the charitable supposition

I’m more and more convinced that pastoral ministry should operate on a charitable supposition.

What I mean is that we ought to try put the best construction on the things people say — whether they’re saying that they understand and agree to what they’re promising when they bring their kid to be baptised or expressing the aspiration of their heart as they sing words like ‘Forever I’ll love you, forever I’ll stand’.

In Knots Untied (Chapter 7), J. C. Ryle helpfully applies this principle to the case of the strong declaration in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer Infant Baptism service, ‘Seeing now that this child is regenerate…’

At heart this is about leaving judgement to God. And it feels right on! My only hesitation — which I’m still not quite sure what to do with — arises with the application Paul seems to make of this principle. In 1 Cor 4, Paul warns against pronouncing judgement ‘before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart’ (v 5).

So far so Anglican… But within a chapter Paul is laying down some pretty severe church discipline, insisting (in no uncertain terms) that Christians must not remain in fellowship ‘with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber’ because ‘Is it not those inside that you are to judge? God will judge those outside. Drive out the wicked person from among you‘ (1 Cor 5.11-12).

Whoa! How does that square with Ryle’s charitable supposition?


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