they must both be employed, but always together. And the richest results will flow to the Church and to the world. Purity, peace, prosperity, and heavenly honor, will bless and adorn beloved Mount Zion, again, "the joy of the whole earth!" Her Discipline, like the skillful pruning process, will vastly improve the fairness and the flavor of her fruit as well as her general beauty, by the removal of what is straggling and redundant; and by the rearing up of those branches, which, by their position and erectness, constitute the entire growth, extremely fine in its proportions, and attractive in its aspects. She will be seen by all, to be no place for the concealment of crime; but like a fountain, with its repulsive power. In unbelieving eyes, she will "look forth as the morning fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners."
But results so rich and splendid, cannot exist, without the strictest adherence to the disciplinary laws of Christ?s house; and the heavenly healing spirit of those laws.
Some Churches are so lax in Discipline, so indulgent with delinquent members, and even flagrant transgressors, because of property, or standing, or connexions, as to become a very dunghill in society, instead of being "the salt of the earth and the light of the world!" And, unless a redeeming spirit is soon enkindled, and burns with consuming strength, and visits with purifying influence, "Ichabod, the glory is departed," will be engraven, as with a pen of steel, upon the otherwise fair heritage of God! It is a day, of most alarming irresponsibility among the members of our churches! A day when the mass of professedly Christian men do too well nigh what is right in their own eyes!
Now, Discipline is Zion?s salvation. It is the Lord Jehovah?s appointed instrumentality, for the correction of offences, and she must wield it. We have said it was the application of right principles, in a right spirit, to the wrong conduct of offenders. We ask then, in conclusion: Are there not offenders among you? Shall the application be made, then, in your church, among your members, in every required case? Beloved brethren, it must be made! The good of every delinquent, calls for it! The health of the Church, requires it! The honor of God, demands it! Preparation to meet the returning Master, urges it now! It must be done!
"Brethren, consider what we say, and the Lord give you understanding and faithfulness in all things."
1Editor?s Note: Only the second part of this work is here reprinted.
2The wrong, whatever it is, in nature and name, you would do well, at this time, to reduce to writing. There are two reasons for this: 1. Sometimes a matter of difference is more imaginary than real; and looks much larger in the mind, than it would on paper. If you write it, therefore, you will, by necessity, think more closely upon it, and will be likely to reduce it, and make it as small as possible, and give it a right name. 2. The wrong thus reduced to writing, will be, so far, ready for the church, if it have ultimately to be presented there. We believe it is considerably common, and certainly a very business-like and safe way, for the injured brother to present to the church, in writing, a statement of the wrong done, with the testimony of witnesses, and a history of his course in the case. Such a paper, you perceive, contains three parts: 1. A statement of the injury received; 2. The testimony of the witnesses to prove it; and, 3. A history of the steps taken by the injured member, to gain his erring brother. Now is the time for you to begin this paper, by a statement of the wrong done, in the prayerful hope that you may never have occasion to finish it.
3And we add, with emphasis; the solemn sentence should also be enforced, by a corresponding conduct, on the part of every member of every church. Excluded persons often seek an asylum in some neighboring sister church. And often they are kindly noticed; and thus encouraged to hope that "if they cannot live there, they can here." Now, such conduct in a sister church, or in her pastor, or any of her members, is flagrant injustice towards all concerned. It is a setting aside of the most solemn decision and act of Christ?s own court. It is an instance of most palpable disrespect of a sister and an equal. It is a doing, in this respect, as we would not be done by. Moreover, it is such a nourishing and cherishing of the guilty one, as "a brother beloved," as heals, at once and slightly, the wound of excision, which ought to be left, ulcerating and burning, for his purification. Instead of this course, if the excluded person have been wronged, (which may be the case; but which we should be slow to believe,) our sister church should be approached with respect, and confidence, and freedom; and desired to explain; and, perhaps, review the case with the aid of counsellors. A right church, rightly approached, would cheerfully do what was right in the premises.
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