NOTE: These theses are now offered by the Commission on Doctrine and Practice to the LCR for consideration and adoption at the 1978 LCR Convention.
Some of the terms and phrases frequently used in doctrinal discussions on excommunication are ecclesiastical terms, that is, man-made terms which do not occur in Scripture. Therefore different persons may employ these terms in different ways without being in doctrinal disagreement, in doctrinal error, heretical, or divisive. Nevertheless, efforts should be made to use the same terms and definitions in the same way to avoid confusion. Such efforts will be furthered by considering the following definitions:
Excommunication: The process by which an impenitent sinner who has been a communicant member of a congregation is made an ex-communicant member, is excluded from a congregation, and heaven is closed to him (Matt. 16:19; 18: 18; John 20:22,23; 1 Cor. 5:13).
Removal from the Congregational Roster: When applied to the practice of terminating the membership of an offender who has been invited to meet with the Voters’ Assembly, or with other chosen or delegated representatives of the congregation, to be admonished according to the third step of Matthew 18, but who has refused to do so, this term is equivalent to excommunication.
Self-excommunication: This term should not be used since only the congregation has the authority to excommunicate.
Resignation or request by an individual that his name be removed from membership rolls of an orthodox congregation: Scripture requires believers to be members of an orthodox congregation. Therefore an orthodox congregation may not accept the resignation of a communicant member in such a manner as to give the impression that it approves of the action of the person who resigns, but acknowledges the fact that the person making the request is no longer a member
Transfer: A congregation may transfer or release a member in good standing only to another orthodox congregation with which it is in fellowship.
Church Discipline: Its Three Steps (Matt. 18:15–17) in Outline (Note:It is called “church discipline” because it takesplace inthe local church or congregation).
STEP I — “Alone” — If, after being told “his fault” and admonished, the offending brother does not repent, the offended one judges him to be impenitent. This judgment does not give him license to regard the offender outside the fellowship of the congregation. That may not be done until the Voters’ Assembly has enacted the excommunication.
STEP II — “One or two more” — If, after admonishing the brother in the presence of witnesses, who can verify the exchange between the offended and the offending brother, he still does not repent, the brother is to be judged as impenitent. But, this judgment does not give the brethren license to regard the offender outside the fellowship of the congregation. That may not be done until the Voters’ Assembly has enacted the excommunication.
STEP III — A. “Tell it to the Church” — The offended and his witnesses inform the Voters’ Assembly that they have judged the offender to be impenitent. Being told does not give the Voters license to regard the offender outside the fellowship of the congregation. That may not be done until they have enacted the excommunication.
B.The entire case is heard by the Voters.
C.The Voters determine
1. Whether or not the accused has actually sinned, and
2. Whether or not he is actually impenitent.
D. Admonition follows, if he is found to be impenitent.
E.Excommunication follows, if he is found to be persistently impenitent.
During Step Three, as in all steps, the goal is to “gain the brother” (2 Cor. 2:8).
WE ACCEPT: Excommunication from a congregation may not occur until the Voters’ Assembly (the decision making body) of the congregation in which the impenitent sinner holds membership has most earnestly attempted to bring him to repentance.
1. When a fellow Christian offends you, you must admonish him privately at least once. If unsuccessful, enlist one or two fellow members and admonish him at least once. If unsuccessful in the second step, only then may the matter be brought to the attention of the Voters’ Assembly.
2. If the offense is public, the first two steps may be omitted. However, a communicant may not be excommunicated until admonition by the Voters’ Assembly of the congregation has failed to bring about repentance.
WE REJECT: as legalistic the notion that action must be taken more than once in any of the steps.
We reject as legalistic the notion that every voting member must be present when the congregation acts in the third step.
We reject as legalistic the notion that the entire congregation (that is, women and children also) must participate in the admonition of the third step.
We reject as legalistic the notion that an offender may be excommunicated without attempted admonition by the Voters’ Assembly.
We reject as legalistic the practice of removing names of members from the membership roster (unless the members have moved away and their addresses are unknown) without the procedure of admonition prescribed by the Lord in Matthew 18:15–17.
SCRIPTURE: (Note: See corresponding numbers in the Explanation above.)
1. Matthew 18:15,16: “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: If he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.”
2. Gal. 2:11–14: “Before them all” — Paul spoke to Peter before others without deeming it necessary to speak to him privately first.
1 Tim. 5:20: “Them that sin rebuke before all.”
1 Cor. 5:4: “When ye are gathered together.…”
Matt. 18:17: “…but if he neglect to hear the church.…”
2. Large Catechism, Eighth Commandment, Concordia Triglotta. p. 661, par. 284:
All this has been said regarding secret sins. But where the sin is quite public so that the judge and everybody know it, you can without any sin avoid him and let him go, because he has brought himself into disgrace, and you may also publicly testify concerning him. For when a matter is public in the light of day, there can be no slandering or false judgment or testifying; as, when we now reprove the Pope with his doctrine, which is publicly set forth in books and proclaimed in all the world. For where sin is public, the reproof also must be public, that every one may learn to guard against it.
WE ACCEPT:The compulsion to gain the brother requires that the Voters’ Assembly make every effort to bring the impenitent member to repentance.
1. Ordinarily, the procedure is to invite and urge the offender to appear before the Voters’ Assembly to admonish him in person. The Voters’ Assembly is obligated to make every possible attempt to deal with the offender.
2. However, if it becomes evident that the offender does indeed refuse the admonition of the congregation by failing to appear before the Voters’ Assembly, Scripture in no way prohibits the Voters’ Assembly from excommunicating him.
3. The Voters’ Assembly may authorize representatives (for example, the elders, the pastor, or friends of the offender) to admonish the offender in the third step. Thus, the admonition of such representatives would be the admonition of the congregation. (See P. E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary, New Testament Vol. II, p. 112, last paragraph.)
WE REJECT: the notion that evangelical procedure requires that the congregation refrain from exercising church discipline.
We reject as legalistic the notion that the Voters’ Assembly may not choose or delegate the elders, the pastor, or friends of the offender to admonish him in the third step.
We reject the notion that a Christian congregation should refrain from closing heaven to an impenitent sinner because that action is irrevocable. (It is not irrevocable, but holds good in heaven so long only as the sinner does not repent.)
1. Matt. 18:17: “If he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.”
1 Cor. 5:3–5: “…when ye are gathered together … deliver such an one unto Satan.”
2. John 8:47: “He that is of God heareth God’s Words.” Mere physical hearing is not meant here.
Please note further:
Arndt-Gingrich Dictionary: For parakuw the word translated in KJV with “neglect to hear” has the meanings “pay no attention to, ignore, refuse to listen to, disobey.”
A. T. Robertson in his Word Pictures on “hear,” Matt. 18:17, says: “Like Is. 65:12, many papyri examples for ignoring, disregarding.” Note that these meanings do not require physical presence or normal use of the ears. Robertson does, indeed, list the meaning “hearing without heeding,” but it is not the only meaning possible; he lists and gives it after those listed above.
Young’s Concordance: “hear amiss, disregard.”
Dr. Pieper (I, 299) on John 8:47: “It is obvious from the context that the term ‘hear’ is here used in the pregnant sense, denoting not merely the external hearing with the ears, but also internal hearing, the reception of the word as God’s Word.”
Traditional Procedures Need Not be Followed: Apology, p. 447, par. 15.
The Voters’ Assembly alone has the authority to excommunicate.
It is to be noted that Scripture specifically assigns this authority to the local congregation, that is, its decision making body, the Voters’ Assembly. The vote to excommunicate, as in the case of admitting members, must be unanimous.
WE REJECT: the notion that any individual, including the pastor, on his own authority can excommunicate a member from a congregation. 3 John 9,10: “Diotrephes. . .casteth them out of the church.” (The pastor, however, has the right and duty to suspend a member from communing, under certain circumstances.)
We reject the notion that any group within a congregation on its own autho-rity can excommunicate.
We reject the notion that an impenitent sinner may be excommunicated by a majority vote of the Voters’ Assembly.
We reject as legalistic the notion that those who vote against an excommunication “must deal with the erring brother until they have either won him or are themselves also convinced of his impenitence” (Edw. Koehler, A Summary of Christian Doctrine, p. 262, emphasis added. Here Koehler expresses an erroneous thought. Incidently, Koehler misquotes the Lord in verse 16 when he says at the top of the same page, “take with thee two or three more.…”)
We reject the notion that a congregation has the right to excommunicate a member of another congregation.
We reject the notion that any group of congregations (such as a synod, federation, etc.) has the authority to excommunicate.
Matt. 18:17: “If he neglect to hear the church… .” The church is the local congregation. Cf. Neil Hilton essay “Church and Ministry,” The Faithful Word, Spring 1969, especially pp. 12 and 13.
1 Cor. 5:4, 5, 12, 13: “…when ye are gathered together … to deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus … them that are within … put away from among yourselves that wicked person.”
On The Keys: Augsburg Confession, p. 85, par. 5; Apology, p. 293, par. 41 ; p. 307, par. 79; Smalcald Articles, p. 493 (Art. VI); p. 511, par. 24; Brief Statement, par. 30 (“Christ Himself, etc.”).
No single person: Smalcald Articles, p. 511, par. 24; p. 523, par. 68; Not the pope: Augsburg Confession, p. 83, par. 2; Smalcald Articles, p. 513, par. 35 — The congregation enacts the excommunication.
On “jurisdiction”: Augsburg Confession, p. 85, par. 5, 8 (power to retain sins); p. 87, par. 20, 21 (publicly announce exclusion and act upon the declaration, “exclude from communion”); p. 523, par. 68. — The pastor announces, or declares, the excommunication, and complies with the announcement which he has made.
On “the power of jurisdiction”: (broadly defined) Smalcald Articles, p. 521, par. 60, not alone and arbitrarily, but “according to due process;” p. 525, par. 74; Brief Statement, par. 30 (“We reject, etc.”)
A communicant member of a congregation who has been judged a manifestly impenitent sinner in a matter of doctrine or life is subject to excommunication.
WE REJECT:the notion that it is the sin itself, and not impenitence, which subjects an offender to excommunication (Matt. 18:15; 1 Cor. 5:12, 13).
We reject the notion that a congregation can excommunicate from its membership an offender who has never been a communicant member of that congregation. You cannot put someone out who has never been within.
We reject the notion that a congregation can excommunicate an offender under church discipline, who has indicated by word or deed (as for example, by joining another congregation) that he is no longer a member. (1 Cor. 5: 12, 13; Matt. 18:15; 1 John 2:19).
1 Cor. 5:13: “Them that are without God judgeth.”
1 Cor. 5:12: “What have I to do to judge them also that are without?”
Matt. 18:15: “If thy brother shall trespass against thee … gained thy brother.”
1 John 2:19: “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us but they went out that they might [definitely: aorist tense] be made manifest that they were not all of us.” These were members but withdrew.
On matters of doctrine: Rom. 16:17: “Mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned and avoid them.”
1 Tim. 6:3–5: “If any man teach otherwise … from such withdraw thyself.”
Titus 3:10: “A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject.”
2 Cor. 6:17: “Come out from among them, and be ye separate.”
2 Tim. 2:17–18: “Hymenaeus and Philetus, who … saying that the resurrection is past already,” and 1 Tim. 1:20: “Of whom is Hymenaeus … whom I have delivered unto Satan.”
On matters of doctrine and life: Gal. 5:19–21: “Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murderers, drunkenness, revellings, and such like … they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”
On matters of life: 1 Cor. 5:10–11: “Fornicators … covetous … extortioners … idolaters … railer … drunkard.…”
Apology, p. 227, par. 3; p. 293, par. 41 “unconverted;” p. 307, par. 79; Augsburg Confession, p. 87, par. 21 “wickedness known;” Smalcald Articles, p. 497 “manifest and obstinate,” p. 521, par. 60 “known,” Apology, p. 249, par. 61, 62 “openly wicked and despisers of sacraments.”
WE ACCEPT: The purpose of excommunication is always the eternal welfare of souls.
1. The members of a congregation are to be concerned about themselves lest they become partakers of the guilt of the impenitent, or be enticed into imitating him. Members of a congregation must always strive, individually and collectively, to maintain and preserve purity of doctrine and life in their midst.
2. They must also be concerned about the reputation the Christian congregation may acquire among unbelievers.
3. But the congregation is especially to be concerned about the soul of the manifest and persistently impenitent sinner. It is the prayer of the congregation that the excommunication will bring the impenitent to realize the gravity of his sin of impenitence, will induce him to repent, and will bring him back into the fold of the great Shepherd.
WE REJECT: the notion that a congregation excommunicates for the purpose of ridding itself of undesirable members (“troublemakers”).
We reject the notion that an excommunication carried out in a Scriptural manner is an unchristian and unloving action.
We reject the notion that because of the seriousness of closing heaven to the impenitent sinner it is unloving to excommunicate him from the Christian congregation.
We reject the notion that an excommunication, although carried out in accordance with Scripture, can be regarded as of such little significance that normal fraternal and social relations may continue to exist between the individual members of the congregation and the excommunicated. “But by ‘no, not to eat’ also social communion in private life with such members who have become ungodly is forbidden. They should be avoided like scabby sheep and one’s dealings with them limited to the necessary civic relations” (Comments of Dr. George Stoeckhardt, Exegesis of First Corinthians, on 1 Cor. 5:11 according to Professor Wenger’s mimeographed notes, pp 53,54 compare also Dr. P. E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary, NT II, p 111, col b).
1. 1 Tim 4:16 “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine, continue
in themfor in so doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that
1 Tim.5:10 “Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.”
Titus 1:13 “Rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in faith “ Gal.6:1 “Restore such an one in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself lest thou also be tempted.”
2. Matt. 5:13 “Let your light so shine before men.…”
3. 2 Cor. 2:8 “Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him.”
1 Cor 5:5 Paul speaks of “delivering such an one unto Satan,” and in 1 Tim 1:20 Paul speaks of Hymenaeus and Alexander as persons “whom I have delivered unto Satan.” These passages have frequently and carelessly been misconstrued. In the Corinthians passage Paul goes on to say that the purpose is the destruction of the flesh, that is, of the Old Adam, that the spirit, which is the soul, may be saved in the day of Jesus Christ, that is, Judgment Day. In other words, it is the prayer of Paul that the act of excommunication will cause the sinner to repent, namely, that he will confess his sins, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and amend his sinful life. Excommunication should serve to crucify the Old Adam so that the ultimate result will be the eternal salvation of the sinner’s soul. When Paul, writing to Timothy, speaks of Hymenaeus and Alexander and their excommunication, he adds the words “that they may learn not to blaspheme,” that is, that they will learn rather to acknowledge and praise the Lord instead.
3. Smalcald Articles, p. 513, par. 31, p. 525, par. 74, 75 (The Aims of Excommunication).
WE ACCEPT: The denial of all practices of church fellowship (altar, pulpit, and prayer fellowship, and joint church work) with the excommunicated by the Voters’ Assembly is based upon the fact, as his impenitence has demonstrated in deeds and words, that there is no longer the fraternal unity required by Scripture for church fellowship It is his impenitence which has severed the previous fellowship.
WE REJECT: the notion that impenitence in matters of doctrine or life is insufficient reason for terminating church fellowship with the impenitent by excommunication.
2 Thess. 3:6 “Withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly and not after the tradition which he received of us.”
2 John 10, 11 “If there be any among you and bring not this doctrine receive him not.”
1 Cor 11:19 “There must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.”
Titus 3:10 “A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject.”
Gal. 5:9 “A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.”
1 Cor. 1:10 “That ye speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”
Rom. 16:17 “Mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned and avoid them.”
Amos 3:3 “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?”
Acts 2:42 “They continued steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in the breaking of bread [the Lord’s Supper] and in prayers.”
Smalcald Articles, p 497 (Art IX) — The confessional definition of excommunication.