Sunday, March 29, 2009

Roundtable 42: Excommunication (SA III.ix)

Every once in a while one still hears Lutheran pastors speak about imposing the "lesser ban" as though there were also a "greater ban." SA III.ix shows that such is not the case. The greater excommunication is something Lutherans regarded merely as a civil penalty; it has no place in the Church herself (and those who think it does are confusing the two swords - getting Christ's government confused with Caesar's). What the pope calls the "lesser" excommunication is the real deal. "Open and hard-hearted sinners are not admitted to the Sacrament and other communion of the Church until they amend their lives and avoid sin."

Open - which means that the sin is known. It's not secret. It's not hidden. It's blatant and in your face. Everyone knows about it.

Hard-hearted - which means that the sinner doesn't give a rip about the sin. "Yeah, so God says it's wrong; it's a problem. Tough. He'll have to forgive me because I'm not going to change." Nowadays this frequently shows up with folks living together in sexual relationship without benefit of marriage.

To those who meet these two sad criteria, the Church through her called ministers employs excommunication. They are not admitted to the Sacrament *and other communion of the Church* until they amend their lives and avoid sin.

Amend - which means repent and change.

Avoid sin - which means the exact opposite of the embracing of sin; fleeing from it as from a deadly poisonous snake.

Not admitted to the Sacrament is pretty clear. I've had to tell folks before: "You can't receive the Eucharist as long as you are holding onto this sin and refusing to repent." It always is the most difficult of moments, but it must be done when there is no repentance.

What's the "other communion of the Church" that the SA refer to in this article? I think it refers to anything in the Church's life BEYOND being present to hear the Word proclaimed. If a person is serving as a treasurer, and they are excommunicated, then their office is forfeit. Same if they are an organist, a pastor, a Sunday school teacher, a parochial school teacher, a deaconess, a lector, a baptismal sponsor, well, you get the idea.

The article concludes by warning pastors not to mingle secular punishments with this ecclesiastical punishment. The reason, if you think about it, is clear: the Church is ruled by the Word of God. She has no other means of persuading or of carrying her responsibilities. She may NOT call upon the state to assist her in this. The "geistliche" estate is governed by "geistliche" means entirely. One thinks of how this got so muddled in early America where folks were pilloried for breaking the Sabbath and such.

Christ rules His Church by His Word. The faithful living out of this in community will call for putting out of the communion of the community those who try to hold onto sin and to justify it rather than letting Christ forgive, absolve and remove them from its shackles.

A final pastoral note: we should always distinguish between ruling sins and besetting sins. Ruling sins are when a person has truly given themselves over to what they know to be sin and no longer struggle or fight against it. To such people, the Law only is to be proclaimed. But they are quite different from those who struggle with besetting sins, sins that they fight against continually, and sometimes win against and sometimes lose. But they HATE the sin and wish to be free of it, and so they flee to Christ, who is the Savior of poor sinners and who will forgive them and strengthen them anew for the battle. To them, the Gospel alone is to be proclaimed.