Examples from church history illustrate the great care that is needed to determine what merits excommunication. For example, in answer to the question whether or not it would be useful to have a list of sins worthy of excommunication, the Dutch national synod of Gravenhage (1586) decided that this was unnecessary since the most important transgressions are mentioned in the form for the celebration of the Lord's Supper.35 When the synod of Middelburg (1591) did come up with a list of censurable sins, it was very short and referred to the first and second parts of the Ten Commandments.36 Another example is the Church Order of Drenthe (The Netherlands), which was adopted in 1638. This document specified that sin should be judged to be a sin only on the basis of God's Word so that the consciences of those involved not be tormented and troubled with faulty opinions and wrongheaded prejudices. Furthermore, this same Church Order directed that a sinner be admonished in such a way that those admonishing not too readily comment on and censure every little shortcoming. Where would be the end of reprimanding? Scripture therefore frequently urges forbearance. After all, the elder also is inclined to sin and has his limitations (Matt. 7:1-5). On the other hand, this Church Order also affirmed the duty to be on the alert if the one who fell into sin was coming into ever greater danger and harm, or if offense was taken, or if God was blasphemed by this sin.37 Being forbearing is not the same as being lax in disciplining the body of Christ. Where there is clear hardening in sin, there should be no hesitation to proceed, even with eventual expulsion in accordance with Scripture (1 Cor. 5:13).
35. See for the decision referred to F.L. Bos, De Orde der kerk ('s-Gravenhage: Guido de Bres, 1959), 284-285. For a complete text of the questions directed to this synod, P. Biesterveld and H.H. Kuyper, Kerkelijk handboekje (Kampen: Bos, 1905), 215-24.
36. For the text see Bos, De Orde der kerk, 285.
37. For the relevant text of the Church Order of Drenthe (1638) see ibid.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
What Merits Excommunication
Cornelius Van Dam, The Elder: Today's Ministry Rooted in All of Scripture, pp. 190-191: