Monday, October 30, 2006

Extracts from Gillespie on Excommunication

Extracts of Gillespie on Excommunication
(from a work in slow progress)

Congregational Consent to Excommunication
Gillespie in Assertion of Church Government of Scotland of Scotland previous to the first quote on the page in the PPSA (p.16) says regarding the question of the congregation’s consent to an excommunication:

One scruple more may peradventure remain. They will say, it is well that we require the church's consent before any weighty matter which concerneth all be finished; but what if this consent be not had? Whether may the eldership cut off an offender renitente ecclesia? For their satisfaction in this also, we say with Zeperus [De Pol. Eccl., lib. 1. cap. 19.], Quod si ecclesia, &c.-'But if the church, (saith he) will not approve the sentence of excommunication, nor hold it valid, and they see many disagreeing among themselves, {42.b.} and schisms, and greater evils in the church, to follow this sentence of excommunication; the elders shall not proceed to excommunication, but shall patiently suffer what cannot with the good leave of the church be amended. In the meanwhile they shall publicly and privately admonish and exhort.' So saith Zanchius,16 that without the consent of the church no man ought to be excommunicated.

The Bishop of Spalato, and before him, Augustine, hath given the reason hereof, because the end of excommunication cannot be attained if the church do not consent thereto; for the end is, that the offender may be taken with fear and shame, when he findeth himself abhorred and accursed by the whole church, so that it shall be in vain to excommunicate him from whom the multitude in the church refuse to abstract their communion. I conclude that, in such cases, though the pastors and elders have the power of jurisdiction, it is not to exercise the same (italics added, Assertion, II:I).

In other words, if the congregation’s consent can not be had excommunication is not to take place. But we didn’t hear that in the PPSA. Why not?

Gillespie goes on to say exactly the same thing regarding excommunications and the consent of the congregation(s) at large in one of his Digressions “Of the Power of the Keys and Ecclesiastical Censures,” in his Dispute Against English Popish Ceremonies:

4. To the right execution of this discipline the manifest consent of the whole church is also necessary: the truth whereof, besides that it appears from that which has been said concerning the church’s authority, it is further confirmed, if we consider either the importance of the thing, or the good of the person. Touching the importance of the thing, Gravissima, etc. Most weighty matters in the church, says Gerhard, and the same says Zanchius also, ought not to be undertaken without the consent of the whole ecclesiastical body; and, as Pope Leo writes, Such things as pertain unto all ought to be done with the consent of all. But what can be more weighty, and what does more pertain to the body of the church, than to cut off some member from the body? And, touching the good of the person, Augustine shows that then only a sinner is both stricken with fear and healed with shame, when, seeing himself anathematized by the whole church, he cannot find a fellow multitude together wherewith he may rejoice in his sin and insult upon good men. And that otherwise, if the tares grow so rank that they cannot be pulled up, and if the same evil disease take hold of so very many that the consent of the church cannot be had to the excommunication of a wicked person, then good men must grieve and groan, and endure what they cannot help.
Therefore that excommunication may fruitfully succeed, the consent of the people is necessary (it. add.): For he is thrown out of the church and deprived of the company of believers in vain if the people are reluctant to drive him away and keep him at a distance.

He further remarks and qualifies what is to be done in case of a lawful excommunication, which is unapproved by the congregation and then goes on to mention what even a people may do in regard to a church officer when his behavior is such that it deserves censure, but that is unobtainable.

Howbeit, even in such cases, when the consent of the church cannot be had to the execution of this discipline, faithful pastors and professors must, every one for his own part, take heed that he have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but even to reprove them. Yea, they ought, in sensu negativo, excommunicate those who should be (but are not) excommunicated positively, which negative excommunication is not an ecclesiastical censure, but either a bare punishment, or a cautel and animadversion. And so says the Archbishop of Spalato, not only one brother may refuse to communicate with another, but a people, also, may refuse to communicate with their pastor which he confirms by certain examples. But the public censure of positive excommunication should not be inflicted without the church’s consent, for the reasons foresaid (Dispute, Naphtali, pp.381,2; Works, SWRB, I:179,180).

We ask, when was the last time we heard this from this faithful and credible star witness of the PPSA in regard to one of the growing number of excommunications in the RPNA(GM) by the Session of the RPNA(GM)? That a congregation must consent to an excommunication, and even if lawful, if consent can not be had God forbid, the excommunication should not take place? Moreover, if a people feel abused or misused by their officers they may refuse to communicate with them? (We might further respectfully ask, tacit consent or implicit assent aside, would this have anything to do with a possible fall off in offerings? That the consent of the checkbook does not necessarily fall in line with tacit consent? Conscious consent? The consent of conscience?) We respectfully think these all to be fair questions. Would it be too much to expect answers?

Congregational Competency and Excommunication
Sandwiched between the two quotes from his Assertion in the PPSA (p.16), Gillespie, who is speaking of the “bounds of the power of particular elderships, and how the same may be said to be independent, and how not, ” says,

The second distinction is, betwixt congregations "which have a competent and well-qualified {43.b.} eldership, and small congregations, who have but few office-bearers, and those, it may be, not sufficiently able for church government. In this case of insufficiency, a congregation may not independently, by itself, exercise jurisdiction, and not in re propris [in its very own business]," saith Parker (Assertion, II:II).

There are congregations who have a competent eldership and those who do not or who have an insufficient number, whether in an island or no. With the last, they are to refrain from discipline as a question of prudence rather than lawfulness. At the very least, we do not now have in our circles a quorum for a regular session. Or do we? Contra the qualifying quotes on Matt. 18 by the London Ministers and Gillespie in and approved by the PPSA, we do not have the minimum of two officers - a minister and a ruling elder if we are to keep as close to the rule and the necessity of representation by the hearers in the congregation is non negotiable, so Gillespie in Assertion I:II - from one congregation that may lawfully exercise discipline. Or do we?

Competency and the Second Book of Discipline, Chapter 7
Gillespie goes on to say the very same thing and more at length in Digression Four again from his Dispute that touches on both competency and the SBD Chapt. 7 in regard to excommunication.

2. When we teach that the pastor or pastors of every particular church and congregation, with the elders of the same, being met together, have power to bind and loose, we understand this only of such places wherein a competent number of understanding and qualified men may be had to make up an eldership; otherwise let there be one eldership made up of two or three of the next adjacent parishes, according as it was ordained by the Church of Scotland, in the 7th chapter of the Second Book of Discipline. Sine totius, etc.: Without the consent of some whole church (says Zanchius) no man ought to be excommunicate. Yea, I add, if it be a small church, and not consisting of many learned and skillful men, excommunication ought not to be done, except the neighboring churches be asked counsel of. And, as touching the pastor’s part, Calvin says well, Nunquam, etc.: I never thought it expedient the liberty of excommunicating should be permitted to every pastor. The fear of great inconveniences, which he thought likely to follow upon such custom, if once permitted, makes him confess, in that epistle, that he durst not advise Liserus to excommunicate any man without taking counsel of other pastors.

He continues in the same vein in the next paragraph:

. . . . which bounds we also think good to be kept, viz., that if a church is so small that it has not so many well qualified men as may be sufficient to assist the pastor in the government thereof, then let one common eldership be made up out of it and some other neighbor churches: by which means it shall moreover come to pass (which is the other caution to be given) that not every pastor (no not with the elders of his congregation) shall be permitted to have full liberty of binding and loosing, but shall in those matters, receive counsel and advice from other pastors. Howbeit, for this latter purpose, the Church of Scotland has profitably provided another remedy also, namely, that, in certain chief places, all the pastors in the adjacent bounds shall, at set and ordinary times, assemble themselves (which assemblies, in this nation, we call presbyteries [all it. added]), that so the churches may be governed communi presbyterorum consilio [by a consultation of the elders together], as Jerome speaks of the primitive times of the church (Dispute, Naphtali, pp.380,1; Works, SWRB, I:178,9).

In other words, would it not be fair to say in summary of the above that:

1. While a local church has power of excommunication.
2. Not every local church should exercise this power, particularly where competent and qualified men are lacking to assist the pastor as ruling elders.
3. In those cases, the pastor is to consult the joint eldership of the neighboring churches as per the SBD Chapt. 7 which is presumed by Calvin and Gillespie to contain “other pastors,” - it qualifies as a greater presbytery with a plurality of ministers and not a session, extraordinary or no?

Again, a plurality of ministers is assumed in this scenario. A pastor without sufficient well qualified men in his congregation, should consult other pastors - note the plural - on the question of excommunication, as well as join with those other pastors (the plural again) in one common eldership because that is the expedient and scriptural way that the Scottish Church in the SBD Chapt. 7 enjoins in such circumstances. Whether those circumstances are the same that the RPNA(GM) operates under remains to be seen and or explained. Would it be possible to do so? Even if we were to say these are extraordinary times, that still means does it not?
1. Even more caution is to be taken.
2.The consent of the congregation is still needed.
3. SBD 7:10 does not support a session over various congregations contra the June 14, 2003 letter and the June 4, 2006 PPSA.

We ask, notwithstanding the previous caution of Gillespie in regard to a sufficient number of qualified counselors/elders to assist a pastor and the subsequent need to seek the advice of other pastors, how well does this scenario above fit the recent spate, if we may call it that, of excommunications in the RPNA(GM)? Is the congregation and/or congregations/societies consulted? Is their consent obtained or is it merely tacitly assumed. Is the congregation informed as to the necessity of their consent? Would it be an informed consent or an implicit consent? Before or after the fact? All this not to mention that a people might disapprove of the actions of their officers to the point that they unofficially and privately excommunicate them as much as they are able to. Does not Gillespie say all these things? But the PPSA does not say that Gillespie does? Can we then ask if Gillespie’s position on excommunication has been fully and fairly represented in the PPSA? And the answer is?

Congregational Consent Before or After the Fact?
In that the Announcement From the Session of the RPNA (General Meeting) of May 14, 2006, is the first mention of anything having to do with consent to excommunication that we are aware of in our circles and is the sum total of it, again as best we know, only being repeated verbatim in another announcement of excommunication shortly after on May 20, we quote the final paragraph:

Finally, we would remind you that as members of the RPNA (General Meeting) each time you become informed of, or witness, a judicial action enacted by this court, you have a scriptural duty either to consent to that judicial action (either expressly or tacitly) as that done faithfully by a lawful court of Christ, or to dissent from it (expressly and formally in writing) should you deem this action to be unfaithfully done. Please note, that your consent need not be formally expressed, as we take silence in this matter to be your tacit consent and approval of both the lawfulness of our court and the faithfulness of judicial action being enacted. If you disagree with what we have done as a court, or for some reason believe that we are not lawfully constituted as a court of Christ, then it is your duty, according to God's Word and your membership agreement, to immediately, formally, and honestly express your dissent, reasons and/or questions in writing to the Session (it. added).

As stated before, there appear to be great inconsistencies and contradictions between what the PPSA asserts and the authorities it cites with approval, our Subordinate Standards and Scripture, not to mention the common rules of reason and argument (WCF 1:6) on this issue of congregational consent and excommunication. The consent indicated above is only asked for after the fact, is it not? Does the previous preaching and teaching on it, if not the sermon series afterwards of “Some Questions Answered About Excommunication” of July 2,9 and 23, 2006, mention anything at all of Gillespie’s comments and qualifications on the subject? Why is that? We would respectfully note again, that what appears to be suppression of contrary evidence does not commend an argument to anyone. Are we mistaken in this? . . .

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