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  • WORKS OF ARMINIUS - THE POWER OF THE CHURCH IN ADMINISTERING JUSTICE


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    DISPUTATION LVII

    ON THE POWER OF THE CHURCH IN ADMINISTERING JUSTICE, OR ON ECCLESIASTICAL DISCIPLINE

    I. As no society, however rightly constituted and furnished with good laws, can long keep together unless they who belong to it be restrained within their duty by a certain method of jurisdiction or discipline, or be compelled to the performance of their duty, so, in the church, which is the house, the city and the kingdom of God, discipline of the same kind must flourish and be exercised.

    II. But it is proper that this discipline be accommodated to the spiritual life, and not to that which is natural; and that it should be serviceable for edifying, confirming, amplifying and adorning the church as such, and for directing consciences, without [employing] any force hurtful in any part to the body or to the substance, and to the condition of the animal life; unless, perhaps, it be the pleasure of the magistrate, in virtue of the power granted to him by God, to force an offender to repentance by some other method. Such a proceeding, however, we do not prejudge.

    III. But ecclesiastical discipline is an act of the church, by which, according to the power instituted by God and Christ, and bestowed on her, and to be employed through a consciousness of the office imposed, she reprehends all and every one of those who belong to the church, if they have fallen into open sin, and admonishes them to repent; or, if they pertinaciously persevere in their sins, she excommunicates them, to the benefit of the whole church, the salvation of the sinner himself, to the profit of those who are without, and to the glory of God himself and Christ.

    IV. The object of this discipline is all and each of those who, having been engrafted into the church by baptism, are capable of this discipline for the correction of themselves. The cause or formal condition why discipline must be exercised on them is, the offenses committed by them, whether they concern the doctrine of faith, and are pernicious and destructive heresies, or whether they have respect to morals and to the rest of the acts of the Christian life.

    V. But it is requisite, that these sins be external and manifest, that is, known, and correctly known, to those by whom the discipline shall be administered; and that it be evident, that they are sins according to the laws imposed by Christ on the church, and that they have actually been committed. For God, alone, judges concerning inward sins.

    VI. Let the form of administering the laws be with all kindness and discretion, also with zeal, and occasionally with severity and some degree of rigor, if occasion require it to be employed. But the intention is, the salvation of him who has sinned, and that of the whole body of the church, to the glory of God and of Christ.

    VII. The execution of this discipline lies both in admonition and in castigation or punishment, or in censure, which is conveyed only in words, through reprehension, exhortation and communication, or which is given by the privation of some of those things which outwardly belong to the communion of saints, and to the saving edification or building up of every believer in the body of Christ.

    VIII. Admonitions are accommodated, First, to the persons who have sinned, in which must be observed the difference of age, sex and condition, with all prudence and discretion. Secondly. They are accommodated to those sins which have been committed; for some are more grievous than others. Thirdly. To the mode in which sins have been perpetrated, which mode comes now under our special consideration.

    IX. For some sins are clandestine, others are public, whether they are offenses only against God, or whether they have, in union with such offense, injury to a man's neighbour. According to this latter respect, it is called "a private sin," that is, an offense committed by one private individual against another-such as is intimated by the word of Christ, in Matt. xviii, 7-18, in which passage is likewise prescribed the mode of reproving an offense.

    X. A clandestine sin is that which is secretly perpetrated, and with the commission of which very few persons are acquainted; to this belongs a secret reprehension, to be inflicted by those who are acquainted with it. One of the principal ministers of the church, however, will be able to impart authority to the reprehension; yet he can, by no means, refer it to his colleagues; but it will be his duty to deliver this reproof in secret.

    XI. A public sin is that which is committed when several people are acquainted with it. We allow it to be made a subject of discussion, whether a sin ought to receive the appellation of a public one, when it has been secretly committed but has become known to many persons either through the fault of him who perpetrated it, or through the officiousness of those who divulged it without necessity.

    XII. But there is still some difference in public sins; for they are known either to some part of the church, or to the whole, or nearly to the whole of it; according to this difference, the admonition to be given ought to be varied. If the sin be known to part of the church, it is sufficient that the sinner be admonished and reproved before the consistory, or in the presence of more persons to whom it had been known. If it be known to the whole church, the sinner must be reprehended before all the members; for this practice conduces both to the shame of him who has sinned, and to deter others from sinning after his example. Some consideration, however, may be had to the shame of any offender, and a degree of moderation be shown; that is, if he is not deeply versed in sinful practices, but if a sin has taken him by surprise, or "he is overtaken in a fault."

    XIII. As this reproof has the tendency to induce the offender to desist from sinning, if this end is not obtained by the first admonition, it is necessary to repeat it occasionally, until the sinner stands corrected, or makes an open declaration of his contumacy. But some difference of opinion exists on this point among divines: "Is it useful to bring an offender to punishment, when, after having afforded hopes of amendment, he does not fulfill those hopes according to the judgment and the wishes of the church?" But it does not seem possible to determine this so much by settled rules, as by leaving the matter to the discretion of the governors of the church.

    XIV. But if the offender despise all admonitions, and contumaciously perseveres in his sins, after the church has exercised the necessary patience towards him, she must proceed to punishment; which is excommunication, that is, the exclusion of the contumacious person from the holy communion and even from the church herself. This public exclusion will be accompanied by the avoidance of all intercourse and familiarity with the person excommunicated, to [the observance of] which, each member of the church must pay attention as far as is permitted by the necessary relative duties which either all the members owe to him according to their general vocation, or some of them owe according to their particular obligation. [For a subject is not freed from his obligation toward his prince, on account of the excommunication of the prince; neither, in such circumstances, is a wife freed from the duty which she is bound to perform to her husband; nor are children freed from their duty to parents; and thus in other similar instances.]

    XV. Some persons suppose, that this excommunication is solely from the privilege of celebrating the Lord's supper. Others suppose it to be of two kinds, the less and the greater -- the less being a partial exclusion from attendance on some of the sacred offices of the church -- the greater, an exclusion from all of them together, and totally from the communion of believers. But others, rejecting the minor excommunication, acknowledge no other than the major; because it appears to them, that there is no cause why a contumacious sinner ought to be rejected from this communion more than from that, since he has rendered himself unworthy to obtain any place in the church and the assembly of saints. We do not interpose our opinion; but we leave this matter to be discussed by the judgment of learned and pious men, that by common consent it may be concluded from the Scriptures what is most agreeable to them, and best suited to the edification of the church.

    COROLLARIES

    Excommunication must be avoided, where a manifest fear of a schism exists.

    "Should not this also be done, where a fear exists of persecution being likely to ensue on account of excommunication?" We think, that, in this case, likewise, excommunication should be avoided.

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