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Benjamin Lyon Smith
The Millennial Harbinger Abridged (1902)


ORDER--as respects Discipline.

      Good discipline is as essential to the moral health, peace, and prosperity of the church of Christ, as good doctrine. Without it no society can long subsist. The theory of discipline is not discipline itself; [134] and, therefore, it is not discipline in the book, nor in the letter, but in the church, of which we speak.

      There are no laws, human or divine, which have as yet been divulged on earth, that can benefit mankind only in so far as they are obeyed. That lawgiver is yet to be born who can promulge a code of laws which will bless society whether obeyed or disobeyed. Jesus Christ has not done it. He promulged, or caused to be promulged, confessedly on all hands, the best system on earth; yet these laws improve and bless mankind individually and socially only so far as they are obeyed.

      It belongs to the whole Christian community to submit to his government as supreme. To have his law magnified and honored by every citizen in his kingdom, is the paramount obligation of the whole church. Its obligations and loyalty to Jesus Christ as King and Lawgiver, most solemnly and perpetually bind the Christian community in unreserved obedience.

      The church, in selecting bishops has this ostensibly in view. She has as much respect to the ruling as to the didactic talents of those she honors with the episcopacy. She argues well, when, with the Apostle Paul she declares, by his choice, that the man who rules not well his own house, ought not to be trusted with the affairs of God's house. In ordaining her overseers, she lays her hands upon them as much to preside and rule over her, as to teach her more perfectly the way of the Lord. For this purpose, more than for simple teaching, it behooves her to have a plurality. One may sometimes teach, and one may at a single meeting preside with all dignity and propriety; but one can not Scripturally rule a congregation, if ruling be Scripturally understood.

      "To rule well," be it observed, is not to legislate for the church, nor is it to lord it over God's heritage. It is not to command with authority, as an absolute sovereign--it is not to dictate, as a pedagogue; but it is to have all the laws of the Absolute Monarch fully and faithfully executed. It is to have the apostolic canons supremely regarded, and all their commandments exactly and constantly obeyed. It is to have all things done decently and in order.

      But, as has been observed in a former part of this essay, "to rule well" comprehends all the duties of watching over the flock, as well as correcting and removing offences when they occur. It may, perhaps, be said that watching to prevent the errors of the brotherhood falls not within our conceptions of ruling. But does it not fall within our ideas of authority? Who may watch over a flock without authority derived from the flock itself, or from the proprietor of the flock, and acknowledged by the people? And if the people confer authority, on any persons to watch over them and to admonish them, the [135] administration of that authority is with propriety regarded as a part of the duties of their office, as much as the application of the law to transgressors.1

      The best physicians are they who prevent diseases. In the same sense they are the best rulers who prevent errors and apostacies. The sovereign who, by his wisdom and timely precaution, prevents a revolt among his people, is more worthy of esteem than he who permits it to occur, though he should finally succeed in putting it down. They are the best bishops, who, by their watchful attention to the occasions of falling or apostacy, anticipate and prevent delinquencies--more to be admired and loved than they who even reclaim the sinner from the error of his way, or exclude the incorrigible offender from the communion of the faithful.

      To the actual discipline of the church, in its social and public capacity, belong only the offences which are committed against the whole community. Private trespasses between two or more individuals are not to be laid before the congregation until they become public offences. The commandments of the Saviour found on this subject in the 18th chapter of Matthew (and they are in accordance with our very best conceptions of propriety and expediency) go to prevent, if possible, private trespasses on the rights of individuals from becoming public offences. When those directions are faithfully regarded, it is but seldom that a private trespass comes before the congregation, or terminates in a public offence.

      By a public offence, we mean every transgression that puts the congregation to shame--every transgression that brings a reproach upon the Lord or his people. Of course such transgressions are generally more or less known to those without the community. But should they not be known to any out of the church, if they be such, as when known, would bring reproach on the holy religion of the Redeemer, then are they to be regarded as public offences, and to be treated accordingly.

      The Christian church is "the pillar and support of the truth," the patroness of piety, righteousness, and holiness. She must never lose sight of her "high and holy calling;" and must, therefore, have "no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness." She must not only be pure in doctrine but irreproachable in character. Her profession and her works must agree. That she may sustain her moral dignity, she must never display any partiality for evil doers, nor leniency for transgressors. She must never pity the sinner so much as to forgive him to the dishonor of her Lord. Those who put her to shame, she must put to shame before she receive them into the bosom of her sympathy and affection. She must have inscribed upon her shield, and displayed upon her ensigns, as her motto, "Without holiness no [136] man shall see the Lord." She is to cultivate, to exalt, and to refine her sense of propriety, and to be highly sensitive touching the honor of her beloved. She will remember that one of the highest encomiums that Jesus addressed to the Ephesian church w as that she "could bear them who are evil;" and one of the greatest censures pronounced upon the church in Thyatira, was her suffering immoral and ungodly persons to remain within her communion.

      When a church has ordained to itself elders, no case of discipline can be laid before the community but through its presbytery. It is the province of the eldership to prepare the case and to choose the time for its consideration, should it be one that requires the action of the whole church. That congregation which allows any and every member when he pleases to introduce a case of discipline, will always be insecure against scenes of confusion and disorder. Their meetings for worship will often be converted into theatres of debate, not, only upon the case presented, but also upon the nature of offences in general, the rules of discipline, and the propriety or impropriety of the various measures proposed.

      In many cases when complaints are made to the elders of the congregation on the delinquency of brethren, it will be possible for them to have such matters adjusted without the necessity of laying them before the whole assembly. But in cases of unequivocal public offence, the elders will have the facts and documents, the accusation, and the witnesses to sustain it, so digested and prepared as to place it before the congregation matured for their action.

      In those cases it will be in good order simply to state that such a charge has been preferred against such a brother; that certain witnesses have so and so testified; that the transgressor has made no defence, or such a defence; that he has to admit so much; that he is impenitent, or unwilling to make acknowledgment; and, upon the whole premises, they doubt not his defection.

      The church, then, is in full possession of the case, and little more will be necessary than to act upon the report, except the accused: deny the facts alleged in the report. If he do not, the church by its vote separates him from its communion. But if he deny the facts alleged, the church will hear the witnesses, and then decide first whether in its judgment the facts are sustained; and on deciding this in the affirmative, will separate him from its fellowship.

      But in such cases as the offender himself acknowledges his fault, or when it is proved against him in the presence of the elders, and he affords clear evidence of his penitence, report is made to the church, he appearing before it, and on being publicly rebuked and admonished, is restored to his standing in the congregation. [137]

      The elders of the church will not retain in the church, nor restore any transgressor who has been convicted of a public offence, or who, of his own accord, confesses a fault, but by a public rebuke: for, says the Apostle, "them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear." They will not, through the yearnings of pity or sympathy, "save the feelings" of a delinquent to the dishonor of Christ. They will, with Christian firmness, sustain the honor of the Christian institution, lest the way of the Lord should be traduced or evil spoken of. Dear as the feelings of a Christian brother may be, dearer far will be the character and feelings of the Saviour of the world.

      In administering a rebuke, it rarely happens that it will be in good order for a junior brother to reprove or admonish a senior. It will generally be the duty of the senior elder to attend to this solemn and responsible service. In rebuking a penitent offender, he will not fail to expatiate on the nature and tendency of the offence, and the occasion or temptation that led the way to it; and will also, with all earnestness and affection, admonish, beseech, and exhort to that watchfulness, meditation, and prayer, which alone can give him strength to moderate his passions, restrain his appetites, and overcome temptation.

      The Apostle Paul allows the church to appoint a committee in some cases of misunderstanding among brethren, whose judgment of the points at issue shall be final. These secular seats of judicature are necessary when the church in the aggregate are so unacquainted with the matter as not to be able to decide with judgment. Persons competent to arbitrate the case are selected by the parties or by the congregation. To these the matters in debate are referred. Their report, when presented to the church, and approved, must be final. So Paul taught the Corinthians, in his first Epistle, chap. vi. 1-5. The party that will not acquiesce in the decision of one or two committees thus chosen and appointed, is worthy of censure.

      The difference between misrule, ruling ill, and ruling well can not fail to be most apparent, and to be fully appreciated in the respective effects of a good and a bad administration. Under a prudent and righteous administration of the affairs of the church, the purity and excellency of the Christian institution will be sustained--offences and apostacies will be of rare occurrence. The congregation, like a well ordered family, will move in harmony and affection--will not only grow and increase in the knowledge of God, but in favor and usefulness among the people. Its numbers will be increased, and its influence in the community will be sensibly and extensively felt. The imputation of licentious and unsound doctrine will be impotent, and the ignorance of foolish and wicked revilers will be put to shame and silence. [138]

      But when every one does what is right in his own eyes, and feels himself responsible to the oversight of no person; at liberty to absent himself from the brethren as often and as long as he pleases, despising government and the restraints of Christ; mingling in the society of them who profane that sacred name which he professes to worship and adore; indulging in loose behaviour and inattention to the study of God's Book; preferring the company of the enemies of the cross, the world that crucified his Saviour, to the society of those who fear God and keep his commandments, and still regarded as a brother in Christ: the zeal of Paul and the eloquence of Apollos would fail to sustain the gospel in the midst of such disorder and licentiousness.

      Add to this the incompetency and unfaithfulness of those who preside, winking at open transgression, and strongly sympathizing with what they "charitably" call the frailties of their brethren, fearful of exercising discipline; and when some flagrant outrage occurs, allowing it to be brought into the congregation as a subject of inquiry and discussion, putting the law to vote whether it shall be executed, instead of proving by testimony the fact, and faithfully applying the law; disposed rather to commiserate the offender and connive at his offence, than to honor the King and sustain his law; and, perhaps, in the absence of the delinquent, judging his case by proxy; and on some slight concession putting to vote the propriety of receiving him without a public acknowledgment or admonition, displaying more passion or feeling than judgment, good sense, and faithfulness to God or man; and worse than all, either putting into office, or retaining in a conspicuous station in the church, those who have, not many months or years since, been a scandal to the Christian name by some gross immorality. Were the twelve Apostles to preach the gospel to a community intimately acquainted with such an administration of affairs, they all could not make a single convert. Profligacy and drunkenness do not more certainly lead to bankruptcy and ruin, than such a weak and unfaithful administration to the utter extinction of the light of the gospel and final dissolution of the church. Well might Paul say, "Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor:" and wisely did he admonish the Christian community "to salute," "to remember," and "obey them who had the rule over them, and to submit themselves, for they watched for their souls"--inasmuch as without this good government and subordination, the best constituted church could not long be pure, honorable, and prosperous. [139]

[A. C.]      

      1 A rebuke, in popular acceptation, is due more properly to the offender than to the penitent; and, therefore, ought to be tendered rather to the sinner than to the reformer. The word elencho, rendered (I. Tim. v. 20) rebuke, is the word found in Matt. xviii. 15; Luke iii. 19; John iii. 20; viii. 9, 46; xvi. 8; 11. Tim. iv. 2; Tit. i. 9, 13; ii. 15, and is rendered convince, convict, make manifest, as well as to reprove, rebuke.
      When, then, we speak of rebuking one who has sinned and is penitent, no more is meant than to make manifest his sin and repentance, and is more properly an admonition than a rebuke.
      Paul's words (I. Tim. v. 20) are applicable to one that sins publicly. For his sake that sins, and that of the church, Paul would have him publicly convicted of his sin that he may be brought to repentance, and that others may be put upon their guard. While, then, the penitent is to be admonished and received, the sinner is to be rebuked, and, if he repent not, ought to be separated from the church. [151]

[A. C.]      

      1. Alexander Campbell. "Order--As Respects Discipline." The Millennial Harbinger Extra 6 (October
1835): 513-518.
      2. Alexander Campbell. "Note." The Millennial Harbinger Extra 6 (October 1835): 528.
      NOTE: The footnote appears on page 151 of Millennial Harbinger Abridged. According to the editorial note on page 528 of The Millennial Harbinger, this footnote "should have been inserted at the bottom of page 514" (i. e., page 139 of Millennial Harbinger Abridged.) [E. S.]


[MHA2 134-139]

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Benjamin Lyon Smith
The Millennial Harbinger Abridged (1902)