Excommunication in the American Context

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Puritan Sailor

Puritan Board Doctor
Just pondering this for some reason.

A guy is legitimately excommunicated from his church. He walks down the street to the neighbor church and becomes a member, no questions asked (remember this is America), with full communion privileges. Will God bless him through the means of grace in that new church? Or will he be spiritually cut off until he reconciles and repents with the former church? I know that "whatever you bind on earth... is bound in heaven.... etc." But here you have conflicting decisions of the Church. One shuts, the other opens. Thoughts?
 

fredtgreco

Vanilla Westminsterian
Staff member
Originally posted by puritansailor
Just pondering this for some reason.

A guy is legitimately excommunicated from his church. He walks down the street to the neighbor church and becomes a member, no questions asked (remember this is America), with full communion privileges. Will God bless him through the means of grace in that new church? Or will he be spiritually cut off until he reconciles and repents with the former church? I know that "whatever you bind on earth... is bound in heaven.... etc." But here you have conflicting decisions of the Church. One shuts, the other opens. Thoughts?

I think - trying to be careful here - that you are placing excommunication in the wrong category here, Patrick. Excommunication is not a punishment meted out as a sentence, and hence the man in question is trying to "avoid the consequences or punishment."

Excommunication is a dire warning that a person appears to be unsaved, trapped in sin such that his profession is not deemed credible. Repentance of such a sin is necessary to show that one is a believer in Christ.

So if someone takes the course of action you describe, he is imperiling his soul by failing to heed the admonition of Christ's Church. He is saying that judgment about sin does not matter, that his lack of fruit does not matter. It is a very dangerous thing- not because of the legality of the excommunication, but because of the underlying reality of sin and justification.
 

fredtgreco

Vanilla Westminsterian
Staff member
Originally posted by puritansailor
Where then does the "binding and loosing" in heaven fit in?

The binding and loosing is a reflection and affirmation of a heavenly judgment, not an independent judgment that is ratified in heaven. The Church is to apply the Word of God in the area of discipline as well. That is also why some do not see three marks of the Church, since they presume that proper discipline is actually a part of a proper ministry of the Word.
 

cupotea

Puritan Board Junior
Originally posted by puritansailor
Where then does the "binding and loosing" in heaven fit in?

I think - not sure, but think - the Lutheran and Reformed understandings are in line here.

The "binding and loosing" refer to gating the communion table. We'd call it "the lesser ban." I've done it when I've discovered people shacking up, having an angry argument just before Holy Communion, etc. For us it refers to the lack of prior self examination that's required before receiving Holy Communion.

The greater ban, full excommunication, is something that the pastor cannot do himself. It requires a full obedience to the process outlined in Matthew 18, and requires *at least* the church council (session) and perhaps even the entire congregation.

If a person has been fully excommunicated (assuming it's a biblical excommunication on the part of pastor and congregation) and simply goes down the street, joins another church and is receiving Holy Communion, he is still calling down God's curse upon himself. In fact, I'd also say the pastor and congregation of which he is a new member are also guilty and will pay the price.

Repentance is still required ... for both the parishioner and his new congregation.
 

raderag

Puritan Board Sophomore
Originally posted by fredtgreco
Originally posted by puritansailor
Just pondering this for some reason.

A guy is legitimately excommunicated from his church. He walks down the street to the neighbor church and becomes a member, no questions asked (remember this is America), with full communion privileges. Will God bless him through the means of grace in that new church? Or will he be spiritually cut off until he reconciles and repents with the former church? I know that "whatever you bind on earth... is bound in heaven.... etc." But here you have conflicting decisions of the Church. One shuts, the other opens. Thoughts?

I think - trying to be careful here - that you are placing excommunication in the wrong category here, Patrick. Excommunication is not a punishment meted out as a sentence, and hence the man in question is trying to "avoid the consequences or punishment."

Excommunication is a dire warning that a person appears to be unsaved, trapped in sin such that his profession is not deemed credible. Repentance of such a sin is necessary to show that one is a believer in Christ.

So if someone takes the course of action you describe, he is imperiling his soul by failing to heed the admonition of Christ's Church. He is saying that judgment about sin does not matter, that his lack of fruit does not matter. It is a very dangerous thing- not because of the legality of the excommunication, but because of the underlying reality of sin and justification.

Fred, as always you have given a very succint and balanced answer.
 

Puritan Sailor

Puritan Board Doctor
Originally posted by fredtgreco
Originally posted by puritansailor
Where then does the "binding and loosing" in heaven fit in?

The binding and loosing is a reflection and affirmation of a heavenly judgment, not an independent judgment that is ratified in heaven. The Church is to apply the Word of God in the area of discipline as well. That is also why some do not see three marks of the Church, since they presume that proper discipline is actually a part of a proper ministry of the Word.

Thanks very helpful.
 

JohnV

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
by Fred
The binding and loosing is a reflection and affirmation of a heavenly judgment, not an independent judgment that is ratified in heaven. The Church is to apply the Word of God in the area of discipline as well.
I think this is a very good answer. Even if the judgment is false for whatever reason, it needs to be taken seriously. It can't just be shrugged off simply because it was unjust. How much less, then, a just judgment. To set it right requires another judgment, nothing less. To ignore it and just go to another church is disregarding Christ's commission to the elders. It is the elders who bear the responsibility of spiritual oversight, which necessarily includes accepting and denying professions of faith. It is also they, then, who bear the guilt if a person is excommunicated wrongly; but the person excommunicated must then seek to have it rectified by a just church. But the judgment may not be ignored.

So I think Fred nailed it: a very precise answer.
 

NaphtaliPress

Administrator
Staff member
This is why someone who "œflees" church censure in all honesty should make clear the situation to any church he subsequently attends. It will be that sessions job to ascertain if it was a just sentence, hopefully while contacting the former church. We have had several situations over our church´s history and I wish I could say there was conscientiousness in every case on this score. Early in the church´s history when we were really a different church with different elders, it received several of the Tyler ARC excommunicates and happily these folks made it clear the circumstances under which they were coming. One of the men now has been an elder here for many years. I´m pretty confident that the session at that time would not have been as thorough as our elders would now in a similar case, but they did essentially set aside the judgments and allowed these folks to join the church. Subsequently, it did not matter how thorough the old eldership was, as it became abundantly clear how unjust the excommunications were and the ARC essentially vacated the sentences and did not pursue any retrial of the case (James Jordan is the only one who I know of who has tried to act like the sentences still stand). The ARC fell apart subsequently.
 
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