An ecclesiastical penalty, by which they who incur the guilt of any heinous sin, are separated from the church, and deprived of its spiritual advantages. Thus the Jews "put out of the synagogue" those they deemed unworthy Joh 9:22; 12:42; 16:2. There were two degrees of excommunication among them: one a temporary and partial exclusion form ecclesiastical privileges, and from society; the other a complete excision form the covenant people of God and their numerous privileges, and abandonment to eternal perdition. See ANATHEMA.
The right and duty of excommunication when necessary were recognized in the Christian church by Christ and his apostles, Mt 18:15-18; 1Co 5; 16:22; Ga 5:12; 1Ti 1:20; Tit 3:10. The offender, found guilty and incorrigible, was to be excluded from the Lord's supper and cut off from the body of believers. This excision from Christian fellowship does not release one from any obligation to obey the law of God and the gospel of Christ; nor exempt him from any relative duties, as a man or a citizen. The censure of the church, on the other hand, is not to be accompanied, as among papists, with enmity, curses, and persecution. Our Savior directs that such an offender be regarded "as heathen man and a publican;" and the apostles charge the church to "withdraw from" those who trouble them, and "keep no company with them," "no, not to eat;" but this is to be understood of those offices of civility and fraternity which a man is at liberty to pay or to withhold, and not of the indispensable duties of humanity, founded on nature, the law of nations, and the spirit of Christianity, 2Th 3:6,15; 2Jo 1:10-11.
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As the church is a society constituted for maintaining certain doctrines and corresponding morals, it plainly has the right to exclude from communion such as flagrantly violate its doctrinal and moral code. The Jews had three forms of excommunication, alluded to in Lu 6:22 by our Lord, "blessed are ye when men shall separate you from their company (the Jewish niddui, for 30 days), and shall reproach you (the second form, cherem, for 90 days (See ANATHEMA), Jg 5:23), and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man's sake" (the third form, shammatha, perpetual cutting off): Joh 9:34-35 margin; compare Ex 30:33,38; also Joh 12:42; 16:2.
Christian excommunication is commanded by Christ (Mt 18:15-18); so 1Ti 1:20; 1Co 5:11; Tit 3:10; "delivering unto Satan" means casting out of the church, Christ's kingdom of light, into the world that lieth in the wicked one, the kingdom of Satan and darkness (Col 1:13; Eph 6:12; Ac 26:18; 1Jo 5:19). The apostles besides, under divine inspiration, inflicted bodily sicknesses and death on some (e.g. Acts 5, Ananias and Sapphira; Ac 13:10, Elymas). For other cases of virtual, if not formal, exclusion from communion, though in a brotherly not proud spirit, see 2Th 3:14; Ro 16:17; Ga 5:12; 1Ti 6:3; 2Jo 1:10; 3Jo 1:10; Re 2:20; Ga 1:8-9.
Paul's practice proves that excommunication is a spiritual penalty, the temporal penalty inflicted by the apostles in exceptional cases being evidently of extraordinary and divine appointment and no model to us; it consisted in exclusion from the church; the object was the good of the offender (1Co 5:5) and the safeguard of the sound members (2Ti 2:17); its subjects were those guilty of heresy and great immorality (1Ti 1:20); it was inflicted by the church (Mt 18:18) and its representative ministers (Tit 3:10; 1Co 5:1,3-4). Paul's infallible authority when inspired is no warrant for uninspired ministers claiming the same right to direct the church to excommunicate as they will (2Co 2:7-9). Penitence is the condition of restoration. Temporary affliction often leads to permanent salvation (Ps 83:16); Satan's temporary triumph is overruled "to. destroy the flesh that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (Lu 22:31).
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In the OT the sentence against those who refused to part with their 'strange' wives (Ezr 10:8)
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Though this word does not occur in the A.V. the duty of excommunicating wicked persons from the fold of Israel, and from the church as the house of God, is plainly taught. Again and again we read in the O.T. that for particular sins "that soul shall be out off from Israel" or "cut off from his people." Ex 12:15; 30:33,38; Le 7:20-21,25,27; Nu 9:13; Ezr 10:8; etc. How far this was acted upon we do not know. In the N.T. we find the authorities agreeing that if any one confessed that Jesus was the Christ he was to be cut off; and they excommunicated the man that had been born blind because he said that Jesus must be of God. Joh 9:34.
In the church we have a case of 'putting away' at Corinth. The assembly were admonished to put away from themselves the wicked person that was among them. 1Co 5:13. The person was cast out. He was afterwards repentant, and then the Corinthian saints were instructed to forgive him and to receive him again into communion. 2Co 2:6-11. The necessity of putting away an evil person is apparent; the presence of God, who is holy, demands it, and believers are called to holiness: "the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are." 1Co 3:17. As to discipline on earth there is a dispensational binding and loosing (cf. Mt 18:18), to which the saints are called where it is needful to put away evil from the assembly, but always with the hope that restoration may follow. See DISCIPLINE.
Connected with the case at Corinth there was also mentioned the delivering unto Satan of the guilty person for the destruction of the flesh, but this was the determination of Paul as being there in spirit with them (1Co 5:4-5), which seems to stamp it as an apostolic act. Paul individually did the same with Hymenaeus and Alexander. 1Ti 1:20. The positive injunction to the church at Corinth was to put away from among themselves the wicked person. In 3 John we read of Diotrephes who took upon himself to cast some out of the church, which John would not forget when he visited them. As is seen at Corinth, 'putting away' should be an act of the assembly, not of an individual.
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(expulsion from communion).
1. Jewish excommunication. --The Jewish system of excommunication was threefold. The twenty-four offences for which it was inflicted are various, and range in heinousness from the offence of keeping a fierce dog to that of taking God's name in vain. The offender was first cited to appear in court; and if he refused to appear or to make amends, his sentence was pronounced. The term of this punishment was thirty days; and it was extended to a second and to a third thirty days when necessary. If at the end of that time the offended was still contumacious, he was subjected to the second excommunication. Severer penalties were now attached. The sentence was delivered by a court of ten, and was accompanied by a solemn malediction. The third excommunication was an entire cutting off from the congregation. The punishment of excommunication is not appointed by the law of Moses; it is founded on the natural right of self-protection which all societies enjoy. In the New Testament, Jewish excommunication is brought prominently before us in the case of the man that was born blind.
it has been thought that our Lord referred specifically to the three forms of Jewish excommunication: "Blessed are ye when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man's sake."
2. Christian excommunication. --Excommunication, as exercised by the Christian Church, was instituted by our Lord,
and it was practiced and commanded by St. Paul
Int he epistles we find St. Paul frequently claiming the right to exercise discipline over his converts; comp.
We find, (1) that it is a spiritual penalty, involving no temporal punishment, except accidentally; (2) that it consists in separation from the communion of the Church; (3) that its object is the good of the sufferer,
and the protection of the sound members of the Church,
(4) that its subjects are those who are guilty of heresy,
or gross immorality,
(5) that it is inflicted by the authority of the Church at large,
wielded by the highest ecclesiastical officer,
(6) that this officer's sentence is promulgated by the congregation to which the offender belongs,
in defence to his superior judgment and command,
and in spite of any opposition on the part of a minority,
(7) that the exclusion may be of indefinite duration, or for a period; (8) that its duration may be abridged at the discretion and by the indulgence of the person who has imposed the penalty,
(9) that penitence is the condition on which restoration to communion is granted,
(10) that the sentence is to be publicly reversed as it was publicly promulgated.
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EXCOMMUNICATION, is the judicial exclusion of offenders from the religious rites and other privileges of the particular community to which they belong. Founded in the natural right which every society possesses to guard its laws and privileges from violation and abuse by the infliction of salutary discipline, proportioned to the nature of the offences committed against them, it has found a place, in one form or another, under every system of religion, whether human or divine. That it has been made an engine for the gratification of private malice and revenge, and been perverted to purposes the most unjustifiable and even diabolical, the history of the world but too lamentably proves; yet this, though unquestionably a consideration which ought to inculcate the necessity of prudence, as well as impartiality and temperance in the use of it, affords no valid argument against its legitimate exercise. From St. Paul's writings we learn that the early excommunication was effected by the offender not being allowed to "eat" with the church, that is, to partake of the Lord's Supper, the sign of communion. In the early ages of the primitive church also, this branch of discipline was exercised with moderation, which, however, gradually gave place to an undue severity. From Tertullian's "Apology" we learn, that the crimes which in his time subjected to exclusion from Christian privileges, were murder, idolatry, theft, fraud, lying, blasphemy, adultery, fornication, and the like, and in Origen's treatise against Celsus, we are informed that such persons were expelled from the communion of the church, and lamented as lost and dead unto God; [ut perditos Deoque mortuos;] but that on making confession and giving evidence of penitence, they were received back as restored to life. It was at the same time specially ordained, that no such delinquent, however suitably qualified in other respects, could be afterward admitted to any ecclesiastical office. But it does not appear that the infliction of this discipline was accompanied with any of those forms of excommunication, of delivering over to Satan, or of solemn execration, which were usual among the Jews, and subsequently introduced into them by the Romish church. The authors and followers of heretical opinions which had been condemned, were also subject to this penalty; and it was sometimes inflicted on whole congregations when they were judged to have departed from the faith. In this latter case, however, the sentence seldom went farther than the interdiction of correspondence with these churches, or of spiritual communication between their respective pastors. To the same exclusion from religious privileges, those unhappy persons were doomed, who, whether from choice or from compulsion, had polluted themselves, after their baptism, by any act of idolatrous worship; and the penance enjoined on such persons, before they could be restored to communion, was often peculiarly severe. The consequences of excommunication, even then, were of a temporal as well as a spiritual nature. The person against whom it was pronounced, was denied all share in the oblations of his brethren; the ties both of religious and of private friendship were dissolved; he found himself an object of abhorrence to those whom he most esteemed, and by whom he had been most tenderly beloved; and, as far as expulsion from a society held in universal veneration could imprint on his character a mark of disgrace, he was shunned or suspected by the generality of mankind.
2. It was not, however, till churchmen began to unite temporal with spiritual power, that any penal effects of a civil kind became consequent on their sentences of excommunication; and that this ghostly artillery was not less frequently employed for the purposes of lawless ambition and ecclesiastical domination, than for the just punishment of impenitent delinquents, and the general edification of the faithful. But as soon as this union took place, and in exact proportion to the degree in which the papal system rose to its predominance over the civil rights as well as the consciences of men, the list of offences which subjected their perpetrators to excommunication, was multiplied; and the severity of its inflictions, with their penal effects, increased in the same ratio. The slightest injury, or even insult, sustained by an ecclesiastic, was deemed a sufficient cause for the promulgation of an anathema. Whole families, and even provinces, were prohibited from engaging in any religious exercise, and cursed with the most tremendous denunciations of divine vengeance. Nor were kings and emperors secure against these thunders of the church; their subjects were, on many occasions, declared, by a papal bull, to be absolved from allegiance to them; and all who should dare to support them, menaced with a similar judgment. These terrors have passed away; the true Scriptural excommunication ought to be maintained in every church; which is the prohibition of immoral and apostate persons from the use of those religious rites which indicate "the communion of saints," but without any temporal penalty.