When a fellow believer is caught in sin, the goal should always be to restore them.
And while some people think this means continuing to let them worship alongside other believers in close fellowship “hoping” they’ll become convicted – that’s not the case.
So, when should a believer be excommunicated from the church? And for how long?
To start, Matthew 18 outlines a clear picture of how church discipline is supposed to work.
It starts with the person who was wronged going to the person directly – if that doesn’t work, they bring two or three witnesses – if that still doesn’t work they bring it to the church – and if the person caught in sin still will not repent – they are to be treated as a “tax collector” – essentially excommunicated from the church.
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.
But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.
If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
— Matthew 18: 15-17
Some people think this sounds “harsh” – but the command is there for a reason.
The goal of church discipline is never to punish or shame an individual – but always to restore.
If a person is willfully sinning and harming others and will not stop – it is not helpful for his eternal soul to allow him close fellowship with other believers as if nothing is wrong.
To start – if nothing is done, not only can this person continue to hurt others – but they are harming themselves by staying in rebellion to God without consequences.
But when excommunicated from close fellowship, one hopes the person will begin to experience the consequences of their sin, and turn from their ways.
Again – the goal is always restoration of the brother or sister – not punishment.
And excommunication is not the first step in church discipline – not even the second or third.
It’s a last resort for a person who is willfully choosing to do the wrong thing and will not heed correction from the church.
Willful and unrepentant sin is different from a person who is genuinely struggling in a particular area and needs help.
Maybe a man (or woman) struggles with pornography – and they’ve confessed their sin and repented – and are in strict accountability with a member of the church.
If this person slips up – it doesn’t mean they are to be excommunicated.
Or perhaps a person committed adultery and is repentant and is working to restore their marriage.
Just because they’ve sinned – it doesn’t mean they are to be banned from the church – as it’s clear they are trying to do the right thing moving forward.
In contrast – if there is a spouse currently engaging in extramarital affairs or one that has abandoned their family for the party life and will not listen to church authority – this person is in willful sin and should be excommunicated from the church.
Allowing this person the “benefit” of gathering in close fellowship with other believers sends the message that their sin is accepted, and that it’s okay to abandon God’s Word and break up their family if that’s what they “feel” like doing.
So while excommunication should be used as a last resort only when a person is unwilling to turn from their sin – it is a must for healthy churches who are shepherding their flock as God instructed them to.
What are your thoughts on excommunication?
Do you think believers in unrepentant sin should be excommunicated from the church?
You can post your answers to our Facebook page and join in the conversation with other believers from all around the world.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” – John 3:16-17
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