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All men our brothers

September 25, 2007

Obj. 9. A brother is not to be excommunicated. Paul desired him whom he gave command by letter to be noted, to be counted as a brother. (2 Thes. 8:15.) Therefore he did not desire that he should be excommunicated. The major proposition is proven thus : Things that are contrary cannot be regarded as synonymous. To excommunicate any one, and to regard him as a brother, are contrary things: for to excommunicate, is not to count as a brother. Therefore, to count the same person as a brother, and not as a brother, is absurd. Ans. The phrase, to count as a brother, admits of different interpretations, on account of the various degrees of brotherhood, so that the contrariety here spoken of, has no force. All men are our brethren and neighbors, both Christians and Turks. Yet Christians, although they regard the Turks as brethren, and desire their salvation, do nevertheless not count them as Christian brethren. If the Turks are, therefore, to be regarded as brethren, much more ought we to regard those who were formerly Christians, as our brethren, and desire their salvation. There is also here a fallacy in understanding that to be true in general which is so only in part. Count him as a brother, viz., in love, desire, and hope of saving him; but not so as to enumerate him among the sons of God and members of the church, until he repent. And still more, the Apostle does not say, count him as a brother, but admonish him as a brother; that is, as one who was a brother, and who, if he repent, must again be viewed as a brother. For those who are excommunicated are not so entirely cut off from all hope of salvation, but that they may return to repentance, and again be included in the fold of Christ. Paul uses this phrase, because he desired that love, and a hope of amendment might be the rule of all the reproofs given; for one brother admonishes another with the feelings of a friend, and with a view to promote his well-being. Urinus, Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism,  pp., 463-463.

This is interesting. In many places, Calvin uses the expression that our brothers who have been redeemed perish. Some assume from this that he spoke merely as from the perspective of the naive observer and with a judgement of charity. The argument is that he had assumed them to be brothers. I could never figure out why he continued to speak of apostates with this assumed “brother” perspective. :-)  But  that aside, Ursinus, however, shows us that actually the term had a broader consideratoin and so these men were not merely speaking from some judgement of charity. This broader definition mirrors the classic definition of our who is our neighbour. This also fits in well with the earlier Reformed incarnational identification of Christ and all mankind.

From my Vermigli file:

Who is our Neighbour, and how our Neighbour-Brother can perish:

These do happen unto every man by chance, and every man is bound to do good unto those, which be joined to him, and such be called his neighbors. Which word is not restrained only to the conjunction that we have with our kindred, country, or particular place… A neighbour; must be understood as touching them, which by the will of God through happy occasion do meet, or be joined unto us, or be commended unto us: be it by means of kindred, of friendship, or of meeting by the way. We are accounted to their neighbours, to whom God does associate, and join us by any manner of means. Which appears in that man, who in the parable of the Lord (Luke 10: 36) is described to have gone down from Jerusalem unto Jericho. This man being ill-treated by thieves, & being an inhabitant of Jerusalem, yet was a Samaritan declared to be his neighbour; notwithstanding that he was of a contrary religion unto him, and pertains to another kingdom. He was neighbour to him; because the will of God was, that he should meet him. In that case therefore he was his neighbour, which deferred not his help, when there was present necessity, that might not be deferred; and then there was not other help. Peter Martyr, “Of Well-Doing and Hospitality,” in The Common Places, trans., and compiled by Anthonie Martin, 1583, part 2, p., 519.

At this point the objection will come up: “What? John writes that every one should lay down his life for his brother (1 John 3:16). Therefore when we know and see that the members of Christ are shut up in prison, it is not right to desert them by fleeing while we look out for our own safety and are not touched by the suffering of our afflicted brethren.” Here we have to make a distinction: the death of our neighbor is either bodily or spiritual. If we are talking about the corporal or external death of our neighbors, in my judgment we do not always have to lay down our corporal life for them-something I could confirm with both many examples and also arguments. But if we are dealing with the spiritual death of a brother, one should indeed die if by his bodily death one can help him so that he does not perish for eternity. On this basis Christ died for us; it will be the disciples’ task to imitate the master himself. Therefore if someone has a sure hope that he will be able to help a brother by his presence, encouragement, and consolation so that he does not fall into eternal destruction, he ought to remain even if he does it at the risk of his life and, as the Scripture requires, he lays down his corporeal life for his brother’s eternal salvation. Peter Martyr Vermigli, “Letter No. 5 On Flight in Persecution,” in Life, Letters and Sermons, trans., by John Patrick Donnelly, (Kirksville, Missouri: Sixteenth Century Essays and Studies, 1999), vol 5, pp., 83-84.




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