Day 156 – The First Excommunication

Today’s reading: 1 Cor 5

Recall that in Matthew 18, the Apostles were given the power to bind and loose.  “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  At its highest level, the power to bind and loose give the Apostles the power to forgive sins (Jesus also conveys this authority to them explicitly) and the power to definitively define the dogmas of the Christian faith.  In addition, the power to bind and loose also necessarily entails a disciplinary authority.

Today we see St. Paul invokes that power in the most dramatic way.  There is an open and manifest sinner living among the Corinthians.  This man is engaged in an affair with his father’s wife.  Paul’s discipline in swift and sure:

Let him who has done this be removed from among you.  For though absent in body I am present in spirit, and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment  in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus,  you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

There are no two ways about it – Paul kicks him out of the Church.  This is the first excommunication.  The word means what it literally says – to break communion.  Two things should be stated.  First, for someone to be kicked out of something that thing must exist in the first place.  In other words, even in the first century, the Church was a visible organization.  The Church is not just the invisible body of baptized believers.  This man is still a part (and always will be) part of the mystical body of believers.  However, he is kicked out of the visible organization that is the Church.

Second, excommunication doesn’t mean that the person is being sent to hell.  Make no mistake; this is a very serious thing.  Paul actually says this man is being delivered over to Satan.  However, the discipline is ultimately for the good of this man.  Paul says that he is doing this so that the man, “may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”  Paul is willing to give up his body to hopefully save his soul.  By kicking him out of the Church, Paul is cutting the man off from the body of Christ.  This will lead to suffering, perhaps physical but certainly spiritual.  The hope is that this dramatic step, and the realization by the man of the seriousness of his sins, will lead to repentance.

Notice, Paul declares that HE (Paul) has pronounced judgment on this man IN THE NAME OF LORD.  This comes right after Paul telling us that he doesn’t even judge himself.  So we see here, that even though Paul will leave final judgment to Christ, it is his role and his responsibility to exercise the authority he has been given for the good of the Church.  This is not his own power but Jesus’ power which Paul has been given authority to exercise in Jesus’ name.

Paul extends this further and reminds the congregation that they have this responsibility too.

For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?  God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

Again, two points should be highlighted.  Paul says, “those inside the church” should be held to the standards of the Church.  Again, this identifies a visible organization.  Second, the next time someone quotes to you the “judge not” passage (some people think the entire bible consists solely of those two words) bring them right to this passage.  Notice, Paul has no problem judging the ACTIONS of this man but he does not judge his soul.  We can and must judge actions, particularly manifestly sinful actions.  However, we do not judge souls and when we do judge actions it is to point out manifest sin in the hopes of bringing about repentance.

In addition, this whole episode strongly undercuts the idea of, “once saved always saved.”  This man was saved – he was converted and in the church.  Then he is not saved – in serious sin and kicked out.  And Paul hopes that he may be saved on the last day.

Finally, note Paul’s other reference:

… For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed.  Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

What is “the festival” that Paul wants the Corinthians to celebrate?  We know it is not a Jewish festival and we know it can’t be a pagan festival.  We can tell what Paul is referencing because he refers to Christ as “our paschal lamb”.  Paul is referring to the last supper and the Eucharist.  So even from this early time, Christian worship was the Mass, with the Paschal lamb the focus.

Notice the sentence combines the present and past tense.  Christ IS our Paschal lamb, who has been sacrificed.  The sacrifice has passed but Christ IS the paschal lamb because he IS ALIVE and present in the Eucharist.  Remember that at the Passover, the lamb was sacrificed at the temple and then taken home and consumed by the family.  Jesus’ sacrifice is made once and for all on Calvary but Paul still refers to Him as the Pascal lamb and instructs the Corinthians to celebrate the festival.  Thus, in the first century they are doing as Jesus instructed, they “do this in remembrance” of him.  Christians from the beginning are consuming the lamb in thanksgiving and worship.  Christian worship, from the beginning, is the Lord’s Supper.  That is the festival that is celebrated.

Tomorrow: 1 Cor 6

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