The Agora
Biblical Fellowship

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46. The Ecclesial Guide

All ecclesias, and individuals, should have at hand a guide that, if it were read and observed, would go a long way toward solving many ecclesial problems. Unfortunately, A Guide to the Formation and Conduct of Christadelphian Ecclesias is more honored than used. It seems to be standard procedure for human nature to acknowledge the benefit of a principle in theory, but when provoked by circumstance, promptly to forget to implement that very principle that is most relevant. We all tend, under duress, to convince ourselves that rules are made for other people, and that the position in which we may suddenly find ourselves is very different from that which the framers of principles and rules envisioned. In theory, the wisdom of the words of Christ, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matt. 6:21), is unquestionable; but they are so easily set aside when we gaze in fond rapture upon a gleaming new automobile or a fine house or some exquisite new fashions. The standard, “Turn the other cheek”, is wonderfully appropriate if your friend’s cheek is the one smitten, but we can always think of good reasons why we should retaliate.

In just such a way, The Ecclesial Guide supplies those balanced judgments that are most needed when in controversy they are most easily forgotten. Though no one would say the rules are perfect, as the Bible itself is, at the very least they are dispassionate commentaries on the relevant passages dealing with ecclesial conduct. They have the benefit of being sound advice from a bystander not personally involved at all in whatever conflict is immediately at hand. Principles have a way of becoming distorted and either over-stressed or under-stressed when the holders thereof come under intense pressure.

A few brief excerpts from the relevant sections should suffice here:

32. Cases of Sin and Withdrawal: “Withdrawal is a serious step, and ought not be lightly taken against any brother. It erects a barrier and inflicts a stain not easily removed. It ought never to be taken until all the resources of the Scriptural rule of procedure have been exhausted. The rule laid down by Christ for the treatment of personal offences (Matt. 18:15-17) is doubtless applicable to sin in general....”

39. Absence and Separate Meetings Unlawful: “It imperative law that the brethren must be one body, and that they must submit one to another. It is a law of the house that each brother and sister must meet at the table of the Lord on the first day of the week for the breaking of bread. Nothing but denial of the truth in the assembly, or overt disobedience of the Lord’s commandments among them, can justify a brother or sister in absenting himself or herself from the breaking of bread.. If the matters of not affect the question of the truth or the commandments, it is the duty of the lesser to submit to the greater number... If, instead of submitting, they separate themselves, they put themselves in a false position from which worse things than those they objected to will come. Their action means that the greater number ought to submit to the lesser, or that there should never be submission to the wishes of others, and that a disappointed minority should always leave a meeting where their wishes cannot prevail. Such a doctrine is fraught with confusion and ruin, and is inconsistent with the most elementary commandments of Christ.”

40. A Time to Separate, and How to Go about it: “It is a maxim of universal law (divine included) that no man is to be judged without a hearing. If it is true of one man, it is true of a number of men, and to be applied as scrupulously to an erring ecclesia as to an individual delinquent. Suppose this rule is not acted on, — suppose the aggrieved minority simply depart, without formulating their grievances, and without giving the offending majority an opportunity of either justifying or removing the causes of offence, the situation is afterwards embarrassed for the minority as regards other ecclesias. Other ecclesias are in fellowship with the offending majority; and if there be not a correct mode of procedure, those other ecclesias, will not have it in their power to decide upon the issue.”

41. Involved in Another Ecclesia’s Trouble: This section is too lengthy to be quoted here in full, though it is all very good and very relevant. A point certainly worth stressing: any disfellowshiped brother or ecclesia is deserving of the right of appeal to someone, and there is no weakness implied in a conscientious, even drawn-out, examination of all matters pertaining to a disagreement.

42. Ecclesias in Relation one to Another: “The bond of union is the reception of the one faith, and submission to the commandments of the Lord. It is nothing less than a calamity when rupture on secondary issues sets in, where these other conditions of union exist....

“There ought to be no interference of one ecclesia with another....An ecclesia has no right to judge except for itself. This is the independence not to be interfered with: but a similar right to judge must be conceded to all, and the exercise of it, if tempered with a respectful and proper procedure, would never offend an enlightened body anywhere. In the majority of cases the withdrawal of one ecclesia is practically the withdrawal of all, since all will respect it till set aside, and since, in most cases, a concurrent investigation would lead to its ratification. But there may be cases where a reasonable doubt exists, and where a second ecclesia will come to a different conclusion from the first. What is to be done then? Are the two ecclesias that are agreed in the basis of fellowship to fall out because they are of a different judgment on a question of fact? This would be a lamentable result — a mistaken course every way. They have each exercised their prerogative of independent judgment: let each abide by its own decision, without interfering with each other. The one can fellowship a certain brother, the other cannot. Are they to aggravate the misery of a perhaps very trumpery and unworthy affair by refusing to recognize each other, because they differ in judgment about one person? What sadder spectacle can there be than to see servants of the Lord Jesus frowning at each other, and denying each other the comfort of mutual friendship and help, because they cannot agree about a given action or speech or perhaps some unworthy person. The course of wisdom in such a case is certainly to agree to differ. An ecclesia acting otherwise — demanding of another ecclesia, as a condition of fellowship, that they shall endorse their decision in a case that has become the business of both — is in reality infringing that principle of ecclesial independence which they desire to have recognized in their own case. It would be to impose what might be an intolerable tyranny upon the brethren.”
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