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The Historical Development of the PCA Book of Church Order

Chapter 30 : Church Censures

Paragraph 4 : Of Excommunication


30-4. Excommunication is the excision of an offender from the communion of the Church. This censure is to be inflicted only on account of gross crime or heresy and when the offender shows himself incorrigible and contumacious. The design of this censure is to operate on the offender as a means of reclaiming him, to deliver the church from the scandal of his offense, and to inspire all with fear by the example of his discipline.

[DIGEST: The current PCA text differs only from PCA 1973 by the deletion of a comma and the insertion of "and" in the second sentence ("...or heresy and when the...". This minor change was adopted in 1974. Citation for that change will be posted here at a later date.]

ANTECEDENT TEXTS:
PCA 1973, RoD, 4-4, Adopted text, as printed in the Minutes of General Assembly, p. 146
Continuing Presbyterian Church 1973, RoD, 4-4, Proposed text, p. 41
Excommunication is the excision of an offender from the communion of the Church. This censure is to be inflicted only on account of gross crime or heresy, when the offender shows himself incorrigible and contumacious. The design of this censure is to operate on the offender as a means of reclaiming him, to deliver the Church from the scandal of his offense, and to inspire all with fear by the example of his discipline.

PCUS 1879, Rules of Discipline, IV-4

Excommunication is the excision of an offender from the communion of the Church. This censure is to be inflicted only on account of gross crime or heresy, when the offender shows himself incorrigible and contumacious. The design of this censure is to operate on the offender as a means of reclaiming him, to deliver the Church from the scandal of his offence, and to inspire all with fear by the example of his discipline.

PCUS 1869 draft, Canons of Discipline, IV-4
Excommunication is the excision of an offender from the communion of the Church. This dreadful censure is only to be inflicted on account of such gross and flagitious crimes or heresies as are accompanied with peculiar aggravations, when incorrigible offenders treat the authority of the courts of Christ’s Church with contempt. The design of this censure is to operate on the offender as a means of reclaiming him, to deliver the Church from the scandal of his offence, and to inspire all with fear by the example of his discipline.

PCUS 1867 draft, Canons of Discipline, IV-4
Excommunication is the excision of an offender from the visible church. This dreadful censure is only to be inflicted on account of such gross and flagitious crimes or heresies as are accompanied with peculiar aggravations, when incorrigible offenders treat the authority of the courts of Christ’s church with contempt. The design of this censure is to operate on the offender as a means of reclaiming him, to deliver the church from the scandal of his offence, and to inspire all with fear by the example of his discipline.

PCUSA, Forms of Process in the Judicatories of this Church (1789), I-15
Such gross offenders, as will not be reclaimed by the private or public admonitions of the church, are to be cut off from its communion, agreeably to our Lord's direction, Mat. xviii. 17. and the apostolic injunction respecting the incestuous person, I Cor. [5], ver. 1-5. But as this is the highest censure of the church, and of the most solemn nature, it is not to be inflicted, without the advice and consent of, at least, the presbytery under whose care the particular church is, to which the offender belongs; or the advice of a higher judicatory, as the case may appear to require.

OTHER COMPARISONS:
UPCNA, 1892, Government and Discipline, Part III, IX.5
1. Definition.--Excommunication is the judicial excision of an offender from the visible church, declaring him to be unworthy of a place in the visible church, and to have no more fellowship with it than "a heathen man and publican."*
[* Matthew 18:17; 1 Corinthians 5:5.]

OPC Book of Discipline (2005), VI.B.5 - Excommunication
[p. 110]
Excommunication is the most severe form of censure and is resorted to only in cases of offenses aggravated by persistent impenitence. It consists in a solemn declaration by an ecclesiastical judicatory that the offender is no longer considered a member of the body of Christ.

COMMENTARY:
F.P. Ramsay, Exposition of the Book of Church Order
(1898, pp. 183-184), on IV-4:
159.--IV. Excommunication is the excision of an offender from the communion of the Church. This censure is to be inflicted only on account of gross crime or heresy, when the offender shows himself incorrigible and contumacious. The design of this censure is to operate on the offender as a means of reclaiming him, to deliver the Church from the scandal of his offence, and to inspire all with fear by the example of his discipline.
One might be incorrigible in the sense that he cannot be convinced of his error, and at the same time show no contumaciousness ; such a one is not to be excommunicated. And since this censure is to be inflicted only in the case of gross crime or heresy, and indefinite suspension from the sacraments is expected to issue in excommunication or repentance, courts should be careful not to inflict this suspension except for gross crime or heresy.

J. Aspinwall Hodge, What Is Presbyterian Law? (1882, p. 119) :
"...Excommunication is the most severe penalty, and is inflicted only when all other methods have failed to reclaim the offender. By it he is cut off from the visible Church 'as a heathen man and a publican.' (Matt. 18:15-20 ; 1 Cor. 5:4-5)."

James H. Thornwell, "A Few More Words on the Revised Book of Discipline" Southern Presbyterian Review 13.1 (April 1860): 8-9.
"The difference between suspension and ex-communication is a difference in degree and not in kind. Ex-communication is more solemn in form, and more permanent and stringent in operation. But in the Protestant Church it never amounts to anathema ; it never dissolves the vinculum by which the person, in baptism, is related to the Church and the covenant of grace. It never consigns him to hopeless and eternal perdition. The only case in which the Church would be at liberty to denounce such a censure would be one in which the party had notoriously sinned the sin unto death. That is the only crime which cuts off from the hope of mercy and the possibility of repentance, and is consequently the only crime of which the Church, in the exercise of her declarative power, is competent to say, that the man is excluded from all the benefits symbolized in baptism, and has become an alien and an outcast. But as God has furnished us with no means of knowing when this sin has been committed, He has virtually debarred us from this species of ex-communication. The highest censure left to us is that of permanent exclusion from the sacraments..."

John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 4, Chapter 12, Section 10.
"When Christ promises that what His ministers bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, He limits the power of binding to the censure of the Church; by which those who are excommunicated are not cast into eternal ruin and condemnation, but, by hearing their life and conduct condemned, are also certified of their final condemnation, unless they repent. For excommunication differs from anathema; the latter, which ought to be very rarely or never resorted to, precluding all pardon, execrates a person, and devotes him to eternal perdition; whereas excommunication rather censures and punishes his conduct. And though it does, at the same time, punish the person, yet it is in such a manner, that, by warning him of his future condemnation, it recalls him to salvation. If he obey, the Church is ready to re-admit him to its friendship, and to restore him to its communion. Therefore, though the discipline of the Church admits not of our friendly association and familiar intercourse with excommunicated persons, yet we ought to exert all the means in our power to promote their reformation, and their return to the society and communion of the Church; as we are taught by the apostle, who says, 'Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.' [2 Thes. 3:15]. Unless this tenderness be observed by the individual members, as well as by the Church collectively, our discipline will be in danger of speedily degenerating into cruelty."

OVERTURES:
This paragraph in the PCA's Book of Church Order has stood without amendment since 1974.

CONSTITUTIONAL INQUIRY:

(See BCO 46-5, 1985, 13-45, Item 43.)



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