A pastor and friend of mine recently had the sad duty of announcing excommunication to a former member of his flock. He had worked with the person for a lengthy period of time, and the session had been very patient, but ultimately this person chose to reject Christ and his Bride. The letter
, which my friend delivered has since been uploaded to the internet and passed around quite a lot. While it is not surprising to see unbelievers scoffing at Christ's discipline, it has been disheartening to see and hear of the reactions of many Christians. My friend has been harangued to no end, told that he was a false teacher, a cultist, arrogant, a swindler, and worse. All of this based on a letter that has been seen completely apart from context. The letter in itself is not objectionable to anyone who believes that it is to the Church that Christ has bequeathed the keys to the kingdom
, but additionally those who have written and called my friend are generally unaware that it was hand delivered and discussed with the excommunicant after a long process of pleading and pastoral counsel, and that of course the letter does not explain the entire situation. Excommunication is always ultimately for contumacy, or unwillingness to obey Christ, and by extension those who speak for Christ, namely our pastors and elders. Thus one is not excommunicated for adultery per se
, or greed, or even murder, but for refusal to repent of adultery, greed, murder, etc. at the behest of Christ through his ministers. How far the Protestant church has come. We would do well to consider the words of one of the most widely respected, and at one time generally accepted symbols of the Protestant and Reformed faith.
"We believe, since this holy assembly and congregation is the assembly of the redeemed and there is no salvation outside of it,1
that no one ought to withdraw from it, content to be by himself, no matter what his status or standing may be. But all and everyone are obliged to join it and unite with it,2
maintaining the unity of the church. They must submit themselves to its instruction and discipline,3
bend their necks under the yoke of Jesus Christ,4
and serve the edification of the brothers and sisters,5
according to the talents which God has given them as members of the same body.6 To observe this more effectively, it is the duty of all believers, according to the Word of God, to separate from those who do not belong to the church7 and to join this assembly8 wherever God has established it. They should do so even though the rulers and edicts of princes were against it, and death or physical punishment might follow.9 All therefore who draw away from the church or fail to join it act contrary to the ordinance of God."
- 1 Mt 16:18, 19; Acts 2:47; Gal 4:26; Eph 5:25-27; Heb 2:11, 12; Heb 12:23.
- 2 2 Chron 30:8; Jn 17:21; Col 3:15.
- 3 Heb 13:17.
- 4 Mt 11:28-30.
- 5 Eph 4:12.
- 6 1 Cor 12:7, 27; Eph 4:16.
- 7 Num 16:23-26; Is 52:11, 12; Acts 2:40; Rom 16:17; Rev 18:4.
- 8 Ps 122:1; Is 2:3; Heb 10:25.
- 9 Acts 4:19, 20.
--Belgic Confession, Article 28, Everyone's Duty to Join the Church