The Nature and End of Excommunication is a timely and practical sermon. For many churches in our generation simply refuse to exercise church discipline on the unrepentant. This act of passivity is not only cause for grave concern; it is a violation of Scripture.
Edwards utilizes 1 Cor. 5:11 as his text:
“But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.” (1 Cor. 5:11, ESV)
Doctrine: Those members of the visible Christian church who are visibly wicked, ought not be tolerate in the church, but should be excommunicated.
Edwards explains and articulates three main headings which support the doctrine.
1. The Nature of Excommunication
Edwards wastes no time explaining the essence of excommunication: “It is a punishment executed in the name and according to the will of Christ, whereby a person who hath heretofore enjoyed the privileges of a member of the visible church of Christ, is cast out of the church and delivered unto Satan” (c.f. 2 Cor. 2:6).
Ultimately, church discipline is meant for the good of the person in question and seeks their repentance and restoration to the body of Christ. Edwards, adds, “Excommunication itself is to be performed as an act of benevolence. We should seek their good by it; and it is to be used as a means of their eternal salvation.”
2. The Proper Subjects of Excommunication
Those who walk through the process of excommunication are the “visibly wicked.” Two things mark such a person:
- By gross sin
- By remaining impenitent in their sin
3. The End of Excommunication
Three specific ends are delineated by Edwards:
- That the church may be kept pure, and the ordinances of God not be defiled.
- That others may be deterred from wickedness.
- That the persons themselves may be reclaimed, and that their souls may be saved.
5 points of application are set forth by the preacher from Northampton:
- That you tolerate visible wickedness in your members, you will greatly dishonor God, and our Lord Jesus Christ, the religion which you profess, the church in general, and yourselves in particular.
- Your own good loudly calls you to the same thing. From what hath been already said, you see how liable you, as individuals, will be to catch the contagion, which is easily communicated by reason of the natural depravity, in a degree at least, remaining in the best of men.
- The good of those who are without should be another motive.
- Benevolence towards your offending brethren themselves, calls upon you to maintain discipline in all its parts.
- But the absolute authority of Christ ought to be sufficient in this case, if there were no other motive.
These powerful reminders should beckon every church to seriously consider the high calling of operating in a God-glorifying way. Edwards wonders out loud, “Now, how can you be the true disciples of Christ, if you live in the neglect of these plain positive commands?” He concludes, “If you strictly follow the rules of discipline instituted by Christ, you have reason to hope for his blessing; for he is wont to bless his own institutions, and to smile upon the means of grace which he hath appointed.”
In this short sermon, Edwards demonstrated the necessity of carrying out church discipline on unrepentant church members. How very far are so many churches from this biblical model? How long will it take to come in alignment with the teaching of Scripture?