Should excommunication liturgy be used?

Discussion in 'Church Order' started by Neogillist, Apr 5, 2008.

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  1. Neogillist

    Neogillist Puritan Board Freshman

    Some of the puritans did not like liturgy, in fact, I read that a few went to the extreme of forbidding the use of the Lord's Prayer in church. I personally don't go to that extreme. However, I dislike liturgy, as in my opinions it tends to drag down the service and make it ritualistic. I think that a form of liturgy for the sacraments is appropriate, so long as it uses extensive portions of Scripture.

    My church also has a liturgical form of excommunication. Because I attend a Reformed church that practices paedo-baptism and credo-communion, a profession of faith must be performed before the church for one to be received as a "professing member." Consequently, although a profession of faith is not technically a sacrament, it tends to be treated as such, and is typically placed right in the middle of the worship service. Now, when a member of my church typically becomes worn out of its wooden orthodoxy, he will stop attending for a prolonged period of time until people start noticing; the elders will find out, and the person will be plowed through the church discipline protocol. The procedure usually takes several months and if the person is not brought back to repentance and the synod approves of an excommunication, then the liturgical form of excommunication will be drawn out and read the following Lord's Day to formally and officially remove the person from membership. This liturgical form is usually read just like a baptism or a profession of faith, which would be right in the middle of the worship service, or more specifically at the point of intercessory prayer towards the end, I think. Because announcements are not part of worship, I personally believe they ought to be done after the benediction at the very end, or simply placed in the bultin. This would also include announcements in regard to church discipline if needed.

    Moreover, I am not sure if liturgy should be used for an excommunication. Personally, a simple declaration that one's membership has been removed would suffice, and would also avoid scaring the living day light out of visitors who could happen to be visiting my church on that day. Excommunication liturgy is popish I feel, and non-reformed Christians whom we desire to be introduced to the Reformed faith could be seriously hampered by it, and overeact in disdain. Moreover, church discipline and worship are two separate things which I do not see a need to be mixed within a worship service, especially in view of the regulative principle. Neither a profession of faith nor an excommunication, (which is the converse of a profession) are sacraments, and thus they are technically not part of worship. Consequently, I don't have any problem with the "underground" church discipline of certain reformed denominations like the PCA, since they do not hamper the functioning of the church, nor necessarily belittle the importance of church membership.

    I would like to know what you guys think.
  2. Guido's Brother

    Guido's Brother Puritan Board Junior

    Brother, this sounds like a caricature of Reformed church discipline. For instance, in the URCNA (like the CanRC and other Reformed churches), it is not the case that "Synod approves of an excommuncation." It is the case that the situation has to be brought before a classis for concurring advice and that advice is only for proceeding to the next step in the process, the step where the name of the sinner is announced to the congregation so that they can pray for him or her with the hope that the excommunication can be averted.

    I'll leave it to others to comment on the rest, but I'll just say that you're way off the mark on how you portray discipline in Reformed churches. I think once we get that straight, the use of the form makes sense.
  3. Poimen

    Poimen Puritan Board Post-Graduate


    There are several reasons why a liturgy might be used-

    1) A reminder of the importance of church discipline - mark of a true church (Belgic Confession, Article 29). Relegating an announcement at the end of the service may give the impression that it really doesn't matter, but truly it does - see Matthew 16:19

    2) A reminder for the body of Christ to pray for the erring and backsliders - hearing from the scriptures and confessions the serious nature of excommunication, the body understands and is reminded the Lord calls us to the duty of admonishing one another in our sin and error - Galatians 6:1ff.

    3) A witness to the community - you mentioned that some might be frightened upon hearing of this 'exercise' Think Acts 5:11.

    4) The URCNA Church Order requires it:

    Article 56
    If these steps of discipline, having been carried out in a loving manner, do not bring about repentance, but rather harden the sinner in his ways, the Consistory shall proceed to the extreme remedy, namely, excommunication, in agreement with the Word of God and with the use of the appropriate liturgical form.

    Finally if you have a difficulty with the way your consistory proceeds with discipline I solemnly urge you to discuss this matter with them first before bringing it here. Rev. Pols is wise counsel and will assist you with any questions you might have.
  4. Neogillist

    Neogillist Puritan Board Freshman

    I did not intend to enumerate all the details involved in church discipline, or to portray Reformed churches as heartless towards members who fall out of their profession. By the way, I was quite glad to hear this morning that the consitory of my church decided not to excommunicate a member as they were supposed to on this date, the reason being that the person involved was actually taking the discipline of the church seriously, but had felt little concern and love from the other members. Consequently, I guess that our lack of care as a congregation prevented us from proceeding so quickly with the excommunication, and that the "protocol" is not always followed to the letter, depending on circumstances.

    As for Mat. 16:19, Pastor Kok, I don't think it is referring to excommunication. I think the interpretation of John Gill makes a lot more sense. 6. Of Church Discipline.
  5. Poimen

    Poimen Puritan Board Post-Graduate


    The language in Matthew 16:19 is remarkably close to Matthew 18:18 which immediately follows Jesus instructions concerning the steps of church discipline. Indeed Ridderbos notes that to bind and loose are rabbinical terms that indicate judicial authority as exercised on behalf of Christ.

    Besides, the Heidelberg Catechism explicitly cites this text as proof of the right and necessity of church discipline. See LD 31. I think this is standard fair for Reformation theologians.
  6. BertMulder

    BertMulder Puritan Board Junior

    Sadly enough, church discipline is rarely heeded these days. Usually long before excommunication, the member will withdraw his papers. In all my years in reformed churches, if I remember correctly, I may have witnessed an excommunication once.

    And an excommunication is indeed a very sad event for a worship service, but also very much a necessary event.

    And a church would wish never to have to exercise official church discipline, but Christ commands it. The purpose of church discipline is ALWAYS to bring the member from his way of sin in repentance of heart.

    What excommunication (the final step) does do for the congregation, I think, is illustrate just a little bit the heartache that a consistory would go through before having to go to this extreme remedy.

    Excommunication never ever occurs according to a set time schedule. It all depends on the facts of the case. And as long as there is communication, there is hope. Don't believe any God-fearing consistory would be hasty there.
  7. Mushroom

    Mushroom Puritan Board Doctor

    I have only witnessed excommunication once, and that very recently. It was announced in the midst of the sermon. Isn't excommunication both an act of love for the offending member AND a warning to the congregation? And since when should we design our worship to not 'scare' visiting non-believers? If that were true we'd never mention blood or sacrifice, either.
  8. Neogillist

    Neogillist Puritan Board Freshman

    I recant my original position. Excommunication liturgy may be used in church, although it must not be done so as to disrupt or replace the normal course of the worship service. I still don't think Mat. 16:18-19 refers to excommunication. The Heidelberg Cathechism was written fairly early during the Reformation, when many great theologians of the 17th century where yet to come and add further insights to the understanding of Scriptures. That is why I prefer the Westminster shorter/longer cathechism over the HC.
  9. Poimen

    Poimen Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    The Westminster Confession, in addition to the Heidelberg, refers to Matthew 16:19 in its section on 'Church Censures' (Chapter 30).

  10. Neogillist

    Neogillist Puritan Board Freshman

    To announce an excommunication in the midst of the sermon is both silly, and inappropriate in my opinion; probably the icing that an angry preacher would want to add to his sermon when it was designed specifically for that intent. Infact, I have heard something a lot worse being done with even more melodrama in a Vineyard church here in Edmonton, when an impudent attendee rose on his chair during the sermon and started denouncing the preaching. The pastor responded by telling him to leave the church and never to return. This type of informal and immediate excommunication is not surprising to observe in heretical Pentecostalist churches, where every professor, and especially the pastor will think himself to possess the gift of prophecy and tell truth apart from falsehood, or even to "deliver someone to Satan" as the apostle Paul did.
  11. Neogillist

    Neogillist Puritan Board Freshman

    I actually looked up how different theologians interpret Mat. 16:19 and 18:17-18, and have observed three different interpretations.

    John Calvin thinks that the "binding and loosing" refers to sins where the keys of the kingdom is the preaching of the gospel, which has the power to "loose" the sins of the elect and "bind" those of the reprobate. He points out however that the "binding" is accidental, in that those who reject the gospel close the doors of heaven to themselves and that the preaching of the gospel is not intended to "bind" the sins of any, but that is a by-product. He puts in more efforts in refuting the popish interpretation of this passage, however, than in fully expounding it. Thus Calvin does not seem to relate it directly to church discipline.

    Matthew Henry adopts your interpretation I think, and thus that of the WCF where the binding and loosing refers to church censures (vol. 5 p.211) and thus church discipline. He interprets the keys to be the 1) the doctrine of the church, 2) its discipline (p. 188-189).

    Gill and Lightfoot interpret the binding and loosing to making something lawful and unlawful, especially as pertaining to doctrine or church order. Thus they would say that the practice of circumcision was "loosed" by the apostles, and was thus no longer binding on believers, while other practices were made "binding" in the New Testament church such as baptism. This may especially relate to the authority of church councils, such as the one that first took place at Jerusalem. They appeals to various Rabbinical writings to present their case, and overall, I think that it best fits the context. The binding and loosing, however does not refer to persons according to them.

    Finally, all these theologians seem to agree that the keys of the kingdom is the preaching of the gospel or the doctrine of the church. I find it really interesting to look at these different perspectives.
  12. Neogillist

    Neogillist Puritan Board Freshman

    Brad, I just noticed that you attend a PCA church, and so I trust that your pastor probably did the excommunication in the most orderly and loving way. I believe the PCA is a good denomination. Sorry about my presuppositions.
  13. BertMulder

    BertMulder Puritan Board Junior

    Esteemed Neogillist:

    I must agree with you that excommunication should be done in its appropriate place in the worship service. And that is NOT in the middle of a sermon.
  14. Mushroom

    Mushroom Puritan Board Doctor

    This being the first I'd ever witnessed, it did come as a surprise, but it was done in the midst of an expository sermon to which the situation was applicable. And the sermon was part of a continuing exposition of the book of Judges. I believe it was likely something agreed upon and planned by the entire Session. The excommunication was apparently something that had taken, as it ought, a great deal of time and consideration, since the person was unknown to me, and I've been attending this Church for a couple of years.

    I was just impressed that a PCA Session would have the courage to actually excommunicate someone, rather than hide behind the feeble chapters of the BCO and break out their eraser. Your esteem of the PCA is appreciated, if not completely shared, by this member. I believe there are faithful pockets, but for the most part the denom seems to be slouching towards compromise and syncretism, and very weak and cowardly leadership. What a sorrow, but fodder for another thread.
  15. TimV

    TimV Puritanboard Botanist

    I suppose in any confessional church it can't come on a time table; if for no other reason that the appeals process can take years. I was informed (a PCA church) once by the pastor that he and the single Elder had decided to ban me from the Lord's Table for a variety of reasons, mostly having to do with telling him he had to stop ordaining Arminians and Baptists as Deacons. I looked into the Book of Church Order, and the two Elders made so many mistakes in the process that they had to drop the case. It was a really interesting episode, where the pastor told the congregation that I needed to be avoided and was demon possessed. He even mentioned that there was a pending church trial against me, and said that they weren't going to allow witnesses, and it was a virtual certainty that I would be found guilty.

    The BCO gives HUGE numbers of rights and protections, including the right to call witnesses, a fair trial where guilt wasn't presumed, etc... and someone must have told the guys what dummies the two had been, and when I went to the first meeting of the Court I threatened to contact the Presbytery and they dropped the case immediately.

    That's one of the biggest differences between us and local nondemoninational churches. The leadership can't act like pompous dictators.
  16. dannyhyde

    dannyhyde Puritan Board Sophomore


    I sent you a private message through the PuritanBoard . . . would you please contact me as I have questions about the PCA in SLO since we have members in the area?

  17. Neogillist

    Neogillist Puritan Board Freshman

  18. TimV

    TimV Puritanboard Botanist

    When I complained the Session said they could do what they wanted about whom they ordaining, and then the Presbytery wouldn't help me, so I turned up the heat and started going public. Someone must have contacted the pastor (the Session and Presbytery never got back to me with my official complaints even though they were supposed to by the BCO), and eventually the pastor whined in church that "somebody is putting my feet to the fire" (me) and so they created the Tim Keller type "unordained" Deacon office to accommodate those that they had already ordained.

    One thing that did change, was that the only ruling Elder finally had his child baptised after I started complaining. The "coordinator of missions" was an open Baptist who himself had never been baptized when they ordained him a Deacon and gave him his portfolio, but he eventually got baptised, but declined to have his two young kids baptised, so it gets kind of confusing.

    It was really quite fascinating, even getting called "wholly given over to the Devil" in a public worship service while a church trial was pending.
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