A Treatise on the Eldership
J. W. McGarvey  (1870)


      We have reached the conclusion, that in the act of withdrawing from a disorderly member, both the Eldership and the congregation as a body should take part. We now inquire what particular part each should take. We here raise three questions which cover the whole ground of inquiry: 1. Who is to judge of the facts? 2. Who is to judge of the law in the case? 3. Who is to execute the sentence of the law?

      Neither of these questions is formally raised by any New Testament writer, but enough is left on record, we think, to determine what was the practice of the primitive churches, and the will of the inspired apostles. The elders are styled the shepherds, the overseers, and the rulers of the church, and these titles necessarily imply that they are the constituted judges of the conduct of members. The shepherd must of necessity take knowledge of the conduct of his flock, and be better qualified to judge of it, if fit to be a shepherd, than any or all of the flock. The overseer, by the very nature of his office and work, is a judge of the facts in the conduct of those under his oversight. And the ruler, who, as in this case, has no legislative authority, and only a [41] concurrent executive authority, must be a ruler chiefly in the judicial sense of the term. Add to these considerations of the fact of the utter incapacity of a mixed assembly of men, women and children, to decide upon facts in many cases of church discipline, and we are forced to the conclusion that the Elders are the judges of the facts in every case.

      The correctness of this conclusion is confirmed by experience. Where cases of discipline have been examined in the presence of the whole assembly, and after testimony presented, all have been called upon to vote upon the questions at issue, confusion, strife and shame have commonly been the result, while the ends of justice have seldom been satisfactorily attained. There is no wise man, therefore, who would not greatly prefer, as judges of any question affecting his reputation, a small number of men well chosen for the purpose, to a miscellaneous gathering of the people. The wisdom and experience of the world is in perfect accord with the wisdom of God, in deciding that chosen rulers shall be the judges of all infractions of law.

      But who shall decide what the law of God is in any given case? The apostles have answered this question by constituting the Elders the teachers of the church. They are teachers of the law of God, and the church members are their pupils. The very nature of this relation implies that the teachers shall point out to the taught what the will of Christ is in every circumstance of life, and especially, that when a law is violated, both the violated precept and the penalty attached shall be pointed out by them. The Elders then in their capacity as teachers, are judges of the law in every case of disorderly conduct, and [42] it is their duty to point out the law very plainly both to the offender and to the congregation to the offender while laboring to reclaim him; to the congregation while preparing them to withdraw their fellowship from the irreclaimable.

      We are now to suppose that an individual has been found guilty of disorderly conduct, and that he persists in it to such a degree as to render a withdrawal from him necessary. The church as a body, as we have seen, must act in the withdrawal, under the guidance of its eldership. What are the exact steps which shall be taken? Here the Scriptures are silent, and, therefore, each church is left to its own discretion in the premises, when the Scriptures require something to be done, and prescribe no method of doing it, that method which is found to be most expedient is the one which should be adopted. This is the true province of expediency.

      Now, the end to be attained, in the case under consideration, is the united action of the elders and the disciples in withdrawing from one who has been found worthy of exclusion from the church. Any method of procedure which secures harmony and concert of action in the case must be pronounced good. The method which has been adopted in many well regulated churches, and which I regard as the best, is the following:

      The facts of the case, and the evidence upon which they have been ascertained, are reported by one of the elders in the name of all. The law of Christ which is violated is pointed out, and the duty of withdrawing from persons who persistently violate this law, is, made plain. It is then asked, if there is any reason known to any person why the [43] church should not immediately withdraw from the offender. A pause is made to allow any one to speak who knows or thinks he knows such reason. If any one claims to have such reason, the case is immediately postponed until the reason can be heard and duly considered, by the Eldership, they being the judges of its relevancy and sufficiency. If no such reason is offered, or if, having been offered and duly considered, it is insufficient, the whole congregation are called upon to arise to their feet and unite in the act of withdrawal. If a majority of them do so, the officiating Elders pronounces some such words as the following:

      "In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we do now solemnly withdraw the fellowship of this congregation from ----------, and do humbly beseech Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, to have mercy upon him, that he may be brought to repentance, and that his soul may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Amen."

      We say that the sentence should be pronounced, provided a majority of those assembled shall take part in it, because it can not properly be regarded as the act of the church if the majority refuse to take part. Such refusal, however, must necessarily be of rare occurrence where the Eldership possess even a small amount of that wisdom and discretion which should characterize them. In almost all conceivable cases, such an Eldership will know beforehand the sentiments of the congregation, and will either postpone the presentation of the case until they can instruct the disciples more fully upon the subject involved, or they will conclude, from the predominance in the church of an adverse judgment, [44] that their own decision is of doubtful propriety, and that action should therefore be indefinitely postponed. Such a thing as a rupture between the church and the Eldership is, therefore, almost an impossibility, except where the Elders are so incompetent as to deserve rebuke or defeat, or the members of the church so corrupt as to deserve abandonment by those among them who are true and faithful to the Lord.

[ATOTE 41-45]

Top of Page