[By Alexander Campbell (1828); with emphasis added in bold by Scott J Shifferd (2012)]
On the Discipline of the Church.—No. II
SUNDRY letters have been received on the subjects of associations, conferences, laying on of hands, family worship; all either objecting to some things advanced in this work, or seeking further expositions and elucidations of arguments already offered in this work on these subjects. These letters are too numerous and too long to be inserted in any reasonable time. We have therefore concluded to prosecute our inquiries on the order and discipline of the church, and intend meeting all these objections in the course of our essays as they may naturally occur. In the mean time we proceed to some matters of greater importance in the discipline of the church, and must solicit a due degree of patience on the part of our correspondents.
All matters of church discipline are either private injuries or public offences; sometimes designated “public and private offences,” or “public and private trespasses.” Private injuries, trespasses, or offences, are those which in the first instance directly affect individuals, and are known only to individuals. For a private injury or trespass, so soon as it is generally known, becomes a public offence. Now the object of the precepts in the New Testament concerning private trespasses, is to prevent their becoming public offences; and that by healing them when only felt and known by the parties;—the person injured and he that commits the trespass. The directions given by the Saviour in the eighteenth chapter of Matthew, section ix. page 48, New Translation, belong exclusively to this class of trespasses. Thus, according to this law, if A injure B, either by word or deed addressed to him alone, B, who is injured, privately tells A the injury he has received from him; and if, after expostulating with him, A confesses his fault and professes repentance, or if he explain the matter to the satisfaction of B, the affair ends, because the parties are reconciled to each other. But if neither acknowledgement, explanation, confession, nor repentance can be elicited, and B still feels himself aggrieved, he calls upon his brethren, D, E, and F, and in their presence states his grievance. They also hear what A has to offer. After having the case fairly before them, they are prepared to advise, expostulate, explain, and judge righteously. Now if A hears them, is convinced by them, and can be induced to make reparation either by word or deed for the trespass inflicted, or if they can effect a reconciliation between the parties, the matter terminates, and is divulged no farther. But if A cannot or will not hear or be persuaded by D, E, and F, but despise their interposition, expostulation, or advice, B must acquaint the congregation with the fact that A has trespassed against him. Then the congregation must inquire, not into the nature of the trespass, but whether he have taken the proper steps. He answers in the affirmative and calls upon D, E, and F, for the proof. On the testimony of D, E, and F, every word is established or confirmed. The congregation being satisfied with the standing of D, E, and F, and having heard their testimony, proceed to admonish, expostulate with, and entreat A to make reparation to his brother B. If he is then persuaded and B is reconciled to him, the matter terminates, and both are retained; but if otherwise, and A will not hear nor regard, but despise the congregation, then he is to be excluded. It does not appear that the original quarrel, misunderstanding, or trespass is to be told to the whole congregation, and they made to sit together in judgment upon it. If this were so, there was no necessity for having any thing established upon the testimony of D, E, and F. Whereas the Saviour said that, by the testimony of two or three witnesses, every thing may be ascertained or established. Nothing would be ascertained or established if A and B were permitted now to disturb the congregation by a recital of the whole matter; for in this way, it is more likely to distract and injure the peace and harmony of the congregation, than to reconcile the parties. But if A complains of injustice in the case, then the congregation must appoint two or three others to bear and judge the matter; and upon their declaration to the congregation the matter terminates. But it does not appear, either from what the Lord enjoins in the passage before cited, or what Paul lays down in his first letter to the Corinthians, chapter vi. that the nature of the trespass is to be told. “When you have secular seats of judicature why do you make to sit on them those who are least esteemed in the church?” “Is there not among you a wise man, not even one who shall be able to decide between his brethren?”
The practice of telling all private scandals, trespasses, and offences, to the whole congregation, is replete with mischief. It often alienates members of the church from each other, and brings feuds and animosities into the congregation, and it is very seldom that a promiscuous congregation of men, women, and children can decide so unanimously or so wisely upon such cases, as two or three either called upon by the parties or appointed by the congregation. This moreover appears to be the true import of all the laws upon this subject in the New Testament. On the 18th chapter of Matthew the only question which can arise of any importance, is, whether B is to tell the original trespass to the whole congregation, or whether he is to tell the fact that A has injured him, and will not reform or make reparation. I think the original and the English version authorize the latter, viz. that he is to tell the congregation that A had trespassed against him, and would not hear D, E, and F. This is the immediate antecedent to the command, “Tell the congregation.” But on this I would not lay so much stress, as upon the other regulations and laws found in the volume concerning trespasses, and upon the necessary consequences arising from each method of procedure. Very often, indeed, the affair is of such a nature as ought not to be told, and could not be told in a public assembly of Christians without violating some law or rule which the volume enjoins; and not unfrequently are whole congregations distracted by the injudicious, and, as we think, unscriptural practice, of telling the whole congregation a matter of which but few of them are able to form correct views. And such is the common weakness of the great majority of members of any community, that but few are able to judge profoundly in cases requiring the exercise of much deliberation.