How Church Rulings Do & Do Not Bind, on Guilt & Innocence in Breaking Them, & on Contumacy

“There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy…”

James 4:12

“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations…  Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you;”

Mt. 28:19-20

“And they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him, and caught him, and brought him to the council…  And he [Stephen] said, ‘Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken…  Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.”

Acts 6:12; 7:2,51

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Subsections

How Far the Laws & Commands of Human Authorities Bind the Conscience

That the Mere Will, Determination, Judgment or Saying So of Authorities is an Insufficient Ground of Faith & Obedience, & that Authorities are Never to Act or Require Something without a Naturally, Morally or Spiritually Sufficient Reason, & that Manifest to Consciences.

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Order of Contents

The Formal Ground of Obedience: Nature & Scripture, Not the Church
On How Church Rulings Do & Don’t Bind
On Errant Court Rulings
What about Mt. 16:19 & 18:18?
On Those who are Better Informed
How Far Church Orders may Limit Christian Liberty
The Church May Not Discharge What is Warranted in the Word

Declining a Church Order without Scandal or Contempt does Not Incur Guilt
On Amenable Persons & Degrees of Censure
On Contumacy
Contumacy Must be Conjoined with a Specific Commandment of God
The Only Way Contumacy can be Proven Against an Objecting, Errant, yet
.      Peaceful, Person
The 5th Commandment does not Take Precedence Over the 6th Commandment
On Flight from Unjust Legal Proceedings
Objection: ‘But this makes the Church to have No More Authority than a
.          Private Counselor if I only Obey her when I Agree with Her’


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The Formal Ground of Obedience: the Light of Nature & Scripture, Not the Church, or because She Hath Said

Quotes

1600’s

George Gillespie

English Popish Ceremonies...  (Edinburgh, 1637)

1st Part, ch. 4, pp. 9-10

“But as we have seen in what respect the laws of the Church do not bind, let us now see how they may be said to bind.  That which binds is not the authority of the Church, nor any force which the Church can give to her laws.  It must be then somewhat else which makes them able to bind, when they bind at all, and that is, ratio legis, ‘the reason of the law,’ without which the law itself cannot bind, and which has the chiefest and most principal power of binding.

An ecclesiastical law says Junius (Animad. in Bellarmine, Controversy 3, bk. 4, ch. 16, note 87):

‘[Greek] sive depositio, non vere lex est, sed [Greek] aut canon, ac proinde dirigit quidem ut canon agentem voluntarie: non autem necessitate cogit, ut lex, etiam involuntarium quod si forte ante accedit coactio, ea non est de natura Canonis sed aliunde pervenit.’

An ecclesiastical canon says Tilen, ducit volentem, non trahit nolentem: quod si accedat coactio, ea Ecclesiastici Canonis natura est prorsus aliena. Calvin’s judgment is that an ecclesistical canon binds when manifestam utilitatem prae se fert [it bears a manifest utility before it], and when either [Greek] or charitatis ratio [the law of charity] does require that we impose a necessity on our liberty.  It binds not then by its own authority in his mind.

And what says the Canon Law itself?  Sed sciendum est quod Ecclesiasticae prohibitiones proprias habent causas, quibus cessantibus, cessant & ipsae.  Hence Junius says that the law binds not per se [of itself], but only propter ordinem, charitatem, & cautionem scandali [for the order, charity and caution of scandal].  Hence Ames:

quamvis ad justas leges humanas, justo modo observandas, obligentur homines in conscientiis suis a Deo; ipsae tamen leges humanae, qua sunt leges hominum, non obligant conscientiam.’

Hence Alsted: Lawes made by men of things indifferent, whether they be civil or ecclesiastical, do bind the conscience insofar as they agree with God’s Word, serve for the public good, maintain order, and finally, take not away liberty of conscience.  Hence the Professors of Leiden say that laws bind not primo & per se, sed secundario & per accidens [firstly and of themselves, but secondarily and by accident], that is quatenus in illis lex aliqua Dei violatur [insofar as in them the law of God is anyway violated].

Hence I may compare the constitutions of the Church with responsa juris consultorum [responses of the lawyers of the law] among the Romans, which obliged no man, nisi ex aequo & bono [except out of equity and good] says Danaeus.  Hence it may be said that the lawes of the Church do only bind scandali & contemptus ratione [by the reason of scandal and contempt], as Hospinian, and in case libertas fiat cum scandalo [liberty may be turned into scandal], as Paraeus: for it were scandal, not to give obedience to the laws of the Church when they prescribe things necessary or expedient for the eschewing of scandal, and it were contempt to refuse obedience to them when we are not certainly perswaded of the unlawfulness or inexpediency of the things prescribed.

We deny not then that the Churches’ canons about rites which serve for public order and edification do bind:  We say only that it is not the authority of the Church framing the canon that binds, but the matter of the canon chiefly, warranted by God’s Word.  Scimus enim quaecunque ad decorum & ordinem pertinent, non habenda esse pro humanis placitis, quia divinitus approbantur (Calvin, Resp. ad Libel. de Pii Viri Officio, p. 413).  Therefore we think concerning such canons that ‘they are necessary to be observed so far forth only as the keeping of them maintains decent order and prevents open offence.’ (Theodore Beza, Confession, ch. 5, Article 18; Perkins, ubi supra. & Meisner, Philos. sobr., part 3, section 2, question 12)”

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pt. 2, ch. 9, p. 46

“The bare authority of the Church could neither restrain his liberty nor ours in things indifferent, when there is no more to bind but the aucthority of an ordinance.”

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Samuel Rutherford

 The Divine Right of Church Government...  (1646)

Intro, section 5, ‘Moral Obedience Resolved Ultimately in Scripture’, pp. 80-82

“2.  As concerning actions of Church-policy that cannot be warranted by the light of nature, and yet have intrinsical conveniency and aptitude to edify and decently to accommodate the worship of God.  I conceive these may be done, but not because the Church so commands, as if their commandment were the formal reason of our obedience, but because partly the light of the Law of reason, partly scripture does warrant them…

Question.  But does not the Church determine things that of themselves are indifferent, as whether [the] sermon should begin at nine of clock or ten in the morning; and after the Church has past a determination for the diet of ten a clock, the indifferency of either nine or ten is removed and the practice, without any warrant of Scripture, [is] restricted to one, for order and peace sake; and why may not the like be done in positives of Church-government?

Answer.  The truth is [that] the Church by her will puts no determination on the time, but only ministerially declares that which God’s providence accommodating itself to the season, climate, the conveniency of the congregation as they lie in distance from the place of meeting, has determined already…”

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Question 2, p. 101

“6.  What is warranted by natural reason, is warranted by Scripture, for the Law of nature is but a part of Scripture.”

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James Guthrie

Protesters No Subverters…  (1658), p. 95-6

“…we shall premise some common and known truths concerning Church-judicatories and their decrees and sentences, as:

1.  That (to express it in Calvin’s words, in the eighth chapter of the fourth book of his Institutions) whatsoever reverence or dignity is by the Spirit of God in the Scriptures given, whether to the priests, or prophets, or apostles, or their successors, all of it is given not properly to men themselves, but to the ministry, wherewith they are clothed; or (to speak more expeditely) to the Word; the ministry whereof is committed unto them, Ex. 3:4; 14:31; Deut. 17:•; Mal. 2:46; Deut. 17:10; Eze. 3:17; Jer. 23:28; Jer. 1:6; Mt. 28:19; Acts 15:10; etc.

2.  That as their authority is founded upon, and wholly derived from the Word of God, so in the administration and exercise thereof, they are in all things to walk according to this rule, Isa. 8:19-20; Mal. 2:6-7; Mt. 28:19.

3.  That Church-power is not a lordly and magisterial power, but a lowly and ministerial-power, not an absolute and autocratoric, but a limited and hyperetic-[below-kind-of-]power; and that Church decrees and sentences are all of them regulae regulatae, [rules being regulated] rules that are subordinated, and do not bind but in the Lord, and so far as they are conform to that first inflexible and unerring-rule, prescribed by Himself, Lk. 22:24-27; Gal. 6:16; 1 Peter 5:2-3; 1 Tim. 3:15-17; 1 Thess. 5:12; Eph. 6:1.”


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On How Church Rulings Do & Don’t Bind

Articles

1600’s

Turretin, Francis – Question 31, ‘Does a legislative power properly so called, of enacting laws binding the conscience, belong to the church?  Or only an ordaining (diataktike) power, of sanctioning constitutions and canons for the sake of good order (eutaxian)?  The former we deny; the latter we affirm against the Romanists.’  under ‘Ecclesiastical Power’ in the 18th topic, ‘The Church’ in Institutes, vol. 3, pp. 285-293

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1700’s

La Placette, Jean – Ch. 10, ‘Of Ecclesiastical Ordinances’ & ‘Remarks on the 10th Chapter’  in The Christian Casuist: or, a Treatise of Conscience  (London: 1705). pp. 64-92

La Placette (1629-1718) was a French Huguenot minister.

“…if the laws of the Church obliged the conscience in such a [absolute] manner, as that the transgression of them were a sin, the observance of them would then be a good action…

…the persons against whom I dispute, pretend the violation of ecclesiastical laws to be therefore only sinful, because it implies an infraction of the law of God, who has commanded us to obey the Church: but if not to do what the Church enjoins be to violate the law of God, must it not be allowed, that to comply with her injunctions, is to observe the same divine law, and consequently to perform a good and virtuous act?…

Lastly, if ecclesiastical laws obliged the conscience, the Church would only have changed her yoke by the establishment of Christianity: she would still continue a slave; and the only difference would be, that whereas under the [Mosaic] Law her servitude was terminated with respect to God, she would now be in bondage to men…

…ever since the Reformation, it has been a particular controversy between the Romanists and us, whether ecclesiastical laws oblige the conscience, in other cases besides those of contempt and scandal.  The Church of Rome has declared for the affirmative; and Protestant authors, as well Lutherans as Calvinists, for the negative.

If any question this, let them give themselves the trouble of reading Bellarmine De Bonis Operibus [Of Good Works], particularly book 2, ch. 7 [‘Ecclesiastical Law Obliges the Faithful in Conscience…’], and the Brothers of Valemborch, tome 1, p. 183; tome 2, p. 187, among the papists; and among those of our communion, the supplement to Chamier, p. 375; Rivet’s Summary of Controversies [in French], tract 2, question 9 [‘Whether the Church may Make Laws?’]; [Jean] Mestrezat, Of the Church, Theses of Salmur, tome 1, disputation 1 [‘Whether Conscience to the Faith is Prior to that of the Church, or that to the Church is Prior to that of the Faith?’].  But this is not all, the Confession of Faith, published by the Reformed Churches of France, is express to the same purpose; see Article 33.  So that if I have gone too far in this respect, I have all the Protestant Churches for my vouchers.” – pp. 71-75

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Quotes

1500’s

The Ten Theses of Bern  1528

The Mass was suspended in Bern, Switzerland in 1525.  Notable figures involved shortly thereafter in the Bern Reformation included Oecolampadius, Bucer & Capito.  These theses were drafted by Berthold Haller and Franz Kolb, and were revised by Zwingli.

in ed. Dennison, Reformed Confessions of the 16th & 17th Centuries…  vol. 1 (2008), pp. 41-2

“1.  The holy catholic church, whose sole head is Christ, has been begotten from the Word of God, in which also it continues, nor does it listen to the voice of any stranger.

2.  The Church of Christ establishes no laws or statutes beyond the Word of God.  Thus all traditions of men, which are called by us precepts of the Church, bind our consciences only insofar as they are founded, or have been commanded, in the Word of God.

3.  Christ alone is our wisdom, righteousness…”

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The French Confession  1559

ed. Dennison, Reformed Confessions (RHB, 2010), vol. 2, p. 151

Article 33

“But we exclude all human inventions and all those laws which are introduced to bind the conscience under pretense of God’s service.  And we do only reserve such as serve to keep up concord, and retain everyone, from the highest unto the lowest, in due obedience.”

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1600’s

George Gillespie

An Assertion of the Government of the Church of Scotland…  (Edinburgh, 1641), pp. 152-3

“But may one say, if the decrees of a Synod concerning matters of faith or worship, may and ought to be examined by the sure rule of the Word of God, and only to be re­ceived when they do agree therewith; and if also the constitutions of a Synod in exter­nal circumstances do not bind, except ex aeque et bono [out of equity and with/by good], and propter justas mandandi causas [of commanding according to just causes]: or, as divines speak, in casu scanda­li & contemptus [in the case of scandal and contempt], and not for the mere will or authority of a Synod; and if therefore all Christians are by the private judgment of Christian discretion, following the light of God’s Word and Spirit, to try and examine all decrees and constitutions of any Synod whatsoever, to know whether they may law­fully receive the same, as our divines main­tain and prove against Papists.

If these things be so, it may seem contrary to Chri­stian liberty, and to the doctrine of Prote­stant writers, that Synods should exercise the foresaid critic power, or inflict any spiritual censures, at least upon those who profess, that after examination of the de­crees or constitutions, they cannot bee per­suaded of the lawfulness of the same.

Answer:

1.  Our divines, by those their tenets, mean not to open a door to disobedience and contempt of the ordinances of a Synod, but only to oppugne the Popish error con­cerning the binding power of ecclesiastical laws, by the sole will and naked authority of the law-maker, and that Christian people ought not to seek any further reason or motive of o­bedience.

2.  A Synod must ever put a dif­ference betwixt those who out of a real scruple of conscience, do in a modest and peaceable way, refuse obedience to their or­dinances, still using the means of their bett­er information, and those who contemptuously or factiously disobey the same, labouring with all their might to strengthen themselves in their error, and to persuade others to be of their mind.

3.  This objection does militate no less against ecclesiastical censures in a particular congregation than in a Natio­nal Synod…

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Samuel Rutherford

A Free Disputation Against Pretended Liberty of Conscience…  (1649), ch. 2, p. 23

“Say that the decision of the synod be agreeable to the Word: the Lord lays on the coaction [coercion] to all, to believe and accordingly profess the truth, and that by a synod, as Christ says, ‘he that heareth you heareth Me’: so the coaction, such as it is, must come principally from God, instrumentally from the synod; but it flows from both by accident [that is, it does not occur necessarily], and through men’s abuse, who receive not the truth in love, but for fear of shame, lest they should by the godly go for perverters of souls, Acts 15, that they do hypocritically profess what they ought sincerely to believe and profess; may we not say many men of corrupt minds believed circumcision to be necessary, and yet for fear of the apostles’ censure that they should be judged troublers of souls, liars and false teachers, as they are judged to be, Acts 15:24, would dissemble?…  For there be but two ways of working on the mind to drive men to be of another opinion, one by fear either of shame, reproach or censures civil or ecclesiastical, another by mere teaching and instructing.”

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A Survey of the Survey of that Sum of Church Discipline Penned by Mr. Thomas Hooker…  (London, 1658), bk. 4, ch. 12, ‘Of the Magistrate’s Power in Convocating Synods’, p. 497

“…for neither magistrate nor people can be bound to follow the judgement of the Churches or ministry farther than they follow the rule of the Word; they follow their judgement conditionally, not absolutely and simply;

and it is a great calumny of Mr. [Henry] Burton and our [Independent] Brethren, that we lay bands on the consciences of prince and people to follow the acts and determinations of the Church, be they true or false: and that there is no place left to appeal to the next, or a better informed synod, and to the consciences of the collective Church of the godly judicious professors, and to protest and deny obedience to erring assemblies.”

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The Divine Right of Church Government  (London, 1646)

Introduction, Section 2, p. 15

“For the Church does bind and loose in the external court, either by a commission from Him who as head of the Church, and who as King gave to her the keys of the Kingdom…”

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pp. 648-9

“The apostles would make no laws at all of things indifferent except in the case of scandal…

If then nothing be good [simply] because rulers command it; but, by the contrary, they do lawfully command it because it is good.  The Church’s power is one and the same in things indifferent, and necessary in matters of doctrine, discipline and order; for in both, the Church does not create goodness, but does by the light of the Word, or (which is a part of the Word) by nature’s light, find pre-existent goodness in doctrine, discipline, and matters of order.

Therefore, will of authority, as will, has no power to dispose of the least circumstance of time, place or person; but the Church’s power is ministerial and determined to what is good, expedient and convenient.”

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p. 652

“Necessity of obeying the Church can make nothing necessary and good, for the Church commands it because it is necessary and good and it has not goodness, necessity and aptness to edify from men’s will and the Church’s commandment.”

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Appendix, ‘An Introduction to the Doctrine of Scandal’, Question 4, p. 43

“6.  If matters in their expediency be questionable and probable on both sides, the Church’s determination should end the controversy (say the Doctors), this is the doctrine of the Jesuits, Suarez, Thomas Sanches, and Gregory de Valentia, as I show[ed] before (supra, Question 6 of this treatise), when a thing is probable and I be resolved in conscience against neither of the sides, and fear the one side be [a] murdering him for whom Christ died, which is against God’s commandment, and know that human authority commands the contrary and am persuaded it is indifferent and a positive commandment of men: if the Church’s determination be here to sway my conscience to practice, is to me blind obedience for human authority, as it is such, gives no light.  Ergo, it [the Church’s judgment] cannot remove my doubting and beget faith; and also the conscience is so much the bolder to venture on a sin against God for fear of eschewing a sin against men, which is questionable, and [that] in a matter indifferent; this is also the stout conscience of Bonaventura (2 Sentences, dist. 39), plus est standum praecepto Praelati quam conscientiae.

7.  Our [Prelatist] Doctors say [that] our way is against the peace of the Church: But I answer [that] their way is Popish and against the truth of God in commanding our consciences to rest upon the wicked will of men.”

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Question 5, p. 59

“…the Church ministerially does judge, so as the obligatory power is from the things themselves, not from the will of human superiors.  No necessity of peace which is posterior to truth, no necessity of obedience to authority, no necessity of uniformity in these externals, simply, and as they are such, are necessities obliging us to obedience: For things must first in themselves be necessary, before they can oblige to obedience.

I must obey superiors in these things of convenient necessity, because they are convenient, and most convenient in themselves, and so intrinsically most necessary, but they are not necessarily to be done in themselves, because I must obey superiors, and because I must keep uniformity with the Church.  The will of superiors do find in things necessity, and good of uniformity, but they do not make necessity, nor the good of uniformity:

We should be servants of men if our obedience were ultimately resolved in the mere will of superiors in any the least circumstance of worship: and what I say of actions, holds in matters of mere custom also.”

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French Articles

1600’s

Rivet, Andrew – Tract 2, Question 9, ‘Whether the Church may Make Laws?’  in The Orthodox Catholic Opposite the Catholic Papist, in Four Tracts, which Disputes are a Summary of All the Controversies of this Time touching Religion...  3rd ed.  (Saumur, 1616)

Mestrezat, Jean – Disputation 1, ‘Whether Conscience to the Faith is Prior to that of the Church, or Whether Conscience to the Church is Prior to that of the Faith?’  in Of the Church  (Geneva, 1649)


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On Errant Court Rulings

See also, ‘Unjust Church Sentences are Not to be Obeyed for a Moment’.

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Quotes

Theodore Beza

‘Theodore Beza’s Confession (1560): A Brief & Pithy Sum of Christian Faith’, 5th Point, ‘Of the Church’, 12. ‘How Far We May Differ from Councils’  in Reformed Confessions of the 16th & 17th Centuries, ed. Dennison  (RHB, 2010), vol. 2, pp. 311-12

“St. Augustine says, ‘The church ought not to be preferred before Jesus Christ.  For He always judges truly; but the ecclesiastical judges often may deceive themselves and truly do so.’

For who condemned Jesus Christ?  A council lawfully assembled, if we consider that outward succession and appearance.  Who concluded that those who were baptized by heretics should be re-baptized?  A council in Africa where St. Cyprian was.”

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Samuel Rutherford

The Due Right of Presbyteries  (1644), pt. 1, ‘Of the Addition of Members to the Church’, pp. 279-80

“We acknowledge not what Navarrus and Gregory say, that excommunication, whether just or unjust, is to be feared, for the curse causlessly does not fall.  The sentence is either given out:

[1.] a jure, vel ab homine, by the Law, or the persons.
Secondly, it is either just or unjust.
Thirdly, and that three ways: exanimo, [out of] good or ill zeal; secondly, ex causa, [out of] a just or unjust cause; thirdly, ex ordine [out of order], when order of law is kept.

An unjust sentence is either valid or null.  That which is invalid is either invalid through defect of the good mind of the excommunicators, and this is not essential to the excommunication’s validity.  That which is invalid this way only, ligat, ‘it binds’ in foro exteriore [in the external court].

But that which is unjust through want [lack] of a just cause, it only binds from external communion; but because God’s ordinances are to be measured from their own nature, and the general intention of the catholic Church, and not from abuses and particular intentions of such excommunicators: therefore they do not exclude from the general Church-desires.  The fourth Council of Carthage, as also Gerson says, an unjust sentence neminem gravare debet, ‘should affright no man’…”

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James Guthrie

Protesters No Subverters…  (Edinburgh, 1658)

pp. 17-18

“…men…  who…  do make glad the hearts of those whom God has not made glad; and make sad the hearts of those whom God has not made sad:”

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p. 23

“Have they [even the Resolutioners] not counteracted and been instrumental to cause people in congregations counteract to the determinations and sentences of their own presbyteries and synods?”

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pp. 96-7

“[4.] Calvin treating of Church-power, says well, ‘Non est igitur ecclesiae potestas in•…inita, sed subjecta verbo Domini, & in eo quasi inclusa.’ (Institutes, bk. 4, ch. 8, sect. 4)  That all Church-judicatories, whether congregational-elderships, or presbyteries or synods, whether provincial or national, or ecumenic, being constituted of men that are weak, frail and ignorant in part, are in their determinations fallible and subject to error, Isa. 40:6-8; Rom. 3:4; 1 Cor. 13:9,12.

5.  That insofar as any of these do actually err and decline from the truth, they do insofar act without power and authority from Jesus Christ: They can do nothing (of themselves, they may do, but not by His commission and warrant) against the truth, but for the truth, 2 Cor. 13:8.  The power which He has given them being to edification, and not to destruction, 2 Cor. 13:12.

6.  Sad experience, almost in every generation, does teach us that Church-guides and Church-judicatories do oftentimes decline from the straight-ways of the Lord, and decree unrighteous decrees, and write grievous things which they have prescribed, Isa. 9:15-16; Jer. 8:8-9; Mal. 2:8-9; Jer. 2:8.  And that whilst they are boasting of the authority given to them of God, and of their skill in the Law, and professing to walk according thereto, they are perverting the precious truths of God, and persecuting these who cleave thereunto, Jer. 18:18; Isa. 66:5; Jn. 7:48-49.

7.  That the same Lord, who has commanded us not to despise prophesying, 1 Thess. 5:19, has also commanded us to prove all things, and to hold fast that which is good, ver. 20.  And no[t] to believe every spirit, but to try the spirits, whether they be of God, because many false prophets are gone forth into the world, 1 Jn. 4:1.  And that whatsoever is not of faith is sin, Rom. 14:15.  And that we ought not to be the servants of men, 1 Cor. 7:23.  That is to do things (especially in the matters of God) for which we have no other warrant, but the mere pleasure and will of men, which the apostle Peter calls living to the lusts of men, and not to the will of God, 1 Pet. 4:2.

And that it is therefore both the duty and privilege of every Church-member, and of every inferior Church-judicatory, to examine by the judgement of discretion every thing which the Church-authority joins, whether it be agreeable or repugnant to the rules of the Word; and if after a diligent and impartial search, it be found repugnant, they are not to bring their consciences in bondage thereto;

neither is the allowing and exercising of the judgement of discretion by inferiors, the setting them as judges over their superiors, or making them transgress the line, or limits of that due subordination and submission appointed unto them of God.  Protestant divines in their writings, de judice controverstarum [on the judge of controversies] have fully answered this, and showed us that it does not make a private man or an inferior, judge of the sentences and decrees of his superiors, but only of his own actions.”

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J.C. Ryle

Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, on John ch. 9, verses 26-41

“That which wicked men bind on earth is not bound in heaven… Excommunication, persecution, and imprisonment have generally been favorite weapons with ecclesiastical tyrants. Unable, like the Pharisees, to answer arguments, they have resorted to violence and injustice.  Let the child of God console himself with the thought that there is a true Church out of which no man can cast him, and a Church-membership which no earthly power can take away.  He only is blessed whom Christ calls blessed; and he only is accursed whom Christ shall pronounce accursed at the last day.”


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What about Mt. 16:19 & 18:18?

And Simon Peter answered and said, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’…  And I say also unto thee…  upon this rock I will build my church…  And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Mt. 16:16-19

“Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault…  And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church…  Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Mt. 18:15, 17-18

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Intro

To some these verses seem to imply that whatever church officers bind in their determinations, is bound by God in Heaven, even if the Church errs, at least until it is then corrected through the Church courts.

The historic reformed view was that the Church confirms the truth of God with her authority, and God sanctions and confirms that authority from Heaven for the visible Church.  If the Church errs, it is not confirmed of God in Heaven; He does not set his seal unto, and enforce error with his spiritual judgments.

This is born out in the passages themselves.  Mt. 16:19 presumes the verses that go before it, which instance a Gospel-truth revealed from Heaven, and Christ building his Chuch upon the Rock, not error.  It is through these Gospel-truths that the way of salvation is opened and shut on earth to hearers; and God confirms this Word from Heaven.

Likewise, Mt. 18:18 is set at the end of a passage about Chuch discipline.  The very beginning of passage defines the issue at hand to be a tresspass against someone.  The Church binds against this trespass with spiritual censures, and they are confirmed in Heaven.  There is no warrant here for God binding erroneous rulings.  The category of ‘whatsoever ye shall bind’ includes anything that comes before the Church which it may determine upon, consistent with the qualifications inherent in the passage.


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On Those who are Better Informed

George Gillespie

An Assertion of the Government of the Church of Scotland…  (Edinburgh, 1641)

pp. 108-9

“There be some that call in question the warrant and authority of classical presbyteries, of provincial synods and national assemblies, as they are used and maintained in the Church of Scotland.  I mean not the praelatical facti­on, whom we set aside, but even some who are as anti-episcopal as we are.  The scru­pulosity of such (at least of many such) herein [of the Independents] does (we conceive) proceed not from any perverseness of mind, but only from cer­tain mistakings, which better information may remove.”

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pp. 152-3

“A Synod must ever put a dif­ference betwixt those who out of a real scruple of conscience, do in a modest and peaceable way, refuse obedience to their or­dinances, still using the means of their bett­er information, and those who contemptuously or factiously disobey the same, labouring with all their might to strengthen themselves in their error, and to persuade others to be of their mind.”


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How Far Church Orders, with Sufficient Natural Circumstances, may Limit Christian Liberty?  Only insofar as the Word & Moral Law Limit it.

See also, ‘That the Command of Authorities does Not Make Indifferent Things Necessary’.

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Quotes

1600’s

William Ames

Conscience with the Power & Cases Thereof  ([Leiden & London] 1639), bk. 3, ch. 18, ‘Of Things Indifferent’, p. 89

“Question 3.  Whether indifferent actions differ nothing among themselves, but are all equally distant from good and evil?

7th Answer.  In their own intrinsic nature they differ nothing at all; but yet there are some which for the most part have evil circumstances annexed to them, and so bend more toward evil, and have an evil name, as to do the work of an accuser, the office of an hangman, etc.  Some there be also which for the most part have good circumstances, and so bend toward good, and have a good name, as, to till the ground, to follow our study diligently, etc.

Question 4.  Whether do things indifferent make any thing for order and comeliness?

8th Answer.  Whatsoever it is that of its own nature serves for order or comeliness, or edification, is not indifferent: for when they do participate [in] the nature of goodness, they are not in the middle betwixt good and bad.  And when they produce good, they must needs have some good force and efficacy in them: every thing brings forth its like.

Question 5.  Whether do indifferent things cease to be indifferent when any certain thing is set down concerning them, by such as are in authority?

9th Answer.  Nothing ought to be commanded, but that which is good, nor to be forbidden, but what is evil; That which is indifferent cannot simply, absolutely, and forever be either enjoined or forbidden; but commanded, as it draws near to good, forbidden, as it approaches to evil.”

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George Gillespie

A Dispute Against the English-Popish Ceremonies...  ([Leiden] 1637), pt. 4, ch. 3, pp. 10-11

“Moreover, as we may not use any indifferent thing at our own pleasure; so neither may the Church at her will and pleasure command the use of it: but as our practice, so the Church’s injunction must be determined and squared according to the former [three] rules [of using indifferent things (1) to the glory of God, (2)according to the law of charity and (3) purity of conscience].  And if any man think, that in the use of things indifferent he may be led and ruled by the Church’s determination without examining any further, let him understand that the Church’s determination is but a subordinate rule, or a rule ruled by higher rules.

He [Dr. Forbes] has been speaking of the rules which God’s Word gives us concerning the use of things indifferent, and all of them he comprehends under this rule, that we should hear the Church and obey them who are set over us, as if God’s rules were subordinate to men’s rules and not theirs to his.  We say not that every man may use things indifferent suo arbitratu [according to his judgment]: but we say withal that neither may the Church command the use of things indifferent, suo arbitratu.  Both, she in commanding and we in obeying, must be guided by the rules of Scripture.

They who are set over us in the Church have no power given them of Christ which is not for edifying, Eph. 4:12.  The council of the apostles and elders at Jerusalem (which is a lively pattern of a lawful synod to the world’s end) professed they would lay no other burden upon the disciples except such things as the law of charity made necessary for shunning of scandal: and so that which they decreed had force and strength to bind, a Charitate propter Scandalum [from charity due to scandal], says Sanctius.  But suo arbitratu [by their (mere) judgment] they enjoined nothing.  It appears by this place (says [Thomas] Cartwright) that there may be no abridgment of liberty simply decreed, but in regard of circumstance, according to the rule of edification.  And if the Church’s decrees and canons be not according to the rules of the Word, yet forasmuch as everyone of us shall give account of himself and his own deed, we must look that whatsoever the Church decree, yet our practice in the use or omission of a thing indifferent, be according to the foresaid rules.

We may not for the commandment of men transgress the rule of piety by doing anything which is not for God’s glory and ordered according to his will; neither ought any of us to obey men, except for the Lord’s sake and as the servants of Christ, doing the will of God; which teaches us the manner how we ought to obey men, namely, propter Christum et sicut Christus praecipit [for Christ, as Christ commands].  For if we should know no more but the will of man for that which we do, then we should be the servants of men, not the servants of Christ.

Neither yet may we for any human ordinance break the rule of charity: but whatsoever either would weaken or not edify our brother, be it never so lawful, never so profitable to ourselves, never so powerfully by earthly authority enjoined, Christians, who are not born unto themselves, but unto Christ, unto his Church and unto the fellow members, must not dare to meddle with it.

Nor lastly may we obey men so as to break the Law of Purity, and perform any action with a doubtful conscience, that is, whereof either the Word has not, or we out of it have no warrant: in which case tender consciences must be tendered, rather than be racked by authority: for be the things in themselves never so lawful, etc., they are utterly unlawful to me without such information.

Whereas therefore some say that in the use of matters indifferent, the laws of those who are set over us ought to rule us; we still answer that our practice may not be ruled by any law of man except it be according to the rules of the Word; whereof one is this: Tantum oportere esse obedientiae studium in Christianis, ut nihil agant, quod non existiment vel potius certi sint placere Deo (Calvin on Rom. 14:5).”

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Samuel Rutherford

The Divine Right of Church Government  (London, 1646), Appendix, ‘An Introduction to the Doctrine of Scandal’

Question 5,  p. 58

“Things that fall under an affirmative precept [of God], and these cannot be totally omitted for eschewing scandal: for whatever God has commanded, is some way necessary.  Therefore, it some ways, and in some cases may be done, though offence be taken at it;

but branches, or parts of affirmative precepts may be omitted for eschewing of scandal, as such a particular kneeling in prayer, in such a place¹…”

[¹ This seem to be a justification for the Church of Scotland in 1645 officially laying aside what had become a somewhat common custom in the Scottish Church, for ministers to privately and silently, before the congregation, kneel and pray before entering the pulpit (or while in the pulpit) just before preaching in the public service (Peterkin, Recordsp. 422).  It appears that Rutherford had previously been favorable to the practice, though, by at least 1640 became persuaded against it.  See the section on ‘Bowing in the Pulpit’ in Fentiman, ‘The Predominant Exclusive Psalmody of the English & Scottish Churches from the Reformation through the Puritan Era…’.

To give another example illustrating Rutherford’s teaching:  At the 1640 General Assembly, when many would have prohibited private spiritual conferencing altogether for fear of the abuse of it, Rutherford argued, “What Scripture does warrant, an Assembly may not discharge; but privy meetings for exercises of religion, Scripture warrants.”  Nonetheless, the Church of Scotland’s Directory for Family Worship (1647, point 7) appears to prohibit private spiritual conferencing for reason of its abuses.

The implicit premise appears to have been that what may tend towards scandal may be prohibited by the Church; yet according to Rutherford’s teaching here, it cannot be prohibited absolutely if it is in fact warranted by Scripture, and therefore morally necessary in some situations.

Rutherford also taught that all ordinances of synods are positive law, and hence do not bind the conscience.  Rutherford was also a Protester, and publicly protested for the greater part of his life, illustrating the principle that no claim of causing a scandal can prevent the morally and Biblically warranted duty of respectfully and appropriately continuing to protest unto the truth.]

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p. 79

“2.  There be two necessities of things, one natural, and first in that regard; another religious, and in that regard secondary.

The former necessity does always stand, except God remove it by some posterior commandment.  It’s necessary that Adam and Eve eat of all things that God created for eating.  God (I grant) may remove this necessity in some, and command either Adam to fast for a time, or not to eat of the tree of Knowledge.    

So say I, warning by Bells [signaling that divine service is starting soon, though Romanists previously used them unto superstition] has a physical necessity, the use of the temples [church-buildings] in worshipping has the like necessity, so have gold and silver a necessity, God only, either by a commandment or by an exigence of providence that stands to us (as in the case of a scandal), for a command can remove the physical necessity and inhibit Israel to use such and such gold as has been in use in the heathen idols, and may forbid to perform an act of obedience to an affirmative command in the case of scandal, as he may forbid Paul to take wages for preaching the Gospel, though Paul have some natural necessity of taking wages.

But the Church, without a higher warrant from God, has no power to restrain us in the necessary use that God has given us.”


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The Church May Not Discharge What is Warranted in the Word

Intro

The principle below, which derives from Scripture, is profound and far reaching.

While the Church may have sufficient circumstantial reasons to forbid a given practice due to its tendency to cause scandal, yet, if that practice is warranted and condoned in Scripture as something that God deems good, or something which tends towards good, which may be necessary for persons to perform in some, or any, circumstances, then, insofar as the Church has no power against the Word or God, so the Church may not wholly and absolutely forbid that practice in all circumstances.

In the context of the quote below, Rutherford sought to persuade the Church of Scotland of this principle in relation to private meetings for spiritual conferencing.  Some persons in the Church of Scotland were seeking to forbid them altogether due to their being abused, and hence being scandalous.  However Rutherford noted that meetings for private spiritual conferencing are warranted in the Word.  If God deems them to be good, then how can the Church wholly forbid that which God has called good (see 1 Tim. 4:1-5)?

Unfortunately, the Church of Scotland in 1647 (seven years later) prohibited nearly all private, spiritual conferencing in their context when there was ‘peace and purity of the gospel’ in the land, due to abuses and fears of scandal.  See The Directory for Family Worship, sections 6-7.

It it true that indifferent things ought not to be used if they cause scandal (Rom. 14); hence the Church can uphold and enforce this moral principle by forbidding the use of such indifferent things that cause scandal, to some degree.  However, some indifferent things are warranted in God’s Word, and indifferent things in general may be used to a good, even a necessary purpose, and to that extent they may be necessary to do a needed good and fulfill God’s Will.  Hence, even indifferent things cannot be wholly forbidden by the Church, even in light of offending weaker brothers (or scandal), inasmuch as God considers such things indifferent and not evil; and the reception of our actions by others is subordinate to the reception of our actions by God.

Further, some Church courts that lord over poor saints believe that they have the power to dismiss issues and cases for their own (sometimes ethically plausible) reasons, from their own point of view.  However, if a saint insists on the issue, it being founded upon a truly pertinent verse or principle of Scripture (rightly inherent in the situation), the court has no power to dismiss the case out of hand without taking it up and dealing with it, insofar as all Church government is to be a servant of the Lord’s Will, and not a pimp of it.

The principle below checks the certain amount of sovereignty that Church courts necessarily must have in order to successfully and profitably navigate the Church’s many, and sometimes complex, issues that arise.  The principle below binds Church governors so that they are not their own masters; and it gives sure rights to Christ’s sheep, which cannot be dismissed, if they come with the Lord’s Will written in Scripture in their hands (and if it is morally possible for the Church-governors to address and handle it).

To put it simply: if a something is brought to a Church court which they have the power to act upon, and it is warranted in Scripture, they must address the issue and handle it faithfully.

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Quote

Samuel Rutherford

At the 1640 General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.  Robert Baillie, Letters 1.252

“What Scripture does warrant, an assembly may not discharge.”


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Declining a Church Order without Scandal or Contempt does Not Incur Guilt

Quotes

1500’s

The French Confession  1559

in ed. Dennison, Jr., Reformed Confessions of the 16th & 17th Centuries…  (RHB), vol. 2, p. 151

Article 33 – Excommunciation

“But we exclude all human inventions and all those laws which are introduced to bind the conscience under pretense of God’s service.  And we do only reserve such as serve to keep up concord, and retain everyone, from the highest unto the lowest, in due obedience.”

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On Richard Greenham

eds. Parker, Kenneth L. & Eric J. Carlson – ‘Practical Divinity’: The Works & Life of Revd Richard Greenham  (Routledge), ch. 2, ‘A Biographical Sketch of Greenham’s Life’, no page number; Greenham (1535? –1594?).  See the larger section for more.

“While making clear that he would not wear the apparel ‘nor subscribe unto it, or the [Anglican] communion booke’, Greenham refused to say why ‘unless [he] be forced thereto’.  He begged bishop Cox to leave him alone, assuring the bishop that he dissented out of conscience and not perversity, but would voluntarily say no more.”

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1600’s

George Gillespie – English Popish Ceremonies…  (Edinburgh, 1637)

pt. 1

ch. 4

“But out of the case of scandal or contempt, divines teach, that conscience is not bound by the canon of the Church made about order and policy.  Extra casum scandali & destinatae rebellionis, propter commune bonum, non peccat qui contra constitutiones istas fecerit [Outside of the case of scandal and determined rebellion, he does not sin which may make against those constitutions for the common good], says Junius.  If a law, says Perkins, concerning some external rite or thing indifferent, be at some time or upon some occasion omitted, no offence given, nor contempt showed to ecclesiastical authority, there is no breach made in the conscience.

Alsted his rule is, Leges humanae non obligant quando omitti possunt sine impedimento finis ob quem feruntur sine scandalo aliorum, & sine contemptu legislatoris.  And Tilen teaches us that when the Church has determined the mutable circumstances in the worship of God for public edification, Privatorum conscientiis liberum est quandoque ista omittere, modo offendicula vitentur, nihilque ex contemptu ecclesiae ac ministerii publici petulanti [Greek] vel [Greek] facere videantur.

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ch. 6, p. 20

“…the Canon law prohibiting to depart or swerve from the rules and discipline of the Roman Church, yet excepts discretionem justitiae [the discretion of righteousness], and so permits to do otherwise than the Church prescribes, if it be done cum discretione justitiae [with the discretion of righteousness].  The [Romaninst] Schoolmen also give liberty to a private man of proving the statutes of the Church, and neglecting the same, if he see cause for doing so, Si causa fit evidens, per se ipsum licite potest homo, statuti observantiam praeterire.

If any be not able to examine and try all such things, debebant omnes posse, Dei jussu: deficiunt ergo sua culpa [all being able to keep the command of God, therefore they default by their own fault], says Pareus.  Si recte probandi facultate destitui nos sentimus, ab eodem spiritu qui per prophetas suos loquitur petenda est, says Calvin.  We will not then call any man Rabbi, nor jurare in verba magistri [swear on the words of a magistrate], nor yet be Pythagorean disciples to the Church herself, but we will believe her and obey her insofar only as she is the pillar and ground of truth.”

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pt. 2

ch. 1, p. 8

“Do they not teach that no idle ceremony, which serves not unto edifying, is to be suffered in the Church (Paraeus, on 1 Cor. 14:26; John Calvin, Epist. & Resp., col. 478); and that godly bretheren are not holden to subject themselves unto such things as they perceive neither to be right nor profitable? (Calvin, on 1 Cor. 10:23; Taylor on Titus 1:15, p. 295)  That whatsoever either would scandalize our brother, or not be profitable to him for his edification, Christians for no respect must dare to meddle with it?”

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ch. 9, p. 46

“6. Why holds he us [to be] contemners of the Church for not receiving the five Articles of Perth [1618]?  We cannot be called contemners for not obeying, but for not subjecting ourselves, wherewith we cannot be charged.  Could he not distinguish betwixt subjection and obedience?  Art thou a doctor in Israel, and knowest not these things?  Nay, art thou a conformist, and knowest not what thy fellow conformists do hold? (Field, Of the Church, bk. 4, ch. 34 & Bilson, apud Parker of the Cross, pt. 2, p. 33)”

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Francis Turretin

p. 285-6, 290-1 of Question 31, ‘Does a legislative power properly so called, of enacting laws binding the conscience, belong to the church?  Or only an ordaining (diataktike) power, of sanctioning constitutions and canons for the sake of good order (eutaxian)?  The former we deny; the latter we affirm against the Romanists.’  under ‘Ecclesiastical Power’ in the 18th topic, ‘The Church’ in Institutes, vol. 3

“However, we think that no proper lawmaking (nomothetiken) power was given to the church by which she can make laws directly and by themselves binding the conscience; but only an ordaining power (diataktiken), which can form constitutions and canons for the preservation of peace and good order (eutaxias), which on this account do not bind the conscience by themselves and directly, but only indirectly in case of scandal; that these are…  only an order by ministers; not of the essentials of Christ’s kingdom, but only of the external accidents and things indifferent; nor are they good per se, but only on account of circumstances and their relation (schesin) to the end.

IV. (2)  …[Moral] Laws bind the conscience per se and directly, and a violation of them incurs guilt; but constitutions bind the conscience only indirectly, and a violation of them incurs guilt; but constitutions bind the conscience only indirectly and mediately in case of scandal and contempt.  Hence the guilt arising from their violation is not properly on account of the violation of the constitution, but on account of the neglect of the authority which God ordained, and on account of the scandal given.

XX.  Again, in the transgression of them [church constitutions] there can be no sin except indirectly (i.e., not on account of the usurpation of the thing itself [as in homicide, fornication, etc., previously mentioned], but on account of another thing [if it is from contempt of lawful authority], for because obedience is commanded by God, there is sin in a neglect of it, if with a neglect of brotherly edification, or if from impiety and license.  However, if all these are absent, there will be no sin in a transgression of them…  nor is the authority of the one commanding to be so much regarded as the cause of the command.”

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1700’s

Jean la Placette

pp. 71-75  of Ch. 10, ‘Of Ecclesiastical Ordinances’ in The Christian Casuist: or, a Treatise of Conscience  (London: 1705)  La Placette (1629-1718) was a French Huguenot minister:

“…ever since the Reformation, it has been a particular controversy between the Romanists and us, whether ecclesiastical laws oblige the conscience, in other cases besides those of contempt and scandal.  The Church of Rome has declared for the affirmative; and Protestant authors, as well Lutherans as Calvinists, for the negative.

If any question this, let them give themselves the trouble of reading Bellarmine De Bonis Operibus [Of Good Works], particularly book 2, ch. 7 [‘Ecclesiastical Law Obliges the Faithful in Conscience…’], and the Brothers of Valemborch, tome 1, p. 183; tome 2, p. 187, among the papists; and among those of our communion, the supplement to Chamier, p. 375; Rivet’s Summary of Controversies [in French], tract 2, question 9 [‘Whether the Church may Make Laws?’]; [Jean] Mestrezat, Of the Church, Theses of Salmur, tome 1, disputation 1 [‘Whether Conscience to the Faith is Prior to that of the Church, or that to the Church is Prior to that of the Faith?’].  But this is not all, the Confession of Faith, published by the Reformed Churches of France, is express to the same purpose; see Article 33.  So that if I have gone too far in this respect, I have all the Protestant Churches for my vouchers.”


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On Amenable Persons & Degrees of Censure

1500’s

The Company of Pastors in Geneva  1541-64

The Register of the Company of Pastors of Geneva in the Time of Calvin  trans. Philip E. Hughes  (Eerdmans, 1966)  as given in ed. Hall & Hall, Paradigms in Polity…  (Eerdmans, 1994), pp. 118-9

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“The Persons whom the Elders or Delegates (Commis) Ought to Admonish
and How they Ought to Proceed

[154.] If anyone speaks critically against the received doctrine, he shall be summoned for the purpose of reasoning with him.  If he is amenable he shall be dismissed without scandal or disgrace.  But if he is stubborn he shall be admonished for a number of times until it becomes apparent that there is need of greater severity, and then he shall be forbidden the communion of the supper and denounced to the magistrate.

[155.] If anyone is negligent to come to church in such a way that a serious contempt of the communion of Christians is apparent, or if anyone shows himself to be scornful of ecclesiastical order, he shall be admonished, and if he responds with obedience he shall be amicably dismissed.  But if he persists, going from bad to worse, after he has been admonished three times, he shall be separated from the Church and denounced to the Seigneury [magistrates].”


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On Contumacy

Quotes

Samuel Rutherford

The Divine Right of Church Government  (1646)

p. 226

“1. A fault may be light and small in its rise, so long as it is private, which deserves not excommunication, but if contumacy shall come to the fault, as it is here [in Mt. 18] in its growth and tendency to scandalize many, it is not small.”

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p. 286

“Yea but none deserve in foro Ecclesiae, in the Church’s court to becast out, but such as either confess scandalous sins, or are contuma∣cious, or convicted judicially of the same before witnesses, otherwayes the dearest to Christ, do legally before God deserve all to be cast out.”

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p. 313

“3. I much doubt if no faults be punish∣able by excommunication but only obstinacy: I thinke the [???] of incest, parricide and the like deserves excommunication, though no contumacy be supervenient to such crimes.”


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Guilt for Contumacy & Contempt of Authority Must be for More than Disobedience to Positive, Human Commandments: it Must be Conjoined with Breaking a Specific Commandment of God in Disobeying that Human Authority, & this Proved in the Specific Circumstances, or Mere Disobedience to Human Authorities is Not a Sin

Quotes

1600’s

Samuel Rutherford

The Divine Right of Church Government…  (1646), p. 655

“4.  Pride and contempt are only seen to God: Prelates have no place to punish heart-acts; they are to prove by two witnesses the malice, and pride, and contempt of authority; but this is invisible to men’s eyes.

Refusal of obedience to canons touching indifferent things, the necessity whereof (as the doctor must say) comes only from man’s will, cannot be contempt:  The neglect of a command of God is indeed a virtual contempt of the majesty, authority, power and justice of God, because a command of God has essentially, equity and justice in it, from God’s commanding Will:

But a command of a thing indifferent, that may as well, without sin, be left undone, as done (as our doctor says of our ceremonies) can never have equity or goodness from human authority; and I never contemn human authority except I contemn the just laws made by human authority.”

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James Guthrie

Protesters No Subverters…  (1658), pp. 46-47

“But all Church-power and authority is bounded by the Word of God, and is for edification only; And therefore all the subjection that is due thereunto, is in the Lord only; and when we are thus subject, the power and authority is sufficiently acknowledged and preserved.

But, say our [Resolutioner] Brethren, without this [absolute, necessary, passive] submission [to erroneous Church decisions] which they plead for, our established judicatories would be nothing but consultative meetings.

But this we also deny, because what is resolved and determined by Kirk-judicatories in a right way, does not only bind by virtue of the intrinsic lawfulness thereof, it being for matter God’s Word, and by virtue of the reverence that is due to the gifts and endowments of brethren and friends counselling right things, which is all that can be attributed to a consultative meeting, but also by virtue of a positive law of God, by which He has commanded us to hear the Church, and those that sit in Moses’ chair, and to be subject in the Lord to Church-Governors, to whom He has given a ministerial and official authority and power to assemble in His Name in the respective courts appointed by Himself for governing His House according to the rule of His Word; And therefore as they have authority or a superiority of jurisdiction, which no consultative meeting has; So whosoever resists their power, when put forth to edification, and not to destruction, does not only sin by despising that Word of God which is the matter of their decree, and by despising the gifts and graces of their brethren that are exercised in holding forth light unto them, but does also sin by resisting the ordinance of God: a Kirk-judicatory modeled according to the pattern showed in the mount, and clothed with authority from Jesus Christ, and proceeding according to the Law and to the Testimony, to which they ought to be subject, God having commanded us so to do.”

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Francis Turretin

pp. 285-6, 290-1 of Question 31, ‘Does a legislative power properly so called, of enacting laws binding the conscience, belong to the church?  Or only an ordaining (diataktike) power, of sanctioning constitutions and canons for the sake of good order (eutaxian)?  The former we deny; the latter we affirm against the Romanists.’  under ‘Ecclesiastical Power’ in the 18th topic, ‘The Church’ in Institutes, vol. 3

“IV. (2)  …Laws bind the conscience per se and directly, and a violation of them incurs guilt; but constitutions bind the conscience only indirectly, and a violation of them incurs guilt; but constitutions bind the conscience only indirectly and mediately in case of scandal and contempt.  Hence the guilt arising from their violation is not properly on account of the violation of the constitution, but on account of the neglect of the authority which God ordained, and on account of the scandal given.

XX.  Again, in the transgression of them [church constitutions] there can be no sin except indirectly (i.e., not on account of the usurpation of the thing itself [as in homicide, fornication], but on account of another thing [that is, from contempt of lawful authority], for because obedience is commanded by God, there is sin in a neglect of it, if with a neglect of brotherly edification, or if from impiety and license.

However, if all these are absent, there will be no sin in a transgression of them…  nor is the authority of the one commanding to be so much regarded as the cause of the command.”

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1800’s

 James Bannerman

The Church of Christ, vol. 1, Edinburgh, 1868, p. 243

“Fourth, there is yet another concession which it is necessary to make in regard to this matter, and which it is of some importance to note; and it is this, that the mere resistance to authority as authority alone, ought not to be made a ground for Church censure or punishment, when there is no moral or spiritual offence connected with the resistance.

Of course resistance to authority, even when that authority is put forth, as it sometimes may and must be, in enforcing a thing indifferent, may yet be associated with moral guilt on the part of those who indulge in it.  Such resistance may arise out of feelings of hatred to all restraint, or opposition of a malignant kind to all authority; it may become contumacy, and as such involve moral blame.

But until resistance to authority becomes in one way or other morally wrong, when the consent of the members to the act or deed of the rulers is withheld from no cause in itself sinful, such want of consent or concurrence ought to be dealt with on the principle of forbearance in things indifferent, and not be visited with censure or penalty of an ecclesiastical kind.”

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2000’s

The Free Church of Scotland (Continuing)

The below is in the context of the birth of the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) over this very issue.

‘The Right of Continued Protest’ (2013), being a revised edition of a report of the Legal Advice & Property Committee (2011), and ‘welcome[d]’ by the General Assembly (2013).

“43.  On 9th December 1999 the Commission of Assembly [of the Free Church of Scotland] declared the FCDA’s [Free Church Defense Association’s] response to represent a prima facie act of continued and wilful contumacy.  Whatever was/were the motive(s) underlying the bringing of a libel on a charge of contumacy rather than, as had been alleged up till now, on a charge of divisiveness regarding the government and discipline of the Church, the bringing of the libel on a charge of contumacy had the effect of depriving the accused persons from mounting a defence regarding their alleged actions which would necessarily not have been denied them had the charge against them been one of divisiveness.

In order to have the libel declared valid all that was required was that three questions be put to the accused: (Regarding the document forwarded by the FCDA to the Commission of Assembly meeting on 8th December 1999, was your name appended to that document with your knowledge and consent? Do you now wish to withdraw your name from that document? If you have not already done so, do you now resign as an office-bearer of the FCDA and sever all connection with that body?) and on the basis of an affirmative answer to the first and a negative answer to the second and third of these the libel was then found to be valid.

This finding also ignored the fact among other things that the bringing of charges of contumacy unrelated to any proven or confessed Biblical sin is contrary to established practice and is unwarranted in terms of the constitution of the Free Church of Scotland. (Practice of the Free Church of Scotland, Chapter V, Part I, paragraph 5 (page 89).

[Practice, p. 89:  “5. …Discipline is Biblically based and this implies that no action or conduct can be regarded as censurable unless it is so declared in Scripture.  The consciences of people cannot be bound by anything but by the word of God who alone is Lord of the conscience.]

In particular, it amounted to a denial of the Headship of Christ over the church, in that an accused person is entitled to a defence founded upon an argument that the demand with regard to which he is alleged to be contumacious is itself ultra vires [outside the powers] and not founded on legitimate Biblical authority.  The Commission of Assembly, on the other hand, was denying this to be a valid foundation for defence, thus arrogating to itself an absolute hierarchical authority and so denying that the Commission was answerable to Christ as Head of the Church.”


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The Only Way Contumacy can be Proven Against an Objecting, Errant, yet Peaceful Person

Intro

Church courts ruling against a peaceful person with an objecting, errant conscience, and/or finding them guilty of contumacy, can only occur after the governors have set forth sufficient reasons for the convincing of the one with the errant conscience to obey moral law and truth.

After this point, the one with the errant conscience has been shown that his conscience errs against truth and morality, and all persistence therein is truly a perverse contumacy against God’s truth and morality, his resistance not being founded on truth or morality.  See especially our page:

That the Mere Will, Determination, Judgment or Saying So of Authorities is an Insufficient Ground of Faith & Obedience, & that Authorities are Not to Act or Require Something without a Naturally, Morally or Spiritually Sufficient Reason, & that Manifest to Consciences

With regard to persons who are not peaceful (note that this is not the same as frustrated, or angry at times at perceived sins), but are truly disorderly, clamorous and scandalous in their conduct, usually the disorderliness ought to be addressed (and that only as sin if clearly be sin), rather than contumacy toward a given teaching or ordinance, which may not yet be able to be proven if they yet retain an objecting, errant conscience with reasons that have not been fully addressed.

Gillespie notes that the principle of longsuffering in instruction need not apply to ‘wicked and contentious tempters, which do mainly strive to oppress our liberty which we have in Christ, and to bring us into bondage’ if one is about a work of necessity.  However, even in things not necessary, the servant of God is still to be reasonably patient and instructful with the wicked where possible (as Jesus was).

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Quotes

James Bannerman

The Church of Christ, vol. 1 (Edinburgh, 1868), pp. 241-3

“Second, there are means of a most indispensable kind to be employed in the way of explanation and instruction, counsel and persuasion, to secure the convictions and concurrence of the private members of the Church, in whatever act or declaration the rulers, in the exercise of their judicial, or legislative, or administrative functions, may find it necessary for them to perform or to adopt.

Without the use of such means to carry the conscience and understanding of the members of the Church along with them in all that they do and declare, the office-bearers are not at liberty to use or enforce their peculiar power at all. And it is only when all such means have been employed and exhausted without effect, and when the members of the Church, so dealt with in the way of Christian persuasion and instruction, still refuse their concurrence, that it may be necessary and is lawful to use authority to strengthen the appeal, and to fall back upon the ultimate resource of all societies, — namely, the inherent right of the rulers to rule, and the no less inherent duty of the ruled to obey.”

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George Gillespie

An Assertion of the Government of the Church of Scotland…  (Edinburgh, 1641), pp. 152-3

“1.  Our divines, by those their tenets, mean not to open a door to disobedience and contempt of the ordinances of a Synod, but only to oppugne the Popish error con­cerning the binding power of ecclesiastical laws, by the sole will and naked authority of the law-maker, and that Christian people ought not to seek any further reason or motive of o­bedience.

2.  A Synod must ever put a dif­ference betwixt those who out of a real scruple of conscience, do in a modest and peaceable way, refuse obedience to their or­dinances, still using the means of their bett­er information, and those who contemptuously or factiously disobey the same, labouring with all their might to strengthen themselves in their error, and to persuade others to be of their mind.

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111 Propositions

“93.  Next it may be granted that the [Church] matter may be put under a further examination [by the Church, at the request of the Magistrate], yet upon condition, that when it is come to the revision of the former [Church] sentence, regard may be had of the weaker which are found willing to be taught, though they doubt; but that unto the wicked and contentious tempters, which do mainly strive to oppress our liberty which we have in Christ, and to bring us into bondage, we do not for a moment give place by subjecting ourselves; for what else seek they or wait for, than that under the pretense of a revising and of new debate, they cast in lets and impediments ever and anone, and that by cunning lyings in wait they may betray the liberty of the Church, and in process of time may by open violence more forceably break in upon it, or at least constrain the ministers of the Church to weave Penelope’s web, which they can never bring to an end.”


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That the 5th Commandment does not Take Precedence Over the 6th Commandment

Samuel Rutherford

The Divine Right of Church Government…   (1646), Question 4, ‘Whether the Precept of Obedience to Superiors, or the Precept of Eschewing Scandal be More Obligatory?’, p. 47

“[Rutherford’s Anglican opponents said:] ‘Notwithstanding, that crossing, kneeling, surplice, human holy days occasion the soul-murder of him for whom Christ died, yet we the Prelates command the practice of the foresaid ceremonies as good and expedient for edification, for our commandment makes the murdering of our brethren, to be obedience to the Fifth Commandment.’

[Rutherford responds:]  But if Prelates may command that which would be otherwise, without, or before the Commandment [of God], [even] spiritual murdering and scandalizing of our brother, they may command also that which would be otherwise without or before their command: adultery against the Seventh, and theft against the Eighth, and Perjury and lying against the Ninth Commandment, and concupiscence against the Tenth; for the Fifth Commandment has the precedency before the Seventh, Eighth, Ninth and Tenth Commandments no less than before the Sixth, which forbids the killing of our brother’s soul.”

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On Flight from Unjust Legal Proceedings

On David Calderwood  1617

p. xx  of Thomas Thomason, ‘Life of David Calderwood’  appended to Calderwood, The History of the Kirk of Scotland  (Edinburgh: Wodrow Society, 1842-49), vol. 8.  For the most of the events leading up to this, start at p. 12.


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Objection: ‘But this makes the Church to have No More Authority than a Private Counselor if I only Obey Her when I agree with Her’

Quotes

George Gillespie

English-Popish Ceremonies...  (Edinburgh, 1637), pt. 1, ch. 4, pp. 10-11

“If any say that I derogate much from the authority of the Church when I do nothing which she prescribes except I see it lawful and expedient, because I should do this much for the exhortation and admonition of a brother.

Answer: 1. I give far more reverence to the direction of the Church than to the admonition of a brother, because that is ministerial, this fraternal: that comes from authority, this only from charity: that is public, this private: that is given by many, this by one: And finally, the Church has a calling to direct me in some things wherein a brother has not.

2.  If it be still instanced that in the point of obedience, I do no more for the Church than for any brother because I am bound to do that which is made evident to be lawful and expedient, though a private Chri∣stian do but exhort me to it, or, whether I be exhorted to it or not.  For answer to this I say that I will obey the directions of the Church in many things rather than the directions of a brother; for in two things which are in themselves indifferent, and none of them inexpedient, I will do that which the Church requires, though my brother should exhort me to the contrary.  But always I hold me at this sure ground, that I am never bound in conscience to obey the ordinances of the Church except they be evidently lawful and expedient.  This is that, sine quo non obligant [without which they do not bind], and also that which does chiefly bind, though it be not the only thing which binds.

Now for making the matter more plain we must consider that the constitutions of the Church are either lawful or unlawful: if unlawful, they bind not at all: if lawful, they are either concerning things necessary as Acts 15:28, and then the necessity of the things do bind, whether the Church ordain them or not; or else concerning things indifferent, as when:

the Church ordains that in great towns there shall be sermon on such a day of the week and public prayers every day at such an hour, here it is not the bare authority of the Church that binds, without respect to the lawfulness or expediency of the thing itself which is ordained (else we were bound to do everything which the Church ordains, were it never so unlawful, for quod competit alicui qua tali, competit omni tali.

We behold the authority of the Church making laws, as well in unlawful ordinances as in lawful, not yet is it the lawfulness or expediency of the thing itself without respect to the ordinance of the Church (for possibly other times and diets were as lawful and expedient too for such exercises, as those ordained by the Church), but it is the authority of the Church prescribing a thing lawful or expedient.  In such a case then neither does the authority of the Church bind except the thing be lawful and expedient, not does the lawfulness and expediency of the thing bind except the Church ordain it, but both these jointly do bind.”

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Samuel Rutherford

The Divine Right of Church Government...  (1646), Ch. 2, Question 2, ‘Whether Human Laws Bind the Conscience or Not?’, pp. 210-11

“Answer:  1. We owe to equals, to Mahomet, conditional and cautionary faith and obedience; thus, I believe what Mahomet says, so he speak God’s Word; yea, so Samaritans who worshipped they knew not what (Jn. 4:26) gave faith to their teachers in a blind way, so they speak according to God’s Word.

2.  It follows in no sort, if rulers are only to be obeyed when they bring God’s Word, that then they are no more to be obeyed than equals and inferiors, because there is a double obedience, one of conscience, and [one] objective, coming from the thing commanded; And in respect of this, the Word has no less authority, and does no less challenge obedience of conscience, and objective, when my equal speaks it in a private way, yea, when I write it in my muse, than when a pastor speaks it by public authority;

For we teach against Papists that the Word borrows no authority from men, nor is it with certainty of faith to be received as the Word of man, but as indeed the Word of God, as the Scripture says:

1.  There is another obedience-official, which is also obedience of conscience, because the Fifth Commandment enjoins it.  Yet not obedience of conscience coming from the particular [positive aspect] commanded in human laws, as human;

so I owe obedience of subjection, and submission of affection, of fear, love, honor, respect, by virtue of the Fifth Commandment to rulers when they command according to God’s Word, and this I owe not to equals or inferiors; and so it follows not that the power of rulers and synods is titular, because they must warrant their mandates from the Word…

But 3. That I owe no more objective subjection of conscience to this, ‘Thou shalt not murder’, ‘Believe in Jesus Christ,’ when rulers and pastors command them, than when I read them in God’s Word…

…whether public or private person, adds not any intrinsical authority to the Word, for then the Word should be more or less God’s Word, as the bearers were public, or private, more or less worthy.  As God’s Word spoken by Amos, a prophet, should not be a word of such intrinsical authority as spoken by Moses, both a prince and a prophet.

4.  …and there is reason that synods and pastors, should rather promulgate God’s laws than the people:

1.  Because God has given to them by office, the key of knowledge.

2.  Because by office they are watchmen, and so have authority of office to hear the Law at God’s mouth, and in synods to give directories or canons according to that Word, which people have not, and that their canons must be according to God’s Word, is said in the Word, Neh. 10:32, “Also we made ordinances for us… (v. 34) as it is written in the law of the Lord.”

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James Guthrie

Protesters No Subverters…  (1658), pp. 46-47

“But all Church-power and authority is bounded by the Word of God, and is for edification only; And therefore all the subjection that is due thereunto, is in the Lord only; and when we are thus subject, the power and authority is sufficiently acknowledged and preserved.

But, say our [Resolutioner] Brethren, without this [absolute, necessary, passive] submission [to erroneous Church decisions] which they plead for, our established judicatories would be nothing but consultative meetings.

But this we also deny, because what is resolved and determined by Kirk-judicatories in a right way, does not only bind by virtue of the intrinsic lawfulness thereof, it being for matter God’s Word, and by virtue of the reverence that is due to the gifts and endowments of brethren and friends counselling right things, which is all that can be attributed to a consultative meeting, but also by virtue of a positive law of God, by which He has commanded us to hear the Church, and those that sit in Moses’ chair, and to be subject in the Lord to Church-Governors, to whom He has given a ministerial and official authority and power to assemble in His Name in the respective courts appointed by Himself for governing His House according to the rule of His Word; And therefore as they have authority or a superiority of jurisdiction, which no consultative meeting has; So whosoever resists their power, when put forth to edification, and not to destruction, does not only sin by despising that Word of God which is the matter of their decree, and by despising the gifts and graces of their brethren that are exercised in holding forth light unto them, but does also sin by resisting the ordinance of God: a Kirk-judicatory modeled according to the pattern showed in the mount, and clothed with authority from Jesus Christ, and proceeding according to the Law and to the Testimony, to which they ought to be subject, God having commanded us so to do.”

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“Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him…  And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church…  Verily I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Mt. 18:15,18

“Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked.”

Dt. 10:16

But He said unto them, ‘Have ye not read what David did, when he was an hungred, and they that were with him; How he entered into the house of God, and did eat the shewbread, which was not lawful for him to eat, neither for them which were with him, but only for the priests?'”

Mt. 12:3-4

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Related Pages

On the Peace & Purity of the Church

On Positive Laws & Ordinances

On the Ordinances, Order & Policy of the Church

On Arbitrary Laws

On Implicit Faith & Obedience

The Church

Church Government

Historic, Reformed Books of Church Order, Discipline & Minutes

Presbyterianism

The Ruling of the Church

On Jurisprudence

Church Membership

On the Relations Between the 1st & 2nd Tables of the Law

On Passive Obedience

Resistance to Tyranny

The Right of Continued Protest unto the Truth

Cases of Conscience

On Conscience