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Discipline for the Omission of Duties

By Joseph Baker

Lessons Today From A Historical Baptist Perspective

The following is an excerpt from Joseph S. Baker’s booklet, Queries Considered; Or An Investigation of Various Subjects Involved in the Exercise of Church Discipline, 1847. Joseph Baker (1798-1877) pastored churches in Georgia and Florida. Baker wrote often on the subject of church discipline and urged the Baptists to faithfulness in this area. Baker’s clear views represented well Baptist practice at the time and were received favorably. The following section is entitled “Omissions of Duty.” It is taken from pp. 277-279 of the full volume book, Polity, edited by Mark Dever (Washington, DC: 9Marks Ministries, 2001).

QUERY VI. Is it right for a church to exclude a member, against whom there is no charge of immorality, for simply neglecting some Christian duty; such, for instance, as the duty to unite in celebrating the Lord’s Supper, — to contribute according to his ability to the support of the Gospel, to keep up family worship?

We feel but little hesitation in answering the above query in the affirmative, and are very confident that we shall be able to make it apparent, that our views on this subject are sustained, both by the Sacred Scriptures, and the usage of the more intelligent and efficient portions of our churches.

We must subject to the censures of the church, not only those who do evil, but those also who neglect to do good; for the word of God admonishes, “to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” (Jas. iv, 17.)

A proper regard for the preservation of discipline in our churches, imperiously require, that our church members be exercised in the practice of all the moral and social virtues enjoined in the word of God. The scriptures not only require of us that we “cease to do evil,” but that we, “learn to do well.” The requisition to love and serve one another, to minister to the necessities of the needy, not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together, to contribute for the support of the ministry, to aid in diffusing abroad the blessings of the gospel of Christ, are as express as the prohibitions of immoral acts. But, unfortunately, we seem to lose sight of this important fact, and attach more importance to negative than to positive duties; — that is, to the duty to abstain from evil, than to the duty to do good. We make that primary which should be secondary, and that secondary which should be primary. We are more careful to punish an offending member, than we are to instruct and train the unoffending. We would not hesitate to exclude from our communion a servant who positively refused, in but one or two instances, to obey his master, while we retain in fellowship those who habitually neglect the most peremptory commands of their God! We thus declare, by our acts, that we esteem it a greater offence to neglect a duty to a fellow creature, than to neglect our duties to God. If a member will but abstain from open immoralities, and attend his church conferences once in two or three, or six months, we hold him in full fellowship, and report him to be in good standing, though he afford no fruit, either of his love to God, or his interest in the prosperity of the church!

To see that our church members are employed in doing good, is one of the most effectual means of keeping them from the commission of evil. The more they are employed in the duties of religion, the more will they delight in them, and the less will they relish those sinful indulgences which expose one, not only to the censures of the church, but to the displeasure of God. Knowing then, as we do, that the neglect of duty prepares for the commission of crime, if we connive at the one, we cannot but be held responsible for the other. With what justice, or with what propriety can we sit in judgment upon an offending brother, if we witnessed his first derelictions of duty and neglected to admonish him? If, when he first turned aside from the path of duty, we said, by our silence, if in no other way, “brother, go on; you are in the right way; God speed thee?”

There must be a reformation also in this department of discipline, before the church can appear to the beholder as a beautiful fabric, completely built of polished stones. If we would have our church members to be as a company of horses in Pharaoh’s chariot, we must put them in the harness, attach them to the chariot of the gospel, and be as careful to make them pull forward, as we are to keep them from running backward. The whip and the spur must be applied when they stop and refuse to work, as well as when they make attempts to break loose and shake off their gear. Why was the barren fig tree withered by the curse of the Saviour? We read not that it bore evil fruit; but it was barren — it yielded no good fruit, (Matt. xxi, 19, 20. See also the parable xxiv, 32.) ‘Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit, is to be hewn down and cast into the fire.’ (Matt. iii, 10.) This is declared to be an ordinance of heaven, by him who was sent to prepare the way for the building up of the church of Christ. The Saviour confirms the decree and declares, “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away” (John xv, 2.) And again, “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch and is withered; and men gather them and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.” (v, 6.)

Our churches are often as neglectful of their duty as the most unfaithful of their members This branch of church discipline merits, and should receive, more attention than we have hitherto given to it. It is with church members as with orators; the main thing to secure commendation and success in their holy vocation, is “action.” Like good soldiers and good scholars, they must be regularly and systematically exercised in their several duties. We should watch over each other, therefore, not only that we may reprove each other’s offences, but that we may stir up each other’s languid affections, and excite to good works. We represent the neglect of duty as a very little sin, (and so does Satan,) but in the word of God, it is represented as a sin of so great a magnitude as to justify the excluding from heaven all such as are guilty of it: “How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation? (Heb. ii, 3.) “Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these (his disciples) ye did it not to me,” is represented as the language of the Judge of all the earth, when sentencing to final banishment from his presence, those who claimed to be his peculiar people. (Matt. xxv, 45.) Observe, that they are excluded, not because they persecuted, oppressed, impoverished, or imprisoned his disciples; but because they neglected to visit and administer to their necessities. But if this afford just ground of exclusion from heaven, it must — it does afford just ground of exclusion from the privileges of the church.

The inference which we would draw, from all that has been said on this subject, is, that to be faithful to God, and just and impartial in our administration of the laws of Christ’s kingdom, we must subject to the censures of the church, not only those who do evil, but those also who neglect to do good; for the word of God admonishes, “to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” (Jas. iv, 17.) Let this be borne in remembrance, and let the actions of our churches be regulated accordingly, and our church registry will be less frequently stained with the record of the guilt of our members; its pages will be more frequently embellished with entries of acts of benevolence, and with the names of new recruits in the cause of Christ.

Baptist churches have repeatedly sanctioned the principle for which we contend—the principle which leads us to deal with members for the neglect of duty. The Kehukee Association, in 1783, considered the following query: — “What shall a church do with a member who shall absent himself from the communion of the Lord’s supper?” They returned the answer, “That it is the duty of the church to inquire into the reason of his absenting himself from the communion, and if he does not render a satisfactory reason the church shall deal with him.” Hist. Keh. As. p. 68.

In the minutes of the Georgia Association, for the year 1835, we find the following queries and answers, in reference to the same subject. 1. “Is it the duty of church members to partake of the Lord’s supper, when regularly administered in the church? Answer, Yes! 2. Are members excusable who take their seats in order, but refuse to partake of the elements? Answer, No! 3. Is it the duty of the church or not, when members take their seats and do not commune, to inquire into the reason thereof? Answer, Yes! 4. When members take their seats at communion, and fail to partake on account of a want of fellowship with some brother or brethren, and yet do not lay charges against those for whose sake they refuse to commune, ought the church to deal with them who thus act? Answer, Yes, after gospel steps have been taken!”

In the minutes of the same Association, for 1798, is the following query, “What shall be done with those professors who do not hold worship in their families?” They answer, “It is our opinion that the churches to whom such professors belong, first admonish, exhort and reprove them, but if they will not be reclaimed, then deal with them as neglecters of known duty.” In the minutes for 1808, the following query and answer occur: “Should a brother be continued in fellowship who, though able, will not assist in supporting the gospel? Ans.— We are of opinion where the ability is obvious on the one hand, and the unwillingness positive on the other, and the brother cannot be brought to his duty by proper means, he ought to be excluded.” Hist Ga. As. p. 130, 132, 138.

Our views on this subject are thus sustained by the sacred Scriptures and by the express decisions of large and respectable portions of our denomination. Our misfortune is not that we lack light on this subject, but that we lack the zeal, energy and moral courage which is requisite to the faithful discharge of our duty. Our churches are often as neglectful of their duty as the most unfaithful of their members.

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