Article 73 — Discipline in respect of communicant members
A communicant member who obstinately rejects the admonition by the consistory or who has committed a public or some other serious sin shall be suspended from the Lord’s Supper. If he continues to harden himself in sin, the consistory shall publicly announce this to the congregation so that the congregation may be engaged in prayer and admonition and the excommunication may not take place without its cooperation.
This article deals with the continuing of church discipline:
1. with the first disciplinary step: the denial of admission to the Lord’s Supper;
2. with – hopefully not — the last step of the procedure – : excommunication
Article 74 will deal with the execution of discipline between those two specific points.
There is a non-disciplinary denial of the admission to the Lord’s Supper, namely when a certain case – e.g. a quarrel between two church members – was not solved in time.
However, this article deals with disciplinary denial only.
It is a matter of course that those who have been denied admission to the Lord’s Supper are not entitled to answer the questions asked at the administration of the sacrament of holy baptism. Neither are they allowed to participate in the election of office-bearers.
All this means that whereas one’s rights within the covenant community has not yet been denied him/her by excommunication, their execution is suspended. Here is a parallel with the case of an office-bearer, who is still an office-bearer but is not permitted to execute the duties of his office.
It is a matter of the consistory being aware of its calling to keep the congregation of the Lord pure and holy, and at the same time being long-suffering towards the sinner. There must be room for ‘numerous subsequent admonitions’.
This first disciplinary action is indeed an initial step. For the consistory has to watch the sinner’s reaction: will he/she repent? Is it clear from this ‘provisional excommunication’ – as the denial of admission to the Lord’s Supper is sometimes called – what will happen if he/she continues in sin?
The accepted Form extensively shows us the seriousness of excommunication: The sinner is in the name and authority of Jesus Christ our Lord declared:
Excluded from the fellowship of Christ and from His kingdom. He (she) may no longer use the sacraments. He (she) has no part any more in the spiritual blessings and benefits which Christ bestows upon His Church. As long as he (she) persists in sin, let him (her) be to you as a Gentile and an outcast.
This shall not happen but with the consent of the classis.
This ecclesiastical assembly acts in a supervising capacity. Its judgment regarding the necessity to continue the procedure of church discipline has to be the same as that of the consistory. ‘Consent’ is here approximately the
same as ‘consensus’.
This supervision is voluntarily accepted by the consistory because of the serious character of church discipline: It is a matter of life or death! The consistory, entrusted with the authority by the King of the church, has to be absolutely sure that they are on the right track.
Excommunication is called ‘an ultimate remedy’. It is executed for the well-being of the congregation, but first of all for that of the sinner, who may recognize that it is his/her own obstinacy which keeps him/her from participating of Christ and all His benefits, and may, as yet, repent.