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The right and the duty of the church to exercise discipline on baptized members.
We have asserted, that persons, who, by their. baptism in infancy, have been recognized as members of the church, may loose their standing, and forfeit all the privileges and benefits which baptism was designed to secure. We now propose to enquire, where, or in whom, the power to destroy the relation between a member and the church dwells? Heretics and profligates are to be considered as having lost their standing in the church: But how have they lost it? By their own act? This to me is very questionable.
The relation which binds a member to the church was not constituted by himself, and cannot be dissolved by his own act. Will it be said, that the neglect to assume, at a proper period of life, the engagements, which were made over him, and for him, when he was presented before the Lord in baptism; together with a life of disobedience to the laws of Christ and his church, is a virtual denial of the act of his parents, and a public renunciation of the church and her privileges? I grant it. I grant he has done all he can do, to break the bands asunder, and cast away the cords, which bound him to
the visible church; and which ought to have bound him in sacred allegiance to the throne of Him, who is Head over all things to the church. But what has the church, in the mean time, done? Has she no act to perform? Does not the name of the apostatc still stand unerazed in the register of her members? And although he has lost his membership de jure, does he not retain it de facto?
We will suppose a case. "A young man, who should evince, from the time he is capable of acting, a studied contempt for the magistrates, laws, institutions, and welfare of his country, would justly be held to have renounced all virtuous principle;" but this would not disfranchise him as a citizen: this would not make him an alien. He is still a member of the commonwealth.-And so this wicked member of the church, should he even have the bold impiety to come forward in the sanctuary, on the Lord's day; and on the very spot, where his parents offered him up in baptism, under the observation of the very congregation, and the very God, who witnessed the baptismal engagements on his behalf; to disown publicly the baptismal act of his parents, and abjure all allegiance to the church, and her God; even all this would not, and could not, of itself, destroy his standing in the church. It would only more fully prepare the way, and more loudly call for that judicial act of excision, by which alone a member can be properly and effectually deprived of his standing in the visible church.
The church alone, by her proper officers, has a
right to recognize and confirm membership; and she alone can destroy membership. Christ, who, as Mediator, is exalted on the throne of Universal Empire, has delegated to the office-bearers in his house all the power necessary to maintain its government, and preserve its purity. He has committed the keys of the kingdom into their hands; and they are to use them for the purpose of shutting, as well as opening, the doors of his house.
The doctrine of self-exclusion from church fellowship strikes at the root of all church government, and at once destroys the whole system of discipline. If a baptized member can excommunicate himself, a professing member can excommunicate himself; and the church need give herself no further uneasiness on the subject.
Let the specious, but hollow-hearted professor, who has often played the hypocrite at the Redeemer's table, and who has now grown weary of the restraints of "the form of Godliness," make a loud explosion of all the corruption and enmity of his heart, -let him pour forth his wickedness, and his blasphemy, with all the impetuosity of a stream, which has just torn away the embankment which impeded its current, let him proclaim his apostacy, in the face of heaven; and, with satanic effrontery, "glory in his shame." The more bold his impiety, and the more loud his declaration of ecclesiastical independence, the more complete his alienation from the church, and the more unnecessary for the church to interfere. The church must not follow this
wretched apostate with the tenderness of admonition. She must not undertake to throw herself between him and destruction. Her voice of censure must not be heard; her rod of discipline must not be used. The thunders of excommunication must not be rolled around the offender's head, that others may hear its terrific sound, and be deterred from apostacy. Oh! no: this poor offender must be suffered quietly to work out his own destruction, and his own condemnation too! He must draw up, and publish to the world the sentence of his own excommunication. And while he is doing all this, the church, the affectionate, vigilant, faithful spouse of Jesus Christ, must sit still, fold her arms, and look On. She has no word to speak; she has no part to act: She remains in a state of perfect quietude, which is the very characteristic of a state of awful dereliction.
This sentiment, that members of the churchno matter whether baptized, or professing members-are to be suffered to work out their own excommunication, is replete with mischief, and ought never to be countenanced in the church of Christ. It mars her beauty; it violates her fidelity; it dishonours her Lord: It writes upon her fairest escutcheon "Ichabod," thy glory has departed from thee..
How greatly to be preferred is the following view of this interesting subject. "Anxiety for the good of the offender, does not admit that he should escape as a fugitive from discipline: Christ himself gives no liberty to any person to leave his kingdom
with impunity; and those who watch for souls in the visible church are accountable to the Lord for every church member, young or old."* The true doctrine is this: Membership may be transferred from one particular church to another, by proper dismission and testimonials; but membership in the visible catholic church can be terminated only in two ways, viz. by the dispensation of death, and by the sentence of excommunication. In no other way can the connexion between the visible church and her members be dissolved. The fact is; the church is related to the member, as well as the member to the church. The relation is reciprocal, involving mutual obligations, or it is good for nothing..
If baptized persons are members of the church, (and no one can deny this,) the church must treat them as such. Her parental care, and tenderness, and discipline, must be exercised over them: She must instruct them; she must watch over them; and, when it becomes necessary, she must call them to account: And if they prove refractory and impenitent, if they will not be reformed, by her admonitions, her prayers, and her tears, she must cut them off; and in the name, and by the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, take from them the privilege of church membership, which they have so greatly abused; and with them, the privilege of their children to membership in the church of God.
Neither is it necessary, that the church, in the exercise of this discipline, should wait until the bap*Dr. M'Leod's Eccles. Cat. p. 82.