What is the correct way to deal with the issue of excommunication?
excommunication is a concept or term carried over from ancient mosaic teaching witch means to expel some one from a group (usually believers).
I recently spent some time on the phone with a good friend of mine Nicolas, and we ended up discussing the matter of asking believers to leave the church. There are some guidance for us in scripture and it is found in Matthew 18:15-17: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
Then the funny questions started popping up.
What was the intended focus of Jesus at the time?
When I look at that particular portion of scripture, to me it speaks of inter personal relationships and not an actual ecclesiastic excommunication (expulsion from a church). I did some digging and found this gem:” It is doubtful whether an express prescription of excommunication is found in our Lord’s words (Mt 18:15-19 ). The offense and the penalty also seem purely personal: “And if he refuse to hear the church also, let him be unto thee as the Gentile and the publican,” by Philip Wendell Crannell who sites arts in HDB, DB, Jew Eric, DCG; Martensen, Christian Ethics, III, 330 ff; Nowack, Benzinger, Heb Archaeol.; Commentary in the place cited.
Philip Wendell continues to say, and I agree with his view point that this excommunication is a removal from the general assembly and not necessarily from the care of the church entirely. One would imagine that even these “tax collectors” would be part of the mission field of the church.
One could then site another scripture from I Corinthians 5:5 :”you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.”
This reference is an important one to consider because it highlights a key point that came up in a discussion with my good friend Nicolas. The one of love. When Paul speaks of handing over the body of a particular offender over to Satan for destruction it is with the intention of getting that persons soul to heaven. I would imagine that Jesus as the core of his intent would be for the interest of the individual that is being expelled as well as the well being of the general assembly.
This now begs for another question to be asked. What about forgiveness? Jesus also teaches that we should forgive up to seventy times seven. Does this now mean that the person that is offended is going to be at risk of living with unforgiveness. Jesus also said if we do not forgive those who offend us our Father will not forgive us Matthew 6:14-15. Does this mean that the entire church will the disintegrate one person at a time? because if I can not forgive am I not also worthy of excommunication?
I understand that forgiveness does not remove consequence but when I force accountability on a fellow believer, even if it is in line with scripture, it is starting to feel like one could be doing if from a conceited perspective. Galatians 6:2-3 teaches that conceitedness is the last attitude we need to have in a correction based setting. As it turns our Paul was burdened with a “thorn in the flesh” that was placed on him to keep him from this very aspect of conceitedness’.
In my mind this issue of excommunication is one that could be placed in the gray space between the page and the line in the same way that divorce was when Jesus said that divorce was not in God’s original plan and that Moses allowed people to divorce. it is possible that expelling some one from fellowship or “membership
I also noticed that Jesus made reference of this expulsion immediately after he discussed the preservation of the little ones in the church. It makes sense then to consider that this mechanism is to remove a dangers from the assembly of believers and was meant for the protection of the young in Christ. Romans 14 also deals with a similar issue relating to young believers.
Perhaps this concept of excommunication is one that should be flavored with a lot of love and perhaps a bit of introspection. I would dare to say that one that considers going down that road should rather take the time and invest it in self evaluation first.
I was once privy to such a process of expulsion and even though the person in question lost their “membership” of that particular church, they were not entirely dis-guarded by that fellowship.
I have a strong belief that the two aspects “pride” and “unforgiveness” is possibly the two greatest architects of denominational-ism witch in my opinion has become one of the great enemies of the church. To wrap us I think it safe to say that any one that is sin free might have a place to consider throwing away imperfect believers. For the rest of us we may very well be better served learning an growing in Jesus’ grace.
Nicolas Trytsman commented:(20-11-2105)
” I would add that the purpose of removing one from the assembly is to preserve the integrity of the body-of-believers who have been willing to peacefully give up their lives for their King. If the church took a more clear stand on issues reflecting the portrayal of the King and His bride, the church would not be looked down upon as a judgemental, hypocritical institution.
While we feel it might make us look judgemental, keep in mind it has the purpose of restoring that believer to correct presentation of the King and His bride (repentance) but it is also only for the members of the bride of Christ. Removal from the body then allows the church to continue reaching out to him as if he was any other non-believer (with a desperate call to repentance and obedience to the coming King.) No one calls a business judgemental for firing someone for stealing – ergo when the body of Christ does the same (removes from the assembly) it would not be called judgemental except if the body still acts in hypocrisy.
scripture ref 1Cor 5;1-11
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