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A depiction of Pope Gregory IX excommunicating

Excommunication is a religious censure used to deprive or suspend membership in a religious community. The word literally means putting [someone] out of communion. In some religions, excommunication includes spiritual condemnation of the member or group. Censures and sanctions sometimes follow excommunication; these include banishment, shunning, and shaming, depending on the religion, the offense that caused excommunication, or the rules or norms of the religious community.



The Biblical basis of excommunication is anathema. The references are found in Galatians 1:8 — "But even if we, or an angel from Heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be anathema!" Then also, 1 Corinthians 16:22 — "If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be anathema." The word can be translated several ways; the King James Version translates it as accursed. The New Testament contains limited examples of excommunication. Jesus, in Matthew 18:17, teaches that those who repeatedly offend others should be treated as "Gentiles or tax collectors." In the Epistle to the Romans 16:17, Paul writes to "mark those who cause divisions contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned and avoid them", and in 1 Corinthians 5, he instructs the Corinthians to expel an immoral member of their community. Also, in 2nd John vv. 10 & 11, the writer advises believers that "whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house [οικιαν, residence or abode, or "inmates of the house" (family)], neither bid him God speed: for he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds".

Anathema was used in the early Church as a form of extreme religious sanction beyond excommunication.[citation needed] The earliest recorded example was in AD 306. The Catholic Church still makes use of the sanction, though it is rarely used against an individual, except perhaps for automatic excommunication. Some modern Protestant churches refer to any form of exclusion as anathema.

The Catholic Church

According to the Catholic Church, excommunication, in the sense of a formal proceeding, is not a penalty, but rather a formal proclamation of a pre-existing condition in a more or less prominent member of the Catholic Church. When such a person commits acts that in themselves separate him from the communion of the faithful, particularly when by word, deed, or example he or she "spreads division and confusion among the Faithful",[citation needed] it is necessary for the Church to clarify the situation by means of a formal announcement, which informs the laity that this is not a person to follow, and notifies the clergy that the person, by their own willful acts, has separated from the Church and is no longer to receive the sacraments, with the exception of Reconciliation if they turn from their ways. The decree may also indicate the mode of Reconciliation required for re-entry into the Church, specifying whether the local bishop may administer the process or it is reserved to the Pope. Excommunication is never a merely "vindictive penalty" (designed solely to punish), but is always used as a "medicinal penalty" intended to pressure the person into changing their behaviour or statements, repent and return to full communion.

Excommunicated persons are barred from participating in the liturgy in a ministerial capacity (for instance, as a reader if a lay person, or as a deacon or priest if a clergyman) and from receiving the Eucharist or the other Sacraments, but are normally not barred from attending these (for instance, an excommunicated person may not receive Communion, but would not be barred from attending Mass). Certain other rights and privileges are revoked, such as holding ecclesiastical office.

Excommunication can be either ferendae sententiae (declared as the sentence of an ecclesiastical court) or, far more commonly, latae sententiae (automatic, incurred at the moment the offensive act takes place). The excommunicant is still considered Christian and a Catholic as the character imparted by baptism is indelible. Their communion with the Church, however, is considered gravely impaired.[1]

In the Catholic Church, formal excommunication is normally resolved by a statement of repentance, profession of the Creed (if the offense involved heresy), or a renewal of obedience (if that was a relevant part of the offending act) by the excommunicant; the declaration of the reconciliation itself, by a priest or bishop empowered to do this; and then the reception of the sacrament of Reconciliation. In many cases, this whole process takes place within the privacy of the confessional and during the same act of confession.

Offenses that incur excommunication must be absolved by a priest or bishop empowered to lift the penalty. This is usually the local ordinary (bishop or vicar general) or priests whom the local ordinary designates (in many dioceses, most priests are empowered to lift most excommunications otherwise reserved to the bishop, notably that involved with abortion).

The Catholic Church, especially during the Middle Ages, was obliged to issue formal pronouncements of excommunication in regard to officials and monarchs who had personally excommunicated themselves from the Catholic Church. After the Protestant Reformation, in which many people left the Church and formed new denominations, many princes announced the separation themselves and the practice was discontinued.

An analogous penalty, interdict, arose as a form of excommunication of a whole area, barring celebration of the sacraments in a town or region.

Before the 1983 Code of Canon Law, there were two degrees of excommunication: vitandus (shunned, literally "to be avoided", where the person had to be avoided by other Catholics), and toleratus (tolerated, which permitted Catholics to continue to have business and social relationships with the excommunicant). This distinction no longer applies today, and excommunicated Catholics are still under obligation to attend Mass, even though they are barred from receiving the Eucharist and from taking active part in the liturgy (reading, bringing the offerings, etc.).[2] Indeed, the excommunicant is encouraged to retain some relationship with the Church, as the goal is to encourage them to repent and return to active participation in its life.

In the Middle Ages, formal acts of public excommunication were accompanied by a ceremony wherein a bell was tolled (as for the dead), the Book of the Gospels was closed, and a candle snuffed out - hence the idiom "to condemn with bell, book and candle." Such ceremonies are rarely, if ever, held today, but exactly the same principles apply. Only in cases where a person's excommunicable offense is very public and likely to confuse people is a person's excommunicated status even announced, and that usually by a simple statement from a Church official.

Eastern Orthodox churches

In the Eastern Orthodox churches, excommunication is the exclusion of a member from the Eucharist. It is not expulsion from the churches. This can happen for such reasons as not having confessed within that year; excommunication can also be imposed as part of a penitential period. It is generally done with the goal of restoring the member to full communion. The Orthodox churches do have a means of expulsion, by pronouncing anathema, but this is reserved only for acts of serious and unrepentant heresy. The Moscow Patriarchate declared Sergius Bulgakov a heretic in this fashion because of his pronouncements on Sancta Sofia being something like a fourth dimension to the Trinity.


Although Lutheranism technically has an excommunication process, some denominations and congregations do not use it. The Lutheran definition, in its earliest and most technical form, would be found in Martin Luther's Small Catechism, defined beginning at Questions No. 277-283, in "The Office of Keys." Luther endeavored to follow the process that Jesus laid out in the 18th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. According to Luther, excommunication requires:

1. The confrontation between the subject and the individual against whom he has sinned.
2. If this fails, the confrontation between the subject, the harmed individual, and two or three witnesses to such acts of sin.
3. The informing of the pastor of the subject's congregation.
4. A confrontation between the pastor and the subject.

Beyond this, there is little agreement. Many Lutheran denominations operate under the premise that the entire congregation (as opposed to the pastor alone) must take appropriate steps for excommunication, and there are not always precise rules, to the point where individual congregations often set out rules for excommunicating laymen (as opposed to clergy). For example, churches may sometimes require that a vote must be taken at Sunday services; some congregations require that this vote be unanimous.[3]

The Lutheran process, though rarely used, has created unusual situations in recent years due to its somewhat democratic excommunication process. One example was an effort to get serial killer Dennis Rader excommunicated from his denomination (the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) by individuals who tried to "lobby" Rader's fellow church members into voting for his excommunication.[4]

Anglican Communion

Church of England

The Church of England does not have any specific canons regarding how or why a member can be excommunicated, although there are canons regarding how those who have been excommunicated are to be treated by the church. Excommunication is seen as an extreme measure and very rarely used. For example, a clergyman was excommunicated in 1909 for having murdered four parishioners.[citation needed]

Episcopal Church of the USA

The ECUSA is in the Anglican Communion, and shares many canons with the Church of England which would determine its policy on excommunication. No central records are kept regarding excommunications, since they happen so rarely. In May 2000 a man who had been publishing highly critical remarks about the church and some of its members in a small local paper, many of them about the pro-homosexual stance the church had taken was excommunicated for "continued efforts to attack this parish and its members".

Reformed view

In the Reformed churches, excommunication has generally been seen as the culmination of church discipline, which is one of the three marks of the Church. The Westminster Confession of Faith sees it as the third step after "admonition" and "suspension from the sacrament of the Lord's Supper for a season."[5] Yet, John Calvin argues in his Institutes of the Christian Religion that church censures do not "consign those who are excommunicated to perpetual ruin and damnation," but are designed to induce repentance, reconciliation and restoration to communion. Calvin notes, "though ecclesiastical discipline does not allow us to be on familiar and intimate terms with excommunicated persons, still we ought to strive by all possible means to bring them to a better mind, and recover them to the fellowship and unity of the Church."[6]

Yet, other Reformed theologians argue that excommunication is not the final step in the disciplinary process. Jay E. Adams argues that in excommunication, the offender is still seen as a brother, but in the final step they become "as the heathen and tax collector" (Matthew 18:17). Adams writes, "Nowhere in the Bible is excommunication (removal from the fellowship of the Lord's Table) equated with what happens in step 5; rather, step 5 is called "removing from the midst, handing over to Satan," and the like."[7]

Anabaptist tradition

When believers were baptized and taken into membership of the church by Anabaptists, it was not only done as symbol of cleansing of sin but was also done as a public commitment to identify with Jesus Christ and to conform one's life to the teaching and example of Jesus as understood by the church. Practically, that meant membership in the church entailed a commitment to try to live according to norms of Christian behavior widely held by the Anabaptist tradition.

In the ideal, discipline in the Anabaptist tradition requires the church to confront a notoriously erring and unrepentant church member, first directly in a very small circle and, if no resolution is forthcoming, expanding the circle in steps eventually to include the entire church congregation. If the errant member persists without repentance and rejects even the admonition of the congregation, that person is excommunicated or excluded from church membership. Exclusion from the church is recognition by the congregation that this person has separated himself or herself from the church by way of his or her visible and unrepentant sin. This is done ostensibly as a final resort to protect the integrity of the church. When this occurs, the church is expected to continue to pray for the excluded member and to seek to restore him or her to its fellowship. There was originally no inherent expectation to shun (completely sever all ties with) an excluded member, however differences regarding this very issue led to early schisms between different Anabaptist leaders and those who followed them.


Jakob Ammann, founder of the Amish sect, believed that the shunning of those under the ban should be systematically practiced among the Swiss Anabaptists as it was in the north and as was outlined in the Dordrecht Confession. Ammann's uncompromising zeal regarding this practice was one of the main disputes that led to the schism between the Anabaptist groups that became the Amish and those that eventually would be called Mennonite. Recently more moderate Amish groups have become less strict in their application of excommunication as a discipline. This has led to splits in several communities, an example of which is the Swartzetruber Amish who split from the main body of Old Order Amish because of the latter's practice of lifting the ban from members who later join other churches. In general, the Amish will excommunicate baptized members for failure to abide by their Ordnung (church rules) as it is interpreted by the local Bishop if certain repeat violations of the Ordnung occur.

Excommunication among the Old Order Amish results in shunning or the Meidung, the severity of which depends on many factors, such as the family, the local community as well as the type of Amish. Some Amish communities cease shunning after one year if the person joins another church later on, especially if it is another Mennonite church. At the most severe, other members of the congregation are prohibited almost all contact with an excommunicated member including social and business ties between the excommunicant and the congregation, sometimes even marital contact between the excommunicant and spouse remaining in the congregation or family contact between adult children and parents.


In the Mennonite Church excommunication is rare and is carried out only after many attempts at reconciliation and on someone who is flagrantly and repeatedly violating standards of behavior that the church expects. Occasionally excommunication is also carried against those who repeatedly question the church's behavior and/or who genuinely differ with the church's theology as well, although in almost all cases the dissenter will leave the church before any discipline need be invoked. In either case, the church will attempt reconciliation with the member in private, first one on one and then with a few church leaders. Only if the church's reconciliation attempts are unsuccessful, the congregation formally revokes church membership. Members of the church generally pray for the excluded member.

Some regional conferences (the Mennonite counterpart to dioceses of other denominations) of the Mennonite Church have acted to expel member congregations that have openly welcomed non-celibate homosexuals as members. This internal conflict regarding homosexuality has also been an issue for other moderate denominations, such as the American Baptists and Methodists.

The practice among Old Order Mennonite congregations is more along the lines of Amish, but perhaps less severe typically. An Old Order member who disobeys the Ordnung (church regulations) must meet with the leaders of the church. If a church regulation is broken a second time there is a confession in the church. Those who refuse to confess are excommunicated. However upon later confession, the church member will be reinstated. An excommunicated member is placed under the ban. This person is not banned from eating with their own family. Excommunicated persons can still have business dealings with church members and can maintain marital relations with a marriage partner, who remains a church member.


The separatist, communal, and self-contained Hutterites also use excommunication and shunning as form of church discipline. Since Hutterites have communal ownership of goods, the effects of excommunication could impose a hardship upon the excluded member and family leaving them without employment income and material assets such as a home. However, often arrangements are made to provide material benefits to the family leaving the colony such as an automobile and some transition funds for rent, etc. One Hutterite colony in Manitoba (Canada) had a protracted dispute when leaders attempted to force the departure of a group that had been excommunicated but would not leave. About a dozen lawsuits in both Canada and the United States were filed between the various Hutterite factions and colonies concerning excommunication, shunning, the legitimacy of leadership, communal property rights, and fair division of communal property when factions have separated.[citation needed]

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ("LDS Church"; see also Mormon) practices excommunication (as well as the lesser sanctions of private counsel and caution, informal probation, formal probation, and disfellowshipment) as penalties for those who commit serious sins or for those that significantly impair the name or moral influence of the church.

According to the Church Handbook of Instructions, the purposes of church discipline are (1) to save the souls of transgressors, (2) to protect the innocent, and (3) to safeguard the purity, integrity, and good name of the church. Excommunication is generally reserved for what are seen as the most serious sins, including committing serious crimes; committing adultery, polygamy, or homosexual conduct; apostasy, teaching false doctrines, or openly criticizing LDS leaders. A 2006 revision to the Church Handbook of Instructions states that joining another church is also an excommunicable offense, however merely attending another church does not constitute apostasy.

As a lesser penalty, Latter-day Saints may be disfellowshipped, which does not include a loss of church membership. Once disfellowshipped, persons may not take the sacrament or enter LDS temples, nor may they give prayers or sermons in church meetings, though disfellowshipped persons may attend most LDS functions and are permitted to wear temple garments, pay tithes and offerings, and participate in church classes if their conduct is orderly. For lesser sins, or in cases where the sinner appears truly repentant, individuals may be put on probation for a time, during which further sin will result in disfellowshipment or excommunication.

The decision to excommunicate a Melchizedek Priesthood holder is generally the province of the leadership of a stake, which consists of several local wards. Excommunications occur only after a formal "church disciplinary council."[8] Formerly called a "church court," the councils were renamed to avoid talking about guilt and instead to focus on repentance. In the disciplinary council, the stake presidency and Stake High Council preside. Up to six of the twelve members of the high council are assigned to split in half between representing the member in question and the Church as a whole to "prevent insult or injustice." The member is invited to attend, but the council can go forward without him. Again, the members of the high council consult with the stake president, but the decision about which discipline is necessary is the stake president's alone. It is possible to appeal this decision to the Church's world leaders.

For females, and for male members not initiated into the Melchizedek Priesthood (typically adolescents), the bishop (leader of the ward) determines whether excommunication or a lesser sanction is warranted. He does this in consultation with his two counselors, the bishop makes the determination in a spirit of prayer and his counselors ratify the decision. The bishop's decision can be appealed to stake leadership.

The following list of variables serves as a general set of guidelines for when excommunication or lesser action may be warranted, beginning with those more likely to result in severe sanction.

1. Violation of Covenants: Covenants are made in conjunction with specific ordinances in the LDS Church. Covenants that might be broken, are usually those surrounding marriage covenants, temple covenants, priesthood covenants, etc.
2. Position of Trust or Authority: Area of responsibility factor into discipline. Leaders in the church have important responsibilities, and the same action committed by a member of the congregation may not result in as severe a discipline as a leader might receive.
3. Repetition: Repetition of a sin is more severe than a single instance.
4. Magnitude: How often, how many individuals were impacted, and who knows all play a part.
5. Age, Maturity, and Experience: Those who are young in age, or immature in their understanding are afforded leniency.
6. Interests of the Innocent: How the discipline will impact family members may be considered.
7. Time between Transgression and Confession: If the sin was committed in distant past, and there has not been repetition, leniency may considered.
8. Voluntary Confession: Did the person voluntarily come forward, or were they caught in the act?
9. Evidence of Repentance: Sorrow for sin, and demonstrated commitment to repentance, as well as faith in Christ all play a role in determining the severity of discipline.

Those who are excommunicated lose their church membership and the right to partake of the sacrament. Notices of excommunication may be made public—especially in cases of apostasy, where members could be misled—but the specific reasons for individual excommunications are typically kept confidential and are seldom made public.

Persons who have been excommunicated are usually allowed to attend church meetings but participation is limited. They cannot offer prayers for the congregation, give talks, etc., cannot enter LDS temples, or wear temple garments, or pay tithes. Excommunicated members may be re-baptized after a waiting period and sincere repentance, as judged by a series of interviews with church leaders.[9]

Some critics have charged that LDS leaders have used the threat of excommunication to silence or punish LDS members and researchers who disagree with established policy and doctrine, or who study or discuss controversial subjects, or who may be involved in disputes with local, stake leaders or general authorities. A notable case regarding researchers is the so-called September Six.

However, LDS policy dictates that local leaders are responsible for excommunication, without influence from General Church leadership, arguing this policy is evidence against systematic persecution of scholars.

Jehovah's Witnesses

Jehovah's Witnesses practice something similar to excommunication, using the term "disfellowshipping", in cases where, it is believed, a member actively violates biblical requirements. In excess of 30 disfellowshipping offences have developed over time,[10] some actions specifically stated as wrong in the Bible and others indirectly implied.

When a member confesses or is accused of a 'serious sin', a judicial committee of at least three local lay clergy called "Elders" is formed. This committee investigates the case and determines the magnitude of the sin committed. If the person is deemed guilty of a disfellowshipping offence, the committee will determine if the person is considered repentant. Determination of repentance is at the discretion of the judicial committee, based upon evidence including the attitude of being sorry and ‘works befitting repentance’, as referred to in Acts 26:20 and 2 Corinthians 7:11, such as trying to correct the wrong, making apologies to any offended individuals, and compliance with earlier counsel, principles, and laws based on the Bible. If the person is deemed guilty but repentant, they are not disfellowshipped but usually have restrictions imposed on them, which preclude them from various activities such as presenting talks, offering public prayers or making comments at meetings.

If the person is judged guilty and is deemed unrepentant, he or she will be disfellowshipped. This is done as a firm form of discipline to motivate an erring individual to renounce and change their current course of action. If within seven days no appeal is made, the disfellowshipping is made formal by an announcement at the next congregation Service Meeting. Appeals are granted to determine if procedural errors are felt to have occurred that may have affected the outcome.

Disfellowshipping is a severing of friendly relationships between all members of the Jehovah's Witnesses and the one disfellowshipped. Even family interaction is restricted to a minimum, such as presence at the reading of wills and providing essential elder care. The exception is if the disfellowshipped one is a minor and living at home. In such cases the parents are allowed to continue to attempt to convince the child of the value of the religion's ways and share in family activities. Jehovah's Witnesses believe that this form of discipline encourages the disfellowshipped individual to conform to Biblical standards and keeps the person from influencing other members of the congregation.

Disassociation is a form of disfellowshipping where a member expresses verbally or in writing that they do not wish to be associated with Jehovah's Witnesses, or that they are considered to have done so by their actions.[11] An example of this would be joining another religious[12] or military organization.[13] Disassociated members are viewed the same as disfellowshipped members.[14][15]

Several policies are set forth to disfellowshipped persons to continue motivating a change of action. Yearly, the Elders are required to consider meeting with disfellowshipped individuals and try to determine if any change of lifestyle has happened and to encourage the said person.[16]

Reinstatement is not automatic after a certain time period, though disfellowshipped persons may talk to elders or apply in writing to be reinstated into the congregation.[17][18] Elders consider each case individually, and are instructed to ensure "that sufficient time has passed for the disfellowshipped person to prove that his profession of repentance is genuine." Pay Attention to Yourselves and to All the Flock. Watchtower Society. p. 129.  A judicial committee meets with the individual to determine their repentance, and if this is established, the person is reinstated into the congregation and may participate with the congregation in the public ministry (house to house preaching),[19], but is prohibited from commenting at meetings or holding any privileges for a period set by the judicial committee. If possible, the same judicial committee members who disfellowshipped the individual are selected for the reinstatement hearing. If the applicant is in a different area, the person will meet with a local judicial committee that will communicate with either the original judicial committee if available or a new one in the original congregation.

There has been some controversy with their disfellowshipping practices in regards to recent sex abuse scandals, which has led to changes in this regard. Jehovah's Witnesses are now instructed to report all cases of sex abuse to the local authorities in states where it is a legal requirement to do so. Those who are found guilty of child/sexual abuse by a judicial committee are themselves subject to mandatory consideration for disfellowshipping and remain permanently sanctioned from teaching in or holding a position of authority in any congregation.[20] This is a safety mechanism to protect against future incidents. This is supported by the legal system where individuals found guilty of a sex offense are required to register as sex offenders. In several cases, where recurrent sex offenses have occurred. With this in mind, Jehovah's Witnesses will not allow someone found guilty of a sex offense to be "appointed" to a position of trust.


Similarly to many groups having their origins in the 1830s Restoration Movement, Christadelphians call their form of excommunication "disfellowshipping", though they do not practice "shunning". Disfellowshipping can occur for moral reasons, changing beliefs, or (in some ecclesias) for not attending communion (referred to as "the emblems" or "the breaking of bread").[21]

In such cases, the person involved is usually required to discuss the issues.[22] If they do not conform, the church ('meeting' or 'ecclesia') is recommended by the management committee ("Arranging Brethren") to vote on disfellowshipping the person. These procedures were formulated 1863 onwards by early Christadelphians, and then in 1883 codified by Robert Roberts in A Guide to the Formation and Conduct of Christadelphian Ecclesias (colloquially "The Ecclesial Guide").[23] However Christadelphians today justify and apply their practice not from this document but from the exclusion in 1Co.5 and recovery in 2Co.2.[24]

Christadelphians typically avoid the term "excommunication", which many associate with the Catholic Church; and may feel the word carries implications they do not agree with, such as undue condemnation and punishment, as well as failing to recognise the remedial intention of the measure.[25]

  • Behavioural cases. Many cases regarding moral issues tend to involve relational matters such as marriage outside the faith, divorce and remarriage (which is considered adultery in some circumstances by some ecclesias), or homosexuality.[26] Reinstatement for moral issues is determined by the ecclesia's assessment of whether the individual has "turned away" from (ceased) the course of action considered immoral by the church. This can be complex when dealing with cases of divorce and subsequent remarriage, with different positions adopted by different ecclesias, but generally within the main "Central" grouping, such cases can be accommodated.[27] Some minority "fellowships" do not accommodate this under any circumstances.[28]
  • Doctrinal cases. Changes of belief on what Christadelphians call "first principle" doctrines are difficult to accommodate unless the individual agrees to not teach or spread them, since the body has a documented Statement of Faith which informally serves as a basis of ecclesial membership and interecclesial fellowship. Those who are disfellowshipped for reasons of differing belief rarely return, because they are expected to conform to an understanding with which they do not agree. Holding differing beliefs on fundamental matters is considered as error and apostacy, which can limit a person's salvation. However in practice disfellowship for doctrinal reasons is now unusual[29]

Recovery ("refellowship") is actively pursued by the ecclesias. Most managing committees ("Arranging Brethren") review a list of former members each year, and discuss ways to recover the "lost sheep". If the member has relocated this may include asking the nearest local ecclesia to make contact. In the case of adultery and divorce, the passage of time usually means a member can be restored if he or she wants to be. In the case of ongoing behaviour, cohabitation, homosexual activity, then the terms of the suspension have not been met. In the case of teaching issues, refellowship is typically not sought by the individual, but it does happen that brothers who have been "disfellowshipped" for views which are considered disruptive but not necessarily fundamental, have been readmitted on a promise to cease publishing them.[30]

The mechanics of "refellowship" follow the reverse of the original process; the individual makes an application to the "ecclesia", and the "Arranging Brethren" give a recommendation to the members who vote.[31] If the "Arranging Brethren" judge that a vote may divide the ecclesia, or personally upset some members, they may seek to find a third party ecclesia which is willing to "refellowship" the member instead. According to the Ecclesial Guide a third party ecclesia may also take the initiative to "refellowship" another meeting's member. However this cannot be done unilaterally, as this would constitute heteronomy over the autonomy of the original ecclesia's members.[32]


There is no direct equivalent to excommunication in Buddhism. However, in the monastic community monks can be expelled from monasteries for heresy and/or other acts. In addition, the monks have four vows, called the four defeats, which are abstaining from sexual intercourse, stealing, murder, and refraining from lying about spiritual gains. If even one is broken, the monk is automatically a layman again and can never become a monk in his or her current life.


Hinduism has been too diverse to be seen as a monolithic religion, and with a conspicuous absence of any listed dogma or ecclesia (organised church), has no concept of excommunication and hence no Hindu may be ousted from the Hindu religion, although a person may easily lose caste status for a very wide variety of infringements of caste prohibitions. This may or may not be recoverable. However, some of the modern organized sects within Hinduism may practice something equivalent to excommunication today, by ousting a person from their own sect.

In medieval and early-modern times (and sometimes even now) in South Asia, excommunication from one's caste (jati or varna) used to be practiced (by the caste-councils) and was often with serious consequences, such as abasement of the person's caste status and even throwing him into the sphere of the untouchables or bhangi. After excommunication, it would depend upon the caste-council whether they would accept any form of repentance (ritual or otherwise) or not.


Excommunication as it exists in Christian faiths does not exist in Islam. The nearest approximation is takfir, a declaration that an individual or group is kafir (or kuffar in plural), a non-believer. This does not prevent an individual from taking part in any Islamic rite or ritual, and since the matter of whether a person is kafir is a rather subjective matter, a declaration of takfir is generally considered null and void if the target refutes it or if the Islamic community in which he or she lives refuses to accept it.

Takfir has usually been practiced through the courts.[citation needed] More recently, cases have taken place where individuals have been considered kafirs.[citation needed] These decisions followed lawsuits against individuals, mainly in response to their writings that some have viewed as anti-Islamic. The most famous cases are of Salman Rushdie, Nasr Abu Zayd, and Nawal El-Saadawi.[citation needed] The repercussions of such cases have included divorce, since under traditional interpretations of Islamic law, Muslim women are not permitted to marry non-Muslim men.

However, takfir remains a highly contentious issue in Islam, primarily because there is no universally accepted authority in Islamic law. Indeed, according to classical commentators, the reverse seems to hold true, in that Muhammad reportedly equated the act of declaring someone a kafir itself to blasphemy if the accused individual maintained that he was a Muslim.


Cherem is the highest ecclesiastical censure in Judaism. It is the total exclusion of a person from the Jewish community. Except for cases in the Charedi community, cherem stopped existing after The Enlightenment, when local Jewish communities lost their political autonomy, and Jews were integrated into the gentile nations in which they lived.[citation needed] A siruv order, equivalent to a contempt of court, issued by a Rabbinical court may also limit religious participation.

See also


  • Encyclopedia of American Religions, by J. Gordon Melton ISBN 0-8103-6904-4
  • Ludlow, Daniel H. ed, Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Macmillan Publishing, 1992.
  • Esau, Alvin J., "The Courts and the Colonies: The Litigation of Hutterite Church Disputes", Univ of British Columbia Press, 2004.
  • Gruter, Margaret, and Masters Roger, Ostracism: A Social and Biological Phenomenon, (Amish) Ostracism on Trial: The Limits of Individual Rights, Gruter Institute, 1984.
  • Beck, Martha N., Leaving the Saints: How I Lost the Mormons and Found My Faith, Crown, 2005.
  • Stammer, Larry B., Mormon Author Says He's Facing Excommunication", Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles, CA.: December 9, 2004. pg. A.34.
  • D'anna, Lynnette, "Post-Mennonite Women Congregate to Address Abuse", Herizons, 3/1/93.
  • Anonymous, "Atlanta Mennonite congregation penalized over gays", The Atlanta Journal the Atlanta Constitution, Atlanta, GA: January 2, 1999. pg. F.01.
  • Garrett, Ottie, Garrett Irene, True Stories of the X-Amish: Banned, Excommunicated, Shunned, Horse Cave KY: Nue Leben, Inc., 1998.
  • Garret, Ruth, Farrant Rick, Crossing Over: One Woman's Escape from Amish Life, HarperSanFrancisco, 2003.
  • Hostetler, John A. (1993), Amish Society, The Johns Hopkins University Pres: Baltimore.
  • MacMaster, Richard K. (1985), Land, Piety, Peoplehood: The Establishment of Mennonite Communities in America 1683-1790, Herald Press: Kitchener & Scottdale.
  • Scott, Stephen (1996), An Introduction to Old Order and Conservative Mennonite Groups, Good Books: Intercourse, Pennsylvania.
  • Juhnke, James, Vision, Doctrine, War: Mennonite Identity and Organization in America, 1890–1930, (The Mennonite Experience in America #3), Scottdale, PA, Herald Press, Pp 393, 1989.


  1. ^ The Catholic Encyclopedia
  2. ^ "Excommunicants lose rights, such as the right to the sacraments, but they are still bound to the obligations of the law; their rights are restored when they are reconciled through the remission of the penalty." New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, ed. by John P. Beal, James A. Coriden, Thomas J. Green, Paulist Press, 2000, p. 63 (commentary on canon 11).
  3. ^ Risen Savior Lutheran Church, Orlando, FL - Constitution
  4. ^ http://www.dakotavoice.com/200508/20050816_5.asp
  5. ^ Westminster Confession of Faith, xxx.4.
  6. ^ John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, IV.12.10.
  7. ^ Jay E. Adams, Handbook of Church Discipline (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), 74.
  8. ^ The procedure followed by a church disciplinary council is described in church handbooks and the Doctrine and Covenants 102:9-18.
  9. ^ Burton, Theodore M. (May 1983), "To Forgive is Divine", Ensign: 70, http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD&locale=0&sourceId=c1d09c84f5d6b010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____ 
  10. ^ Discipline That Can Yield Peaceable Fruit
  11. ^ Watchtower 1/15/82 p. 31 Questions From Readers | “It would be best if he did this in a brief letter to the elders, but even if he unequivocally states orally that he is renouncing his standing as a Witness, the elders can deal with the matter.—1 John 2:19.”
  12. ^ Watchtower 10/15/86 p. 31 Questions From Readers | “… the person no longer wants to have anything to do with Jehovah’s people and is determined to remain in a false religion? They would then simply announce to the congregation that such one has disassociated himself and thus is no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
  13. ^ Watchtower 1/15/82 p. 31 Questions From Readers | “The second situation involves a person who renounces his standing in the congregation by joining a secular organization whose purpose is contrary to counsel such as that found at Isaiah 2:4, … neither will they learn war anymore.”
  14. ^ Kingdom Ministry 8/02 p. 3 par. 1 Display Christian Loyalty When a Relative Is Disfellowshipped | “the principles of which apply equally to those who are disfellowshipped and to those who disassociate themselves.”
  15. ^ Watchtower 4/15/88 p. 27 par. 10 Discipline That Can Yield Peaceable Fruit | “Christians refuse to fellowship with someone who has been expelled for unrepentant sin… By also avoiding persons who have deliberately disassociated themselves,
  16. ^ Watchtower 8/15/92 p. 31 A Step on the Way Back | "Thus, beginning in September the elders in each congregation will review the names of those in the territory who are disfellowshipped and will arrange to visit all whom they feel might respond ."
  17. ^ Watchtower 11/15/06 pp. 27-28 par. 9 Always Accept Jehovah’s Discipline | "9Repentance is a very important factor in connection with reinstatement into the Christian congregation. A disfellowshipped person is not automatically accepted back into the congregation after a certain amount of time has passed. Before he can be reinstated, his heart condition must undergo a great change. He must come to realize the gravity of his sin and the reproach he brought upon Jehovah and the congregation. The sinner must repent, pray earnestly for forgiveness, and conform to God’s righteous requirements. When requesting reinstatement, he should be able to give evidence that he has repented and is producing “works that befit repentance.”—Acts 26:20."
  18. ^ Watchtower 4/15/91 p. 21 par. 6 Imitate God’s Mercy Today | “In time he may seek reinstatement in the clean congregation. When elders then meet with him, they will try to determine whether he has repented and left his sinful course. (Matthew 18:18) If that is the case, he may be reinstated, in line with the pattern at 2 Corinthians 2:5-8.”
  19. ^ “Our Kingdom Ministry” - December 1974, | “Question Box” | © Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania
  20. ^ Watchtower 1/1/97 p. 29 Let Us Abhor What Is Wicked | "For the protection of our children, a man known to have been a child molester does not qualify for a responsible position in the congregation.
  21. ^ A distinction can be detected between these three reasons in that which of the three applies is usually made clear in the notice which the ecclesia will post in the Ecclesial News section of The Christadelphian. This is since one purpose is to make other ecclesias aware lest the member try to circumvent the suspension by simply going to another ecclesia. See "Christadelphians, fellowship" in Bryan R. Wilson, Sects and Society, University of California, 1961
  22. ^ The expected practice is to discuss first with 2 or 3 witnesses, as per Matt.18:15-20. See Wilson, op.cit.
  23. ^ Robert Roberts, A Guide to the Formation and Conduct of Christadelphian Ecclesias (Birmingham: 1883). Available online
  24. ^ See discussion of 1Co.5 in Ashton, M. The challenge of Corinthians, Birmingham, 2006; previously serialised in The Christadelphian 2002-2003 http://www.thechristadelphian.com
  25. ^ The term "withdraw from" is frequently found as a synonym for "disfellowship" in older Christadelphian ecclesial news entries, but this usage is less common today since it is now more widely realised that the term "withdraw from" in 2Th.3:6, 1Tim.6:5 is not describing the full "turn over to Satan" 1Co5:5,1Tim.1:20. See Booker G. 1 & 2 Thessalonians, Nicholls A.H.Letters to Timothy and Titus, Birmingham
  26. ^ Generally Christadelphians do not consider remarriage as adultery, but adultery is inevitably often at the root of a marriage breakup. See Reflections on Marriage and Divorce, The Christadelphian, Birmingham.
  27. ^ Carter, J. Marriage and Divorce, CMPA Birmingham 1955
  28. ^ Dawn Christadelphians
  29. ^ e.g. News from the Ecclesias, in The Christadelphian, in a typical year (Jan.-Dec. 2006) contained only two suspensions for doctrinal reasons in the UK, both indicating that the member had already left of his/her own choice.
  30. ^ The justification for this occasional practice is based on "command not to teach" 1Tim.1:3 etc. See A.D. Norris, Acts and Epistles, Aletheia.
  31. ^ Christadelphians interpret the "epitimia of the majority" 2Co.2:6 in different ways; some consider it the majority of all members, some the majority of elders. See Whittaker H.A., Second Corinthians, Biblia
  32. ^ An exception noted in Roberts' Ecclesial Guide is where the original meeting is known for having a position out of step with other ecclesias. In practice however such cases are extremely unusual and the attempt to refellowship another ecclesia's member when the original ecclesia considers that they have not "mended their ways" may cause an interecclesial breach. The original ecclesia may notify the Christadelphian Magazine that the third party ecclesia is interfering in their own discipline of their own member, and news of refellowship will be blocked from News From the Ecclesias, and consequently the community as a whole will not recognise the refellowship. See Booker, G. Biblical Fellowship Biblia, Perry, A. Fellowship Matters Willow Books.

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

EXCOMMUNICATION (Lat. ex, out of, away from; communis, common), the judicial exclusion of offenders from the rights and privileges of the religious community to which they belong. The history of the practice of excommunication may be traced through (1) pagan analogues, (2) Hebrew custom, (3) primitive Christian practice, (4) medieval and monastic usage, (5) modern survivals in existing Christian churches.

1. Among pagan analogues are the Gr. Xepvif30w E'lpy€Qeac (Demosth. 505, 14), the exclusion of an offender from purification with holy water. This exclusion was enforced in the case of persons whose hands were defiled with bloodshed. Its consequences are described Aesch. Choeph. 283, Eum. 625 f., Soph. Oed. Tyr. 236 ff. The Roman exsecratio and diris devotio was a solemn pronouncement of a religious curse by priests, intended to call down the divine wrath upon enemies, and to devote them to destruction by powers human and divine. The Druids claimed the dread power of excluding offenders from sacrifice (Caes. B.G. vi. 13). Primitive Semitic customs recognize that when persons are laid under a ban or taboo (herem) restrictions are imposed on contact with them, and that the breach of these involves supernatural dangers. Impious sinners, or enemies of the community and its god, might be devoted to utter destruction.

2. Hebrew Custom

In a theocracy excommunication is necessarily both a civil and a religious penalty. The word used in the New Testament to describe an excommunicated person, a iOeµa (1 Cor. xvi. 22, Gal. i. 8-9, Rom. ix. 3), is the Septuagint rendering of the Hebrew herein. The word means "set apart" (cf. harem), and does not distinguish originally between things set apart because devoted to God and things devoted to destruction. Lev. xxvii. 16-34 defines the law for dealing with "devoted" things; according to v. 28 "No devoted thing that a man shall devote unto the Lord, of all that he hath, whether of man or beast, or of the field of his possession, shall be sold or redeemed. None devoted shall be ransomed, he shall surely be put to death." As in Greece and Rome whole cities or nations might be devoted to destruction by pronouncement of a ban (Numbers xxi. 2, 3, Deut. ii. 34, iii. 6, vii. 2). Occasionally Israelites as well as aliens fall under the curse (Judg. xxi. 5, ii). A milder form of penalty was the temporary separation or seclusion (niddah) prescribed for ceremonial uncleanness. This was the ordinary form of religious discipline. In the time of Ezra the Jewish "magistrates and judges" among their ecclesiastico-civil functions have the right of pronouncing sentence whether it be unto death, or to "rooting out," or to confiscation of goods, or to imprisonment (Ezra vii. 26). There is also a lighter form of excommunication which "devotes" the goods of an offender, but only separates him from the congregation. Both major and minor kinds of excommunication are recognized by the Talmud. The lesser (niddah) involved exclusion from the synagogue for thirty days, and other penalties, and might be renewed if the offender remained impenitent. The major excommunication (herem) excluded from the Temple as well as the synagogue and from all association with the faithful. Spinoza was excommunicated (July 16, 1656) for contempt of the law. Seldon (De jure nat. et gen., iv. 7) gives the text of the curse pronounced on the culprit. The Exemplar Humanae Vitae of Uriel d'Acosta also deserves reference. The practice of the Jewish courts in New Testament times may be inferred from certain passages in the Gospels. Luke vi. 22, John ix. 22, xii. 42 indicate that exclusion from the synagogue was a recognized penalty, and that it was probably inflicted on those who confessed Jesus as the Christ. John xvi. 2 ("Whosoever killeth you," &c.) may point to the power of inflicting the major penalty. The Talmud itself says that the judgment of capital cases was taken away from Israel forty years before the destruction of the Temple. "Forty" is probably a round number without historical value, but the circumstance recorded by this tradition and confirmed by the evangelist's account of the trial of Jesus is historical, and is to be regarded as one of several restrictions imposed on the Jewish courts in the time of the Roman procurators.

3. Primitive Christian Practice

The use of excommunication as a form of Christian discipline is based on the precept of Christ and on apostolic practice. The general principles which govern the exclusion of members from a religious community may be gathered from the New Testament writings. Matt. xviii. 15-17 prescribes a threefold admonition, first privately, then in the presence of witnesses (cf. Titus iii. 10), then before the church. This is a graded procedure as in the Jewish synagogue and makes exclusion a last resort. Nothing is said as to the nature and effects of excommunication. The tone of the passage when compared with the disciplinary methods of the synagogue indicates that its purpose was to introduce elements of reason and moral suasion in place of sterner methods. Its object is rather the protection of the church than the punishment of the sinner. The offender is only treated as a heathen and publican when the purity and safety of the church demand it. In the locus classicus on this subject (1 Cor. v. 5) Paul refers to a formal meeting of the Corinthian church at which the incestuous person is "delivered unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." These are mysterious words implying (1) a formal ecclesiastical censure, (2) a physical penalty, (3) the hope of a spiritual result. The form of penalty which would meet these conditions is not explained. There is a reference in 2 Cor. ii. 6-11 to a case of discipline which may or may not be the same. If it be the same it indicates that the excommunication had not been final; the offender had been received back. If it be not the same it shows the Corinthian church exercising discipline independently of apostolic advice. Up to this point there is no established formal practice. i Tim. i. 20 ("Hymenaeus and Alexander whom I delivered unto Satan that they might be taught not to blaspheme") seems to refer to an excommunication, but it does not appear whether the apostle had acted as representing a church, nor is there anything to explain the exact consequences or limits of the deliverance to Satan. i Cor. xvi. 22, Gal. i. 8, 9, Rom. ix. 3 refer to the practice of regarding a person as anathema. Taking these passages as a whole they seem to point to an exclusion from church fellowship rather than to a final cutting off from the hope of salvation. In the pastoral letters there is already a formal and recognized method of procedure in cases of church discipline. i Tim. v. 19, 20 requires two or three witnesses in the case of an accusation against an elder, and a public reproof. Tit. iii. 20 recognizes a factious spirit as a reason for excommunication after two admonitions (cf. Tim. vi. and 2 John v. io). In 3 John v. 9-10 Diotrephes appears to have secured an excommunication by the action of a party in the church. It is clear from these illustrations that within the New Testament there is development from spontaneous towards strictly regulated methods; also that the use of excommunication is chiefly for disciplinary and protective rather than punitive purposes. A process which is intended to produce penitence and ultimate restoration cannot at the same time contemplate handing the offender over to eternal punishment.

4. Medieval and Monastic Usage. - The writings of the church Fathers give sufficient evidence that two degrees of excommunication, the a.diopiaµos and the a4 opu rµ r 7ravreVis, as they were generally called, were in use during, or at least soon after, the apostolic age. The former, which involved exclusion from participation in the eucharistic service and from the eucharist itself, though not from the so-called "service of the catechumens," was the usual punishment of comparatively light offences; the latter, which was the penalty for graver scandals, involved "exclusion from all church privileges," - a vague expression which has sometimes been interpreted as meaning total exclusion from the very precincts of the church building (inter hiemantes orare) and from the favour of God (Bingham, Antiquities of Christian Church, xvi. 2.16). For some sins, such as adultery, the sentence of excommunication was in the 2nd century regarded as iravr€X)s in the sense of being irrevocable. Difference of opinion as to the absolutely "irremissible" character of mortal sins led to the important controversy associated with the names of Zephyrinus, Tertullian, Calistus, Hippolytus, Cyprian and Novatian, in which the stricter and more montanistic party held that for those who had been guilty of such sins as theft, fraud, denial of the faith, there should be no restoration to church fellowship even in the hour of death. On this point the provincial synods of Illiberis (Elvira) in 305 and of Ancyra in 315 subsequently came to conflicting decisions, the council of Elvira forbidding the reception of offenders into communion during life, and the council of Ancyra fixing a limit to the penalty in the same cases. But the excommunication was on all hands regarded as being "medicinal" in its character. It is noteworthy that the word av6.9E1.ta had fallen into disuse about the beginning of the 4th century, and that, throughout the same period, no instance of the judicial use of the phrase rapaSovvat T(i) larava can be found.

A new chapter in the history of the church censure may be said to have begun with the publication of those imperial edicts against heresy, the first of which, De summa trinitate et fide catholica, dates from 380. Till then exclusion from church privileges had been a spiritual discipline merely; thenceforward it was to expose a man to serious temporal risks. Excommunication still continued to be occasionally used in the spirit of genuine Christian fidelity, as. by Ambrose in the case of Theodosius himself (390); but the temptation to wield it as an instrument of secular tyranny too often proved to be irresistible. The church fell back on carnal weapons in her warfare and invoked the secular powers to uphold the ecclesiastical. In the formula used by Synesius (4,0) which is to be found in Bingham's Antiquities, we already find the attention of magistrates specially called to the censured person. The history of the next thousand years shows that the magistrates were seldom slow to respond to the appeal. Even the hastiest survey of that long and interesting period enables the student to notice a marked development in the theory and practice of excommunication. One or two points may be specially noted. (I) When the Empire became nominally Christian and the quality of the church life was sacrificed to the quantity of its adherents, the original character of excommunication was lost. The power of excommunication was transferred from the community to the bishop, and was liable to abuse from personal motives: Gregory the Great rebukes a bishop for using for private ends power conferred for the public good (Epist. ii. 34). Excommunication became a common penalty applied in numberless cases (see the Penitential of Archbishop Theodosius: Haddan and Stubbs, Councils and Documents, iii. 1737), and was invested with superstitious terrors. (2) While it had been held as an undoubted principle by the ancient church that this sentence could only be passed on living individuals whose fault had been distinctly stated and fully proved, we find the medieval church on the one hand sanctioning the practice of excommunication of the dead (Morinus, De poenit. x. c. 9), and, on the other hand, by means of the papal interdict, excluding whole countries and kingdoms at once from the means of grace. The earliest well-authenticated instance of such an interdict is that which was passed (998) by Pope Gregory V. on France, in consequence of the contumacy of King Robert the Wise. Other instances are those laid respectively on Germany in 1102 by Gregory VII. (Hildebrand), on England in 1208 by Innocent III., on Rome itself in 1155 by Adrian IV. (3) While in the ancient church the language used in excommunicating had been carefully measured, we find an amazing recklessness in the phraseology employed by the medieval clergy. The curse of Ernulphus or Arnulphus of Rochester (c. r loo), often quoted by students of English literature, is a very fair specimen of that class of composition. With it may be compared the formula transcribed by Dr Burton in his History of Scotland (iii. 317 ff.). To the spoken word was added the language of symbol. By means of lighted candles violently dashed to the ground and extinguished the faithful were graphically taught the meaning of the greater excommunication - though in a somewhat misleading way, for it is a fundamental principle of the canon law that disciplina est excommunicatio, non eradicatio. The first instance, however, of excommunication by "bell, book and candle" is comparatively late (c. 1190) .

5. Modern Survivals in Existing Christian Churches

At the Reformation the necessity for church discipline did not cease to be recognized; but the administration of it in many Reformed churches has passed through a period of some confusion. In some instances the old episcopal power passed more or less into the hands of the civil magistrate (a state of matters which was highly approved by Erastus and his followers), in other cases it was conceded to the presbyterial courts. In the Anglican Church the bishops (subject to appeal to the sovereign) have the right of excommunicating, and their sentence, if sustained, may in certain cases carry with it civil consequences. But this right is in practice never exercised. In the law of England sentence of excommunication, upon being properly certified by the bishop, was followed by the writ de excommunicato capiendo for the arrest of the offender. The statute 5 Eliz. c. 23 provided for the better execution of this writ. By the 53 Geo III. c. 127 (which does not, however, extend to Ireland) it was enacted that "excommunication, together with all proceedings following thereupon, shall in all cases, save those hereafter to be specified, be discontinued." Disobedience to or contempt of the ecclesiastical courts is to be punished by a new writ, de contumace capiendo, to follow on the certificate of the judge that the defender is contumacious and in contempt. Sect. 2 provides that nothing shall prevent "any ecclesiastical court from pronouncing or declaring persons to be excommunicate on definite sentences pronounced as spiritual censures for offences of ecclesiastical cognizance." No persons so excommunicated shall incur any civil penalty or incapacity whatever, save such sentence of imprisonment, not exceeding six months, as the court shall direct and certify to the king in chancery.

In the churches which consciously shaped their polity at or after the Reformation the principle of excommunication is preserved in the practice of church discipline. Calvin devotes a chapter in the Institutes (bk. iv. chap. xii.) to the "Discipline of the Church; its Principal Use in Censure and Excommunication." The three ends proposed by the church in such discipline are there stated to be, (1) that those who lead scandalous lives may not to the dishonour of God be numbered among Christians, seeing that the church is the body of Christ; (2) that the good may not be corrupted by constant association with the wicked; (3) that those who are censured or excommunicated, confounded with shame, may be led to repentance. He differentiates decisively between excommunication and anathema. "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 having their life and conduct condemned are also certified of their final condemnation unless they repent. For excommunication differs from anathema: anathema which ought to be very rarely, or never, resorted to, in precluding all pardon, execrates a person, and devotes him to eternal perdition: whereas excommunication rather censures and punishes his conduct. Yet in such a manner by warning him of his future condemnation it recalls him to salvation" (Inst. bk. iv. chap. xii. 10). The Reformed churches in England and America accepted the distinction between public and private offences. The usual `provision is that private offences are to be dealt with according to the rule in Matt. v. 23-24, xviii. 15-17; public offences are to be dealt with according to the rule in r Cor. v. 3-5, 13. The public expulsion or suspension of the offender is necessary for the good repute of the church, and its influence over the faithful members. The expelled member may be readmitted on showing the fruits of repentance.

In Scotland three degrees of church censure are recognized - admonition, suspension from sealing ordinances (which may be called temporary excommunication), and excommunication properly so-called. Intimation of the last-named censure may occasionally (but very rarely) be given by authority of a presbytery in a public and solemn manner, according to the following formula: - "Whereas thou N. hast been by sufficient proof convicted (here mention the sin) and after due admonition and prayer remainest obstinate without any evidence or sign of true repentance: Therefore in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and before this congregation, I pronounce and declare thee N. excommunicated, shut out from the communion of the faithful, debar thee from privileges, and deliver thee unto Satan for the destruction of thy flesh, that thy spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." This is called the greater excommunication. The congregation are thereafter warned to shun all unnecessary converse with the excommunicate (see Form of Process, c. 8). Formerly excommunicated persons were deprived of feudal rights in Scotland; but in 1690 all acts enjoining civil pains upon sentences of excommunication were finally repealed (Burton's History, vii. 435).

The question whether the power of excommunication rests in the church or in the clergy has been an important one in the history of English and American churches. Hooker lays down (Survey, pt. 3, pp. 33-4 6) four necessary conditions for the execution of a sentence involving church discipline. "(r) The cause exactly recorded is fully and nakedly to be presented to the consideration of the congregation. (2) The elders are to go before the congregation in laying open the rule so far as reacheth any particular now to be considered, and to express their judgment and determination thereof, so far as appertains to themselves. (3) Unless the people be able to convince them of errors and mistakes in their sentence, they are bound to joyn their judgment with theirs to the compleating of the sentence. (4) The sentence thus compleatly issued is to be solemnly passed and pronounced upon the delinquent by the ruling Elder whether it be of censure or excommunication." In this passage it is clear that the effective power of discipline is regarded as being wholly in the power of the individual church or congregation. Hooker expressly denies the power of synods to excommunicate: "that there should be Synods, which have potestatem juridicam is nowhere proved in Scripture because it is not a truth" (Survey, P t. 4, PP. 48, 49).

The confession of faith issued by the London-Amsterdam church (the original of the Pilgrim Fathers' churches) in 1596 declares that the Christian congregation having power to elect its minister has also power to excommunicate him if the case so require (Walker, Creeds and Platforms of Congregationalism, p. 66). In 1603 the document known as "Points of Difference" (i.e. from the established Anglicanism) submitted to James I. sets forth: "That all particular Churches ought to be so constituted as, having their owne peculiar Officers, the whole body of every Church may meet together in one place, and jointly performe their duties to God and one towards another. And that the censures of admonition and excommunication be in due manner executed, for sinne, convicted, and obstinately stood in. This power also to be in the body of the Church whereof the partyes so offending and persisting are members." The Cambridge Platform of 1648 by which the New England churches defined their practice, devotes ch. xiv. to "excommunication and other censures." It follows in the main the line of Hooker and Calvin, but adds (§ 6) an important definition: "Excommunication being a spirituall punishment it doth not prejudice the excommunicate in, nor deprive him of his civil rights, therfore touched' not princes, or other magistrates, in point of their civil dignity or authority. And, the excommunicate being but as a publican and a heathen, heathen being lawfully permitted to come to hear the word in church assemblyes; wee acknowledg therfore the like liberty of hearing the word, may be permitted to persons excommunicate, that is permitted unto heathen. And because wee are not without hope of his recovery, wee are not to account him as an enemy but to admonish him as a brother." The Savoy Declaration of 1658 defines the theory and practice of the older English Nonconformist churches in the section on the "Institution of Churches and the Order appointed in them by Jesus Christ" (xix.). The important article is as follows:-- "The Censures so appointed by Christ, are Admonition and Excommunication; and whereas some offences are or may be known onely to some, it is appointed by Christ, that those to whom they are so known, do first admonish the offender in private: in publique offences where any sin, before all; or in case of non-amendment upon private admonition, the offence being related to the Church, and the offender not manifesting his repentance, he is to be duely admonished in the Name of Christ by the whole Church, by the Ministery of the Elders of the Church, and if this Censure prevail not for his repentance, then he is to be cast out by Excommunication with the consent of the Church." In contemporary English Free Churches the purity of the church is commonly secured by the removal of persons unsuitable for membership from the church books by a vote of the responsible authority. (D. MN.)

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Bible wiki

Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From BibleWiki

The highest ecclesiastical censure, the exclusion of a person from the religious community, which among the Jews meant a practical prohibition of all intercourse with society. For the etymology of the Hebrew terms used in this connection and for a clear exposition of the historical development and of the ethical significance of this institution see Anathema and Ban.

Although developed from the Biblical ban, excommunication, as employed by the Rabbis during Talmudic times and during the Middle Ages, is really a rabbinic institution, its object being to preserve the solidarity of the nation and strengthen the authority of the Synagogue by enforcing obedience to its mandates. Still, the legal instinct of the Rabbis here, as elsewhere, made it impossible for such an arbitrary institution to become dangerous, and a whole system of laws was gradually developed, by means of which this power was hedged in and controlled, so that it practically became one of the modes of legal punishment by the court. While it did not entirely lose its arbitrary character, since individuals were allowed to pronounce the ban of excommunication on particular occasions, it became chiefly a legal measure resorted to by a judicial court for certain prescribed offenses.


Causes of Excommunication.

The Talmud speaks of twenty-four offenses punishable by excommunication (Ber. 19a; Yer. M. Ḳ. iii. 1), a round number which is not to be taken literally.Later authorities enumerate the twenty-four as follows: (1) insulting a learned man, even after his death; (2) insulting a messenger of the court; (3) calling an Israelite "slave"; (4) refusing to appear before the court at the appointed time; (5) dealing lightly with any of the rabbinic or Mosaic precepts; (6) refusing to abide by the decision of the court; (7) keeping in one's possession an animal or an object that may prove injurious to others, such as a savage dog or a broken ladder; (8) selling one's real estate to a non-Jew without assuming the responsibility for any injury that the non-Jew may cause his neighbors; (9) testifying against one's Jewish neighbor in a non-Jewish court, through which the Jew is involved in a loss of money to which he would not have been condemned by a Jewish court; (10) appropriation by a priest whose business is the selling of meat, of the priestly portions of all the animals for himself; (11) violating the second day of a holiday, even though its observance is only a custom ("minhag"); (12) performing work on the afternoon of the day preceding Passover; (13) taking the name of God in vain; (14) causing others to profane the name of God ("ḥillul hashem"); (15) causing others to eat holy meat outside of Jerusalem; (16) making calculations for the calendar, and establishing festivals accordingly, outside of Palestine; (17) putting a stumbling-block in the way of the blind, that is to say, tempting one to sin; (18) preventing the community from performing some religious act; (19) selling forbidden ("ṭerefah") meat as permitted meat ("kasher"); (20) omission by a "shoḥeṭ." (ritual slaughterer) to show his knife to the rabbi for examination; (21) self-abuse; (22) engaging in business intercourse with one's divorced wife; (23) being made the subject of scandal (in the case of a rabbi); (24) excommunicating one unjustly (Maimonides, "Yad," Talmud Torah, vi. 14; Shulḥan 'Aruk, Yoreh De'ah, 334, 43).


While excommunication was pronounced by the court and was considered a legal act, the procedure was not so formal or so rigorous as in other judicial cases. Circumstantial and hearsay evidence and even incompetent witnesses were admitted, thus preserving the arbitrariness of the character of the procedure (Yoreh De'ah, l.c., Isserles' gloss). This characteristic was still further emphasized in the occasional excommunications which were inflicted by individuals. These might be indefinite—as when a man laid the ban upon any one who possessed articles stolen from him (Shulḥan 'Aruk, Ḥoshen Mishpaṭ, 71, 7), or upon any one who knew of the circumstances of a case in which he was involved and did not come to court to testify (ib. 28, 2)—or definite, upon a particular person, as when a learned man excommunicated one who insulted him (M. Ḳ. 17a), or when a master excommunicated a pupil who decided a law in his presence (Shab. 19a) or asked him ridiculous questions (Men. 37a). Some authorities are of the opinion that a creditor, even though not a scholar, might excommunicate his debtor who refused to pay his debt (notes to Asheri, M. Ḳ. iii. 10; Yoreh De'ah, l.c. 46).

The Niddui.

The "niddui" was usually imposed for a period of seven days (in Palestine thirty days). If it was inflicted on account of money matters, the offender was first publicly warned ("hatra'ah") three times, on Monday, Thursday, and Monday successively, at the regular service in the synagogue. During the period of niddui, no one except the members of his immediate household was permitted to associate with the offender, or to sit within four cubits of him, or to eat in his company. He was expected to go into mourning and to refrain from bathing, cutting his hair, and wearing shoes, and he had to observe all the laws that pertained to a mourner. He could not be counted in the number necessary for the performance of a public religious function. If he died, a stone was placed on his hearse, and the relatives were not obliged to observe the ceremonies customary at the death of a kinsman, such as the tearing of garments, etc. It was in the power of the court to lessen or increase the severity of the niddui. The court might even reduce or increase the number of days, forbid all intercourse with the offender, and exclude his children from the schools and his wife from the synagogue, until he became humbled and willing to repent and obey the court's mandates. The apprehension that the offender might leave the Jewish fold on account of the severity of the excommunication did not prevent the court from adding rigor to its punishments so as to maintain its dignity and authority (Yoreh De'ah, 334, 1, Isserles' gloss; compare Ture Zahab and Pitḥe Teshubah ad loc.).

The Ḥerem.

If the offense was in reference to monetary matters, or if the punishment was inflicted by an individual, the laws were more lenient, the chief punishment being that men might not associate with the offender. At the expiration of the period the ban was raised by the court. If, however, the excommunicate showed no sign of penitence or remorse, the niddui might be renewed once and again, and finally the "ḥerem," the most rigorous form of excommunication, might be pronounced. This extended for an indefinite period, and no one was permitted to teach the offender or work for him, or benefit him in any way, except when he was in need of the bare necessities of life.

The Nezifah.

A milder form than either niddui or ḥerem was the "nezifah." When a prominent person, such as the nasi or another learned man, rebuked one with the words, "How insolent this man is!" the latter was required to consider himself excommunicated for one day (in Palestine for seven days). During this time he dared not appear before him whom he had displeased. He had to retire to his house, speak little, refrain from business and pleasure, and manifest his regret and remorse. He was not required, however, to separate himself from society, nor was he obliged to apologize to the man whom he had insulted; for his conduct on the day of nezifah was sufficient apology (M. Ḳ. 16a; Yoreh-De'ah, 334,14). But when a scholar or prominent man actually pronounced the formal niddui on one who had slighted him, all the laws of niddui applied. This procedure was, however, much discouraged by thesages, so that it was a matter of proper pride for a rabbi to be able to say that he had never pronounced the ban of excommunication (M. Ḳ. 17a). Maimonides concludes with these words the chapter on the laws of excommunication: ("Yad," Talmud Torah, vii. 13).

"Although the power is given to the scholar to excommunicate a man who has slighted him, it is not praiseworthy for him to employ this means too frequently. He should rather shut his ears to the words of the ignorant and pay no attention to them, as Solomon, in his wisdom, said, 'Also take no heed unto all words that are spoken' (Eccl 7:21). This was the custom of the early pious men, who would not answer when they heard themselves insulted, but would forgive the insolent. . . . But this humility should be practised only when the insult occurs in private; when the scholar is publicly 'insulted, he dares not forgive; and if he forgive he should be punished, for then it is an insult to the Torah that he must revenge until the offender humbly apologizes"

See Acosta, Uriel; Spinoza, Baruch.

Bibliograpy: Hamburger, R. B. T. s.v. Bann; Duschak, Strafrecht, Vienna, 1869; Mandl, Der Bann, Brunn, 1898; Abrahams, Jewish Life in the Middle Ages, Philadelphia, 1896; J. Wiesner, Der Bann in Seiner Geschichtlichen Entwicklung auf dem Boden des Judenthums, 1869.

This entry includes text from the Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906.
This article needs to be merged with Excommunication (Catholic Encyclopedia).

Simple English

Excommunication is a religious act used to take off or suspend membership in a religious community.

The word literally means out of communion, or no longer in communion. In some churches, excommunication includes spiritual condemnation of the member or group. Sometimes sanctions follow excommunication; these include banishment, shunning, and shaming, depending on the group's religion or religious community.

Other websites


  • Encyclopedia of American Religions, by J. Gordon Melton ISBN 0-8103-6904-4
  • Ludlow, Daniel H. ed, Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Macmillan Publishing, 1992.

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