Deceit in Church Courts

Counsel from a father in the faith: The importance of acting with integrity in church courts.

“Never allow yourself either to propose a scheme, or to suggest means for its accomplishment, which you would not be willing ultimately to see emblazoned in every gazette in the country. Depend upon it: artifice, concealment, and evasion, are, nowhere, ultimately profitable to any man: but in an ecclesiastical assembly, there is a hatefulness about them which cannot be too strongly portrayed, and a mischief which never fails, sooner or later, to fall on the head of him who employs them.”

 

  1. Let all your conduct in judicatories Be MARKED WITH THE MOST perfect CANDOUR AND UPRIGHTNESS.

That a minister of the gospel, in an assembly of his brethren, should be guilty of gross dishonesty or falsehood, is a supposition so abhorrent to every right feeling, that I will not suppose it possible. Yet it is certain, that men in the main upright and pious, do sometimes, in the transaction of ecclesiastical business, and especially in attempting to carry favourite measures, indulge in a species of indirect management, which minds delicately honourable, and strictly desirous of “shunning the very appearance of evil,” would by no means have adopted. Such are all the little arts of concealment and deception which are sometimes practised, even in ecclesiastical business;—revealing only part of a plan, and carefully drawing a veil over those features of it, which it is well known a large majority of the body would object to, if aware of the whole plan ; making insidious proposals, under the name of concessions; in short, engaging in a constant system of covert generalship, for overreaching and entrapping those, who, it is known would never co-operate, if they were made acquainted with the whole scheme.

It is surely unnecessary to employ argument to show that this is a hateful character, and that every Christian minister ought to abhor and avoid it. You are not bound, indeed, to tell every body your whole mind, on all subjects; not, perhaps, to disclose all the facts you know on a given subject under discussion. But you are bound to deceive no one; to overreach no one; to spread a trap for no man’s feet or conscience; to avoid all crooked and disingenuous policy; to give no man occasion to say that you hoodwinked, or cajoled him, by representations which, if not false, were insidious. On the contrary, let all your plans be such as you would be willing to avow to the whole world; and let all the means which you employ for carrying them in effect, be such as perfect integrity, honour and candour will justify. Never allow yourself either to propose a scheme, or to suggest means for its accomplishment, which you would not be willing ultimately to see emblazoned in every gazette in the country. Depend upon it, artifice, concealment, and evasion, are, no where, ultimately profitable to any man: but in an ecclesiastical assembly, there is a hatefulness about them which cannot be too strongly portrayed, and a mischief which never fails, sooner or later, to fall on the head of him who employs them.

Samuel Miller, D.D., Letters on Clerical Manners and Habits (1827), 370–372. Reprint, Conduct in Church Courts, Naphtali Press, An Anthology of Presbyterian & Reformed Literature, v2, #3 (1989), 26. This article is used with permission from Naphtali Press.