I shouldn’t be so quick to say that the GRs didn’t practice church discipline in the Baptist way because I could not find records of trials. For one, I should go back to my own admonishment that discipline is not limited to church courts. Duh. The GRs did indeed take measures to ensure the integrity of a pious community. (And the Classis’ annual reports on the state of religion express a greater consciousness of the separation between the church and the world that had largely slipped away from Baptist and Methodist rhetoric by the 1850s.)
The Constitution of the German Reformed Church—oft-refered to in the Classis minutes—prescribed the standard ritual for enforcing discipline, which it defined as, “the exercise of the authority and the application of that system or laws, which the Lord Jesus Christ has established in his Church, with a view of preserving its purity and honor, either through the amendment or exclusion of unworthy members and ministers.” (Followed by the instruction, “All Christian discipline is spiritual.”) Punishable offenses included, “heresy, blasphemy, public schism, perjury, adultery, fornication, theft, fraud, lawless violence, contentiousness, intemperance, falsehood, filthy lucre, lascivious wantonness, gross profanation of the Lord’s day, impudent scoffing, cruelty to servants, and other of similar character.” They helpfully defined “private,” and “public” offences; private being those sins that only a small number of people knew about and could be rebuked privately, and public sins being those that had shamed the church, and therefore required public admonition.
The thing is…These rules are from the Constitution of the GR Church but I can’t find any actual reference to people being brought up on trial. Does that mean that people largely ignored official decrees of the Synod? Or did they just not record trials? Or, what?
What is apparent, at least in the Classis records—where you would expect to find such things—is a firm determination to maintain religious orthodoxy. (Remember, breaches of discipline—even down to drunkenness—was a “spiritual” sin.) They did so not only by protesting the Mercersburg Theology, but by adhering to the stated constitution. For instance, when Elder Peter Harman of Catawba County raised questions about the treatment of slaves, Classis enforced its opinion that “cruelty to servants” was prohibited, citing the specific article of the Constitution.
Still, I have no record of any church excommunicating someone for drunkenness or abuse of their wives.
As for the matter of why the GRs are even worth looking at, I will blatantly steal a Jeanne Boydston quote from a Monica Najar article, “anomalies are just what ought to interest us as historians—not so we can figure a way to force them to conform to the framework, but because they disrupt the common sense of the framework and may signal something that is being missed or suppressed within it.”
I just read Professor Najar’s book, and it is helping me fit together discipline, temperance, et. al., that I’m having so much trouble with right now.