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Some Questions Answered About Excommunication (#1)

1 Corinthians 5:1-5 Covenanted Reformed Presbyterian Church, Albany NY July 2, 2006 Rev. Greg L. Price Excommunication is an ordinance of the Lord intended to reclaim brethren who obstinately continue in sin and error or are guilty of some notorious public scandal. That is simply to say that excommunication is corrective rather than vindictive. It is discipline not retribution. It is not administered because such brethren are hated, but because such brethren are loved. If God Himself chastens and scourges those whom He loves (Hebrews 12:6), so likewise does the Lord do the same through the censure of excommunication. It is not administered having despaired of repentance, but rather it is administered having hope in Christ that He is able to use excommunication to bring about repentance. This will be a sermon quite unlike most of the sermons I have preached as to its format. For in this sermon, I already have a list of questions that I will seek to answer as clearly and faithfully as I can. Since these questions have come to my attention (and to the attention of the Session), it was thought it would be helpful to answer them in a series of sermons. I have chosen the text from 1 Corinthians 5 because I believe this text is most helpful in responding to these questions. Over the next few weeks, I will seek to answer a few questions (not an exhaustive list of questions) in regard to the ordinance of excommunication. I have narrowed the questions that I will seek to answer down to four in number (at least at the present time): (I) Are Those Who Are Excommunicated Put Out Of The Visible Church? (II) For What Sins May One Be Excommunicated? (III) What Does It Mean To Deliver One Unto Satan? (IV) Is It Necessary To Follow The Steps In Matthew 18 In Proceeding To Excommunication? This Lord's Day we will only have time to look at the first question. I. Are Those Who Are Excommunicated Put Out Of The Visible Church?

A. Before proceeding to answer the first question, it should be noted that in this letter addressed to the Corinthian Church by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul deals with various problems that had arisen in this Church which needed his instruction and at times his correction. A case in point wherein Paul both instructs and corrects the Church and its Officers is in regard to a discipline situation in 1 Corinthians 5. Let us first consider the reasons that Paul addresses the matter of excommunication in 1 Corinthians 5. 1. First, the apostle states there was a serious case of incest in the Corinthian Church wherein a member was living in a sexual relationship or perhaps even married to his father's wife (i.e. to his step-mother) according to 1 Corinthians 5:1 (read it). This was an express violation of Leviticus 18:8. 2. A second reason for the apostle Paul to address excommunication in this chapter is that this incestuous relationship had become a public scandal well known to many ("It is reported commonly" 1 Corinthians 5:1). 3. A third reason why excommunication is mentioned here is because the Corinthian Church (through its Ministers and Elders) had apparently done nothing by way of Church discipline to this member. To the contrary, they were puffed up with pride at the toleration of this sin perhaps believing that God's grace and mercy warranted this type of attitude toward such an obstinate sinner. Thus, because the Church had taken no steps to discipline this member, Paul has to take steps to address the matter of excommunication (1 Corinthians 5:2,6a). 4. A fourth reason Paul speaks about the censure of excommunication is that the result of doing nothing by the Church will be that the leaven of sin spreads throughout the whole lump so that others in the Church become infected with this rottenness and corruption (1 Corinthians 5:6b-7a). 5. A fifth reason for the mention of excommunication is because Christ was sacrificed for us in order that we might be delivered from sin rather than making sport of unrepentant sin (1 Corinthians 5:7). 6. And a sixth and final reason is that the Church might be instructed as to how those who are excommunicated ought to be treated by members of the Church of Christ (1 Corinthians 5:7,11).

B. Let us now move on to answer the first question: Are Those Who Are Excommunicated Put Out Of The Visible Church? There have been questions asked about the Church from which one is excommunicated: whether from the Universal Visible Church which consists of all those who profess the true religion and their children or whether from only the Particular Church which administered the act of discipline? 1. Just as entrance into the Church by way of valid baptism signifies admission into the Universal Visible Church of Christ, so likewise excommunication from the Church is excommunication from the Universal Visible Church of Christ. For as members of the Universal Visible Church, we are baptized into this one body and graciously made members of this one Universal Visible Church as the Spirit Himself appoints (according to 1 Corinthians 12:13). Clearly, admission and membership usher one into membership not only of a Particular Church, but also of the Universal Visible Church. 2. Did the apostle Paul intend that this incestuous member be excommunicated from the Church of Corinth alone so that if he should move to Ephesus he could be a member in good standing in the Church of Ephesus? Or did a lawful excommunication apply to all Churches of Christ throughout the world? Clearly, a lawful excommunication applied to all Churches alike, for the Ministry and the Ordinances (including excommunication) are given for the edification of the whole Visible Church and not for the edification of one Particular Church in one location alone. Consider that God has placed His Ministers in the Visible Universal Church as He Himself desires according to 1 Corinthians 12:28. If, therefore, the Ministry is appointed for the benefit of the whole Visible Church, then so likewise are the Ordinances which the Ministry are to exercise on behalf of Christ (including Church discipline and particularly excommunication. As the Westminster Confession of Faith states under the heading "Of The Church" (25:3): Unto this catholic and visible Church, Christ hath given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God [among which is excommunication--GLP], for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world; and doth by his own presence and Spirit, according to his promise, make them effectual thereunto. 3. It is granted, however, that since the Visible Church of Christ is so splintered and divided within even a single city (let alone within a nation or the world), a person who is lawfully excommunicated in one Church may simply walk down the street and become a member of another Church. That is not because a lawful excommunication ought not to be applied throughout the Universal Visible Church, but because the sinful divisions and schisms within the Visible Church make excommunication outside of a Particular Church almost irrelevant in a practical sense considering the multitude of denominations that exist even within a city. That, however, does not mean that excommunication is irrelevant to Christ, for the Lord as Head of His Church is yet able to make a lawful excommunication effectual to the recovery of a fallen member. Listen closely to the words of Rev. Samuel Rutherford who set forth the biblical position of excommunication against the Independents of his time (_The Due Right Of Presbyteries_, p. 295): When any scandalous person is delivered to Satan, he is cast out of the whole Catholic Church; Ergo, he was before his rejection a member of the whole Catholic Church, for he cannot be cast out, who was never within. And when he is excommunicated, his sins [are--GLP] bound, as in Heaven, so on Earth, that is, not only in that Tract of ground, where a handful of a little Congregation independent (as they say) of 10 or 20 or an 100 doth ordinarily feed, but in all the visible World where God hath a Church, and all both within the little Congregation where he is, and without, are to repute him as an Heathen and a Publican. 4. But it is then asked that if one who is lawfully excommunicated is cast out of the Universal Visible Church, how can one be viewed as a Christian brother/sister, or how can he/she be saved since he/she is outside the Visible Church? Does not our own Confession of Faith (25:2) state that outside this Universal Visible Church "there is no ordinary possibility of salvation"? I would submit that this statement from the Confession of Faith is misunderstood if it is applied to those who are lawfully excommunicated from the Visible Church. For our Confession is not speaking of those who are excommunicated, but is speaking of those who live in heathen lands where the gospel of Christ has not yet reached by the ordinary Ministry of the Church. Our forefathers wanted to distinguish the heretical view of Rome which taught that there is no

possibility of salvation outside the Church of Rome from the biblical view that God ordinarily saves people through the Ministry of the Visible Church (not the Church of Rome), but God may also save people in extraordinary ways apart from the Ministry of the Visible Church as well, if He so chooses. If that portion of the Confession of Faith that says that outside the Universal Visible Church "there is no ordinary possibility of salvation" addresses those who have been lawfully excommunicated, how is it that later on in the Confession of Faith when speaking of Church Censures (including excommunication) that these censures are said to be "necessary for the reclaiming and gaining of offending brethren" (30:3)? Furthermore, how is it that one who is lawfully excommunicated is yet called a brother (in 1 Corinthians 5:11) and is to be admonished as a brother (in 2 Thessalonians 3:15)? 5. Perhaps an important distinction would be helpful at this point. A lawful excommunication does not cast a one out of the Invisible Church (which consists only of those redeemed by Christ and made alive by the Holy Spirit), but rather casts one (whether he/she genuinely trusts in Christ or whether he/she merely makes such a profession) out of the Visible Church. For one who is in the Invisible Church can never be cast out of it, for that would be to literally and actually sever a member from Christ the Head to whom the member was spiritually united by faith alone and to actually sentence such a member to hell. a. As to the possibility of the first consequence (namely, that one who is truly and spiritually united to Christ the Head by faith alone in the perfect righteousness of the Savior may be severed and eternally cut off from Christ), we must declare that to be an impossibility. For Christ has promised never to cast out one who comes to Him by faith trusting in His merit alone to save the guilty sinner (John 6:37-39). Therefore, those branches that are said to be "in me" (that is "in Christ) and that are cut off from the vine (in John 15:2) are in Christ and in His Visible Church only and merely by way of an outward profession (not by way of an inward possession). And that is evident from the fact that such a branch bears no real fruit of the Holy Spirit, thus, indicating that they claimed to be united to Christ, but it was a mere claim rather than a real spiritual union with Christ by faith alone. These branches in John 15:2 are like a Judas rather than like a Peter. But every branch that is united to Christ by faith alone bears fruit (to varying degrees) and is said to be pruned by God so that it might bear more fruit. This alone is the branch that is truly united to Christ by way of a real spiritual union. b. As to the possibility of the second consequence (namely, that one who is truly and spiritually united to Christ the Head by faith alone in the perfect righteousness of the Savior may be excommunicated from the Invisible Church and sentenced to eternal condemnation in hell), we must likewise declare that to be an impossibility as well. For the Invisible Church is the Church of those who have been chosen from all eternity by God and redeemed through the perfect obedience of Christ (Acts 10:28; Ephesians 5:25-27). Christ has suffered the wrath of God for such chosen guilty sinners, therefore, they cannot suffer the condemning wrath of God in everlasting hell (John 5:24; Romans 8:1). If the elect could suffer the condemning wrath of God in hell after Christ Himself suffered it in their place, the penalty would have been paid not once, but twice--a clear miscarriage of justice. But since Christ has paid the price in full, there is nothing more to be paid by the guilty sinner whom Christ redeemed by His death upon the cross. Can members of the Invisible Church fall into sin and error and even suffer the discipline of God and of the Visible Church? For a certainty that is possible. For as we shall see, the very hope exhibited in excommunication is that those who are God's elect might be restored unto Christ and His Visible Church (1 Timothy 1:19-20). Excommunication from the Visible Church is at times said to be a "curse" in the works of our Reformed forefathers, but by the use of that term they do not mean an eternal curse, but rather a temporal curse (or rather judicial judgment rendered by a Church Court) which is administered with a view to the spiritual profit of that erring brother or sister. Thus, any act of Church discipline that involves the judgment of a Church Court against a fallen brother or sister may be called in that sense a "curse" (whether it be rebuke, correction, suspension from the Lord's Supper, or excommunication from the Visible Church). 6. A further clarification must be noted at this time as well. Excommunication does not cast one out of the Visible Church in an absolute sense so that he/she has no relationship at all with the Visible Church. One who is excommunicated is cast out from the fellowship of the Visible Church and from the sacraments of the Church, but not entirely from the Visible Church altogether. For he is still called "a brother" (1 Corinthians 5:11) and is not to be counted as "an enemy", but is to be admonished as "a brother" (2 Thessalonians 3:15). When the Lord Jesus says that one who is excommunicated is to "be unto thee AS an

heathen man and a publican", He does not mean that such a one "IS" necessarily a heathen and a publican. Rather as to familiar fellowship and as to the sacraments, he is to be treated "AS" a heathen and a publican. The promises made to one excommunicated in the Gospel and in his baptism are still sealed upon his/her flesh. One excommunicated may and ought still to hear the loving admonition, rebuke, and correction of the Church that he/she may be taught not to blaspheme, or taught not to rail against the truth, or taught not to fornicate, or taught not to divide the Church of Christ. Excommunication is corrective to erring sons and daughters. Excommunication is strong medicine given to sick sons and daughters to help cure them of the infection that has overtaken them and that will spread to others if that spiritual infection is not dealt with using the strong measures Christ Himself has prescribed (in Matthew 18:17-20). Perhaps some further corroboration would be helpful at this point. Again, I share with you the instruction that comes from the pen of that faithful and learned Minister of the Church of Scotland and Scottish Commissioner to the Westminster Assembly, Rev. Samuel Rutherford: And therefore though he were twice excommunicated, he is to be dealt with as a Brother. And an idolatrous brother is no worse than a Samaritan neighbor or friend.... If excommunication be a medicine of the Church toward a sick son, the end whereof is salvation, that the spirit may be saved in the Lord's Day (1 Corinthians 5:5), that he may learn not to blaspheme (1 Timothy 1:12), that he may be gained (Matthew 18:15), Ergo, he is not altogether cut off from the Church, for delivering to Satan is medicinal, not vindictive.... Be seeing the excommunicated person is not excluded from hearing the word, and the Pastor hath a Pastoral care of his soul, and is to intend that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord (1 Corinthians 5:5), he cannot be utterly cut off from all Church fellowship.... Now if an excommunicated brother remain one, whom we are to gain, and whose salvation we are to intend, if he be an ordinary co-worshipper in hearing [the Word preached--GLP], the object of Pastoral and brotherly teaching and admonishing, he cannot be wholly excluded from all Church fellowship. And this also proveth that these be members of the Visible Church in some degree of Church worship, who yet are debarred from the seals of the Covenant [in the sacraments--GLP] (_The Due Right of Presbyteries_, pp.273,274). Permit me one more helpful piece of instruction from Rev. Rutherford who no doubt speaks not only for himself, but also speaks as a faithful Minister for the Church of Scotland (yea for the whole Visible Church) on this point: But for such as are excommunicated, because of some particular scandal, as incest, or a particular heresy, and yet profess the truth, as to all other points, they are members cut off, and yet not cut off, in so far as they retain a profession, yea and to the knowledge of the Church, are visible converts, though in one particular scandal, they lie without and give, not such evidences of repentance, as the Church can pardon them, as may be proven from the [Scripture in--GLP] 2 Corinthians 2:6-9 they are ordinary hearers of the word, as such as must be reclaimed by the preached word, as sick children, under the medicinal cure of excommunication and the preached word that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord (1 Corinthians 5).... One excommunicated for a particular scandal, as the incestuous Corinthian was, retaining some profession, retaineth some membership [in the Visible Church--GLP], and is only deprived of Church honor, and of some Ordinances (_A Survey Of The Survey Of That Sum of Church Discipline_, pp. 20,143). I hope it is becoming more clear to you not only what the Scripture teaches about the nature of a lawful excommunication, but as well, what was taught and preached about a lawful excommunication by our faithful Reformed Presbyterian forefathers as well. 7. Thus, in summarizing the answer to this first question, a lawful excommunication does not cast one out of a mere Particular Church, but out of the Universal Visible Church. Furthermore, a lawful excommunication does not cast one out of the Invisible Church of God's elect and redeemed ones, but out of the Visible Church which consists of those who profess the true religion and their children. Finally, a lawful excommunication does not wholly and absolutely exclude one who is a member from the Visible Church, but

rather excludes one from the familiar fellowship, honor, and sacraments of the Visible Church of Jesus Christ in order that he/she may be gained back into the fellowship and communion of the Visible Church. C. As we conclude the sermon this Lord's Day, what can we take from it by way of application to our own lives? 1. We ought to be humbled before the Lord our God due to our own sins which we daily commit against him and against our neighbor. We cannot approach the matter of excommunication in pride or arrogance, but only in the meekness, gentleness, and humility of Christ (Galatians 6:1). We ought not to look with pride or hatred at those who are excommunicated as if they were the worst of sinners, nor ought we to stand in utter amazement as to how they could fall into such sin or error (1 Corinthians 10:12). It is only God's grace that has prevented you or me from falling into the same sins or errors. It is not our goodness or our righteousness that preserves us, but Christ's goodness and righteousness that does so. Excommunication is not a time for boasting, but a time for humiliation before God. Yes, we ought to have a holy indignation toward sin in our own lives and in the lives of brethren who have grievously, obstinately, or publicly brought shame upon Christ and His Cause. However, dear ones, the topic of excommunication should call each of us to a thorough and sincere self-examination of the sin in our own lives so that that holy ordinance bears fruit not only in the life of those who are excommunicated, but in our lives as well. 2. We ought to be thankful before the Lord our God as we consider His merciful patience with us all in restraining us from so many sins and errors and in disciplining us for our good and well-being (Hebrews 12:5-11). Though the Lord cut us off from the fellowship and sacraments of His Church due to our stubborn disobedience or scandalous sins and errors, He will never cut off those who are united to Him by faith alone. He will purge. He will refine. He will chasten us as with a rod. But He will never utterly cast us off. For in the Covenant of Redemption, the Son of God promised the Father to fulfill all righteousness on behalf of His elect, and the Father promised to give to the Son as His own beloved bride for all eternity all those whom He redeemed. What a glorious and incomparable Savior is Jesus Christ our Lord!


Some Questions Answered About Excommunication

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