Ein Ruf aus der Wüste 4.8: Orson Hyde on confession and disfellowship

Article 8.

On the confession of sin and the treatment of members acting contrary to law.(1)

Whenever a member of our church becomes guilty of immoral behavior or an offense against its rules, a confession on his part as well as a sincere promise of improvement becomes necessary in order to preserve his right to fellowship. If the offense was in secret, then he must confess it inwardly before his God and before those persons who were thereby offended; but if his offense was public, he must confess publicly and submit to public rebuke.  If the guilty person should refuse to confess or submit to the regulations of the church, however, he is expelled from it and his name is stricken from the book.

The church with a presiding elder is a competent tribunal to settle all disputes and complaints that may arise under ordinary circumstances. But we also have a higher tribunal before which important cases are heard, and this consists of twelve high priests, all of whom must be men of experience and high moral worth. If these twelve should not be able to deny (2) their opinion in some matter, then the matter in question is submitted to the president of this council, who must possess the gift of prophecy. He then presents it to the Lord in solemn prayer and implores him for enlightenment and instruction. And the word of the Lord thus received puts an end to all disputes.

A person who has been expelled from fellowship in our church cannot return to it until he publicly confesses the misdeeds for whose sake he was cast out. He must then however be baptized and confirmed again before he can again be recognized as a participating member.(3)

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(1) The concept of church discipline has fallen on hard times, but at least for some in the 16th century, it was essential that the true church of Christ be a disciplined body where flouting God’s commands had real consequences. Ministering to the penitent sinner was fine; serving as a social club for miscreants was not. For the 19th century, my guess is that this article served a similar purpose: the church was no band of hypocrites and libertines, but the restored Church of Jesus Christ in very deed.

(2) I think this is again one of the rare defective sentences. My speculation is that the intended meaning was that the council would not be able to pronounce their opinion, but it came to the translator as renounce their opinion, resulting in the German word verläugnen, which doesn’t make a great deal of sense here, unless I’m missing something.

(3) Given the events of 1838-39, I feel like maybe Orson Hyde could have said something here about his personal perspective on church discipline. Maybe a missionary tract wasn’t the right place for it.

5 comments for “Ein Ruf aus der Wüste 4.8: Orson Hyde on confession and disfellowship

  1. Thanks for this post, Jonathan. I’ve been working through the rebaptism topic recently, and I’m fairly well convinced that at least on this side of the Atlantic no other group rebaptized excommunicants (in the same way that they didn’t rebaptize converts who had already a valid baptism). So this strikes me as a wildly controversial section to his reading audience (though to us it is no big deal). Have you run across the practice among any of the more extreme European groups?

    I’ve also looked at Hyde’s case a bit, and it is very unclear what specific discipline he received, and how he was made right with the church. Would have loved some details, but I think you are right that a proselytizing tract probably wasn’t the place.

  2. J., I totally overlooked the rebaptism aspect, which would align the church with the Anabaptists, who were well past their high point in the 19th century but still very much a known concept. For rebaptism after excommunication specifically, I’m not sure – I just haven’t looked into that before. But I’ll keep an eye out for it.

  3. Interesting. The Church’s approach to discipline, confession, and return had changed substantially even before the recent changes. Are the odd spellings/letters in the title of the post to be found in the German text or are they mere typos?

  4. Two typos in one heading that I don’t notice for 24 hours is a new record. Thanks for pointing them out. Let me know if there are still any odd letters left.

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