Article for Discussion (mine): "Banning members refuted"

Not open for further replies.


Puritan Board Freshman
I make this thread as an extension of the last thread, "On an Elder's Ability to Ban Church Members," ( ) because that thread is no longer open for replies (if a mod is reading this, what determines that?), and I have researched the topic more fully since that date. The paper I am posting below is not completely finished, as I still have to edit it more, add a few quotes and citations, and add the most complex argument, number 4. However, I will add those tomorrow and in the coming days. I would love critiques, if you are still interested in this topic! It has been a delving into ecclesiology, and I often feel out of my depth. This is the second rewrite of a more extensive paper that looked at Acts 15 more explicitly for the sake of understanding "Ordaining Power."

Take Ministerial and declarative as an example of feeling out of depth: it seems proved to me that pastoral power has ministerial and declarative character, but the intricacies of what that means are elusive. It is not coercive, because it is not the power of the keys, but how "ordaining power" interacts with that has been difficult to pin down. Bannerman, Calvin, and Turretin both say that it is for the avoidance of scandal, like Acts 15. However, it is something more than advice - as it comes from God's undershepherds - but less than a command - as elders have no authority to create laws. All this has made my opinions (shown in the last thread) about ordaining power being basically the equivalent of "circumstances" in the Regulative Principle of Worship more certain. Ordaining is only for the good order of the church, and should not be invoked unless the good order of the church is impossible without it, because to ordain is to constrain the conscience. Not to constrain it by new laws from God, but by more-than-advice from the pastor. Bannerman calls this an inverse relationship between Christian liberty of conscience and ordaining power. However, I find myself thinking there are very few - if any - legitimate applications of ordaining power. The Acts 15 declaration is the only one that I can find, and it still is confusing to me. Either way, I hope you will enjoy the unfinished article below.



Scripture has a storied history of banning. Although at first allowed the great freedom of eating from every tree of the garden save one, Adam and Eve were both banned – upon pain of death – from the garden paradise after their fall. Later, all save one tribe – the tribe of Levi - was banned from the holy places of tabernacle and temple, and all save one Levite, and that once a year were banned from the most holy place. However, these examples were both bans coming from God himself, and – as some may object - part of a time of greater strictness in the Old Testament. However, Some would argue banning is still within the purview of the elder in these last days, the overlap of the ages since Christ’s earthly work on the cross. Is banning allowed in the church after Christ, and if so, under what circumstances? Specifically, this paper will examine whether church officers ban other men from Sunday worship or church fellowship in our New Covenant context.

To understand this question, we must understand what is meant by banning. The type of banning that will be examined in this paper is defined as “a public declaration by a session to effect a sustained removal of a person (whether a member of that church or no) from the church building’s premises with or without conditions for reconciliation, and without the courts of the church or the state courts or powers involved.” As there are very few direct examinations of this problem, we will start from the general to the specific – defining the powers of ministers in general from scripture, then civic powers, then applying those general principles to this particular area with additional support from other loci of theology. I am arguing that the practice of banning as defined above is unscriptural, unhelpful, and should never be practiced by any Christian minister. This is because banning is 1) coercive, 2) against the free offer of the gospel, 3) a further punishment beyond excommunication, 4) beyond the scope of ordaining power, and 5) has never been practiced by faithful churches in history.
The nature of Church power and Civil power

The church has powers given to it by the Lord which it alone can execute. Church powers are a result of the keys of the kingdom which were given to the church in Matthew 16: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Accordingly, as stewards and shepherds of God’s flock (1 Corinthians 4:1; John 21:17), Christ gives out of his abundance, and elders in the Christian Church give out of Christ’s abundance. The Church of Christ administers what does not belong to them properly as kings, but through the authority of stewards they give out of Christ’s store.

But the power of the church does not extend infinitely – contrary to the claims of the Roman Catholic church, the Orthodox church is not, for example, able to forgive sins upon their own authority. Though church officers may plant, and water, only God gives the growth which leads to salvation (1 Corinthians 3:6). The Orthodox church has been careful to curtail the powers of the church so that Christ might be pre-eminent, and we only do those things which Christ authorizes us to do. Legitimate authority is authority from Christ himself. The Reformed view of church power is – as one reformed denomination has put it - “all church power is ministerial and declarative” (OPC BCO III.3). For the church is not authorized to make new laws for the people. Unlike the Colossian heretics, who proscribed what they thought to be good laws, “do not handle, do not taste, do not touch.” (Colossians 2:20-23), they were not authorized to do this, and Paul rightly rebukes them.

(The church primary over government, because first and last)

However, there is another institution which was placed on earth which has its own set of powers given to it by God including the power to create laws - the civil government. Although imperfectly just, civil governments were instituted that there might be a check to evil men (Romans 13:3), and therefore the one in authority in that government – “the servant of God” - was given the power of “the sword” (Romans 13:4). That is, he has military and police power, the power to judge, punish and execute – in other words, the power of force or coercion. In the use of judgements and in courts, the civil government has similar structures as the church, and in fact interacts with the church. However, they do not overlap (***), as they are non-competing authorities. Before we can continue with examining banning, these two powers must be distinguished so that we might understand if banning is under the jurisdiction of the church or of the state, or if they both have or both do not have jurisdiction.

How does church power differ from the state

Both civil and ecclesiastical authority are derivative authority. Both derive their authority from God’s original authority. The civil government’s authority is established from Romans 13:1-4, especially “For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God… he is the minister of God.” The church of Christ, his body, has its authority from Christ, who gave power to his ministers at the great commission (Matthew 28:18-20), in different offices (1 Corinthians 12:28; Eph 4:8-14), to a spiritual kingdom separate from this world (John 18:36). Turretin makes the distinction in this way: Civil government is from the Father, the church from the Son[1].

Both civil and ecclesiastical authority should be oriented toward the good of those presided over: the president for the people, and the officers for the parishioners (Roman 13:3ff). Both should be orderly, for the good of their subordinates (1 Timothy 5:19; 1 Corinthians 14:40)

However, while there are similarities, their differences are greater and more numerous than their similarities. They differ most importantly in 1) their objects: the civil upon physical objects, the church upon spiritual objects; 2) the character of their power: the civil using the coercive sword, with the church using the ministerial key; and 3) therefore in their purposes and application of their power: the civil ideally judging retributively to sustain society, and the church judging restoratively to establish Christ’s kingdom and for repentance.

That they differ in their objects (#1) is proved from Christ’s declaring “My kingdom is not of this world,” (John 18:36), who is to look to the things above, not the things below (Col 3:1-4), and whose officers bind and loose in heaven (Matthew 16:19). That they differ in (#2) their characteristic use of power is proved from Romans 13:4, which gives “the sword” to the state which “carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer,” and Matthew 16:19, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven…” That they differ in their purposes and application of their power is proved similarly from Romans 13:4 for the civil – they are coercive and are a terror to bad behavior (v.3); while the has officers who are to be servants – Christ said, in contrast to the civil, which “lord it over them,” it shall not be so among you, but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.” (Mark 10:44) The ruling of the church is to be in the ways of a servant – ministerial. So, Paul calls himself and his compatriots “servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1), and the character of their work not “lord[ing] it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy,” (2 Corinthians 1:24). And we learn from Acts 16:4 that it is also to be declarative – the decision of the church in Acts 15 was “delivered to [the churches] for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders.” The powers of the minister, therefore, are ministerial – in service of their people in service to God - and declarative – declaring and not being coercive.

Having made the necessary differences between these two separate powers, the five arguments that are presented become more clear.

1)Banning is Coercive

Coercion is not a power of the Christian Church, whose officers are charged with being ministerial and declarative. Bannerman notes, “To the civil government belongs the power of the sword, as the instrumentality adapted to its purposes. But the Church of Christ, having been established, not to prevent or redress human violence and civil wrong, but rather to promote the grand purposes of God’s grace towards a fallen world, is armed with no such coercive power.”(*****) Church power is exclusively a spiritual power (Bannerman 238),

The examples in Scripture of coercion of this type are all negative. Jesus warned his followers of the coming persecution when he said, “they will put you out of the synagogues,” (John 16:2); John speaks negatively against Diotrephes, who takes himself as his own authority and speaks “wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church.” (3 John 10). Whether it is excommunication or banning in mind, which will be discussed later, the principle is the same – those put out must be done in the way and for the reasons Christ approves. If we are to use the example of Jesus, no disruption is too great to bar someone from the proclamation of the gospel until self-defense is needed. Even Jesus ran when violence occurred (cf. John 8:59)!

To force someone to leave the church without the use of the power of excommunication is to trespass upon the jurisdiction of the civil authorities, who have the power of coercion. The nature of the authority of the church is spiritual, and her jurisdiction merely what Christ has declared it to be. The pastors, therefore, cannot force anyone out of their church with any meaningful authority. Objection: one may declare someone banned without coercion; a man may be banned and yet never be physically touched. Answer: This is highly unlikely, but whether or not this situation is legitimate will be discussed in numbers 3 and 4.

2)Banning is Against the Free Offer of the Gospel

Although Jesus may have escaped when violence erupted, he never barred anyone from hearing his gospel, even if he spoke in parables. The Pharisees were often disruptive, often chastened, and Jesus often physically left them, but he never forced them to leave. Quite the contrary, the free offer of the gospel must have the same character as the Master who first proclaimed it, “Go out to the highways and the hedges, and compel [ἀνάγκασον] them to come in, that my house mat be filled” (Luke 14:23). This parable exemplifies the desire to be universal in the proclamation of the gospel so strongly that it exaggerates it as forcing others to come in, rather than ever forcing anyone out.

(Examine “compel” more! Does this allow some kind of power? In a parable.)

Yet the purpose of barring is to force out the barred person(s) from hearing God’s Word preached, the gospel proclaimed, and entering into God’s presence on the Lord’s day. Even tax collectors and sinners are welcome to hear the gospel, who are considered the worst of society, and which Matthew 18:17 use as the example of how we are to treat even excommunicated persons. If Jesus – the king and ruler of the church - never excluded any from hearing; if the opposers of the gospel banned their righteous opponents; and if excommunication is the highest censure of the church, and even those under this censure are able to hear the gospel, how can we justify putting anyone out of the hearing of his gospel?

3) Banning is a Further Punishment Beyond Excommunication (Judicial Power)

Excommunication, is the “last and highest of ecclesiastical penalties” (Bannerman***), as the last in the series of church admonitions in Matthew 18:17. Its highest form is the excommunicatio maior, which Muller defines, “full exclusion from fellowship following admonition by the consistory, and discussion of the offense in the congregation.”[2] Exclusion is where the person is, as Calvin says, “debarred from the society of believers”[3], as, as Jonathan Edwards says, “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.”[4] However, neither Calvin nor Edwards debarred the excommunicated from entering the worship service. **** and Jonathan Edwards notes, “If we ought not to join with excommunicated persons in familiar society, much less ought we to hold fellowship with them in solemn worship, though they may be present.”[5]

Excommunication is not excommunication from the gospel, quite the contrary, the major goal of excommunication is for “the salvation of sinners,”[6] and “And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14). Banning would then be both a further punishment beyond excommunication as exclusion from preaching, and make it into a retributive punishment, rather than a restorative grace. This is to again confuse the civil and the ecclesiastical powers, and to add a new power which Christ has not given.

4) Banning is Not Within Ordaining Power, Because it is Not Necessary For Good Order

Ecclesiastical power consist in three things according to Turretin, “dogmatic power,” “ordaining power” and “judicial power.”[7] The first consists in preaching the very Word of God and the administration of the sacraments, the second in ecclesiastical laws, and the third in censuring and excommunication[8]. Therefore the question of banning is either within ordaining power or judicial power, for banning is neither a sermon nor a sacrament, though they both must follow from the teaching of the Word, for Christ rules his church through Scripture. As we have already determined that banning is not within the judicial sphere, what remains to be seen is whether or not banning can be justified from the ordaining sphere of church power.

The best example of ordaining power in Scripture comes from Acts 15, where the Jerusalem counsel determined that Christians “abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality.” (v. 29) Sexual immorality is to be abstained from an enduring commandment from God regardless of epoch (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10). However, the others in this list, while consistent with God’s law in the Old Testament, were no longer ethically required of his people in “these last days” (Hebrews 1:1-2) because of the epoch-changing work of Christ. The elders could not have instituted new laws, because God is the only law-giver (James 4:12a), who alone can make new laws (Deut 4:2a). Nor were Paul or the elders declaring that these were new laws, instead Paul says “my judgment is,” (v19) and the elders “it seemed good to us” (v25). No one can reinstate old laws, as the Colossian heretics had (Colossians 2:16-23), so this must be in conformity to an already existing law.

Calvin pinpoints that law – “the Lord hath commanded you not to hurt a weaker brother.” (Institutes IV.10.22) We are never free to exacerbate the struggles of the weak by our freedom (1 Corinthians 8:13). These requirements were given not as new laws, but as inspired application of an existing law; these requirements are not good in themselves, and do not bind the conscience of themselves, but are only good on account of the circumstances and their end (Turretin 285-286). Therefore, Ordaining power is much like “circumstances” in the Regulative Principle of Worship: the power to ordain circumstances flow from Dogmatic power, but are changeable based upon good order. But ordaining power – in distinction from the Regulative Principle of Worship - is always based upon the dictate: do not use your freedom to hurt your weaker brother. We have no freedom to step upon our brother, so we take away from our own freedom in order to not hurt the weaker brother. The apostles and elders in Acts 15 were binding the conscience of their parishioners, but their hearts were already bound by the law “not to hurt a weaker brother.”

Can banning be done for the good order of the congregation? Yes, in theory, but only with necessary inference from Scripture, good and necessary consequence from Scripture, or examples from Scripture as the Regulative Principle states. George Gillespie, in order to keep from abuse of this principle, laid down two rules for the use of ordaining power: “it must such as are not determinable by Scripture,” and “there must be sufficient reason and warrant… either in the necessity of the act, or in the manifest Christian expediency of it… in the way of securing decency or preventing disorder.” What would be sufficient reason to ban? Sufficient reason would only be in the event of the church being left without the state. If the Church was alone, when a government was either not over them (in the case of anarchy), or was corrupt or anti-Christian that they would not respond to pleas for help, then an ordained ban would be required. Otherwise, to ban would be to coerce that person and step upon the state’s power. In the United States, the church should rather apply for a restraining order upon that person if they have been repeatedly violent and disruptive to the order of the church. Otherwise, a ban is not necessary for the good order of the church.
Not open for further replies.