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1883 Ecclesial Guide

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31. -- Introduction of New Brethren.

This apparently simple and joyful matter may be a source of trouble if not wisely regulated. Looking at Philip and the eunuch, some may think themselves justified in immersing a believing stranger at a moment's notice, without consultation with anyone, and introducing him afterwards as a brother to the brethren. Experience proves such a course to be fraught with the seeds of trouble and misunderstanding, and reflection will show that it is not justified by the case of Philip and the eunuch. In the case of Philip, he was guided and authorised by the Spirit, which no brother is in our day. And in immersing and admitting the eunuch, there was no one to consider but their two selves. It was a simple question of the obedience of the eunuch, to which no one but the evangelist stood related. In the circumstances of an ecclesia, it is different. A brother introduced is introduced to the fellowship of a number who have all equal rights in the matter of giving or withholding fellowship. These rights must be considered and provided for in the mode of procedure. It ought not to be possible for anyone to be thrust upon their fellowship without the opportunity of dissent. "Decently and in order" is a rule as applicable here as in other matters. It is not difficult to apply it. Let a brother receiving an application for admission, report the same to the Recording Brother, whose duty it is to report it to the body. Let an appointment for interview be made for the succeeding week. Let the result of the interview be announced next first day. If the interview is unsatisfactory, the matter is at an end. If satisfactory, let it be said, so, and that immersion will take place at such a time, if there be no objection. On the following first day, -- immersion having taken place, -- the reception of the new brother is signified, on behalf of all, by the presiding brother, just before the breaking of bread, extending to him the right hand of fellowship. This act is done in the name of the assembly. Some think it ought to be done in the name of Christ. They overlook that that would be to profess his authority for the reception of the particular individual. Such authority we do not possess. The person received may be a devil, as Judas was: and Christ will receive none such. We have authority to receive into fellowship of the assembly, but we have no authority to settle matters on behalf of Christ. He is judge, and will settle those at his coming.

By the mode indicated, the door is closed against the disorder and bad feeling liable to result from the sudden introduction of some person against whom, it may be, some valid ground of objection is known to some, who would raise it if they knew of the application.

But some ask, what if the person die during the delay? Such a question need not be allowed any weight against what is in itself wise. We may surely trust that God will not allow the frustration of his institutions through the wise and careful and peace-promoting administration of them in the hands of his children.

 

32. -- Cases of Sin and Withdrawal.

Withdrawal is a serious step, and ought not to be lightly taken against any brother. It erects a barrier and inflicts a stain not easily removed. It ought never to be taken until all the resources of the Scriptural rule of procedure have been exhausted.

The rule laid down by Christ for the treatment of personal offences (Matt. xviii. 15-17) is doubtless applicable to sin in general. Sin of any kind on the part of a brother, becoming known to another brother, is a sin against that brother -- more heinous, indeed, when Scripturally estimated, than a mere offence against himself. He is, therefore, bound to take the course Jesus prescribes, as John plainly indicates in the words, "If any man see his brother sin, a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, &c." It is usual with some not to act upon this rule at all. The usual way is to speak of the fault, whatever it is, to a third party. This itself is sin. A brother's part (if the case be serious enough to speak of at all), is to be silent to all but the brother himself: first, go to himself and discuss the matter between the two alone. If this is successful, a brother is gained and saved, and the matter is not to be mentioned to anyone else. If not successful, Christ commands the interview to be repeated with the assistance of one or two others; and only in the event of these failing, is the matter to be mentioned to the ecclesia, or those representing it. It is then the ecclesia's part to bring their whole influence to bear upon the offender to forsake his evil ways. Only when this has failed are we at liberty to withdraw. Nothing is so effectual as this rule for stopping evil speaking and ensuring merciful help to those who stumble, or the proper and timely treatment of incorrigible sin. Each brother then becomes a seeing eye and protecting hand of the ecclesia. There should be a stringent refusal to hear an evil report concerning any one until the reporter has taken the Scriptural course.

Withdrawal, too, when it comes (it must be noted), is not explusion. It is the apostolic form of separation, which though practically equivalent to explusion in its effects on the separated, is more in harmony with the spirit enjoined by Christ upon his house, than the form in vogue among professing bodies of all sorts. Withdrawal means that those withdrawing do modestly and sorrowfully step aside from the offender for fear of implication in his offence. Explusion means kicking out, which is a different thing, and implies and generates the arrogant attitude of ecclesiastical excommunication. The careful preservation of right forms in these things is a help to the preservation of the right spirit.

 

33. -- Examination of Applicants for Immersion.

There is, of course, a need for ascertaining whether an applicant for immersion understands and believes the truth. The validity of immersion depends upon believing the truth. In apostolic times, this belief was evidenced by the simple admission that Jesus was the Christ.

The case stands differently now when nominal believers in Christ associate with their historical belief, doctrines subversive of the scheme of truth which centres in his name. It is no longer sufficient for a man to say he believes in Christ, unless the statement mean that he believes the truth concerning Christ. The simple confession of belief in Christ does not bring with it the guarantee it did in apostolic times, that the doctrines embodied in Christ are received. The apostacy has held sway for centuries, and still reigns with undiminished power; and through its influence, there exists around us a state of things in which, while, so far as words go, there is universal profession of belief in Christ, there is an absolute and virulent rejection of the truth of which Christ is the embodiment. We must, therefore, dispense with mere forms and phrases, and address ourselves to the work of gauging the actual relations of things. We must find out the truth of a man's profession when he claims fellowship with us; and the genuineness of his faith when he asks to be immersed; and this now-a-days cannot be done without crucial test; for words have become so flexible, and mere phrases so current, that a form of words may be used without any conception of the idea which it originally and apostolically represented.

At the same time, we must beware of an attitude savouring of priestly arrogance. We must distinctly recognise that the efficacy of the candidate's immersion in no way depends on the administration or sanction of those who may examine him. We cannot impart validity to immersion by compliance, nor can we vitiate it by withholding countenance, but, as a matter of order and self-protection, we are bound to ascertain (and in these days to apply the test rigidly) whether a man applying for immersion believes the truth of the gospel or not. The attitude of enlightened believers of the truth might be expressed thus: "We are under the law of Christ: that law requires a man seeking baptism to be a believer of the Gospel; and it requires of us not to receive into our fellowship those who do not believe the truth, on pain of being held responsible for their unbelief. You ask us to baptise you. As a matter of allegiance to Christ and defence of our own position, we must ascertain whether you believe the truth. We cannot be parties to your baptism, if you do not receive the truth. We should be misleading you and implicating ourselves."

A specimen of the sort of conversation which is found effectual for ascertaining the existence of the requisite qualification will be found in the small pamphlet entitled "The Good Confession: a conversation between a Christadelphian and a believing stranger, with a view to immersion into the name of Christ."

 

34. -- Basis of Fellowship

Examination implies a recognised basis of fellowship; that is, a definition of the doctrines that are recognised as the truth. Examination would be objectless if there were no such definition recognised, whether written or understood. It is necessary to have the truth defined. It is not enough for an applicant to say he believes the Bible, or the testimony of the apostles. Multitudes would profess belief in this form, who we know are ignorant or unbelieving of the truth, and, therefore, unqualified for union with the brethren of Christ. The question for applicants is, do they believe what the Scriptures teach? To test this, the teaching requires definition. This definition agreed to, forms the basis of fellowship among believers, whether expressed in spoken or written words.

The history of creeds, which have supplanted the Scriptures in past ages, naturally leads some to feel an objection to this basis in a written form, but it is obvious that there are advantages in connection with a written form that outweigh the sentimental repugnance inspired by ecclesiastical precedents. A mere understanding as to the definitions of truth to be received is apt to become dim and indefinite, and the way is open to the gradual setting in of corruption. So long as it is understood that the written definition is not an authority, but merely the written expression of our identical convictions, there is not only no disadvantage, but the reverse, in reducing the faith to a form that shuts the door against misunderstanding.

Such a basis of fellowship will be found at the end of this book.

 

35. -- Disputes.

There ought to be no murmurings and disputings among the brethren of Christ. It is forbidden. Nevertheless, in the mixed state allowed to prevail in all ecclesias during probation, they are sure to arise. Wisdom, therefore, requires that we be prepared to deal with them in a proper manner when they arise. There is a way of dealing with them that heals them, and a way that has just the opposite effect. There is no more dangerous and prolific cause of distress and ruin in an ecclesia than the wrong treatment of causes of dispute. This must be the excuse for giving the subject a lengthy attention.

There are two sorts, both different, and yet both related as regards the spirit and aim with which they ought to be treated. 1. Individual offences. 2. Ecclesial differences.

No time ought to be lost in dealing with either one or the other. The longer time that elapses in the application of a remedy, the more difficult does the application of the remedy become. Individual misunderstandings spread coldness beyond the persons affected; and ecclesial differences are liable to settle into chronic alienations, which blight every good work.

 

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