Church Discipline: Rules for Your Good, Part 2
Last week I introduced the three acts of discipline a Session can take with an unrepentant member: Admonition, Suspension from the Sacraments, and Excommunication. This week we’ll consider these in more detail.
Admonition is simply a formal statement from the Session calling you to repent and turn from your sin. This is sometimes administered to one who has already repented in order to impress upon him the seriousness of his sin and the importance of not returning to that sinful practice. Where there is admonition and repentance, there is no further discipline. Where there is admonition and no repentance, the Session will patiently move to the next step.
Suspension from the sacraments means you are no longer permitted to come to the Lord’s Table. This suspension remains in place until you repent of your sin. An unrepentant sinner coming to the Table risks God’s displeasure as described in 1 Corinthians 11 when some got sick and some even died. When suspension has not brought the sinner to repentance, then the Session proceeds to the next step.
Excommunication means that you are removed from the membership of the church. We are not “taking your salvation” but, instead, communicating to you that your sin and lack of repentance over time and despite the calls of the Session to repent, mean that you no longer have a credible profession of faith. We do not believe you are a Christian. Therefore, you are removed from membership until such time that you are able to make a good repentance before the Session.
Occasionally, when the sin is particularly notorious, or if the sinner refuses to cooperate with the Session in the process, we move through these steps more quickly, or we may even skip a step.
All of this is a very brief introduction to the mechanics of discipline. Again, it can seem quite mechanical, but it is this way in order to protect the one accused of sin and to make sure the Session doesn’t act unjustly. Next week, we’ll consider the other aspect of how discipline is done, and that is the manner in which the Session conducts itself as it carries out discipline.
Your fellow servant of Christ,