When someone who has been excommunicated repents and desires to be again received into the communion of the Church, the congregation shall be informed of his desire in order to see whether there are any lawful objections.
The time between the public announcement and the readmission of the sinner shall be not less than one month.
If no lawful objection is raised, the readmission shall take place with the use of the Form for that purpose.
Much of what has been said in connection with the previous article applies in this case as well, and will not be repeated. One important difference is that when an excommunicated person requests to be readmitted to the communion of saints, this is to be effectuated in a public worship service. It was in a worship service that he was declared deprived of all the rights and benefits which Christ gives to and bestows upon His church; it is in a worship service that he is restored to all his rights. The churches have adopted a Form for this purpose, and it must be used.
Not many of us will ever have witnessed such a readmission. Very few among our ministers will have tasted the joy of being called upon to read this Form and to declare in the Name of the Lord: “We receive you again into the Church of the Lord with joy and gratitude, and declare that you share in the fellowship of Christ, of the holy sacraments, and of all the spiritual gifts and blessings of our Saviour which God promises to and bestows upon His Church.” Yet this is the purpose of church discipline, also of that “last remedy,” the excommunication.
A request to be admitted again into the communion of saints must come from the excommunicated person himself, but this is self-evident. No one but he who desires to be restored to the position of member of Christ’s body will be prepared to answer the questions found in the Form. Having admonished him and having noticed gradual change, the members of the consistory will have urged him to request readmission, but it is up to him to take the initiative thereto. The sincerity of his desire will have been demonstrated by his attending the worship services for quite some time. Fortunately, the churches no longer follow a custom such as was found in the ancient church barring excommunicated members from the services altogether and, if they repented, letting them first stand for some length of time outside the place where the services were held before finally permitting him to witness the services, if ever.
When the consistory is convinced of the genuineness of the repentance, it will inform the congregation of the request for readmission. The congregation
is informed of this so that the readmission not take place without its approval. At the same time the congregation has the opportunity to bring to the consistory’s attention any impediment it might know of which might constitute a reason to deny the request, at least at this stage and at this time.
An announcement to the congregation is, therefore, not just a message to let the congregation know what is going to happen, as for instance, that the consistory will meet on Tuesday evening at 7:30, but thereby the consistory gives the congregation the opportunity to let the consistory know whether it gives its approval to the readmission of the former member. Only with the cooperation of the congregation can one again be received into the communion of the church, as only with the cooperation of the congregation he could be expelled from that communion.
Our Book of Praise contains an announcement which informs the congregation of the request received. In this announcement it is stated that “at the next celebration of the holy supper we shall loose the man from the bond of excommunication and readmit him to the fellowship of the saints.”
A close connection existed between the discipline and the holy supper. It was by the barring from the table of the Lord that the suspension of the brother became evident first of all. It is beneficial that with the celebration of the holy supper it becomes evident that not only the privileges themselves have been restored to him but also the right to use them. The glory and joy of readmission into the church cannot be demonstrated more clearly than by sitting together at the one table, where it is shown that “as one bread is baked out of many grains and one wine is pressed out of many grapes, so we all, incorporated in Christ in faith, are together one body.” Thus is shown “the unity and fellowship in the Holy Spirit which the congregation enjoys at the table of the Lord.”
Since the congregation must be given ample opportunity to come forward with possible objections to the person’s readmission, the time between the announcement and the actual readmission should be not less than one month, preferably longer so as to prevent several extra consistory meetings or hasty decisions. If matters cannot be cleared up before the next Lord’s Supper, the consistory should inform the congregation accordingly.
What is the procedure to be followed in the case of non-communicant members? It is the very same procedure; only the profession of faith must follow immediately upon the conclusion of the Form for Readmission. The declaration made in this Form means that one is restored to all the rights and privileges which one had before the excommunication. This does not suffice to admit a non-communicant member to the table of the Lord, for he had not yet made profession of faith. On the other hand, the readmission cannot be effectuated by a “simple” profession of faith, for the person did not just break with the church but was excommunicated from it. Thus the Form for Readmission is to be followed by that for the Profession of Faith, and after this the brother is entitled to all the rights and privileges of membership.