Is the decision of a few to be regarded as that of God’s assembly

Q. Matthew xviii. 18-20. In a company of 40 or 50 saints gathered to the Lord’s name, can ” two or three” be said to constitute the assembly to the exclusion of the rest? Is the decision of a few to be regarded as that of God’s assembly, and binding not only on all the rest, even if their consciences are distressed, but on all assemblies elsewhere, even though some of the grounds taken are now acknowledged by the few themselves to be unfounded? Is a hasty act thus done to be viewed as ratified in heaven and irrevocable?

G.W.Y. (Hamilton, Canada.)

A. Such a pretension is intolerable. It is not only without an atom of scripture but directly opposed to the nature and truth of God’s assembly, where exclusion e.g. is not binding unless carrying with it the consciences of all. In peculiar cases there might be of course near relatives or friends, perhaps even partisans or accomplices more or less, whose opinions ought riot to be given and if given ought to be rebuked rather than heeded. But as a rule discipline according to the Lord must and does carry the simplest as well as the spiritual with it. Where will or personal feeling works, it would destroy weight, and such persons are not in a state to guide the assembly. It might be that the condition of those gathered might show such a lack of conscience, destroyed by error or given up to self-will and laxity, that godly souls might be forced, after due waiting and solemn warning in vain, to withdraw from the meeting as no longer God’s assembly. This is possible no doubt, but a very delicate and extreme case. But the notion of two or three out of forty or fifty constituting the assembly, and staying in with those whose protest they ignore and despise, is a snare of Satan to force their own will, and is a return to the Popish principle that the clergy are the church. I do not believe that such a decision is bound in heaven or binding on assemblies on earth or individuals; though it does not therefore follow that hasty action would be right, either as to receiving elsewhere the one wrongly dealt with or as to the withdrawal of those aggrieved by it. Prayer and humiliation would be the resource, not agitation nor separation. The Lord knows how to interfere and correct what is amiss; for it is the merest superstition that a wrong or mistake by an assembly is to abide unrescinded. And if the assembly deliberately accepted such a principle as that “two or three” could make up their minds and go through the form of putting away, for instance, contrary to the judgment of the rest, yet binding it on the consciences of all, it is evident that neither the discipline nor the assembly is really according to scripture; and, after due testimony if the evil were persisted in, both should be disowned as not of God.


Indeed the truth is more stringent far. For the putting away to be valid must be through God’s action on the consciences of all (allowing for such exceptions as have been stated); and the action of a few, if ever so right in their thoughts, against the consciences of others is no longer the assembly’s act. Not even two or three godly men who do not go with the action can be rightly ignored. The rest are bound to wait. The majority is a human principle and essentially different from the assembly where God dwells and in which He acts to glorify the Lord. As the rule, it is when action is precipitate or excessive that it fails to carry along the consciences of all. Nor is baste a slight fault in such eases. It is flesh, and not of the Spirit; it breeds parties, no less than excess does, which produces re-action in the saints, and leads to sympathy with the evil-doer who is thus wronged, instead of all the godly uniting in their horror of his evil. If a few were ever so right in their judgment, yet forced it on spite of others who conscientiously differed, it would not be of God, as being a practical denial of His assembly. Hence one must not push things beyond their conviction as before God. Nothing is rightly done unless they prove themseltes clear in the matter. Grace thus turns the godly exercise of extreme discipline by the assembly into exercise of soul and positive blessing in their humbling of themselves before God. Human will, whether in one or in many, brings in terrorism or wheedling, confusion and every evil work, self-exaltation and party-spirit, to the utter destruction of waiting on God by faith, subjection to the word of the Lord, and the gracious and holy uniting power of the Holy Ghost.

Bible Treasury Vol. 11 Pg. 47 – March 1876


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