July 13: Discipline in the Church

Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?

The following account comes from a history of the Fairfield Presbyterian Church, Fairton, New Jersey. What is now a PCA church was originally organized in 1680, making it the oldest of our PCA congregations. Here, a church discipline case from the late 19th-century is recounted in the history of that church.

In the summer of that year, a disciplinary matter began to occupy the attention of the elders and continued to do so for several months. On July 13, the session was informed that a letter had been received from Mrs. Abbie W. Smith, charging Rosa Mac Cheseny with “personal slander and defamation of her character” in remarks made before a Sunday School class on April 22nd. It seems that Rosa MacCheseney had called Mrs. Smith a “chicken thief” in front of her pupils.

On July 27th, the session met to hear the case. It was reported that attempts had been made to reconcile the parties, but without success. Both parties were adamant in their position. The elders had no choice but to proceed with a trial. The matter was postponed until after the pastor’s vacation, a rest for him that was probably not restful at all in view of the tensions that awaited resolution.

The matter was brought to trial on September 12th, 1894. The elders were careful to follow the details prescribed by the Rules of Discipline in the Book of Church Order. The witnesses called were all girls under the age of 14, pupils from the Sunday School class where the remarks had reportedly been made. All the testimony was recorded, but the session minutes include only the motions made. There were no witnesses called for the defense. The accused testified in her own behalf. The session concluded from the testimony that Rosa MacCheseney had only said that she had heard that Mrs. Smith had stolen some chickens. She was found not guilty of the charges.

On September 21st, Mrs. Smith returned to the session, asking that she receive complete exoneration of her character in the matter. She also asked to be removed from membership in the church. The session decreed that Rosa MacCheseney had been indiscreet in her words, and admonished her to be more circumspect in the future. The pastor was directed to visit with her and deliver this admonition personally. Later that year, in reviewing the session minutes, the Presbytery found that the matter had not been handled wisely, and cautioned that it had been improper to remove Mrs. Smith simply at her request. Presumably she had transferred to another church, but no record of this was made in the session minutes.

Words to Live By:

1. Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints? 
2. Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? 
3. Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life? 
4. So if you have law courts dealing with matters of this life, do you appoint them as judges who are of no account in the church? 
5. I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren,
6. but brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers? 
7. Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? 
8. On the contrary, you yourselves wrong and defraud. You do this even to your brethren.
—I Corinthians 6:1-8, NASB.

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