The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Advancing Christ’s kingdom together #3

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IntroductionFirst group ∙ Second group ∙ Third group ∙ Fourth group

Andrew Fuller’s “pastor’s address to his Christian hearers, entreating their assistance in promoting the interest of Christ” begins with an introduction establishing the principles of co-operation upon which he intended to proceed, namely, the united and active interest of every member of Christ’s body in the health and growth of that body. He then deals with opportunities for co-operation in terms of four groups of people with whom pastors have to do. The first group is “serious and humble Christians.” The second group is composed of “disorderly walkers” – professing believers whose life does not measure up to their testimony, those who – for various reasons and in varying degrees – are spiritually unhealthy.

Here follows Fuller’s exhortations:

Secondly, in every church we must expect a greater or less proportion of disorderly walkers. – Our work, in respect of them, is to warn, admonish, and, if possible, reclaim them; or, if that cannot be, to separate them, lest the little leaven should leaven the whole lump. But in these cases, more than in many others, we stand in need of your assistance. It is not ministers only, but all “who are spiritual,” that the apostle addresses on this subject; and spiritual characters may always expect employment in restoring others in the spirit of meekness. It is of great importance to the well-being of a church that men are not wanting who will watch over one another in love, observe and counteract the first symptoms of declension, heal differences at an early period, and nip disturbances in the bud. By such means there will be but few things of a disagreeable nature, which will require either the censures of the church or the interference of the pastor.

There will be instances, however, in which both the pastor and the church must interfere; and here it is of the utmost consequence that they each preserve a right spirit, and act in concert. There are two errors in particular into which individuals have frequently fallen in these matters. One is a harsh and unfeeling conduct towards the offender, tending only to provoke his resentment, or to drive him to despair; the other is that of siding with him, apologizing for him, and carrying it so familiarly towards him in private as to induce him to think others who reprove him his enemies. Beware, brethren, of both these extremes, which, instead of assisting us in our work, would be doing the utmost to counteract us. We may almost as well abandon discipline as not to act in concert. It was on this principle that the apostle enjoined it on the Corinthians “not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such a one, no, not to eat.”

Your assistance is particularly necessary to resist and overcome those unlovely partialities which are too often found in individuals towards their relations or favourites. We have seen and heard of disorderly walkers, whose connexions in a church have been so extensive, that, when they should have been censured or admonished, either a strong opposition was raised in their favour, or at least a considerable number have chosen to stand neuter, and so to leave the officers of the church to act in a manner alone. It is glorious to see a people in such cases acting in the spirit of Levi, who “did not acknowledge his brethren, nor know his own children; but observed God’s word, and kept his covenant!”

It is often extremely difficult for a pastor to go through with such matters without injury to his character and ministry. He, being by his office obliged to take the lead, becomes the principal object of resentment; and every idle story is raked up by the party and their adherents which may wound his reputation, and impute his conduct to suspicious motives. If, in such circumstances, his brethren stand by him, he will disregard the slander of his enemies: but if they be indifferent, it will be death to him. Should such a conduct issue in his removal, it is no more than might be expected.

Here again are several ways in which healthy saints can co-operate in the work of ministry, in those aims of reclaiming and restoring the erring brother or, if the former proves impossible, preventing infection of the whole body:

  • Foundationally, by words and in deeds, positively encourage and exemplify the pursuit of full-orbed godliness. Do all you can to advance godliness in our own life and in the life of others. Your own holiness will teach and expose all at once, as well as giving credibility should you need to address sin in a brother or sister.
  • Then, deal righteously and lovingly with those going astray: “watch over one another in love, observe and counteract the first symptoms of declension, heal differences at an early period, and nip disturbances in the bud.” Paul made it the responsibility of every member to keep a loving watch over the whole body: “if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness” (Gal 6.1). There is a crippling spirit abroad that opposes love and rebuke, however sensitively, wisely and humbly delivered. One of the kindest and most loving acts we can perform for our brothers and sisters is graciously to confront them at some point along a path of sin or foolishness, and the earlier the better. This is not the fruit of a perpetual witch-hunt, forever hunting out the flaws and failings of our fellow members, but the love which, when it faces a sin which cannot be covered, will – out of a concern for the well-being of their immortal soul – look a sinning brother in the eye and draw attention to the danger. Though the more you may love, the less you will be loved, let neither a craven cowardice nor a false sentimentality keep you from such faithfulness.
  • Then, should formative discipline prove insufficient and individual rebuke unfruitful, you can deal righteously and impartially with those who require corrective discipline. Avoid the extremes which Fuller identifies of excessive harshness and excessive softness. With regard to the former, take pains to ensure that the sinning brother has no excuse for assuming anything but love in your dealings with him. With regard to the latter, make sure that the discipline of the church has teeth, and that you are not the member who – out of some false sense of obligation or sheer lack of sense and wisdom – draws those teeth and prevents the discipline accomplishing its intended ends. The aim of church discipline is repentance and restoration, and excessive harshness and softness will militate against both. Should you need to act in a case of discipline, stand for what is right, not for what or whom you know or like. Show no partiality, except to righteousness. If your pastors are dealing fairly and faithfully, then hear no slander against them, but give them the benefit and blessing of your principled support; do not let their acts of faithfulness become the opportunity of Satan to weary or crush them.

IntroductionFirst group ∙ Second group ∙ Third group ∙ Fourth group

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 23 November 2010 at 20:24

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