Skip to comments.Excommunication and the Episcopal Church
Posted on 11/07/2006 11:20:53 AM PST by sionnsar
A personal reflection by Townsend Waddill.
This morning, I was reading the parts of the Rule of St. Benedict regarding the concept of excommunication, and I found myself reflecting on the concept of excommunication as a whole. I found myself asking all types of questions. What does it mean? What are its effects on the community? What are its effects on the individual sinner? Could the Episcopal Church, at this point in its life, be experiencing excommunication from the Anglican Communion, and what are the effects of this excommunication?
The Benedictine Rule is very quick to point out that the basis for its chapters on excommunication can be found in Holy Scripture, specifically in Matthew 18:15-20. Many of us are familiar with this passage, as it is also the standard that we use for Christian accountability. First, you go to your brother. If he will not listen, take two or three brothers with you. If then he will not listen, take him in front of the entire community. He still will not listen, then let such a one be to you as a Gentile and tax collector (NRSV) (other translations substitute pagan for Gentile).
The Benedictines used this formula in their own Rule. If monastics are found to be stubborn or disobedient or proud, if they grumble or in any way despise the holy rule and defy the order of the elders, they should be warned twice privately by them in accordance with Christs injunction. If they do not amend, they must be rebuked publicly in the presence of everyone. But if they do not reform, let them be excommunicated, provided that they understand the nature of this punishment.
In this day and age, the concept of excommunication is offensive to many. One would say How dare they tell me what I can and cant do. Im entitled. There is something very critical, however, to Jesus use of the term Gentile and tax collector. What does scripture say about them? That Jesus ate with them, and it was His desire that they come and follow and Him. In other words, excommunication is not at all permanent. Instead, it is done with the hope that the lapsed will repent, reconcile with God and his brothers, and return to the community. It provides an excellent witness to this Gospel passage from Matthew.
At this point in its life, the Episcopal Church has clearly, proudly, and stubbornly advocated a position that runs contrary to scripture. It has committed an act worthy of excommunication. I believe the Anglican Communion has already begun the process as contained in Matthew. When Gene Robinson was elected Bishop of New Hampshire, the Archbishop of Canterbury specifically warned the Episcopal Church that there would be consequences. The Episcopal Church consecrated him anyway. Since that time, Canterbury has sent representatives to the Episcopal Church, among these being N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham and George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury. There has been no repentance, not so much as even an acknowledgement that what the Episcopal Church did was wrong. It is time for the third step in the process, rebuke and exhortation in the midst of the entire community. I can think of no better place to do this than at the Lambeth Conference of 2008.
Then comes the fourth step, which is excommunication. What would this look like? How would it happen? I believe, whether he intended this or not, that the Archbishop of Canterbury may be setting it up for us as we speak. He has proposed a multi-tiered structure for the Anglican Communion in which, in order to be considered a full constituent member of the Anglican Communion, one must submit to a declaration of faith. If a province cannot submit, they would not be considered full, constituent members, but would instead be considered associate members. This, in effect, is excommunication, but not all is lost, especially for the Episcopal Church. I would assume (and I think it is a good assumption) that associate members could always become constituent members of the Communion by signing the declaration of faith. This allows the Episcopal Church to repent and return to the fold, and this would be my most sincere, heart-felt hope. If it does not repent and return to the fold, that would be its own decision, and we would have done all we could scripturally for the Episcopal Church.
There is one very important aspect of the Rule of St. Benedict that we must keep in mind. It can be found in Chapter 27, entitled The Concern of the Abbot and Prioress for the Excommunicated. It states the following: The abbot and prioress must exercise the utmost care and concern for the wayward because it is not the healthy who need a physician, but the sick (Matt. 9:12). Therefore they ought to use every skill of a wise physician and send in senpectae, that is, mature and wise members who, under the cloak of secrecy, may support the wavering sister or brother, urge them to be humble as a way of making satisfaction, and console them lest they be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow (2 Cor. 2:7). Rather, as the apostle also says: Let love be reaffirmed (2 Cor. 2:8), and let all pray for the one who is excommunicated.
This part is absolutely critical. If any province of our communion is placed in associate member status, it is important not to completely disregard them and say I have no need of you. Instead, we should show our care and concern for those, including the Episcopal Church, who might be considered associate members. We must raise up people who are called to be the senpectae, those who will go to the Episcopal Church and encourage them to be humble and reverse the direction that they have taken. Then, we can all rejoice in our unity in the Gospel as a community again. That is my prayer for this church. That is my hope for this communion, but it will take much prayer and hard work, and it will take all of us denying ourselves and submitting ourselves to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. May it be so for the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. May it be so for us all.
Good article. Excommunication can be overdone, but it is as extremely vital to the Christian faith as amputation is to a diseased limb.
Grace Community Church in So Calif, pastored by John MacArthur, uses this frequently...and it has contributed to a purity in the church that a lot of churches are missing and desperately need.
Or to paraphrase...
Speak the truth in love. Eph 4:15
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