Remarks on Church Discipline,
and Reflections on the Church of Christ
with the Utility and Benefits of Associations

By Elder Daniel Parker
1824

Believing the government of the church is in danger of being infringed on, has caused me some serious reflections on the authority of the church, and utility of associations, and some points of church discipline. I now offer a short sketch of my views on those points for public consideration.

My views of gospel discipline, according to the instruction given in the 15th and 16th, 17th verses, of the 18th chapter of Matthew. I think if we can all come to a proper understanding of what Christ intended to communicate to us in this instruction, it will not only be of great advantage to all the churches, in dealing with their members, but assists in our associated capacity, in dealing with disorderly churches. We have to say, discipline, or church order, when attended to agreeably to the gospel rule, is the beauty, glory, and safety of the church. As such, it ought to be the deep concern and call the close attention of every member of the body of Christ. As I intend to be short, I will endeavour to confine myself to the three verses before named, and be brief on them.

When we attend to the 15th verse, we find it easily understood; for the foregoing part of the chapter shows to us God's great regard, and constant care, over, and towards his children; in this verse he tells us what is our duty towards each other as brethren, and taking the verse as it stands, teaches us that in all cases, if thy brother sin against thee, go and tell him his fault, between thee and him alone, (take notice, alone) now watch, lest Satan go with you, reprove, rebuke, and admonish him; if he repents, confesses, and forsakes his faults, ye have gained your brother. If the sin is of a public nature, it will require a public acknowledgment: but if his fault is of a private nature, you are to say no more. But if your brother neglect to hear or attend to your reproofs, then the 16th verse will show what next to do; you are to take with you one or two more, now take notice what this one or two more are taken for, it is not surely to prove your course of dealing, but every word is to be established; that is, your brother's sin must be brought to view, so that the one or two you have taken with you, may see as well as you, that your brother had sinned.

Now if you cannot prove that your brother has sinned, your brethren you have taken with you cannot join with you in admonishing your brother, and of course he cannot neglect to hear them; as such, they cannot be witnesses with you in establishing every word before the church, as you are taught by the 17th verse; if he neglect to hear them, you are to tell it to the church. Note--if he does not neglect to hear them, including yourself, making one of the two or three by which every word is established, you are not authorized to tell it to the church.

Dear brethren, I believe it an essential point of discipline to understand and practice this passage of God's word aright; as such, I will in a few words give my understanding on the subject. If our brother sins, public or private, as the object of dealing with brethren should not be to exclude, but to reclaim; as such, let his sin be which it may, we should deal with him with that view, and tell him his fault between him and us alone, if we get satisfaction, we say no more about it, except his sin be of a public nature, then it will become the offenders duty to make a public recantation, if he refuse this, he becomes a subject of discipline by the same rule as if it were of a private nature. As such, in this case if we fail to reclaim our brother, we are to take with us one or two more, and prove or establish that they can, as well as us, see that our brother has sinned, and join with us to admonish our brother to repentance and after all due labours, we are to tell it to the church and then we come in as a witness with the one or two that we have taken with us, to manifest to the church that our brother has sinned, and wherein, there is no need now of defending and proving before the church, or investigation of the subject, this is already done before the two or three witnesses, the very sin is brought plain before the church; the church has a right to make every inquiry for her own satisfaction, to enable her to judge of the nature of the crime, and then to admonish the brother to repentance. If he neglect to hear the church, he is to be unto us as a heathen man, or a publican.

Now my views are this, that if our brother has sinned, yet if he denies the act, and we cannot prove it; let us trust in God to cleanse his church, while we submit, and bear our burden with that member after we have performed our duty to reclaim him or bring his sins to light, let us not tell it to the church, for there and then we do not only deviate from the gospel rule of discipline, but set our life on a level with that wicked person; and we are confident that the good government that God has given for the safety and benefit of his church, if properly attended to, will not bring the life of his children on a level with the wicked; for God will not destroy the righteous with the wicked.

Whenever we get tangled or confused, we may know that we are wrong; for the proper course of gospel discipline, if correctly pursued, is so perfect, that it never leads to confusion. I have thought the neglect of a strict observance of this pointed direction of our Lord, has caused more difficulties in churches, than any other one thing, for this is the main key that opens into every order of dealing.

This short sketch that I have given, although it may seem hard in some places, and contrary to our feelings, yet I believe it is correct, and if well understood, and closely pursued, will bring matters easy and plain to the church, while she will be relieved from a great deal of trouble and confusion. May the Lord make this a blessing to his people.

Whereas there is a diversity of sentiment on the subject of religion, and believing it is inconsistent in the nature of things, and impossible to accomplish a communion among the children of God, to the honor of religion and the peace of Zion, until there is an union on the principles of the gospel, and a correct understanding of the nature of the gospel church and government, by which the unity of the spirit in the bonds of peace, may be preserved. Therefore I shall take the liberty to offer for public consideration, some of my leading views of the church of Christ, with the utility and benefit of associations, on proper principles.

First--I believe the church of Christ is one, and therefore only one true gospel church in the world; this is one body, yet many members; the body of Christ, and members in particular, and members one of another; thus making up the body of Christ, united to him by his love, of his flesh and of his bone; this church is in the world, but is separate and distinct from the world, not being of the world, even while she is in it. This distinction from the world, is first wrought internally on the powers of the soul, by the effectual working of the divine spirit--secondly manifested externally, by a declaration of our faith in Christ, and producing the evidence of our love to him, and faith in his word, by subjecting ourselves to be governed by it; and strictly observing not only the faith of the gospel, but all the precepts of his word, and external ordinances of the gospel, with the government and discipline of the church. Thus the church is visible and observable in the world, and we have no proper knowledge of the members of the body of Christ, until those evidences are produced, therefore have no right to admit to christian union, or communion, any person who does not possess the gospel faith, or refuses or neglects to submit to the order of the gospel church.

This is the kingdom that God, agreeably to the prophesy of the prophet Daniel set up in the world that shall never be overthrown, the church that Christ has built upon a rock, and declares, the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. It is this church that St. Paul calls the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth. It is the house of God, a building fitly framed together, built up of lively stones, to offer spiritual sacrifices to God, acceptable through our Lord Jesus Christ. Thus we view the church an assembly met together for one purpose, joined in union, in gospel order, for the purpose of worshiping God in spirit and truth. This is the church or kingdom of Christ that was set up and established in the world, by Christ and his Apostles, and has been kept and preserved by the power of God in every age of the world, and is now, and ever has been, through all the dark scenes and worst of times, the light of the world, and salt of the earth; the place where Christ has set up his name, and reigns internally by his spirit; and has committed to his church as the bride, the lambs wife, his word, the keys of government, and clothed her with full power and authority to attend to all the external concerns of the church, under the direction of his word. While his law is going forth from Zion, and his word from Jerusalem--just as the husband when he takes his journey, he gives his wife a knowledge of his will, and proper authority to see that his word and will is correctly attended to by every branch of his family. The wife, in reverence to her husband, and love to his word, finds it her pleasure and duty to reject all other loves, and attend strictly to the will of her husband. So should the church of Christ attend to the will and law of her husband, until he returns again; be careful to govern herself agreeably to his will, while each member should consider himself as a member of this great family of heaven, equally authorized and interested in executing the will of their blessed Lord.

Thus we view the church one, and every Saint thus united, members one of another, possessing each one equal power in the body, with equal rights in the order and benefit of the church, and equally should fill their station in the church or body, agreeably to the diversity of gifts, given to them by the same spirit. Thus as every member of the human body is put in motion by the mutual consent of the sensitives and leading faculties of the soul, and feel the effect of joy or pain throughout the system; so every member of the body of Christ are put in motion by the operations of the divine spirit, guiding them into all truth, by which they are united together in the spiritual union, and every member influenced to perform their several duties agreeably to the will of the body, whose sensitives and leading faculties are taught by the spirit of God; in, through and by which Christ their king, dwells, reigns, and displays his sovereign mercy and power, by his spirit agreeably to his word; and each member thus united in this spiritual body feels the effect of joy or pain, in any part of the body, and are to be attended to by the body which possesses the proper authority, and power of government similar to that of the human body. In the human body each member hath its proper place and office, but the power to govern does not belong to any one member, but to the body, which is made up of all the members. It is the body that judges of the work and usefulness of the different gifts or members of the body, each gift or member of the body, ought to be encouraged to occupy their proper places to the edification and advantage of the body. And by the same governing power and authority, the gifts or members ought to be restrained from occupying places that do not belong to them, and acting contrary to the interest of the body. If any of the members are in distress, they are to be attended to by the body, for the body bears the members, and feels an interest in the whole, and the members throughout the body should all bear their part, either in joy or grief.

Second--The propriety and benefit of an association, is taught us by the same spirit that taught the primitive saints to combine and unite in a church capacity. When Christ was in the world, he never directed his disciples to collect members together, and plant, or establish churches. Though often using the word church, when speaking to them, but tells his disciples, that when the Holy Ghost, the spirit of truth, should come, the comforter he would send, that he should not only give them power to be his witnesses, but guide them into all truth.

Thus it appears to be the work of the divine spirit to teach the utility and benefit of a combination of members, and establishing and planting churches of Christ, in the gospel faith, under the command of their Lord, to go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature--he that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved, &c.

And when the Holy Ghost was poured out on them on the day of Pentecost, they received power to obey this command, and was led by the spirit to unite in a church capacity, while God added daily to the church, such as should be saved, and while the church remained at Jerusalem, in that circumscribed situation, the members could all meet at one place, then there was no need of what we call an association.

But when the word of God began to spread, and saints to multiply in various parts of the world, the same spirit still taught the combination of members, not only by the internal influence of its operations, but through the instrumentality of the disciples of Christ; thus the Apostles planted churches, and ordained Elders in them.

Could they all have met together in one place, it would have been the same church, and but one, united in the gospel of one Lord, one faith, and one baptism; we now view the churches planted by the Apostles; and every one planted from that time until now, by the same legal authority which Christ gave to his church, through the instrumentality of his Apostles, as so many incorporated particles of the gospel church, which the spirit of truth has taught, and christian prudence has directed, agreeably to God's word, for the benefit of each member of the mystical body of Christ, that each one should enjoy equal power and liberty in the church.

Thus, as we believe the church is one, the great object and only difficulty is, to ascertain the right and proper way, through and by which this union of the members of Christ's body may be preserved, maintained, and manifested to each other, as well as to ascertain the mind of Christ through his church, while she remains a light to the world, to the glory of God, and benefit of souls.

We believe this duty, benefit and blessing, belongs to the dear children of God, while in this world. And the Lord has been pleased to let us know, that it is our duty and privilege, to enjoy the right and benefit of church membership; and to meet together to worship him. Yet he has never told us how many it takes to make a church, or when, where, or how often we should meet together, but has left this work to be taught us by his spirit, and conducted under christian prudence, and conveniences.

Thus we believe that the same spirit that taught the church capacity, for the benefit of each other, and the glory of God, teaches the same utility and benefit of a combination of the different incorporated particles of the gospel church, for the same purposes, in something like an associated capacity.

But the association should never be a head over the churches as a law giver, nor even as an advisory council; this is making an improper use of an association. It would be in its nature oppressive, and an infringement on the rights of the churches, contrary to gospel order, destructive to christian liberty, and eventually turn our blessings to an awful curse.

The use of an association for the benefit of the churches, is only a medium of correspondence with each other, in order to extend, strengthen and preserve the fellowship of the Saints, and union of the members of the body of Christ, through which correspondence, each member of the individual churches can be consulted in all matters relative to the redeemers kingdom.

Thus the church is united on the gospel principles and government; the association is entirely relieved from all arguments and investigation of subjects; but all queries, matters of dispute, complaints of heterodox principles, or disorderly practice, with every matter that concerns the church of Christ, and requires the voice of the union should be brought in order, and through the medium of the association told to, and laid before the church, and through the same medium the voice of the church is handed back to every particle of the body.

This view of things shows plainly where the power is, and how it is to be executed, together with the union of the church, and its benefits, as well as how it is to be preserved, and is completely consistent with the Baptist principle, and public belief of church government.

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, be with your spirits, is the prayer of your servant,

DANIEL PARKER.


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