Excommunication minor and major in modern Presbyterian polity

Gwallard

Puritan Board Freshman
This definition is in Muller's "Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms"

Excommunicatio: (excommunication) Church censure that refuses to the impenitent sinner participation in the Lord's Supper and the fellowship of the Christian community; The Reformed distinguished between excommunication minor, disciplinary exclusion from the Lord's Supper, and excommunication maior, full exclusion from fellowship following admonition by the consistory and discussion of the offense in the congregation.

My question is about if this distinction still holds in Presbyterian polity today?

In the OPC, it seems like "erasure" from the roll is considered - in the right circumstances - a soft form of excommunication. But I do not see a distinction between major and minor excommunication in the OPC BCO, but I may be mistaken.
 

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This definition is in Muller's "Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms"

Excommunicatio: (excommunication) Church censure that refuses to the impenitent sinner participation in the Lord's Supper and the fellowship of the Christian community; The Reformed distinguished between excommunication minor, disciplinary exclusion from the Lord's Supper, and excommunication maior, full exclusion from fellowship following admonition by the consistory and discussion of the offense in the congregation.

My question is about if this distinction still holds in Presbyterian polity today?

In the OPC, it seems like "erasure" from the roll is considered - in the right circumstances - a soft form of excommunication. But I do not see a distinction between major and minor excommunication in the OPC BCO, but I may be mistaken.
In the FCC, we still refer to suspension from the Supper as 'the lesser excommunication,' as distinguished from 'the greater excommunication.'

I'm not sure about the terminology used in other denominations, but that suspension from the Supper is a form of censure short of full excommunication is a confessional doctrine for Presbyterians.

WCF XXX.iv:
'For the better attaining of these ends, the officers of the Church are to proceed by admonition, suspension from the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper for a season, and by excommunication from the Church, according to the nature of the crime and demerit of the person.'
 
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In the PRC, we still use the language of 'lesser excommunication;' in the OPC, I believe the language is 'suspension.' The OPC also has some other categories for these things which may or may not be helpful, such as erasure, as you bring up.
 
In the PRC, we still use the language of 'lesser excommunication;' in the OPC, I believe the language is 'suspension.' The OPC also has some other categories for these things which may or may not be helpful, such as erasure, as you bring up.
In the FCC, we still refer to suspension from the Supper as 'the lesser excommunication,' as distinguished from 'the greater excommunication.'

I'm not sure about the terminology used in other denominations, but that suspension from the Supper is a form of censure short of full excommunication is a confessional doctrine for Presbyterians.

WCF XXX.iv:
'For the better attaining of these ends, the officers of the Church are to proceed by admonition, suspension from the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper for a season, and by excommunication from the Church, according to the nature of the crime and demerit of the person.'
Thank you both of you for your help!

Yes, I've been confused by the way the OPC BCO speaks about these things, considering the wider Reformed history. Would "suspension" be the OPC way of saying "minor excommunication"? Or, is "suspension" only possibly a minor excommunication, and includes other things?

My question with "erasure" is that it seems like it MAY be like a soft form of excommunication depending upon the circumstances - as discipline done without full judicial process - but that seems more like a soft form of major excommunication, and NOT a form of excommunication minor or simply the same as excommunication minor. "Erasure" almost seems like a third thing between minor and major excommunication, because it is simply major excommunication without the "discussion of the offense with the congregation," which confuses me.

It makes me wonder how much erasure should even come into play, or if it has (wrongly) replaced major excommunication in OPC polity.
 
Thank you both of you for your help!

Yes, I've been confused by the way the OPC BCO speaks about these things, considering the wider Reformed history. Would "suspension" be the OPC way of saying "minor excommunication"? Or, is "suspension" only possibly a minor excommunication, and includes other things?

My question with "erasure" is that it seems like it MAY be like a soft form of excommunication depending upon the circumstances - as discipline done without full judicial process - but that seems more like a soft form of major excommunication, and NOT a form of excommunication minor or simply the same as excommunication minor. "Erasure" almost seems like a third thing between minor and major excommunication, because it is simply major excommunication without the "discussion of the offense with the congregation," which confuses me.

It makes me wonder how much erasure should even come into play, or if it has (wrongly) replaced major excommunication in OPC polity.

I'll lay my cards on the table. I have seen 'erasure' used in strange ways. It has been used when a man leaves NAPARC to join some other non-reformed body (i.e. Baptists or Anglican), when a man demits from the ministry for some reason, or even when someone apostatizes to Rome or the East. It seems to be a catch all from where I sit.
 
Thank you both of you for your help!

Yes, I've been confused by the way the OPC BCO speaks about these things, considering the wider Reformed history. Would "suspension" be the OPC way of saying "minor excommunication"? Or, is "suspension" only possibly a minor excommunication, and includes other things?

My question with "erasure" is that it seems like it MAY be like a soft form of excommunication depending upon the circumstances - as discipline done without full judicial process - but that seems more like a soft form of major excommunication, and NOT a form of excommunication minor or simply the same as excommunication minor. "Erasure" almost seems like a third thing between minor and major excommunication, because it is simply major excommunication without the "discussion of the offense with the congregation," which confuses me.

It makes me wonder how much erasure should even come into play, or if it has (wrongly) replaced major excommunication in OPC polity.
Suspension from the Supper and the lesser excommunication are the same thing. The terms get used interchangably in churches like my own. My guess would be that some churches don't tend to use the language of "lesser excommunication," but if they suspend people from the Supper, it's the same thing.

Erasure from the roll of a church's membership is something any church may have to do at some point or another. Imagine, for instance, that someone moves away, and the church loses touch with him, so that the session has no way of contacting him at all. It's been years, and they never receive a letter requesting transfer or anything. What can they do but erase the person from the roll?

Erasure is not censure. It's a mere administrative action. It's subject to abuse, no doubt, and some may abuse it in such a way that they are abdicating responsibility over souls that they will have to give account for. But, officially, it's not excommunication or censure of any sort.

I can't speak to the OPC's practice.
 
I don't know if erasure is co-terminous with a simple removal from the church membership rolls, but there may be situations where someone can't be excommunicated - because one has to stick around for that procedure and let it play out. In some such circumstances, a member may be "erased".
 
I don't know if erasure is co-terminous with a simple removal from the church membership rolls, but there may be situations where someone can't be excommunicated - because one has to stick around for that procedure and let it play out. In some such circumstances, a member may be "erased".
If someone won't submit to the process of discipline, he'll be excommunicated in absentia for contumacy.
 
Many of these terms suffer from inconsistent usage, or a lack of definition in church standards. Within the RCUS this is how I would understand them, but I wouldn't be surprised if other elders might have a different tack.

Suspension is not minor excommunication. Suspension is an inherently temporary situation which will be resolved either in restoration or erasure/excommunication.

Erasure can be administrative or judicial. Administrative erasure comes in when someone is clearly not part of the congregation anymore, but their status is otherwise unknown or they have joined themselves to a congregation to whom a letter of transfer cannot be issued or who do not recognize our discipline. Judicial erasure is for a person failing to keep their commitment of membership, but of whom no other fault can be proven.

Minor excommunication is exclusion from the Lord's Supper. Major excommunication would include also a prohibition from participating in other church activities. We don't address any such distinction in our Constitution, and I think it's generally understood that major excommunication is a very rare situation that comes up when someone needs to be barred from even attending for the protection of a victim. And even that, of course, would leave open attendance at other congregations.
 
For what it's worth, the PCA BCO history project quotes Thornwell https://pcahistory.org/bco/rod/30/04.html
The difference between suspension and ex-communication is a difference in degree and not in kind. Ex-communication is more solemn in form, and more permanent and stringent in operation.
“Disciplinary exclusion from the Lord's Supper” seems like it describes suspension exactly.
 
Many of these terms suffer from inconsistent usage, or a lack of definition in church standards. Within the RCUS this is how I would understand them, but I wouldn't be surprised if other elders might have a different tack.

Suspension is not minor excommunication. Suspension is an inherently temporary situation which will be resolved either in restoration or erasure/excommunication.

Erasure can be administrative or judicial. Administrative erasure comes in when someone is clearly not part of the congregation anymore, but their status is otherwise unknown or they have joined themselves to a congregation to whom a letter of transfer cannot be issued or who do not recognize our discipline. Judicial erasure is for a person failing to keep their commitment of membership, but of whom no other fault can be proven.

Minor excommunication is exclusion from the Lord's Supper. Major excommunication would include also a prohibition from participating in other church activities. We don't address any such distinction in our Constitution, and I think it's generally understood that major excommunication is a very rare situation that comes up when someone needs to be barred from even attending for the protection of a victim. And even that, of course, would leave open attendance at other congregations.
Thank you all for your help!

Yes, lack of clarity has been my problem -

The BOD is clear - "Erasure is an act of discipline without full process." (V.2). But it's felt like it's more of an administrative action with some of the circumstances.

The cases given for erasure are these:
1) when the person desires to unite with a church basically outside NAPARC practice that will not help them grow.
2) when the person desires to leave the OPC and to go to a denomination outside NAPARC (basically) that will not help them grow.
3) AFTER a person has already joined another church outside NAPARC that will not help them grow
4) After a person is unable to be found for 2 years
5) After a person goes to another church of another denomination he prefers, but does not unite himself to it and will not leave the OPC.
6) when a non communicant member (covenant child) does not profess faith and does not care to.

These all are - more or less - reactionary. Especially 4 is purely administrative - they just have to be taken off of the rolls, because who knows where they are - there is nothing that can be done to restore them to fellowship. But the others are a mix of administrative and judicial, as they try to restore to fellowship.

However, I guess I would disagree with one thing you said - excommunication major doesn't include shunning the excommunicated, although they ought to be kept from regular Christian company in general, they ought to be encouraged to come to hear the gospel somewhere, just like we would encourage any unbeliever. We ought to treat them much like an unbeliever while there, but that includes joy that they heard the Word preached.

The very rare case when someone needs to be barred from the congregation would be a more civil matter, rather than a ecclesiastical matter, therefore. Like a restraining order and the like.
 
Happy to be of help!

We explicitly distinguish between administrative and judicial erasure just because there is sometimes a distinct element of a fault being somewhat addressed by that means. But even administrative erasure is a disciplinary action in that, if someone administratively erased were suddenly to show up, they would have to let us know where they are church members before being allowed to take the Lord's Supper.

We don't use the language of major communication, so I was just drawing on what you had cited: "excommunicatio maior, full exclusion from fellowship." Since barring from the Lord's Supper is already assumed, I would take it that this involves the withholding of specifically Christian fellowship.
 
Perhaps the older Dutch Reformed term of "silent censure," i.e., the elders telling a person he should not come to the Lord's Table but not publicly humiliating a man who they hope may still be repentant or become repentant, would apply here?
 
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