Question 42Unto whom is the power and administration of this discipline committed by Jesus Christ?

AnswerAs to the authority to be exerted in it, in the things wherein the whole church is concerned, unto the elders; as unto trial, judgment, and consent in and unto its exercise, unto the whole brotherhood; as unto love, care, and watchfulness in private and particular cases, to every member of the church.

Matt. xxiv. 45; Eph. iv. 11, 12; Acts xx. 28; 1 Tim. iii. 5, v. 17; Heb. xiii. 7, 17; 1 Pet. v. 2; 1 Thess. v. 12; Gal. vi. 1, 2; 1 Cor. iv. 14, v. 2, 4, 5; 2 Cor. ii. 6–8; 2 Tim. iv. 2.

Explication — It hath been showed that this power is granted unto the church by virtue of the law and constitution of Christ. Now, this law assigns the means and way whereby any persons do obtain an interest therein, and makes the just allotments to all concerned in it. What this law, constitution, or word of Christ assigns unto any, as such, that they are the first seat and subject of, by what way or means soever they come to be intrusted therein. Thus, that power or authority which is given unto the elders of the church doth not first formally reside in the body of the church unorganized or distinct from them, though they are called unto their office by their suffrage and choice; but they are themselves, as such, the first subject of office-power, for so is the will of the Lord Christ. Nor is the interest of the whole church in this power of discipline, whatever it be, given unto it by the elders, but is immediately granted unto it by the will and law of the Lord Jesus.

First, In this way and manner the authority above described is given in the first place, as such, unto the elders of the church. This authority was before explained, in answer unto the 28th question; as also was the way whereby they receive it. And it is that power of office whereby they are enabled for the discharge of their whole duty, in the teaching and ruling of the church, called the “power of the keys,” from Matt. xvi. 19; which expression being metaphorical, and in general liable unto many interpretations, is to be understood according to the declaration made of it in those particular instances wherein it is expressed. Nor is it a twofold power or authority that the elders of the church have committed unto them, — one to teach and another to rule, commonly called the power of order and of jurisdiction; but it is one power of office, the duties whereof are of several kinds, referred unto the two general heads, first of teaching, by preaching the word and celebration of the sacraments, and secondly, of rule or government. By virtue hereof are they made rulers over the house of God, Matt. xxiv. 45; stewards in his house, 1 Cor. iv. 1; overseers of the church, Acts xx.28, 1 Pet. v. 2; guides unto the church, Heb. xiii. 7, 17. Not that they have a supreme or autocratorical power committed unto them, to enable them to do what seems right and good in their own eyes, seeing they are expressly bound up unto the terms of their commission, Matt. xxviii. 19, 20, to teach men to do and observe all and only what Christ hath commanded; nor have they by virtue of it any dominion in or over the church, — that is, the laws, rules, or privileges of it, — or the consciences of the disciples of Christ, to alter, change, add, diminish, or bind by their own authority, 1 Pet. v. 3, Mark x. 42–44. But it is a power merely ministerial, in whose exercise they are unto the Lord Christ accountable servants, Heb. xiii. 17, Matt. xxiv. 45, and servants of the church for Jesus’ sake, 2 Cor. iv. 5. This authority, in the discipline of the church they exert and put forth by virtue of their office, and not either as declaring of the power of the church itself, or acting what is delegated unto them thereby, but as ministerially exercising the authority of Christ committed unto themselves.

Secondly, The body of the church, or the multitude of the brethren (women being excepted by especial prohibition, 1 Cor. xiv. 34, 35, 1 Tim. ii. 11, 12), is, by the law and constitution of Christ in the gospel, interested in the administration of this power of discipline in the church, so far as, —
1. To consider, try, and make a judgment in and about all persons, things, and causes, in reference whereunto it is to be exercised. Thus, the brethren at Jerusalem joined in the consideration of the observation of Mosaical ceremonies with the apostles and elders, Acts xv. 23; and the multitude of them to whom letters were sent about it likewise did the same, verses 30–32; and this they thought it their duty and concernment to do, chap. xxi. 22. And they are blamed who applied not themselves unto this duty, 1 Cor. v. 2–6. Thence are the epistles of Paul to the churches to instruct them in their duties and privileges in Christ, and how they ought to behave themselves in the ordering of all things amongst them according to his mind. And these are directed unto the churches themselves, either jointly with their elders, or distinctly from them, Phil. i. 1. And the whole preservation of church-order is, on the account of this duty, recommended unto them. Neither can what they do in compliance with their guides and rulers be any part of their obedience unto the Lord Christ, unless they make previously thereunto a rational consideration and judgment, by the rule, of what is to be done. Neither is the church of Christ to be ruled without its knowledge or against its will; nor in any thing is blind obedience acceptable to God.
2. The brethren of the church are intrusted with the privilege of giving and testifying their consent unto all acts of church-power, which, though it belong not formally unto the authority of them, is necessary unto their validity and efficacy; and that so far forth as that they are said to do and act what is done and effected thereby, 1 Cor. v. 4, 5, 13; 2 Cor. ii. 6–8. And they who have this privilege of consent, which hath so great an influence into the action and validity of it, have also the liberty of dissent, when any thing is proposed to be done, the warrant whereof from the word and the rule of its performance are not evident unto them.