Was visiting with a fellow pastor the other day and the conversation turned to the topic of excommunication. He had a very interesting point, one that I immediately agreed with: “I have never excommunicated anyone for divorce, adultery, or any other sin for that matter. I have only excommunicated people for impenitence. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have a congregation left.”
His point, which is a good one, is that there is only one reason for excommunication: impenitence. Unglaub. Unbelief. No one is excommunicated because he is an adulterer, a murderer, or a thief. Impenitence shows that one has already left the faith, and therefore is no longer a Christian. This is also the reason given in the Catechism too.
I know this is no “news flash” for seasoned pastors. I just liked the way he put it. Along the same lines, I was reflecting on the part of the Catechism the other day which says: “I believe that when the called ministers of Christ deal with us by his divine command, especially when the exclude openly unrepentant sinners from the Christian congregation…” That word “openly” caught my attention. There are cases in congregations where a person is unrepentant, but his sin is not yet out in the open. It is not known. Until that time that it is, should a pastor excommunicate someone? How “open” does one’s impenitence have to be for an excommunication to take place?
A related question: should pastors excommunicate those who persistently stay away from the Divine Service? It is a sin to despise preaching and his Word. Those who refuse to return to repentance (which in this case would include acknowledging that it is a sin, and being absolved of it, and bearing the fruits of repentance, namely, returning to the Church) are “openly unrepentant” sinners. Why should they not be excommunicated?
Just a few thoughts and questions for the evening.