Mennonite Articles of Faith (1766) - Article 27
XXVII. Of Brotherly Care and Church Discipline.
We believe that in a Christian church every brother and every sister must share, according to ability and gifts bestowed, in a mutual care among the members, inciting one another to love and good works. Hebrews 10:24. True love to one's neighbor requires this (Leviticus 19:17, 18), and it is commanded by Christ our Lord (Matthew 18:15-20), and also enjoined by His apostles after Him. 1 Thessalonians 5:14, 15; James 5:16-20. More especially should this be observed by those who are set as overseers (Acts 20:28; Titus 1:7-11), whose work it is by virtue of their office to shepherd the flock (1 Peter 5:14) and watch over the spiritual welfare of the church. Hebrews 13:17; Ezekiel 3:17; 33:2-9.
The cases that call for the notice, reproof and discipline of the church are not those shortcomings and mistakes which to a greater or less degree are common to all believers (James 3:2; 1 John 1:8; Psalms 130:2; 143:2), but errors in teaching (Galatians 1:8; 1 Timothy 6:3-5; Titus 3:10) or conduct (2 Thessalonians 3:6; Philippians 3:18, 19) so far-reaching that those who commit the error are in apparent danger of losing their-soul's inheritance (1 Corinthians 6:5-10) or become a cause of offense and stumbling to the church (Galatians 5:10; Revelation 2:20; 1 Corinthians 5:6, 7; Matthew 18:7), leading souls astray (Matthew 24:10-12; 2 Timothy 3.13; Jude 3, 4) and causing the name of God and the church of Christ to be evil spoken of. 2 Peter 2:2; Romans 2:24; 1 Timothy 6:1; Titus 2:3-5.
In dealing with offenders we distinguish the following four stages to be observed: First, when with a reasonable degree of certainty it becomes known that a brother or sister is guilty of this or that dangerous practice or clearly interdicted sin (1 Corinthians 5:11-13; 2 Peter 2: 20; Galatians 5:19-21), but the matter is not as yet generally known, the person is to be called to account in private, examined with all possible discretion, and warned in tender love (Galatians 6:1-3; James 3:13-18), so that, if possible, such a one may be brought back into the right way (James 5:19, 20) before the evil seed spread further. Galatians 5:9; Hebrews 12:15.
If, in the second place, some one is guilty of manifest works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 5:3-7) and such fact is surely known, though the sin be committed under circumstances which seem in a degree to palliate the offense, as for instance being taken unawares or having acted hastily, such a one is to be solemnly called to account, the evil of his sin and its consequence set before him with the admonition to humble himself before God (Acts 8:22; James 4:7-10; Psalms 51) and man (Matthew 5:23-26; Luke 17:1-4), according as the transgression may have been, and all possible means applied to bring about true repentance (Revelation 3:2, 3; Isaiah 55:6, 7); and if necessary he should be counseled not to come to the Lord's table for a time (Jude 22, 23), until by clear proof of an amended life the offense that was given may be removed, of, in the judgment of his fellow members (2 Corinthians 2:6-8) it be blotted out.
The third stage is reached in the case of one who, regardless of the first and second reproof given in private, continues and grows hardened in his sin (Ephesians 4: 17-19; Acts 19:9; Hebrews 3:13). He is to be made known to the congregation in order that the whole congregation may decide what is to be done with such a member and take such action that, being reproved in the presence and by the judgment of all, he may be ashamed and be brought to repentance. 2 Thessalonians 3:14, 15. This properly must be accompanied with earnest prayer that, if possible, the result may be reformation and forgiveness. James 5:15; 1 John 5:16, 17.
If, however, all this is fruitless and the reproved one continues and hardens himself in his evil way, he must finally, by the decision of the whole congregation, be excluded from membership and denied all spiritual church-fellowship (Ephesians 5:11) till he is truly converted and gives evident proof thereof. However, all must be done with due regard to position and circumstances (1 Timothy 5:1, 19-21), yet without respect of person.
This ecclesiastical care and discipline we consider most necessary, not only because Jesus Christ and His apostles enjoined it and by neglecting the same we have to fear just condemnation (1 Corinthians 11:30, 31), but also because it works many a benefit, namely, keeping the church free from open blemish, saving it from harmful contempt, and preventing the estrangement of weak souls or the leading astray of established hearts; yea, much more tending to deter these from evil and on the other hand to move the reproved ones to shame and repentance.
In order, however, that this manner of treatment may have its desired effect, there must be far removed from us all inordinate desire for authority and all self-conceit of superior holiness, since in the use of these keys (Matthew 16:19) there is a power to which we resort only out of obedience (consider with what holy reserve the apostles went to work: Acts 5:1-13; 13:8-11; 1 Corinthians 5: 3-5; 1 Timothy 1:20), and which must be applied in deep humility (2 Corinthians 2:14) because we dare not neglect it (1 Corinthians 9:16-22; Ezekiel 3:17-21), and in the fear of the Lord. Matthew 10:14. There is in it, therefore, also no condemning or absolving power further than as it is in perfect accord with God's judgment and His holy testimony. Proverbs 17:15; 2 Timothy 2:2, 15, 24-26; Titus 1:9; 2:2, 7,8.
For this reason the separation from the persons under discipline must not proceed out of a spirit of Pharisaic holiness (1 Corinthians 4:7), as though we said, "Depart from me, for I am holier than thou," but out of a holy fear lest we manifest a fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness (Ephesians 5:11; 1 Corinthians 6:17; 1 Timothy 5:22; Revelation 18:4), in accordance with the apostolic injunction to have nothing in common with such; with which there must, nevertheless, be combined a Christ-like compassion (Romans 9:1-3) and continued admonition until one is compelled reluctantly to leave such a person to himself. Between husband and wife this separation cannot in all cases take place unless it be for adultery or fornication. Matthew 5:32; 19:9; 1 Corinthians 7:3-5, 10, 16, 39.
In conclusion, we believe in reference to this subject, that as soon as the erring one gives conclusive evidence of sincere sorrow and amendment (Luke 17:3, 4; 2 Corinthians 7:7, 16) he must be met with added love, encouraged, and after public and humble confession, received back into communion (Psalms 130:4; Jeremiah 3:1; Ezekiel 33:11), with cordial love and joy (Luke 15:1-10) and full forgiveness (2 Corinthians 2:10), even as God also in Christ Jesus has forgiven us. Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13; Matthew 18.
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