Article 71 — Consistory involvement
The consistory shall not deal with any report of sin unless it has first ascertained that both private admonitions and admonitions in the presence of one or two witnesses have remained fruitless, or the sin committed is of a public character.
The ‘rule of Matthew 18’ is further described in this article and elaborated on.
It is emphasized that if one comes to repentance after brotherly admonitions, secret sins shall not be made known – which means: made known to the consistory, let alone to the congregation.
Here again the aim of discipline comes to the fore: the saving of the sinner in the way of repentance.
On the other hand, if there is no repentance after the person concerned has been admonished personally or before one or two witnesses, the consistory shall be informed.
These witnesses have to testify that the sinner has been admonished and that he/she was found unwilling to break with his/her sins, even not now that they themselves have admonished him or her (Matthew 18: 17).
Their testimony is important, because (Deuteronomy 19: 15):
By the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established.
This is the basis of the procedure that follows and wherein the consistory plays a prominent role.
And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church (Matthew 18: 17), which is to be understood as the church organized under the office of eldership (Acts 14: 23; James 5: 14). So first of all, the consistory is to be told.
The consistory must see to it that the reporting is done in the correct, Scriptural way.
At the end of this article a distinction is made between ‘secret sins’ and ‘public sins’.
Secret sins are first of all those mentioned in Matthew 18: 15, where the Saviour said:
If your brother sins against you ……
Even these sins, whereby someone in the congregation is personally wronged, are in the long run a matter of the whole congregation. She is mobilized by the Saviour Who wants the internal relations among the members of the congregation to be determined by obedience to ‘the second great commandment’.
They are not, however, restricted to these kinds of sin. They all refer to sins which are known only to a small number of people.
It is sometimes very difficult to draw a line between these two groups of sins. Whether or not a particular sin has to be classified as a public one, depends e.g. on the size of the congregation. In a smaller congregation a sin will soon be public, but not so in a larger one.