Upon whom is the labor of ecclesiastical discipline and censure to be applied? This question is of significance, not only to those who are entrusted with the responsibilities of this labor, but also because the effectiveness of the work is determined by its being performed upon the proper object. Discipline applied unnecessarily (i.e. unlawfully) loses its effectiveness as a power from Christ, binding on earth and in heaven, and discipline neglected cannot be a force removing offense from the church and reconciling the sinner to the church.
Reformed Churches have never accepted the notion and practice of the Roman Catholics according to which censures are applied to buildings, lands, hooks, etc. For this no Scriptural warrant can be found. Neither can this ecclesiastical power be applied to lifeless objects as, for example, false teachers who have passed on to their eternal reward. Another error of Rome in this regard is their practice of applying censures to those outside of the church. Once a person severs his membership in the organized, instituted church, the discipline of that church upon him has no force. Quite often members who are the proper objects of discipline will resort to this serious sin of resigning their membership in order to escape the full force of ecclesiastical censure. This is not only very sinful but it is very deceptive. In effect they reveal that they refuse to be reconciled to the church (and to Christ) and so excommunicate themselves. They deceive themselves by thinking that Christ, who applied His censure through His church, can be served in another fellowship where sin is condoned. God is not mocked! But, from the viewpoint of the church, discipline and censure cannot be applied to those outside of her membership and, therefore, when members persist in running away from the admonition of the Word, the labor of the church with respect to them ceases. The church commits such to the righteous judgment of God.
Our Church Order explicitly defines the objects of censure as “sinners.” On the one hand this means that no one is exempted. Rich and poor, children and adults, men and women, office-bearers and members, civil rulers and subjects are all alike placed under the jurisdiction of the church (of Christ). Rome exempts the Pope and the Episcopalians and Lutherans have exempted civil rulers but in the Reformed churches there is no partiality.
On the other hand, to define the objects of discipline as “sinners” and then to say no more is to include all and every member of the church. All have sinned and do sin daily. This would mean that there could be no church for all and every member would have to be censured and ultimately excommunicated. This, however, is not the case. All sin is not censurable sin and all sinners are not outside of the church. Our Church Order speaks of those who commit “gross, public sins” and who “err in doctrine or offend in conduct” and so give public offense. Rev. H. Hoeksema wrote in Vol. 37, pg. 388 of The Standard Bearer: “As I have said before, there is, ultimately, only one sin that may or can lead to excommunication and that is the sin ofimpenitence. One who does not repent before God and man cannot receive forgiveness.” This is certainly in harmony with Article 76 of the Church Order which states : “Such as obstinately reject the admonition of the consistory, and likewise those who have committed a public or otherwise gross sin, shall be suspended from Lord’s Supper” (italics mine, G.V.). R.D. Eagleson says, “We must also remember that discipline is concerned with what are known as scandalous sins. (The word scandal in its religious use means: [a] discredit to religion occasioned by the conduct of a religious person; also perplexity of conscience occasioned by one who is looked up to, as an example; [b] an occasion of unbelief or moral lapse; a stumbling block. —Student’s Oxford English Dictionary. —Briefly, a scandal is a publicly known sin.)
It is visible sins which are the subject of discipline, for we are dealing with the Visible Church, and elders are not meant to know the secrets of men’s hearts. We are not concerned in searching out the private trespasses in a man’s life, but only with the public scandal of an openly profane life or a private sin which has grown public afterwards by theoffender’s obstinacy (italics mine, G.V.) following admonition.”
It is, of course, quite impossible to enumerate all of the specific sins that fall into this category. Commentaries on the Church Order, however, do, frequently mention specific sins which the church regards as censurable and those who live in such sins are considered the proper objects of ecclesiastical discipline. On this we want to share with our readers the writing of Monsma and Van Dellen as found on pages 295 ff. of The Church Order Commentary. They write about the stand of the Christian Reformed Church in regard to lodge and union membership; a stand that is antiquated in those churches today. We quote at length:
“It is the stand of our Churches, by Synodical conclusion, that if it becomes manifest that a member belongs to a secret, oath-bound organization, he shall be disciplined. (Cf. Gen. Rules, Art. 55, 1881.) In harmony with this decision it is the duty of Consistories ‘to put the question to those who desire to be received as members and admitted to the Lord’s Supper whether they belong to any society bound by oath or solemn vow.’ (Cf. Acts 1567, Art. 15.) The implication is, of course, that those who do belong to a lodge are not to be admitted to the Lord’s Table. Their profession of faith is unacceptable.
“Why do the Christian Reformed Churches hold to this position regarding lodge-membership? Strictly speaking, because these organizations are essentially anti-Christian in character. The teachings of the lodge imply that if one lives up to the ideals and standards of the lodge, all is well. He who dies as a good lodge member is considered to be saved, even though he did not believe in Christ as Son of God and only Savior. Thus the lodge is essentially anti-Christian. It is indeed religious, but its religion is not Biblical Christianity. It is far rather a modernistic, paganistic corruption of Christianity. By joining the lodge one expresses agreement with its doctrines. Which means that when one joins the lodge he denies Christ as Savior and he denies Biblical Christianity. All this takes place upon fearful oaths. We object to the uncalled for secrecy of the lodge and to the fact that members are asked to swear to matters which are only revealed to them after they have sworn to them; we object to the worldly atmosphere which the lodge fosters, etc. But our essential objection to the lodge is its false, anti-Christian teachings. If the lodge is right, Christianity is false. No man can consistently be a member of the lodge and also of the Church of Christ.
“It is interesting to note that the Synod of the Reformed Churches of Holland, Utrecht, 1923, Art. 143, came to the following conclusions regarding the Independent Order of Odd-Fellows:
“a. That Consistories must continue to admonish members in full, and members by baptism, to sever their connections with this Order.
“b. That Consistories must discipline those who continue in this evil.
“It should be clear that the issue is not at all whether the Churches can censure societies or groups of members. To do so would be un-Reformed. To this all agree. But this is the issue: Does lodge-membership involve, expressed or unexpressed, a denial of fundamental Christian doctrines or not? Our Churches have answered this question in the affirmative. We are fully persuaded on this point, and consequently anyone who joins a lodge and refuses to break with it is censured for his anti-Christian profession and conduct. It may safely be said that he who joins the lodge sins against the First Commandment, for the God of Unitarianism, Modernism, and Lodgism is not the God of the Bible and of the Ten Commandments.”
Before we continue to quote these authors on their writings on Unionism (with which the Christian Reformed Church is full today), we want to insert the “Teamster’s Pledge of Allegiance” as published in Life magazine, May 18, 1959 and furnished us by Rev. R.C. Harbach. It reads as follows:
“I will use all honorable means to procure employment for brother members . . . I will be obedient to authority . . . charitable in judgment of my brother members. . . I will render full allegiance to this union and never consent to subordinate its interests to those of any other organization of which I am now or may hereafter become a member.” (Italics mine, G.V.)
If words, promises and pledges mean anything, this means that everyone joining the Teamsters places the union before the church; puts the god of unionism which is the god of Materialism before Christ; and places man before GOD! What is the difference, as far as the magnitude of sin is concerned, between this and joining the lodge?
Concerning Union Membership then the Church Order Commentary says:
“Regarding Church membership and membership in our so-called neutral labor unions various Synods have made pronouncements. Particularly the Synods of 1904 and 1916 dealt with this matter. The latter Synod was somewhat more tolerant in its conclusions than the Synod of 1904 had been. However, the conclusions of 1916 did not settle the issue. To the mind of many these conclusions were taken: prematurely and without sufficient warrant. The matter continued to be a subject of debate and study. Synod of 1928 accepted a number of clear-cut resolutions regarding this question. (Cf. Acts of Synod, 1928, pp. 91-96 or J.L. Schaver Christian Reformed Church Order, pp. 116, 117.)”
We have no space to publish these “clear-cut resolutions” here. We will do so, D.V, next time. We quote one more statement from page 297. “Our ecclesiastical decisions, concerning anti-Christian lodges, unions, etc., are as such not disciplinary decisions against these organizations, but ecclesiastical conclusions mutually arrived at by all the Churches concerned, according to which Consistories are to admonish and discipline Church members if need be.”
In light of this statement, together with the clear-cut conclusions which are to follow, we conclude with the question: “What has happened to the discipline in the Christian Reformed Churches?”
The answer is not: “It is going” but “IT HAS GONE!”