[By Alexander Campbell (1829); with words emphasized in bold by Scott J Shifferd (2012)]
On the Discipline of the Church.—No. VI.
WHILE on the subject of discipline, we wished to have been more methodical; but causes and circumstances too tedious to detail, have compelled us to break through our method, and to become immethodical. The subject of the present essay is forced upon us, from some incidents of recent and remote occurrence. A writer in the Religious Herald, under the name and character of Herodion, in December last, discusses the following question, “Does the expulsion of a member from an individual church of the Baptist faith and order, exclude him from fellowship with the whole denomination?” If I correctly understand Herodion, he answers in the affirmative. The editor of the Religious Herald dissents from Herodion in this decision. The former will have the Association the sovereign arbiter—the latter would make his appeal to a coordinate or sister church. But to make out a case in point for illustrating this question, we shall introduce that of Titus Timothy.—Titus Timothy was a regular Baptist, but some how took it into his head that it was not right in a Christian church to receive or retain slaveholders. The church to which he belonged, thought otherwise, And for his impertinence in advocating this matter and dissenting from his brethren, they excluded him. Now Titus found himself cast out of the church. He did not like it, to be sure. But what could he do? He referred his case to Herodion. Herodion told him to “pray to God for redress, and to wait for a change of temper in his oppressors.” He prayed and waited for a long time. No change took place in his favor. He went to my friend, the Religious Herald. He advised him to “appeal to a coordinate church.” But thinking in the multitude of counselors there was safety, he went back to Herodion. Herodion told him to “appeal to the Association.” As Herodion was older and more experienced than his brother of the Herald, he took his advice and appealed to the Association. He made his appeal. But, alas! in vain! For the Association told him they had no power to overrule the decision of the church for this would be to divest it of its independence. Titus was worse hurt than before: for now he found that the decision of the church was confirmed by the Association without seeming to take it into consideration; for by throwing him and his case out of doors, they indirectly confirmed the decision of the church. They retained it and excluded him. He went back to the Religious Herald—told over his case. His appeal to the Association was disapproved; and now, as the case stands, he is advised to call a council of helps from the neighboring churches. He does so. But the church which excluded him refuses to attend, or to admit of such interference. The council cannot act upon exparte testimony, and he is still excluded from the whole denomination. The two neighboring churches enter complaint at the next Association against the church for intolerance, and despite of an advisory council. The excluding church, by her delegates, protests against the conduct of the two neighboring churches for presuming to complain of her upon exparte testimony, and argues her independence. So the affair ends, and poor Titus Timothy is at his wit’s end. He is excluded from the whole denomination for thinking wrong, or rather for uttering his thoughts.
But another case presents itself. Stephen Seektruth was a member of a church composed of eighteen members, six males and twelve females. He read the New Institution with great attention and unfeigned devotion. He was persuaded that the church was unsupported in her resolve to meet only once a month in her official capacity. He remonstrated, and, for insubordination to the brotherhood, was expelled. Four of the sisters were absent when the final vote was taken. Two of the brethren and five of the sisters voted for, and three of the brethren and three of the sisters voted against his exclusion. So that the voice of a single sister cast him out of the assembly. He appealed to the Associations, but they would not hear any individual. Consequently they confirmed the decision of the church, and Stephen was in fact excluded from the whole Baptist denomination by the vote of a woman! He was advised to call for helps from other churches, but they would not meet on the complaint of the injured: and the injurers would not submit to be arraigned before any such tribunal. Under the opprobrium of an excluded member he must live and die.
Sects and denominations require modes of government adapted to their genius. Romanists must have a pope in one man; the good old Episcopalians must have a king, and archbishops, and all the army of subalterns; the Presbyterians must have synods and a general assembly; and the good old English Baptists must have associations. Without these the denominations would be broken down, and might, perhaps, become Christians of the old stamp. But each of these denominations require all the sectarian machinery to keep them in a thriving sectarian spirit. The Baptist system, we have always said and seen, is the most impotent of any of them. They have, in theory, sawed the horns off the Beast, and the Association is a hornless stag, with the same ferocious spirit which he had when the horns were on his head. If he is offended he makes a tremendous push with his brains, and bruises to death the obnoxious carcass which he would have gored clear through at a single push, if he had his horns. Herodion feels the want of horns, and would have the creature furnished with at least one artificial one, which he might occasionally use. My brother of the Herald would wish to feed the stag well, but would still be sawing off the horns: perhaps I may wrong him in so saying, for indeed he is very modest about it. But, for my part, I do not love even an image of the Beast. I have no objection to congregations meeting in hundreds, at stated times, to sing God’s praise, and to unite their prayers and exhortations for the social good. But whenever they form a quorum, and call for the business of the churches, they are a popish calf, or muley, or a hornless stag, or something akin to the old grand Beast with seven heads and ten horns.
I cannot give my voice in favor of appeals to any tribunal, but to the congregation of which the offended is a member; neither to a council of churches specially called, nor to an association. The old book, written by the Apostles, has compelled me to hold this dogma fast. And I can, I know, show that it is superior to every other course. I will grant, however, that this plan will not suit a denomination or a sect; but it will suit the kingdom over which Immanuel reigns. And neither Herodion, nor any other brother of more or less experience, can support his scheme from the statute book of the Great King. But if he should think so, let him try, and I will try to make my assertion good. But I do pity such good old men. They have borne the burthen and heat of the day in maintaining a denominational scheme, and to suspect now that they have not fought in the ranks of the good old martyrs, is a terrible thought to an honest and Lord-loving and fearing spirit. My hopes are in the young men who are now entering the field. And I know some hundreds of them just now who are likely to die good soldiers of Jesus Christ. The friends of the ancient order would be too elated, perhaps, and its opposers would be too disconsolate, if they knew the forces now commencing and commenced their operations. I do not care for offending a coward. He will only fight when there is no danger. And a time-serving spirit I would rather see on the opposite side: for he will fight most stoutly for them who pay him best. We want men in the spirit and power of Elijah, who would tell a king Herod to his face that he was a transgressor. It cost the first Baptist his head, to be sure. But what of that? He will not want a head in the resurrection! O! for some Baptists of the good old stamp! Not the Kentucky old stamp of the Oakley school. But whither have I been driven? To the point: Every Christian community must settle its own troubles. No appeal from one congregation to another. There is no need of it; for no intelligent Christian congregation will ever cast out a person who could be an honor to any community. This much at present on this topic; but more hereafter.
Here a friend tells me I have mistaken the question; for Paul taught the Corinthians to appeal to a sister church. “See,” says he, “1 Cor. ch. vii. where Paul says, ‘Brethren, you greatly err: when any one troubles you, and when disputations arise among you, call for helps from the churches of Macedonia: let the disputers be brought face to face; and when the pleaders on each side have impleaded each other, then do you call for the votes of the brotherhood. If there is only one of a majority, cast him out; for as Moses says in the Law, “The majority is always right.” But if any thinks that he is not fairly cast out, or that there is not a real majority against him, let him appeal to the whole Macedonian association, and let them judge the case. If the majority of the Macedonian association cast him or them out, then let them be stigmatized by all the associations in Greece. For I would have you, brethren, to mark out the heretics and the disturbers of the brethren, and therefore publish them in your Minutes, that all the churches on earth may be apprized of the ungodly.'”