Four days after the birth of their third child, Stuart and Leslie Green were indicted on misdemeanor charges for allegedly killing their 23-month-old son, Joseph, during a two-hour, Oct. 5 paddling ritual that authorities say was witnessed by several fellow members of a Christian commune near here called Stonegate.

In addition to returning the two indictments on charges of involuntary manslaughter, a Jefferson County special grand jury on Friday night also directed the West Virginia Department of Welfare "with all due haste, to conduct an investigation into the health, safety and welfare of the children" living in the eight-family commune.

The grand jury did not indict other members or leaders of the commune.

According to informed sources, the grand jury heard testimony alleging that Joseph Green had struck another child in the group, and was told by his father to apologize. When the boy refused, he was taken into the 11-bedroom, Victorian farm house on the group's 100-acre estate. Other children and adults then formed a circle, while the boy's mother held him and his father spanked his buttocks with a foot-long, half-inch-thick wooden paddle. After the child turned pale, his father took him to Jefferson Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Paddling children is common among the 40-member group, former commune member Thomas Wahl said he told the grand jury. Wahl says the practice is based on the group's belief that "the scriptures say 'spare the rod and spoil the child.' The parent must be obeyed."

Another former member who testified, a woman who asked not to be identified, said the paddlings "were usually administered in the library. The objects used ranged from a six-inch wooden spoon to a small bread board to an especially large, 1 1/2-foot-long, inch-thick board. Any adult could paddle any child, and all the children were required to witness it. The theory was that this taught the children discipline and submission to authority, but it became so frequent that it lost its value."

The Stonegate community was begun in the early 1970s by John and Dorothy McClellan (John McClellan recently left the commune, and has filed for divorce), disenchanted Baptists who moved from Florida to New Jersey and eventually to McLean, Va., where they ran a communal house that attracted "young people . . . from average establishment homes, some from the hippie movement where they were involved with drugs and sex, and others from a more sophisticated setting where they were also exposed to drugs and sex," Dorothy McClellan said in 1974.

Dorothy McClellan, now 45, did not respond to requests for an interview this weekend, nor did Stuart Green. On Friday night Stuart Green was ordered released from county jail on $1,000 bond by Judge Reeves Taylor, although prosecuting attorney Braun Hamstead suggested in court that the grand jury had heard testimony indicating the group planned to flee to Canada. Leslie Green was still in the hospital with the couple's newborn infant. John Skinner, the attorney retained to represent the Greens and the entire commune, declined to comment on any aspect of the case.

The McClellans purchased the 100-acre farm off Kabletown Road, a few miles outside Charles Town, in 1974. The group initially supported itself through construction work, and then several years ago opened a restaurant, Stonegate & Co. Dining Rooms, in the center of town. The restaurant declared bankruptcy in August.

In its early days in West Virginia, according to the former female member, the group would read communally from the Bible and listen to tapes made by John Todd, a Texas evangelist who emphasized that "we are approaching the end days. He said Christians should arm themselves with food and ammunition and be prepared for physical acts of violence. We were quite heavily influenced by him."

Indeed, one neighbor of the Stonegate commune said yesterday that she was so alarmed by volleys of rifle shots she heard coming from the farm that she called the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to complain. The neighbor said that an ATF agent visited the commune and could find no violations of federal law.