AFFIRMATIVE: RESOLVED: That Discipline of Members that Belong to Worldly Organizations should be Left to the Ministry of the Word.
The undersigned feels constrained to make a few preliminary remarks before writing affirmatively concerning the above proposal. First of all let it be stated that he does not believe that the discipline of those that belong to worldly organizations should be left to the ministry of the Word. In fact, he does not consider a debate on this subject advisable, with the membership in worldly organizations by church members as prevalent as it is at present, without first emphasizing that he does not agree with the above proposal. The title of the debate implies that such membership is sinful and requires discipline. Therefore the expression “worldly organizations” means worldly in the evil sense of the word and includes such organizations as the union and the lodge. The debate very plainly deals with the discipline of those who are walking in sin. The question is whether their discipline should be left to the ministry of the Word or whether the consistory should also apply to various steps of censure and ultimately excommunicate. The question is not whether such members of worldly organizations should be disciplined. That is a foregone conclusion. The undersigned nevertheless sees the danger in debating this matter because of the moral support it might unintentionally give to those who are members of worldly organizations or are contemplating such membership and are looking for arguments to uphold them in their sin. Both affirmative and negative cannot be right and naturally one or the other in order to defend his position will have to open down things which are not the truth of the matter. Those looking for moral support in their sinful walk will also naturally lift out just that which is pleasing to them, and one sees the danger that their conclusion may very well be that if their discipline is to be left up to the ministry of the Word their sin is not very great or else that the church is not sure of its stand, the matter is questionable, and therefore does not go through with its decisions and merely disciplines from the pulpit. Let it firmly be stated the before we begin with this proposition that this is not the idea at all behind the act of leaving the discipline to the ministry of the Word. To leave such discipline to the ministry of the Word is not an admission that membership in worldly organizations is a minor thing and that a word here and there in the sermon is sufficient for such acts of faltering faith and that the case is not serious enough to take to the consistory.
However, the undersigned can see certain advantages in airing this question, and realizing that he owes the Standard Bearer readers and his worthy opponent, the Rev. H. Veldman, a few lines on the affirmative side of this proposition, he has decided to write a few thoughts about the affirmative side.
1. The Ministry of the Word is very really discipline.
Before we can properly consider the matter of leaving the discipline of members of worldly organizations to the Ministry of the Word it ought to be plain to us that the Ministry of the Word is very really discipline. This is not generally considered to be the case. By discipline one usually means visits by the consistory, the first step of censure, the second step of censure and excommunication. The ministry of the Word is seldom considered to be the exercise of Christian discipline. Yet this certainly is the case. Consider once that to discipline is to train. The word discipline comes from the same Latin word as the word disciple. A disciple is one who follows another, believes what he believes and walks as he walks. The believer is the disciple of Christ, believing in Him, walking as He walked, and is therefore called a Christian. Now it is at once plain that to discipline is to make disciples, that is, to train one to walk more and more as a disciple. Christian discipline is then that art or practice of training God’s children to walk as disciples of Christ.
The general opinion of discipline is that it is the process of punishing the wayward church members. This however is not the case. The church has not been given the keys of the kingdom of heaven to punish its members that walk in sin. Discipline is not such even when it is applied to those who ultimately are excommunicated, in fact excommunication is not punishment by the church. The church does not punish its members and does not punish the reprobate. The calling of the church is to train its members to a godlier walk of life. To the church were given the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Note well, keys were given to the church, not a sword or club. These keys are to open and shut the kingdom of heaven and are never to be used to beat one over the head. One is not given the keys for that purpose. One may use them as such, and in the Ministry of the Word one may be moved by concern for one’s own cause rather than God’s, and by means of a tongue lashing one may use these keys to beat a member over the head and try to punish him, but this is the calling of the church. It is the Ministry of God’s Word and not man’s. When by the use of these keys one is excommunicated, that individual is not punished by the church, but he is declared to be outside of the kingdom of heaven and therefore in the sphere of God’s wrath and punishment. Then the church does not punish him for his walk of sin but declares that God will do so.
The calling of the church is then to train its members by means of the Word of God to a holy walk. As long as one is a member of the church, the church must consider him an elect and labor with him to improve his walk that Christ may be seen in him.
For this work of training or disciplining God has given us His Word. Inwe read, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” Note how the idea of discipline is here indicated by the words, “Be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works,” and that it is the. Word which God gave us for that purpose. In the Ministry of the Word, God’s Word is administered and applied to the lives of His people. Through that Word His people are instructed in the way they should walk and in the truth they must believe. Through it they are warned and rebuked, admonished and comforted, encouraged and nourished. It is a lamp unto our feet and a light upon our pathway.
You see then that the Ministry of the Word is very really discipline. To those who belong to worldly organizations this Word comes with rebukes and admonitions. It points to them the way they ought to walk. It calls them away from the world. It declares to them that they cannot serve God and Mammon, and that their unequal yoke with the unbeliever is very sinful in God’s sight. It gives them examples of Israelites in the Old Dispensation who allied themselves with the world and were destroyed with the world. It encourages them and comforts them wild the truth that God will have mercy and abundantly pardon all those who forsake their wicked way. !l holds before their eyes the kingdom of heaven and Christ Jesus our king who supplies all our needs. In this way it trains them to walk as members of the body of Christ and citizens of the kingdom of heaven.
2. The Ministry of the Word is the chiefest means of Christian discipline.
Besides the Ministry of the Word there is also that other means of discipline consisting in censure and excommunication. Of this the Catechism declares in the answer to question 83, “The preaching of the holy gospel, and Christian discipline, or excommunication out of the Christian church; by these two the kingdom of heaven is opened to believers and shut against unbelievers.” Likewise does the Belgic Confession mention these two in articles 29 as the keys of the kingdom of heaven. It requires but a little consideration to come to the conclusion that the Ministry of the Word is the greater of these. Even as the sacraments are dependent upon the Word and have no meaning apart from it, so too excommunication with its preliminary steps of censure which are barring from the sacraments have no meaning without the Word and cannot be applied without the Word. The consistory must make plain to the erring brother or sister that he is walking in sin, and this it can do only by referring him to God’s Word. Excommunication is not on the same level with the Ministry of the Word. It is supplementary to it and is to be used only in certain particular cases where an added means of discipline is required.
3. Suggested reasons for leaving the discipline of those that belong to worldly organizations to the Ministry of the Word.
We might begin by stating that the Ministry of the Word is very well capable of handling the situation and is not in need of a supplementary means of discipline. When the Word is really administered—and by this we do not mean a word here and there in the sermon, but a clear and vigorous application of God’s Word to the matter—it will have the twofold effect of convincing the believer of his sin and the unbeliever it will harden so that he seeks a church where he can get away from that Word of God and can hear man’s word. We must not expect one sermon to convince such a wayward and faltering believer, but it is given us as we saw a moment ago to correct, reprove and instruct, and it will surely accomplish this.
We ought to remember that the discipline of members of worldly organizations requires a different treatment than such sins as theft, adultery, murder and despising the means of grace. Those who have been walking in such sins are always, and rightly so, demanded to confess their sins and their confession is not the case with those who belong to worldly organizations. Of them it is only demanded that they sever their connections with that worldly organization. The undersigned sees no reason why they should not confess their sin as well as those who commit any of the above mentioned sins and if it is done he stands corrected. But since in many churches this is not demanded, the Ministry of the Word surely is sufficient to train these members to walk worthy of their calling as children of God.
It may be objected that such members of worldly organizations who are not barred from the sacraments will be very detrimental to the faith of the rest of the congregation. We maintain that if the Word is really administered to these members of worldly organizations so that it is made very plain to them that they may not partake, you will not need to prevent them from partaking. They will refrain from doing so of their own accord.
In conclusion we may say that leaving the discipline of members of worldly organizations to the Ministry of the Word is more profitable for all those concerned. When such members are prevented from partaking of the Lord’s Table and from having their children baptized and then after much labor by the consistory they sever their connections with this worldly organization, the feeling is very often left that a righteous walk was forced upon them. Neither the consistory that treated him, nor the treated brother, nor the congregation has the joy that would result when under the preaching of the Word that erring brother saw the sinfulness of his way and himself took the steps to sever his connection and walk as a child of God. When discipline has been left to the Ministry of the Word and the brother is convinced, no one need ever doubt that he severed connections for any other reason than that God’s Word has trained him to walk as a member of the body of Christ and not as a member of the Antichrist.
The assumption of this debate is, of course, that such a member of a worldly organization still attends church faithfully and comes under the preaching of the Word regularly. If such a member of a worldly organization does not attend church faithfully, it is an entirely different matter and he must be treated for despising the means of grace. But if he attends faithfully and listens to God’s Word, it will reprove, correct, instruct and thoroughly equip him unto every good work. As he grows in knowledge, he will grow in faith and bring forth the works of faith.
The allotted space is more than up. Having written one page of introduction I hope my opponent will forgive me for writing six pages rather than the assigned five. If he so desires, he may write six in his next contribution to this debate and I will write four.