Article 70 — Mutual responsibility
If anyone departs from the pure doctrine or is delinquent in conduct and this is a secret matter which does not give rise to public offence, the rule which Christ clearly prescribes in Matthew 18 shall be observed.
This article has received the heading “Mutual Responsibility” because our Church Order is a Reformed order. Over against the development that took place in the course of the ages and which led to the ‘romanizing’ of the churches, whereby the authority and power was put into the hands of the ‘clergy’, the churches of the Reformation returned to the Scriptures.
The Bible shows us how first of all every individual member of God’s church is addressed in the Law of God when it says (Leviticus 19: 18; Matthew 22: 30):
You shall love your neighbour as yourself,
and (in the negative, Leviticus 19:17);
You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbour, and not bear sin because of him.
This, then, is of the greatest importance for the life of the whole congregation. Its members bear mutual responsibility for each other (James 5: 19, 20):
Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way, will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.
For this reason our Church Order reminds us first of all of the clear rule of Christ described in Matthew 18, a rule which must be applied when someone has committed a sin that is not of a public nature. The Church Order very nicely formulates it as
a secret matter which does not give rise to public offence.
This ‘secret matter’ can be a departure from the pure doctrine as well as delinquency in conduct.
The word “clearly’ has a message for us all. We shall not neglect Christ’s rule!