Church Discipline In Theory And Practice -- By: W. W. Everts

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 082:328 (Oct 1925)
Article: Church Discipline In Theory And Practice
Author: W. W. Everts

Church Discipline In Theory And Practice

W. W. Everts


It is the purpose of this paper to manifest the Church Discipline of the seven leading Protestant denominations in the United States. As these denominations originated in Europe, it is proper to inquire what views on this subject they brought with them to America. To begin with, the oldest, the Lutheran, its founder despaired of enforcing discipline in a church that embraced the state and he longed for an ecclesiola in the ecclesia in which warning and admonition could be used effectively. In local churches the pastors were given the power of the keys, but they surrendered it to the consistories. In the last century repeated efforts were made to revive discipline, but, as the public was defiant, the civil authorities opposed the project.

In England the Thirty-Nine Articles followed the Augsburg Confession and said nothing of discipline as a mark of a Christian Church. All that the nineteenth article says is that “a visible church of Christ is a company of believers in which the pure word of God is preached and the sacraments are duly administered.” An English curate must leave to his bishop the question of barring the communion table to notorious offenders.

In Switzerland the Reformers set up a civil tribunal of morals. At Geneva Calvin fought for twenty years for a church police. He barred the table to all libertines, gamblers, dancers and theatre goers until they arose against him and drove him from the city. In 1815 began a great revival in Geneva when once more emphasis was placed on Church Discipline.

The Belgic Confession of 1561 differs from the other creeds of that century by adding a third mark of a true church of Christ, the exercise of discipline in punishing sin.

The Westminster Confession of 1647 directs officers of the church to admonish transgressors and, if necessary, to suspend or excommunicate the obdurate.

In Scotland it was insisted that “ecclesiastical discipline must be uprightly administered, whereby vice is repressed and virtue is nourished.” In Holland the Remonstrants in 1676 declared that “discipline is prescribed by our Lord and King, and that we should avoid those who have rendered themselves unworthy of the lovely name of brethren.”

The Presbyterians and Congregationalists of England in 1690 united in a declaration that “all ignorant and ungodly persons cannot without great sin partake of the Lord’s Supper.” This was in accord with the Savoy Confession of Congregational Churches of 1658, which maintained that “the Church may censure, admonish and excommunicate in the name of Chri...

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