Friday, October 23, 2009

Excommunication of Believers

In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul discusses immorality among believing Christians. He explains that the people of the church have become "arrogant," not "mourning" for the immorality but allowing it to exist within their body (1 Cor 5:1-2). The remedy? "The one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst," (v. 2). That raises an interesting question:

Is it ever okay to excommunicate believers from the church?



Old Testament Example
Ezra, in chapter 10, mourned his fellow believers because they were living immoral lives. These people saw his mourning and made a proposal, which he accepted: the believers would turn from their sin and return to following Godly living (Ezra 10:3). If after three days they did not repent, they would be “excluded from the assembly of exiles,” (Ezra 10:8).

New Testament Example
After Jesus heals a blind beggar, the dissenting Pharisees began discussing who the man believed Jesus was. His reasoning went from calling Jesus a man (John 9:11), to a prophet (v. 17) who might have disciples (v. 27), to one "from God" (v. 33), to agreeing with Jesus that He is the Son of Man and to be properly worshiped (v. 38). The result was that the Pharisees excommunicated the man from their synagogue (John 9:22).

Explanation
On several occasions people within the church were called out for the lives they were living and told - commanded even - to be removed from close fellowship from other believers. Paul explains that because believers are “new leaven” in Christ, we should be characterized by sincerity and truth (1 Cor 5:6-8). Allowing fellow believers to confess Christ yet live immorally would create dissention and hindrances within the church (Romans 16:17-18).

Our charge, however, is not to make them our enemies as the Pharisees did in John 9, but to exhort them to repentance (2 Thes 3:14-15). We are called to exercise spiritual discipline over the body of believers (1 Cor 5:12) for the purpose of accountability, so that Christ’s name is glorified and not dishonored. The narrow line here is not to judge, because that is ultimately God’s work, but to appeal to others so they return to repentance and right relationship with God (and thus with His people).

2 comments:

Randolph Koch said...

I agree in part because the ultimate goal is the help them come to repentance and restore them to fellowship. What I think we run into today however is that many in the church don't deal with sin Biblically or at all. We seem afraid to call sin what it is because we're trained to judge not however judgment, with the right motives is Biblical and that is in part what you should see with church discipline situations. Correct a brother or sister in love, don't just ignore that they've veered off path and need to repent. Restoration and Excommunication also has to do with the heart of the person who is in sin. If they aren't willing to repent and go through restoration then Matthew 18:15-20 is very clear on what should take place to that individual. Not popular today but a clear Biblical protocol. Lastly, I think your article serves as a great call to prayer reminder that we would seek to restore others in love and be courageous enough to follow all of what God provides for us to follow in His Word in these situations (even removal). Let's also pray that we never have to remove someone as the Holy Spirit helps them repent and be restored which again is the ultimate goal. Thanks for sharing Aaron!

Aaron said...

Exactly. God cares about the heart, so the goal is to help others turn their heart back to Him. Thanks for also including that passage on Matthew - it's a good step-by-step guide for this process.

My prayer is that we as a body would do more of this (as needed, of course) because this would mean we're united in spirit and truth, defending God's glory for the sake of the Gospel. Thanks for commenting and sharing your wisdom, Randy!

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