The Ruling of the Church

“As the Word of God is the life and soul of this Church, so this godly order and discipline is, as it were, sinews in the body, which knit and join the members together with decent order and comeliness.  It is a bridle to stay the wicked from their mischiefs.  It is a spur to prick forward such as be slow and negligent, yea, and for all men it is the Father’s rod, ever in readiness to chastise gently the faults committed, and to cause them afterward to live in more godly fear and reverence.  Finally, it is an order left by God unto his Church, whereby men learn to frame their wills and doings according to the law of God…”

‘The Order of Ecclesiastical Discipline’
The Scottish Book of Common Order  1564

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Subsections

On Positive Laws & Ordinances

On Church Order, Policy & Ordinances

On Jurisprudence

Historic, Reformed Books of Discipline

How Laws & Commands of Human Authorities Bind the Conscience & How Not

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

On Ordination

On Excommunication

On an Extraordinary Call

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Order of Contents

Ordination
On the Power of Order vs. the Power of Jurisdiction
On the Judicial Power of the Church
Who May, & Ought to, Speak at a Church Council?
On Church Discipline
On the Right of Church Discipline
Discipline is Not a Necessary Mark of the Essence of the Visible Church
Acts of Discipline are Worship
How Church Courts Bind
That a Court might Waive a Ministerial Requirement for the Sake of Peace
On Erroneous Church Rulings
On the Incompatibility of Error & Godliness
When the Least Errors are to be Disciplined
On a Quorum

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Ordination

Binnie, William – The Concurrence of Popular Election and Official Ordinationp. 132, 16 pages

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On the Power of Order vs. the Power of Jurisdiction

George Gillespie

English Popish Ceremonies  (1637), pt. 3, ch. 8, Digression 4, pp. 188-89

“1. We must distinguish a twofold power of the keys (Trelcatius, Instittutes of Theology, bk. 2, p. 287-88; Pareus on 1 Cor. 5, Of Excommunication): the one is execute in doctrine: the other in discipline: the one concionalis [of preaching]: the other judicialis [of judgment]. 

Touching the former, we grant it is proper for pastors alone, whose office and vocation it is, by the preaching and publishing of God’s Word, to shut the Kingdom of Heaven against impenitent and disobedient men, and to open it unto penitent sinners, to bind God’s heavy wrath upon the former, and (by application of the promises of mercy) to loose the latter from the sentence and fear of condemnation.

When we ascribe the power of binding and loosing to that whole consistory, wherein governing elders are joined together with pastors, we mean only of the Keys of external discipline, which are used in ecclesiastical courts and judicatories.”

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An Assertion of the Government of the Church of Scotland  (1641), pp. 12-14

“…we will distinguish with the School-men a two-fold power, the power of Order, and the power of Jurisdiction; which are different in sundry respects.

1. The power of Or­der comprehends such things as a minister by virtue of his ordination, may do without a commission from any Presbytery, or Assembly of the Church, as to preach the Word, to minister the Sacraments, to celebrate marriage, to visit the sick, to catechize, to admonish, etc.  The power of Jurisdiction comprehends such things as a minister cannot do by himself, nor by virtue of his ordination; but they are done by a Session, Presbytery, or Synod; and sometimes by a minister, or ministers, having commission, and authority from the same, such as ordination and ad­mission, suspension, deprivation and excommunication, and receiving again into the Church, and making of laws and consti­tutions ecclesiastical and such like; whereof we boldly maintain, that there is no part of Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction, in the power of one man, but of many met together in the name of Christ.

2. The power of Order is the radical and fundamental power, and makes a Minister susceptive, and capable of the power of Jurisdiction.

3. The power of Order goes no further than the court of conscience; the power of jurisdiction is exercised in external and ecclesiastical courts.

Fourthly, the power of Order is sometime unlawful in the use, yet not void in itself.  The power of Jurisdiction when it is unlawful in the use, it is also void in itself.  If a minister do any act of Jurisdiction, as to excommunicate, or absolve with­out his own parish, wanting also the consent of the ministry and elders of the bounds where he does the same, such acts are void in themselves, and of no effect.  But if with­out his own charge, and without the con­sent aforesaid, he baptise an infant, or do any such thing belonging to the power of Order, though his act be unlawful, yet is the thing itself of force, and the sacrament remains a true sacrament.”

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On the Judicial Power of the Church

Latin

Voet, Gisbert – Ecclesiastical Politics  (Amsterdam, 1663-1676), vol. 4, pt. 3, bk. 4, Tract 1, ‘Of Ecclesiastical Power’

8. Of the Jurisdiction or the Judicial Power of the Church, pp. 798-800

9. Of Ecclesiastical Punishment or Correction, and Censure, pp. 800-801

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Who May, & Ought to, Speak at a Church Council?

Intro

The early and medieval Church ecumenical councils of old invited certain lay persons to be members of the councils.  The reformed Westminster Assembly in the 1600’s not only included as members persons from the English House of Lords & Commons, which civil figures were considered laymen, but also included other laymen of religious attainments who held no political or church office.  Gillespie below affirms this in principle.

The principle is implicitly seen in Acts 15 at the Jerusalem Synod:

“And when they [‘Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them’] were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church, and of the apostles and elders, and they declared all things that God had done with them…

And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, ‘Men and brethren…’…

Then all the multitude kept silence, and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul, declaring what miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them…

Then pleased it the apostles and elders with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch…

And they wrote letters by them after this manner, ‘The apostles and elders and brethren send greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia…  It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul…” – Acts15:4,7,12,22-23,25

There was a dispute on this principle and passage between the independents and presbyterians.  The independents argued from this that laymen, in ordinary and regular circumstances, could exercise the keys of the Kingdom of Christ, the government of his Church, Church discipline, etc.

The presbyterians, on the other hand, rightly argued that laypersons may be present, speak to the issues (as appropriate) and that their general consent ought to be sought (they having a concurrence therein), yet the decisive vote, will and power from which the bindingness of the decrees attain, comes solely from the rulers of the Church, or the elders (as Church-governing power comes top-down from Christ in Heaven, Eph. 4:11-13, through his ordained officers, and not bottom-up, as in civil government).

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George Gillespie

A Dispute Against the English-Popish Ceremonies…  (1637), Pt. 3, ch. 8, Digression 3, ‘Of the Judging of Controversies and Questions of Faith’, p. 176-7

“The subordinate public judgment, which is extraordinary, is the judgement of a council, assembled for the more public and effectual establishment and declaration of one or more points of faith and heads of Christian doctrine, and that in opposition to all contrary heresy, or error, which is broached and set a foot in the Church. (M. Ant. De Dom. de Rep. Eccl., bk. 7, ch. 3, n. 32)

From which council, no Christian man who is learned in the Scriptures may be excluded, but ought to be admitted to utter his judgement in the same.  For in the indagation [investigation] or searching out of a matter of faith, they are not the persons of men which give authority to their sayings, but the reasons and documents which every one brings for his judgment.”

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Church Discipline

Binnie, William, Church Discipline, p. 98, 7 pages, from his The Church

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On the Right of Church Discipline

Samuel Rutherford

The Divine Right of Church Government...  (1646), ‘To the Ingenuous and Equitable Reader’, unnumbered page

“It is said [about the divine right of Church government] that, ‘All this is but a plea for a dominion of an higher nature, even over the consciences of men by censures.’

But why a dominion?  Because a power of censures?  Surely, if they were not spiritual censures, and such as have influence on the conscience, we should yield a domination were the business.  But this power of censuring spiritually is as strong as authoritative in dispensing rebukes, threats, Gospel-charges and commands in the Word preached, as in censures; The power is ministerial only in the Word, not lordly; and why should it be deemed a dominion, and an arbitrary power in the one, and not in the other?”

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The Exercise of Discipline is Not a Necessary Mark of the Essence of the Visible Church

Samuel Rutherford

The Due Right of Presbyteries…  (1644), ch. 9, section 9, pp. 287-8

“Other two questions here are shortly to be discussed, as belonging to this purpose, as:  1. Whether discipline be a mark of the visible Church?  Mr. [John] Robinson says [that] the power of censures is simply necessary for the being of the Church; sundry of our divines affirm it is.  So the learned professors of Leiden, and Ursinus with Pareus.  Great Junius says [that] it is a note belonging to the Church’s order, ad decorum; the [Lutheran] Augsburg Confession leaves it out from amongst the notes, and so does Calvin and Whittaker, making two notes only: Word and sacraments.  Learned Beza makes only the preaching of the Word a note, not excluding the other two.

I think distinctions may help the matter:

1.  There is a power of discipline, and there is a care thereof.  True Churches have a power given them of Christ, and this Robinson proves, and no more; yet the care to exercise the power may be wanting [lacking] in a true Church.

2nd Distinction:  Right discipline is not necessary for the essence of a visible Church:

[1.]  All our divines condemn Anabaptists and Pelagians, who plead that righteous men only, and such societies as have right discipline, to be true Churches.

2.  Novatians and Donatists came near to them in this also, as we may see in Augustine.  So Richard Field, Parker [and] Cartwright make it necessary to the well-being of the Church:

1.  Because it is not indifferent.
2.  Because it is commanded in God’s Word.
3.  Discipline in the substantial points is immutable.
4.  It is necessary in respect of the end.

And all this the learned Parker demonstrates to be true.  But it is not necessary simply to the being of it: as a city may be without walls, a garden without an hedge.

3rd Distinction:  The power and right to discipline is a propriety essential to the Church, and is not removed from it till God remove the candlestick and the Church cease to be a visible Church; but the exercise may be wanting and the Church a true visible Church, from which we are not to separate.

4th.  Discipline is a necessary note and inseparable from a visible Church, whole, entire and not lame and imperfect.  But a Church may retain the essence and being of a visible Church, and yet have no discipline in actual use, or little; and though want of discipline do leaven a Church, yet it does not (as Robinson says) evert the nature thereof and turn it into Babylon and a den of dragons.

Robinson will have profaneness and impiety, by absolute necessity, rooted out by discipline; but he is too hasty.  Nay, not by public preaching of a sent pastor through absolute [necessity], but only through ordinary and conditional necessity.  You bind the Almighty too hard.”

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Acts of Church Discipline are Worship

Samuel Rutherford

The Due Right of Presbyteries (1644), pt. 1, p. 47

“…nor are acts of [Church] discipline necessarily tied to the Lord’s Day.  They are (I grant) acts of divine worship…”

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James Durham

The Dying Man’s Testament to the Church of Scotland, or, A Treatise Concerning Scandal…  (Edinburgh, 1659), pt. 2, ch. 2, p. 69

“…this exercise of discipline for restraining of scandals is to be subservient to the preaching of the Word: which is the main and great edifying ordinance; Therefore discipline would be ordered so as it may not mar, but further that…  1. That no censure would be blindly or implicitly made use of, but both in reference to the party, and others, there would be instruction, exhortation, conviction, etc. by the Word going before or alongst with the same.  In which respect (though improperly) censures may be some way looked upon as sacraments in a large sense in these particular cases, because there is in them both some signifying and confirming use; They being considered with respect to the end wherefore they were appointed.”

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How Church Courts Bind

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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That a Court might Waive a Ministerial Requirement for the Sake of Peace

Note that the below section concerns officers already in the Church, not necessarily those entering the Church’s government.

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Durham, James – pp. 385-388 of pt. 4, ch. 14 of ‘What is to be done in order to union about divisions concerning doctrinal determinations?’  in The Dying Man’s Testament…  (1659)

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On Erroneous Church Rulings

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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Guthrie, James

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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On the Incompatibility of Error & Godliness

George Gillespie

Treatise of Miscellany Questions, ch. 12, ‘Whether a Sound Heart and an Unsound Head can Consist Together? and Vice Versa; or, Whether Truth and Holiness be not Insepararable Companions?’  in Works, vol. 2

“It is one of the greatest objections against the suppressing… of… errors and schisms: O, say they, this is a persecuting of those that are godly; this is a wound to piety, and the power of godliness.

I do not deny but there may be, and is, true piety in many who are somewhat infected with the leaven of false doctrine, and live in some erroneous opinion…

Those that are truly godly may in diverse things differ in opinion.  Every error is not inconsistent with holiness, yet every error doth pro tanto [by so much], and proportionably retard, hinder, and prejudge holiness; and although the devil sow his tares among Christ’s wheat (I mean in the same persons as well as in the same church), yet who will say that a field of wheat is nothing the worse for the tares?…

And this I hold as a good rule in practical divinity…  so error of judgment, if continued in, doth not only hinder growing, but makes a dangerous decreasing and falling short in true piety…

It is to be observed that sometimes the Scripture speaketh of an error of the judgment concerning the faith as a fountain and cause of ungodliness, profaneness… 2 Tim. 2:16-19; Gal. 5:4; 2 Jn. 9; as contrariwise, there is a light and knowledge which preserveth from sin and ungodliness, and leadeth the soul in ways of holiness and obedience, Ps. 9:10; 119:33-34; Jn. 17:17.  If the knowledge of God, of his Christ, and of his Word, and will, and name and statutes, preserve us from sin, and lead us in the ways of obedience, then, by the rule of contraries, error of judgment in these things will ensnare us in sin and wickedness.”

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Richard Baxter

A Christian Directory: a Sum of Practical Theology and Cases of Conscience  Buy  (1673), pt. 4, Christian Politics, Ch. 12, ‘Directions Against Scandal as Given’, p. 81

“§ 10.  1. False doctrine is directly scandalous: for it seduces the judgment, which then misguides the will, which then misrules the rest of the faculties!  False doctrine, if it be in weighty practical points, is the pernicious plague of souls and nations.”

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When the Least Errors are to be Disciplined

James Durham

Treatise on Scandal (1659), ch. 8, When Some Errors are to be Foreborne, p. 205-206:

“…there may be somethings truly errors that may and should be forborne [tolerated] in themselves, yet their consequents ought not to be forborne, and this also may be at one time, and in one Church more necessary to be adverted to than in another, because consequents of schism, faction, division, etc. may sometimes follow on the meanest [the least] errors.

And seeing these are always enemies to edification, even when they arise from the least ground, they are never absolutely to be foreborne; for to say, I am of Paul, and I am of Apollos, and for one to think such a man a better preacher than another, seems to be no great matter; yet when it begins to rent [tear] them, and to make factions in Corinth, it is not to be forborne, but to be reproved: And in the former difference of meats, the apostle condemns always the offence and schism that followed on it, although he did not peremptorily decide anything as to men’s practices, or censure for the opinion itself…

Thus the differences and errors concerning Church-government by bishops, and in the Congregational way, may, we conceive, in themselves be forborne in persons where they are not vented to the shaking and drawing away of others; but if pressed in practice, to the renting of a Church, and preferred or equalled to the true government that is established by the Word, in that case they are not to be foreborn, because then truth is to be vindicated, and obstructions to edification in the renting or distracting of a Church to be removed, and at one time more than at another, as such an offence does waken a schism, and disturb order and union in one Church or at one time more than another: hence we see, Acts 15, some things are put in that decree in reference to that time, only for preventing of schism and scandal…”

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On a Quorum

George Gillespie

English-Popish Ceremonies  (1637), bk. 3, ch. 8, Digression 4, p. 189

“2.  When we teach that the pastor or pastors of every particular Church and congregation, with the elders of the same, being met together, have power to bind and loose, we understand this, only of such places wherein a competent number of understanding and qualified men, may be had to make up an eldership: otherwise let there be one eldership [involving assessor elders] made up of two or three of the next adjacent parishes, according as was ordained by the Church of Scot∣land, in the seventh chapter of the Second Book of Discipline.  Sine totius, etc. ‘Without the consent of some whole Church’ says Zanchius (In. 4. Praec., col. 756),

‘no man ought to be excommunicat. Yea I adde, if it be a small Church, and not consisting of many learned and skillfull men, Excommunication ought not to bee done, except the nighbour Churches be asked counsell of.’

And as touching the pastor’s part, Calvin says well (Book of Epistles, col. 180), Nunquam, etc.  ‘I never thought it expedient, that the liberty of excommunicating should be permitted to every pastor.’  The fear of great inconveniences, which he thought likely to follow upon such a custom, if once it were permitted, makes him profess in that epistle that he durst not advise Liserus to excommunicate any man without taking counsel of other pastors.

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Related Pages

Church Government

The Regulative Principle of Church Government

Presbyterianism

Congregationalism and Independency

Church Membership