Thank you for this good question. As we shall see, the excommunication of a believer from a local assembly is a solemn act that calls for a solemn attitude (one of SORROW and HUMILIATION). Putting one out of fellowship is the “last act of discipline” taken by the local assembly after all other attempts to restore an erring brother or sister have failed (see Matthew 18:15-17).

In 1st Corinthians chapter 5 we have a clear case of a brother (who was living in unjudged sin) being excommunicated. He was guilty of “sexual immorality” (verse 1) that called for the assembly to put him away as we see in Paul’s words to the assembly in verses 4-5: “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (NKJV). We see here that the AUTHORITY for excommunication is given to the local assembly by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. The assembly must be “gathered unto Him” (with Him in the midst) in order to have this authority. The Lord Jesus spoke of this in Matthew 18:18-20, “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”  The responsibility to judge a brother (or sister) is incumbent upon us in order to maintain God’s holiness. Besides maintaining God’s holiness, the assembly is “denying him fellowship in the Christian circle and putting him out into the world where Satan rules” so he will learn to “judge the ROOT of his sin, which is THE FLESH” (the OLD SINFUL NATURE that is in him…see Romans 7:18-20). This act of “judging the flesh” and then the “act of sin” produced by the flesh, is what is meant by “the destruction of the flesh.” It constitutes true REPENTANCE, which then would allow the assembly to forgive the erring brother and restore him back into fellowship. This should be the motive (and “proper attitude”) of everyone in the assembly; to see God’s holiness maintained and to see the sinning believer restored to fellowship with God and with the assembly. It would seem that the assembly at Corinth did act on Paul’s words and the brother did indeed repent, which caused Paul to write to them again and exhort them to forgive him and to confirm their love to him by bringing him back into fellowship (see 2nd Corinthians 2:3-11).

Before we close this meditation, it is vital to emphasize the importance of the whole assembly being united in this act of discipline, which would include total separation from him. Perhaps some would be inclined to think, “Okay, we had to put him out of fellowship in our local assembly, but I’m still going to show him love by keeping company with him at times. Maybe I’ll have him over for a meal at our house.” Paul anticipated this line of thinking and wrote the following words to teach them that excommunication includes “social distancing” as well: “I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you NOT TO KEEP COMPANY WITH ANYONE NAMED A BROTHER, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—NOT EVEN TO EAT WITH SUCH A PERSON” (verses 9-11). Paul knew that in order for the discipline to be effective (to truly bring the sinning saint to true repentance), there could be NO FELLOWSHIP AT ALL WITH HIM, including “socializing with him.” If we refuse to adopt this attitude of complete separation, he may think his sin “isn’t so bad after all.” He may even think, in his sad spiritual state, that we are “condoning his sin” by keeping company with him. Paul’s last words in verse 13 brings home how serious this really is, for he says, “Therefore, put away from yourselves the evil person.”

I do feel one more word is in order. If the one who has been put out of fellowship makes contact with someone in the assembly and is showing signs of repentance, true love would cause that one to go to him and seek to see him fully restored. We are told in Galatians 6:1, “Brethren, if a man if overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual RESTORE SUCH A ONE in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.” As we saw earlier, one of our desires when excommunicating a sinning brother is to SEE THEM RESTORED, so if they are reaching out to you and expressing a measure of repentance, we can hope and pray they are truly learning to “judge the flesh and the act of sin produced by the flesh.” Love would lead us to investigate further to see if his repentance is real and to hopefully help him to be “completely restored” (to the Lord first and then to the assembly).  (DO)  (541.1)