The Glory of a True Church- Of dealing with Hereticks and Blasphemers
Of dealing with Hereticks and Blasphemers
As touching Hereticks or Heresy, the same Censure, when they are convicted, ought to pass against them; Heresy is commonly restrained to signify any perverse Opinion or Error in a fundamental Point of Religion, as to deny the Being of God, or the Deity of Christ, or his Satisfaction, and Justification alone by his Righteousness, or to deny the Resurrection of the Body, or eternal Judgment, or the like. Yet our Annotators say, the Word signifies the same thing with Schism and Divisions; which if so, such that are guilty of Schism or Divisions in the Church, ought to be excommunicated also.69 Heresies are called Damnable by the Apostle Peter; without Repentance such cannot be saved, as bring in Damnable Heresies, denying the Lord that bought them.70
Two things render a Man an Heretick according to the common signification of the Word. 1. An Error in matters of Faith, Fundamental or Essential to Salvation. 2. Stubbornness and Contumacy in holding and maintaining it. A Man that is an Heretick, after the first and second Admonition reject.71 Now that this Rejection is all one with Excommunication, appears by what Paul speaks, I Tim. I. 20. Of whom is Hymeneus and Alexander, whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to Blaspheme.72 Their Heresy, or Blasphemy was in saying the Resurrection was past.
Some would have none be counted an Heretick but he who is convicted and conde mned so to be in his own Conscience, mistaking Paul’s Words, Knowing t hat he that is such, is subverted, being condemned of himself. He may be con demned of himself, tho not for his Heresy, yet for his spending his Time about Questions, and strife of Words, to the disquieting the Peace of the Church ; or tho not condemned of himself directly, yet indirectly; according to the Purport of his own Notion, or what he grants about the Point in Debate, &c. Else the Apostle refers to some notable and notorious self-condemned Heretick. It is a great question, whether Hymeneus and Alexander were condemned in their own Consciences, about that Heresy charged upon them, and yet were delivered up to Satan. However the Rule is plain, respecting any that are subverted, and resolutely maintain any Heretical Notion, i.e. after he hath been twice (or oftner) admonished, that is, after all due means used, and pains taken with him, to convince him of his abominable Error; and yet if he remains obstinate, he must be delivered up to Satan; that is, the righteous censure of the Church must pass upon him, as in the case of other notorious Crimes. Heresy is a Work of the Flesh: and hence some conceive such ought to be punished by the Civil Magistrate.
Quest. What is an Admonition?
Answ. It is a faithful endeavour to convict a Person of a Fault both as to matter of Fact, and his Duty thereupon, charging it on his Conscience in the Name of the Lord Jesus with all Wisdom and Authority.
Quest. What is a Church Admonition?
Answ. When an offending Brother rejecting private Admonition by one, or by two or three Persons, the complaint being brought to the Church by the Elder, the offending Member is rebuked and exhorted in the Name of the Lord Jesus to due Repentance; and if convicted, and he repents, the Church forgives him, otherwise casts him out, as I before shewed.
Quest. May a Church admit a Member of another Congregation to have Communion with them, without an orderly receiving him as a Member?
Answ. If the Person is well known by some of the Church, and that he is an orderly Member of a Church of the same Faith, he being occasionally cast among them they may admit him to transient Communion for that time; but if he abides in that Town or City remote to the Church to whom he belongs, he ought to have his regular dismission, and so be delivered up to the care and watch of the Church where he desires to communicate.
Quest. If an Excommunicated Person hath obtained of God true Repentance, and desires to be restored to the Church, what is the manner of his Reception?
Answ. Upon his serious, solemn and publick Acknowledgment thereof before the Church, and due Satisfaction according to the nature of his Offence being given, the Elder solemnly proceeds and declares in the Name of the Lord Jesus,73 that the sentence which A.B. was laid under (upon his unfeigned Repentance) is taken off,74 and that he is received again as a Member, &c. To the Praise and Glory of God.75
Quest. How ought a Pastor to be dealt withal, if he to the knowledge of the Church, or any Members thereof, walketh disorderly, and unworthily of his Sacred Office, and Membership?
Take the Answer of another Author here.
Answ. ‘Those Members, to whom this is manifestly known, ought to go to him privately, and unknown to any others, (and with the Spirit of Meekness, in great Humility) lay his Evil before him, and intreat him as a Father, and not rebuke him as their Equal, much less as their Inferiour; and if they gain upon him, then to receive him into their former Affection and Esteem, for ever hiding it from all others. But if after all tender intreaties, he prove Refractory and Obstinate, then to bring him before the Church, and there to deal with him; they having Two or Three Witnesses in the face of the Church, to testify matter of Fact against him to their personal Knowledge.
2. ‘But before he be dealt with they must appoint one from among themselves, qualifyd for the work of a Pastor, to execute the Church’s Censure against him, &c.
Yet no doubt, the Church may Suspend him from his Communion, & exercising of his Office presently, upon his being fully Convicted. But seeing in the multitude of Counsel there is safety, sure no Church would so proceed without the advice of the Presbytery, or of a Sister-Church at least.
Q. Suppose a Member should think himself Oppressed by the Church; or should be Unjustly dealt with; either Withdrawn from, or Excommunicated, has he no Relief left him?
Answ. We believe he hath Relief; and also, that there is no Church infallible, but may Err in some points of Faith, as well as in Discipline. And the way proposed, and agreed to, in a general Assembly, held in London, 1692, of the Elders, Ministers, and Messengers of our Churches, we approve of, which is this; viz. The grieved or injured Person may make his Application to a Sister-Church for Communion; and that Church may send some Brethren in their names, to that Congregation that have dealt with him, and they to see if they can possible restore him to his place; but if they cannot, then to report the matter charged, with the Proofs, to the Church that sent them: and if that Congregation shall, after a full Information, &c. be persuaded the Person was not orderly dealt with, they may receive him into their Communion.
Benjamin Keach- The Glory of a True Church, And its Discipline Displayed (1697)