Do you believe in excommunicating people? For example, if a gay or transgender person attends our church, but refuses to change his ways. He participates in all activities, but believes he doing nothing wrong even after the loving and gentle rebuking of leaders and friends, and continues his lifestyle. Is that when excommunication comes in? — Susan F.
Great question, Susan! Yes, we do believe that sometimes excommunication is necessary as a last resort (for examples, see Matthew 18:15-17 and 1 Corinthians 5:1-4). However, there’s a few things to remember.
First, excommunication is for members not attenders. No one (regardless of lifestyle choices) should be told they cannot attend a local church service (The only exception would be if someone were purposely disrupting the worship gathering). Whether it’s a cross-dressing man, a lesbian couple or a turban-wearing Muslim, we would welcome them to attend. After all, what every sinner needs is to hear and believe the gospel. What better place for them to be confronted with the gospel than the local church? That said, a member (someone who had made a profession of faith, followed Jesus in baptism and joined the church) living in a lifestyle of unrepentant sin would be treated differently.
Second, excommunication is meant to be a last resort. In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus presents a model for confronting sin in the church. We confront them personally, then in a group with witnesses, then the entire church gets involved. Excommunication should only occur after the sinner repeatedly refuses these attempts to be restored. When the church excommunicates someone they’re publicly saying “based on this individual’s refusal to repent when confronted, we no longer have confidence that he/she is a genuine follower of Jesus.”
Third, excommunication is never final. Jesus says to treat the excommunicated person like an unbeliever (Matthew 18:17). How do we treat unbelievers? We love them. We serve them. We share the gospel with them. But we don’t assume they’re Christians. Paul says that the act of excommunication may be used by God to deliver them from sin (1 Corinthians 5:5). Maybe he/she will finally be opened to the seriousness of sin when they’re confronted with a church that loves them enough to call them to repentance. All this simply means that an excommunicated sinner who repents can and should be welcomed back into the church. In fact, I believe that 2 Corinthians 2:5-11 is written about the same man who was excommunicated in 1 Corinthians 5. Only this time the sinner has repented and Paul tells the Corinthians Christians to welcome him back into the fellowship.
Finally, excommunication is an obedience issue. If it’s difficult to accept these things, that’s probably not a bad thing. It should be hard for us to swallow. We shouldn’t relish this sort of thing in any way. Our love for each other should cause us to dread this sort of thing. But our love for Jesus should be greater. And if Jesus tells us this is how the loving church should function, we must fight to trust Him. And we must obey, even when it hurts.