A Treatise Concerning Scandal by James Durham; reprint 1990, 380 pp. Naphtali Press. Reviewed by Tom Ascol
“Offenses must come” (Matthew 18:7). When Jesus made this statement He was noting a tragic, yet inevitable, consequence of the Fall of man. It does not take much experience in the Christian life to have these words of our Lord personally confirmed. Offense, controversy, and division undeniably attend the believer’s pathway. Though the problems which such struggles create can be great, they pale in comparison to the resultant problems which often derive from trying to deal with offenses. Frequently the cure is worse than the disease.
This tendency makes Concerning Scandal a welcome aid to modern pastoral ministry. James Durham (1622-58) was one of the bright lights in an era of Scottish history that was marked by unusually gifted churchmen. Having witnessed grievous division within his beloved Church of Scotland (occasioned by militaristic and political events), he spent his dying days dictating this treatise (thus it is sub-titled, The Dying Man’s Testament to the Church of Scotland).
Part One treats scandals in general. Here Durham distinguishes between various types of offense and offers warning about how they are given and taken. Part Two addresses public scandals, and is especially helpful in determining when offenses should be made public in the course of church discipline–a valuable section for pastors.
Doctrinal scandals are the subject of Part Three. Durham reminds us that maintaining sound doctrine is of extreme importance to the Lord of the Church. Once again, the author labors to make fine distinctions (which are biblically required) between various cases. This is necessary because the nature of the case determines the nature of the response called for (whether it is excommunication, admonition and warning, or simply further doctrinal instruction).
The final part of the book takes up the question of scandalous divisions in the church. The origins, evil, and avoidance of schism are examined along with the necessary ingredients for true gospel unity.
Durham reminds us that those offenses which “must come” should not (indeed, must not) be ignored. But neither should they all be dealt with in a uniform manner. Above all, problems must be addressed in love and humility with a very high premium being placed on Christian unity.
This book is not light reading and sometimes the details of the arguments are hard to follow. The value is well worth the effort, however. In a day when church discipline is largely lost, and churches seem ready to split over the most insignificant matters, Durham’s work is to be welcomed as a much needed corrective.