Every organization which proposes to work smoothly, and yet efficiently, must have certain rules and regulations to be followed; certain laws for the individual members to obey. Failing in this—either without laws or with laws disregarded— all effort will go wide of the mark, and all endeavors, instead of succeeding and furthering each other, will counteract and interrupt each other; confusion will ensue, the wisest designs be frustrated, and the best laid plans become abortive. This is true everywhere. In the State, in the family, every association whether for business, politics, scientific, literary or art research or improvement, all must be regulated by laws adopted for the common good, to which obedience is to be rendered by the members. And the object sought to be attained must fail unless there be conformity to the laws by which the organization is bound together, and obedience to which constitutes its vital force.
There is no society to which these remarks apply more appropriately and with more emphasis, than to that one divinely constituted organization, the “Society of Jesus,” the Church of Christ. It has its laws, not human enactments, but divine. They are few and simple, not difficult to be understood or obeyed. “His commandments are not grievous;” and on conformity to them, both by the Church as a body, and by the individual members as well, depend the peace, harmony and efficiency of the society. When these regulations fall into disuse, and the good order of the body is neglected, it becomes weak and inefficient, neither commanding the confidence of its own members, nor the respect of the world. It is true that mere laws are a dead letter without the indwelling spirit of life in Christ Jesus. But the indwelling spirit of life becomes effectual only as it works to its purpose in harmony with those laws given for its guidance. Law and life! Life and law! Life to energize; law to guide. This is the philosophy and the method of the universe, both in nature and in grace.
To some the word discipline has an unpleasant sound. It seems punitive. It savors of transgression, conflict and punishment. But Church Discipline is not to be taken in this narrow sense alone nor does it develop these unlovely features, except where, by the culpable neglect of pastors and others it has fallen into decay, good order and the well-being of the body have been long disregarded, and the Church has become a lawless and disorderly company. Then a very hasty, and possibly an intemperate effort to make matters right, without sufficient prudence and precaution, may develop difficulties. As chronic disorder and disregard of lawful regulations in every society tend not only to a decay of efficient action, but to the ultimate destruction of the society itself, and prepare for conflict, if a vigorous effort be made to reestablish good order and the reign of law; so many a Church has declined even to imbecility, if not to death, by long neglect of judicious and healthful discipline. Many a Church has found serious trouble in reestablishing a healthful order and discipline, after long continued neglect and disorder. But many a Church has also found that a thorough course of Christian labor, and the reestablishment of a healthful scriptural discipline has brought back to the body order and harmony, reinvigorated its wasted energies, has produced a better tone of practical piety, and become the precursor of a revival of religion.
Discipline, in its larger sense, means training, cultivation, improvement, according to prescribed rules; subordination to law; administration of government and submission to lawfully constituted authority; from disco, I learn; disciple, a learner, one under discipline, taught and trained. Church discipline is sometimes distinguished as formative and corrective; the former having reference to culture, training and development according to Christian law, and the latter to the management of difficulties, and the correction of offenses as they arise in Church life and practice. It is to the latter, more especially, that attention is given in discussions on the subject, and the latter is usually understood to be meant when Church discipline is mentioned. To this more particularly is attention here given. But this is not because formative and cultural discipline for edification and development is less important, but these ends are largely attained by instruction from the pulpit, the various departments of worship and the general activities of Christian life.
That corrective discipline may be carried to an unwise and an injurious extent is not denied; but the prevailing tendency among our churches is in another direction. It is to too great laxity, and not to too great severity. Pastors and official members find it easier to let things drift than to attempt the unpleasant task of correcting abuses. But pastors do not wisely forecast their own comfort, nor the honor of the Church, who do not strive to preserve the purity of the body while they keep out and cast out everything that can justly become a scandal to the Christian Church, or a disgrace to the Christian profession.
The Church is the school of Christ; let the school be controlled with strict, yet wise and kindly discipline, or the pupils will learn more of evil than of good, and anarchy and confusion will supplant good government. The Church is a family; let there be law and order in the household, tempered with tenderness and discretion, otherwise the family fails of its mission, and becomes a reproach rather than a blessing to society. The Church is the organic representative of the kingdom of Christ; unless law prevail in the kingdom and order be maintained, how shall the King be honored, the kingdom be advanced, or the world be blessed by its coming and triumph?
It is therefore of the utmost importance that a correct scriptural discipline be strictly maintained. The neglect of it fills a Church with evils which check the growth of piety, hinder the success of the Gospel, and reproach the Christian name, while from an injudicious and unscriptural exercise of it, more dissensions have arisen than perhaps from any other single cause. Every well-organized society has its regulations, in which each one, on becoming a member, acquiesces, to which he pledges his support, and by which he submits to be governed, so long as he shall belong to it; and leave it, if he ever does leave it, according to its stipulated forms.
A Christian Church is the most perfectly constructed society known to men, and its system of government the most simple and complete. As each member on entering it, solemnly covenants to maintain, defend and abide by these regulations, so he should consider himself bound by the most sacred considerations to honor and keep his covenant inviolate.
I. Three Laws of Christ’s House.
There are three laws of Christ’s house, royal decrees, given by Him who is “Head over all things to the Church,” which stand invested with all the sanctions of divine authority, and which, could they be known, loved and obeyed, if they did not absolutely prevent all offenses, would obviate the necessity for private labor and public discipline. They would make churches “households of faith,” where Christians should abide “in the unity of the Spirit, and in the bond of peace.” Green pastures where the flock should rest in safety, and feed with joy. Will not every Church member make them the guide of his life?
First law: for every disciple; the law of Love. “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.”—John 13:34. This, if strictly obeyed, would prevent all cause of grief and offense, either personally to brethren or publicly to the Church. It would prevent cold in difference to each other’s welfare, unfounded suspicions, causeless accusations, jealousies, animosities, bitterness, hatred, and strife, and cause each to love the other “with a pure heart fervently.”
Second law: for the offender; the law of Confession. “If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.”—Matt. 5:23,24. This law makes it obligatory on every one who supposes that a brother has aught against him, to go to such an one without delay and secure, if possible, a reconciliation. And this he must do, whether there be, in his opinion, just cause or not for that brother to be offended; whether or not he has given occasion for offense. But knowing that a brother has grief on his account, he must go and attempt a reconciliation. Nor must he suppose that his gift will be acceptable to God, while he is unreconciled to man.
Third law: for the offended; the law of Forgiveness. “If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent, thou shalt forgive him.” Luke 17:3,4. This law enjoins a perpetual personal forgiveness of injuries; of injuries repented of and confessed. It does not enjoin that the often transgressor be held in the same esteem as before, for that might be impossible. Nor does it require that a Church should abstain from the exercise of a needed and healthful discipline, nor that it should discontinue a course already begun because the individual declares his repentance. In some cases this may be done; but instances not unfrequently occur when it is not required. In another form, the substance of this law was affirmed by Jesus, when, in answer to Peter’s question as to how often he should forgive a brother. He replied, “I say not unto thee until seven times, but until seventy times seven.”—Matt. 18:22. That is, constantly. But this has no reference to Church action.
Note 1.—It is true that Jesus did not proclaim these statutes for just the occasion for which, nor in just the relation to each other, in which they have been placed here. But they cover all the ground of social Christian intercourse, whether in or out of Church relations, and apply with preeminent fitness to that intercourse which may involve matters of discipline.
Note 2.—Some have mistakenly inferred that because perpetual personal forgiveness is enjoined by our Lord, therefore all corrective Church discipline is needless, if not out of place. This is doing violence to common sense and plain facts. Because a father is bound constantly to forgive an erring but penitent child, is that a reason why all family government should be abrogated, and the sinning child not be called to account for his repeated offenses? Certainly not.
Note 3.—An erring brother may not, and probably will not, be able to regain at once the confidence forfeited by his offense, and especially if his offense be repeated. Confidence lost is slowly restored. Nevertheless, if his repentance seem sincere he should be treated with hearty good will, and not be regarded with suspicion.
Note 4.—It is not always satisfactory or sufficient evidence of penitence that one says he is sorry. He must “do works meet for repentance,” in order that the Church should be under obligation to restore him to its favor, particularly where the offense has been grievous, or oft-repeated.
II. The Scope of Discipline.
Unhappily, offenses do come, and these royal decrees are not always strictly observed. Hence the nature, scope and purpose of these administrative methods need to be well understood.
1. The Object of Discipline.
The object and purpose of discipline is to prevent, restrain, or remove the evil that may exist, to encourage and protect the right, and cherish the good, “for the edifying of the body of Christ,” that it may be “perfect in love,” and without reproach. It is not to gratify personal prejudice, or secure any selfish ends, but to reclaim the wandering, guide the wayward, and secure the best spiritual interests of each member, and the purity, good order, and efficiency of the entire body. That Church is always held in higher esteem by its own members, and more respected and honored by the world, where a high standard of Christian morals is maintained, and a jealous watch-care is exercised over the faith and conduct of its members.
2. The Spirit of Discipline.
The justification and the effectiveness of discipline depend not a little on the spirit with which it is exercised. It must not be exercised in a spirit of arrogance, nor of dictation, nor of assumed superiority, much less of vindictiveness, but of fraternal solicitude, of gentleness and love. If the impression be given to the offender that there is a disposition to condemn and punish, the whole purpose is frustrated. Paul’s injunction to the Galatians was, “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual restore such a one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself lest thou also be tempted.”—Gal. 6:1. This should be a perpetual guide to the temper of Christian labor with erring disciples, and is worthy to be inscribed in gold on the walls of every Church; or, better still, written by the Spirit of God on every Christian heart. The work of restoration is to be done and not neglected; but it is to be done in a spirit of meekness, with a sense of one’s own liability to err.
3. The Right of Discipline.
That churches have a right to exercise a watchful supervision over their members, to reprove them when erring, and withdraw fellowship from them when incorrigible, is a necessity arising from the very constitution of their organization. The right to exercise discipline inheres in the very nature of government, whether the government be in the hands of one, the few, or the many. This right was recognized by Christ and His Apostles, and was exercised by the first churches. “But if he neglect to hear the Church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man, and a publican.”—Matt. 18:17. “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.” 2 Thess. 3:6. “A man that is a heretic after the first and second admonition, reject.”—Titus 3 : 10.
4. The Duty of Discipline.
Not only has a Church the right to exercise discipline, in the milder forms of fraternal labor, for the removal of evils, but to the extreme of excision it is the imperative duty of every Church to administer this needed and salutary part of government. That Church is unfaithful to itself, to its members and to its living Head, that neglects it. Not that it should seek opportunity to find faults, or to deal with the weak and the wandering, but it should be faithful to do this when occasion calls for it. “If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.”—Luke 17: 3. “Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.”—1 Tim. 5: 20. “Wherefore come out from among them.”—2 Cor. 6:17; because “Whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it.”—1 Cor. 12:26. “I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned, an avoid them.”—Rom 16:17. “Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.”—1 Cor. 5:13.
5. The Limit of Discipline.
The exercise of discipline is limited in its range, by the laws of Christ as applied to Christian faith and morals, kindly and generously interpreted, in the spirit of fraternal affection, and yet with fidelity to the purity of truth, and the honor of the Gospel. Also it is limited to such matters of covenant agreement as were understood by each member on entering the Church, as forming the rules and regulations of the body. Evidently it would not be expected that such matters as were purely personal to the individual, not violations of any law of the New Testament, not transgressions of Christian morals, nor yet of covenant obligations, should be deemed offenses for which discipline should be invoked. Personal rights are to be held sacred, and no unauthorized yoke placed upon the necks of the disciples; no yoke but His. “Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.”—1 Cor. 11:2.
6. The Result of Discipline.
Discipline has a positive and definite purpose. It is not an aimless and vagrant administration. Its design is to heal the offense, or remove the offender; the correction of the evil, or the expulsion of the evil-doer; so far, at least, as corrective discipline is concerned. So soon as the erring one can be induced to turn from his evil way, making acknowledgment of it, with promise of a better course, the labor with him is to cease, the proper result having been attained; that is, in all ordinary cases. Some exceptions may be hereafter mentioned. “If he repent, forgive him.”—Luke 17:3. “If he neglect to hear the Church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican.”—Matt. 18:17. “Purge out, therefore, the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened.”—1 Cor. 5:7.
III. As to Offenses.
Offenses are usually considered as of two kinds, private and public; or personal and general. These terms do not very accurately define the distinction, or indicate the nature of the offenses themselves. Nor are these classes of evils very clearly defined, since they often run into each other. There are other terms which would perhaps more accurately express the two classes; but as these are in common use, they will be retained here.
It has been already intimated, that in the social relations of Church life, personal peculiarities on the part of some may appear, which to others are unpleasant and even offensive, but which can in no sense be amenable to discipline. Such are to be endured with patience, as disagreeable things in the family are borne with, and remedied, if remedied at all, by the moulding influence of kind and genial intercourse. Not every infelicity of character or of conduct is to be regarded as an occasion for disciplinary labor. Great wisdom and discretion are needed in order to judge, both when such labor shall be attempted, and how it shall be directed.
Note 5.—There are in most churches certain persons with so keen a scent for defects in others, and with such a stern, almost relentless, sense of judicial orthodoxy in matters of order, that they are always finding somebody who deserves to be disciplined. These severe censors of their brethren never seem so much at home as when actively engaged in bringing to justice some offender. Then they appear at their best. They are probably honest and conscientious, and mean only to guard the purity and good name of the Church. But they need watching and moderating. Not less deplorable is the influence of those who are opposed to all disciplinary action.
Note 6.—In judging of the gravity of offenses, the condition in which the offender is placed, the influences under which he acts, and the peculiar provocations that affect him, are to be considered. One man may be much more guilty for the same act than another, since he may have had fewer incentives to evil, and more strength to withstand temptation. All palliations should have due weight.
IV. Private Offenses.
A private offense has reference to the personal relations of individual members. It may not be an act which scandalizes the Christian name, or injures the Church as a body; but an injury done—or claimed to have been done—by one member to another, intentionally or unintentionally, by which his feelings are pained or in some way he believes himself to have been wronged in person, reputation, or estate. The offense is therefore personal, and the matter rests between those two members alone. Except that, when it becomes known, others may become interested in it or affected by it.
So long as such matters of difficulty are treated as personal and kept private—that is between parties themselves concerned, and are not made public, or brought to the notice of the Church, they are reckoned as private offenses; but when, in any case, they cannot be settled privately, they are referred to the Church to be adjudicated, then they become public offenses.
V. Their Treatment.
The course of treatment in all cases of private offenses is the one prescribed by our Saviour, and to be found in Matthew 18:15-17. The course there prescribed is to be followed; and any departure from that rule is itself an offense deserving notice. Also any deviation from it would modify subsequent action which the Church might take if appealed to in the case. This course consists of three steps, and the final results.
First step. The one who considers himself injured must go to the offender, tell him his cause of grief, and between themselves alone adjust the matter, if possible, and settle the difficulty. “If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone; if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.”
Note 7.—It is thus made obligatory on the injured or offended one, to go to the offender, and not the reverse. This is wisely ordained, since, although the offender is bound by every consideration of justice to go to the offended brother, and confess his sin, yet possibly he may not be aware of the evil he has done, or he may be so perverse and evil-minded as to be unwilling to do justice to an injured brother. But the offended one, having done no wrong himself, would be likely to go in a kindly and forgiving temper of mind, prepared to “gain a brother.” Moreover, for him to take the initiative in the movement would be likely to moderate any exasperation he might feel under a sense of wrong suffered.
Note 8.—This rule requires that the interview should be between themselves alone. No other persons should be present, either to help or to hinder, or to spread abroad the knowledge of the trouble. No fear or false delicacy must prevent his telling the offender his fault. He must tell it to him, but to no one else, till this step has failed to effect a reconciliation. He must not tell it in the presence of a third person; nor must he plead that because the other is the offender, therefore the first step must be taken by him. And his object must be to “gain his brother,” not to humiliate, accuse, or condemn him.
Second step. If the previous step shall fail of success, then the offended one must take one or two of the brethren with him. Seek another interview with the offender in their presence, and with the aid of their united wisdom and piety hope to succeed where he himself alone had failed. He is not to abandon the effort with the failure of the first step, nor throw the responsibility of further effort on the offender. “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.”
Note 9.—The offended one must not make the matter public with the failure of the first attempt, nor must he abandon it, unless, indeed, he has “gained his brother;” nor tell it to any, except the “one or two more.”
Note 10.—The object of taking the “one or two more,” is chiefly that the Church, should the matter come before them, may have witnesses, and not depend on the complainant, whose testimony very likely would be contradicted by the defendant. They could witness to the temper and spirit of the two, and to the facts, so far as ascertained. Moreover, they could act as mediators between the parties, and possibly aid in a friendly adjustment of the trouble, without an appeal to the Church.
Third step. Should the second attempt be in like manner unsuccessful, and no reconciliation be effected, then the offended one must tell the whole matter to the Church, and leave it in their hands to be disposed of, as they shall judge best. His personal efforts failed; his effort, with one or two for witnesses and helpers, was unsuccessful; he has but one other appeal; that is to the Church. And this is ultimate. “And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the Church.”
Note 11.—Having gone so far, the effort to gain a brother and to remove an offense is not to be abandoned. The offended brother is not to say he is sufficiently vindicated by the witness of the “one or two more,” and he will drop the matter. The end is not yet gained. The influence is not salutary on either of the brethren nor on the body, to leave it incomplete. The Church is the final arbiter, and its decision is to be invoked. The matter is not a trifle now, even if it were such at the first; let the voice of the Church be heard.
Note 12.—When told to the Church its private character disappears, and it becomes a public offense, to be treated as such. Both parties are then in the hands of the body, to await and abide by their decision. No further action on the part of either is to be expected, except for the offended to make his statement, and the offender to make his defense; as to both of which the “one or two more” are witnesses.
The result. The Church is to pass the final sentence, after a full and fair hearing of the whole case. There is no higher tribunal, and no further appeal. The great Head of the Church has directed what that decision shall be, if the offender be still unmoved and incorrigible. The object all the way through is to “gain a brother.” Failing in this he is to be no longer a brother. As he will not show a brother’s spirit, and will not act a brother’s part, he is to be removed from the fellowship of the brotherhood. “And if he neglect to hear the Church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man and a publican.”
Note 13.—Let it be borne in mind that the mere neglect to hear the complainant, brings it before the “one or two more,” and a neglect to hear the “one or two more,” brings the matter before the Church; and a neglect to “hear the Church” ends in exclusion. No offensive deportment, no other insubordination to authority, no vindictive spirit on the part of the accused, is necessary to secure this final sentence, but simply a “neglect to hear.” That becomes a refusal to submit to lawfully constituted authority, as well as a violation of voluntarily accepted covenant obligations when admitted to its fellowship.
Note 14.—We have, in this language of our Lord, the only time and place where He is recorded to have spoken of Church action, a clear and explicit recognition of the authority and independency of the local Church. The case was not to be appealed to any priest or hierarch, to any bishop or presbytery, to any council or conference or any other representative body; but to “the Church,” whose decree was to be final in the case.
Observe. It should be solemnly impressed on the minds of pastors, deacons, and every member of every Church that the preceding course for the treatment of personal difficulties in Church relations was prescribed by Christ as a positive law for His churches, always and everywhere; and that it abides invested with all the sanctions of divine authority; that it cannot be abrogated, nor departed from with impunity. If every Church would require a strict and invariable compliance with its requirements, it would greatly lessen the number of personal difficulties, and make less harmful those which are inevitable. On pastors, as the teachers and leaders of the churches, largely rests the responsibility of seeing that these positive, wise, and salutary provisions are complied with.
Note 15.—Let it be repeated with emphasis that to effect its best, its true results, all discipline is to be administered in love and meekness—in the spirit of the Master, with the desire and the manifest design to win an erring brother rather than to punish an offending member.
Note 16.—Although the divine law requires that the offended shall first seek the offender, yet any one who is at all aware that he has grieved or offended another, should without delay seek the aggrieved, and by such efforts as he may be able to make—explanations and acknowledgments—remove, if possible, the cause of grief. Let him first be reconciled to his brother, then offer his gift. Even though he may claim that he has not injured his brother, yet if that brother believes he has, let him be sure to remove, if possible, such an impression.
Note 17.—If a member attempts to bring before the Church, or in any other way make public, any matter of private grief or offense, before he has fully pursued the above course, according to the Gospel rule, he makes himself an offender thereby—subject to labor and discipline.
Note 18.—If members become involved in personal difficulties, and make no effort to settle or remove them, or if they take any other than the scriptural course, they become themselves offenders against the Church, and subject to its discipline.
Note 19.—When personal difficulties are known to exist, which the parties themselves cannot, or will not settle, the officers or other members should use their best endeavors to reconcile them privately, and avoid, if possible, the publicity of bringing them before the Church.
Note 20.—But if all private endeavor fails to heal such difficulties the case should be taken before the Church, and treated as a public offense. The continuance of such disturbing elements is greatly injurious to the prosperity of the body. The old leaven should be purged out that the body of Christ may be wholly a new lump.
Note 21.—There may be instances where wrongs are perpetrated, but the member who is wronged is unwilling to pursue any course of labor with the offender, or to make any complaint, or take any notice of it, yet the Church, knowing the facts and considering its own character compromised or its welfare periled by the case, may find it necessary to take it up and act upon it.
Note 22.—When a member refers any private difficulty to the Church, which he is unable to settle, he should then leave it entirely in their hands, and be satisfied with such disposition as they may think wise to make of it; neither complaining of the result, nor attempting to prosecute it further.
Note 23.—Nothing can properly be considered a reasonable cause of offense or just ground for discipline, but what is manifestly contrary to the Scriptures. Members may see many things in others which they dislike—personal idiosyncrasies perhaps offensive, but which cannot be justly considered subjects for complaint, or ecclesiastical censure. They are matters for Christian forbearance, to be endured, if they cannot be corrected in some other way.
Note 24.—And yet should one, on uniting with the Church, understandingly agree to covenant pledges, or administrative regulations, which afterward he may come to regard as extra-scriptural and unpleasant, he must still submit to them according to the promise, or bear the discipline which their violation imposes.
Note 25.—Nothing can be considered a just and reasonable cause for the withdrawal of fellowship, and exclusion from the Church, except it be clearly forbidden in, or manifestly contrary to, the Scriptures, and what would have prevented the reception of the individual into the Church had it existed at the time and been persisted in. Even these do not usually lead to disfellowship, providing they be confessed and forsaken.
VI. Public Offenses.
A public offense is one claimed to be a breach of Christian morals, or a violation of covenant faith or duty. It is not an offensive act committed against an individual, of which that individual might complain. It is an injury of the cause of piety, a scandal to the Christian name and profession.
In such a case, one member is no more interested in or wronged by it than another. The whole body is equally concerned and equally responsible. And while the “steps of private labor” taken by any member in such a case would be appropriate, and might be effective, yet it is obligatory on no one more than another to take them. And since there is a natural indisposition to do it, such personal effort usually goes undone, and it is left to the Church, or its official members, to move in the matter. For instance, if it be credibly reported that a member is addicted to intemperance, or profanity, or dishonesty, or if he have departed from the faith, or violated the order of the Church in some grave matter, these are considered general, or public offenses, since in no sense are they personal or private in their commission or bearing.
VII. Their Character.
It would be impracticable to attempt to specify all possible occasions when labor might be called for in this line of irregular Christian conduct. The Church must judge each individual case on its merits, and decide whether discipline be needed, and if so, to what extent. But in the Epistolary writings we have not only a watchful disciplinary supervision of the Church enjoined, but various occasions for the exercise of discipline specified. The following may here be mentioned as prominent:
1. False Doctrine.
Holding and teaching doctrines fundamentally false, contrary to the law of God, as understood by the body, and subversive of their accepted faith. “If any man preach any other Gospel unto you, than that ye have received, let him be anathema.”—Gal. 1:9. “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed.”—2 John 10.
2 Disregard of Authority.
When a member refuses to submit to the requirements of the Church, and thus becomes insubordinate to lawfully constituted authority. “But if he neglect to hear the Church, let him be unto thee as a heathen man, and a publican.”—Matt. 18:17. “Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly.”—1 Thess. 5:14.
3. Contention and Strife.
Where a member is factious, foments discords, stirs up strife and becomes a leader of party, disturbing or destroying the peace and harmony of the body. “I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrines which ye have learned, and avoid them.” Rom.16: 17. “But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.”—1 Cor. 11:16.
4. Immoral Conduct.
This takes a wide range and embraces many particulars. Such acts and practices as are inconsistent with the honor, rectitude and purity which the Gospel inculcates and requires. It is on the theory that the Christian Church must have a higher standard of moral virtue than the world holds essential. Otherwise how can it be the light of the world and the salt of the earth? “But now I have written Unto you, not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner, with such a one, no, not to eat.”—1 Cor. 5:11.
5. Disorderly Walk.
Such a course of conduct and habit of life as brings the Christian profession into disrepute, and becomes subversive of the established faith and good order of the Church. It does not necessarily imply immorality of conduct. “Withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.”—2 Thess. 3:6. “There are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all.”—2 Thess. 3:11.
6. A Covetous Spirit.
Cases where members will not contribute of their means, according to their evident ability for the support of the gospel, or for other Christian work; throwing heavy burdens on others, of which they refuse to bear their proportion. For while the Church cannot compel liberality, nor dictate what its members shall give, but leaves all offerings to be free-will, yet liberality is required, and any one who refuses to share an equality of responsibility while enjoying an equality of benefits, exposes himself to reproof and discipline. “For this ye know, that no covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ.”—Eph. 5:5. “If any man that is called a brother, be coveteous, with such a one no, not to eat.”—1 Cor 5:11.
7. Arrogant Deportment.
When a member, in a spirit of arrogance and pride, assumes authority, and affects superiority, undertaking to domineer and rule the Church. “I wrote unto the Church, but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not; wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds.”—3 John 9,10.
8. Going to Law.
The going to law with brethren “before unbelievers,” and the prosecution of fellow-members at civil tribunals, instead of private and peaceable arbitration “before the saints.” This was severely censured by the Apostle, and deserves to be made a cause of discipline in every Church where it takes place. “I speak to your shame; brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers. Now, therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law with one another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? Why do ye not rather be defrauded?”—1 Cor. 6:5-7.
Note 1.—Observe: where in these Epistolary citations, the churches are enjoined, with disorderly walkers, and evil persons, “not to eat,” the evident meaning is not to eat with them in the celebration of the Supper. Not to commune with them. And when it is said, “from such withdraw yourselves,” reference is evidently had to Church fellowship, and not to social intercourse.
Note 2.—The Apostle manifestly did not purpose to give a list of disciplinable offenses, and those cited above are only such incidental cases as occurred in the churches, with respect to which he had occasion to give instruction. But they show conclusively two things. First: that purity of faith and doctrine, and virtue and good order in the management of Church affairs, were matters of importance, which they needed to understand. Second: that each Church was to be held responsible for a faithful and earnest administraticn of its government, so as to keep itself true to the law and the kingdom of Christ.
Note 3.—Whatever may be thought of the relative importance of some of the faults of Christian character mentioned above, as compared with others, and still others that might be named, they are all blemishes and defects which should, by a judicious treatment, be corrected; they constitute stumbling-blocks to unbelievers, and a dangerous example for other disciples. They be all evils. Therefore put away the evils, or the evil-doers.
VIII. Their Treatment.
In the treatment of public offenses, the proper course of labor and discipline would be substantially as follows:
It must, however, be borne in mind that various cases have some peculiar features, and require peculiar treatments. The treatment of the case will therefore vary somewhat with the circumstances. Those who have the direction of them must be familiar with the general principles which apply; if beyond these some way-marks can be given, wise and prudent men need not go far astray in their arrangements.
1. The first member who has knowledge of the offense should, the same as in private cases, seek the offender, and, if possible, remove the difficulty. True, he is under no special obligation to do this simply because he chanced to be the first to learn the fact. But if he can win a brother from his evil way, and remove a reproach from the Church, such would be a work of faith and a labor of love, with which any Christian might feel greatly satisfied. This personal labor should be undertaken because each member of the body suffers in any wrong inflicted on the body, and because such personal efforts are often the most effectual. Should there be many individual efforts, by many members at the same time, aiming at the same end, so much the more effectual would it be.
2. But if no one can or will pursue this course of personal private labor, or if such a course should prove unsuccessful, then should the one who has knowledge of it consult the pastor and deacons—or if, as in some churches, there be a prudential committee for such purposes, refer it to them—and leave it to their judgment as to what further course should be taken. If they will not notice the matter, this brother could bring it up at the next business Church meeting. But even then it would be well not to give names and facts, but say a case deserved attention, and ask that a committee be appointed, to which facts would be referred. All such cases should be kept out of the Church, and managed privately, so long as there seems hope of an effectual settlement by that means.
3. The Church, having formal knowledge of the matter, would, perhaps, as the most kindly fraternal “first step” in their movement, visit him, hear his explanation and excuse, and ascertain his purpose in the case. They might, indeed, without transcending the limits of propriety, at once cite him before the body to answer for himself, disprove the charges, or make his defense. But this course at the beginning seems a little more judicial and harsh than the visit of a committee, and a brother “out of the way” might not accept it too readily. But the case should ultimately come before the Church, where the offender shall know the charges, hear the witnesses, and be allowed to answer for himself.
4. If a committee act in the case, they should act in the name of the Church, and with their authority; but they should go in the spirit of meekness and love, with the desire uppermost to win a brother. If the offender will not appear before the Church, by that refusal he sets its authority at defiance, and the body must decide how long they will bear with his insubordination. If he be so situated that he cannot appear before them, they must depend on the report of a committee, and act according to their best judgment in the matter.
5. If, in any case of discipline, and at any stage of the proceedings, the accused brother disproves the charges, or, in any ordinary case, if he admits them, confesses the wrong, makes suitable acknowledgment and reparation, so far as possible, together with promise of amendment, this should be deemed sufficient, and the case be dismissed. The purity of the Church is vindicated, its authority sustained, and an erring brother is won back to Christ, and to the fellowship of His people.
6. But if, after patient, deliberate and prayerful labor, all efforts fail to reclaim the offender, then, however painful the necessity, they must withdraw from him their fellowship. He has refused to hear them, and must be put away. With such a one, “no, not to eat.” Better to lose many members than that the government and good order of the Church should be prostrated and trampled on and its good name become a by-word. When a course of discipline has been inaugurated, it must be carried on till the offender is reclaimed, or excluded.
Note 4.—Any one tried by a Church should be allowed every opportunity, both as to time, place and circumstance, to vindicate himself. The very justice of Christ’s house should incline to mercy. It should be made manifest that the object is not to punish, but to reclaim.
Note 5.—Every person so tried has a right to demand and receive copies of all charges against him, the names of the accusers and witnesses, both of whom he shall have the privilege of meeting face to face, hearing their statements, bringing witness on his side, and answering for himself before the Church itself as the ultimate and authoritative tribunal.
Note 6.—All persons on trial, or having been excluded, have a right to receive authenticated copies of the records of all proceedings held by the Church in their cases.
Note 7.—It would not be proper for a member on trial to bring any person as his advocate who was not a member of the body to plead his case, without special permission from the Church to do so. The whole matter pertains to the Church alone, and outside parties have no right of interference. Moreover, it would be strange if the entire body should be so swayed from right and justice as not to give any member under accusation a reasonable hearing and an equitable treatment. Such a case might be possible, but would not be likely to occur.
Note 8.—In every case of exclusion the charges against the member, and the reasons for his exclusion, should be carefully and accurately written out, and entered on the records of the Church, the excluded member to receive an authentic copy if he desires it.
Note 9.—It is customary, also, to notify the individual that fellowship is withdrawn from him by sending him a copy of the reasons for the final action in the case, or otherwise, at the option of the clerk, as directed by the body.
Note 10.—The Church should not commence disciplinary proceedings, nor even entertain a charge against a member, unless the evidence be such as to make the truth of the charge highly probable, if not absolutely certain.
Note 11.—Offenses may, and not unfrequently do, occur, of such an aggravated character as to require, when confessed or fully proven, immediate exclusion, without the need of further labor, and notwithstanding confessions, penitence and promises; though not without a hearing. No temporizing or delay should be allowed, but the Church of Christ should show the world that it will not shelter in its bosom, nor hold in its fellowship, gross transgressors.
Note 12.—Should the Church at any time find that it has dealt unjustly with a member, or excluded him without sufficient cause, it should at once proceed, of its own accord, without waiting for solicitation, to repair, so far as they may be able, the wrong done, and by concession and restoration make it apparent that they are as ready to reverse their action when they see it was wrong, as they were to take it when they believed it was right.
Note 13.—The members of the Church should be impressed that they still owe a duty and a service of love to those “cut off.” They have once been among them, members of the family and brethren beloved, now, though wayward and unworthy of fellowship because of their errors, yet may it not be hoped that, through their prayers and kindly treatment, they may come to themselves, repent of their errors and seek again their Father’s house. Follow them with blessing; they may be saved.
Note 14.—The Church should at anytime be willing to grant a rehearing of his case, if requested by an excluded member, providing he gives assurance and makes it appear probable that he can establish his innocence, show their mistake or satisfy them by his acknowledgments.
Note 15.—The Church should restore to its fellowship, at his request, any excluded member whenever his confession and reparation for the past are satisfactory and his present walk according to godliness.
Note 16.—Pastors, deacons, and all officers are subject to the same discipline, administered in the same way, as other Church members; except that unusual caution should be had in giving credence to charges that lead to discipline, accord- ing to apostolic injunction: “Against an elder receive not an accusation, except at the mouth of two or three witnesses.—1 Tim. 5:19. And also it may be added, that considering the prominent position they occupy and considering the fact that disciplinary proceedings in their case may have a more serious effect, both on themselves and on the cause, than in ordinary cases, therefore unusual caution should be used and perhaps a Council, or the advice of wise brethren be called in aid.
Note 17.—In all things not contrary to his conscience, the member should submit to the Church, but in all questions of faith and conscience he should do what he honestly believes to be right, whether the Church, in the exercise of administrative function should commend, or condemn him.
Note 18.—While on the contrary, the Church as an executive body must not fail to exercise its legitimate and rightful authority, and discipline its members for what it regards as sufficient cause, even though such members may think the discipline unjust, and believe themselves injured by it.
Note 19.—No one, while on trial before the Church, can properly accuse or bring charges against another member as a vindication of his own cause, or a palliation of his offense. His own case must be first decided on its merits. If his offense be proven, or confessed, no accusation of others can justify it, or should be allowed. But any legitimate evidence can be adduced in his own favor, even though such evidence may implicate others.
Note 20.—The relation of the pastor to persons accused and to processes of trial before the body, is delicate and important. He is not to act the partisan for or against the accused, much less is to be the prosecutor of his erring brethren. He is to be judge and expounder of law and evidence; and whatever may be his private opinion, he is to maintain fairness and equity on all sides and to all parties. As moderator of the meeting, he is to keep all parties to good order, and just measures. It is important that he be familiar with parliamentary rules, and with the principles of scriptural discipline, so that the results reached shall commend themselves to the reasonable approval of all.
Note 21.—The pastor, by virtue of his office, is moderator of all business meetings. But in cases where he may himself be personally involved in the difficulty, or charged with complicity in it, he should not preside, but resign the chair and allow the meeting to elect some one else.
Note 22.—The pastor, by virtue of his office, is moderator of all church business meetings, but not of society business meetings, which meetings are held according to statute law, for the election of trustees and for other matters pertaining to temporalities. These meetings, even though composed of the same individuals, yet are not the same official bodies. The moderator is elected on nomination. The pastor is eligible to election the same as any other member of the society, but cannot assume the chair by right of his office.
Edward Hiscox (1814-1901) was an American Baptist pastor and theologian. He was converted to Christ in 1834 and began to preach the gospel four years later. He served as the pastor for several congregations, including the Stanton Street Baptist Church, New York (1852). He is best known for authoring the “Standard Manual for Baptist Churches” (1890) and the “New Directory for Baptist Churches” (1894).