Benedict’s Rule: Excommunication

Many small groups and larger faith communities struggle with how to arrange for a proper and orderly exit of participants who cease to thrive and/or contribute to life together.  Our failure to do this often ends up trying to advance the fellowship of the group while dealing with contamination at the same time.  This is extremely difficult, and many groups either erode or evaporate as a result.

So, it is essential that Benedict turned to a seven-chapter exploration of how members are both judged to be detrimental to the larger group, and how they are to be removed in a way that is authentically Christian.

Chapter 23 sets the stage for the issue and provides a significant overview.  So, this week, I have chosen to reprint the chapter in its entirety….

If a brother is found to be stubborn or disobedient or proud, if he grumbles or in any way despises the holy rule and defies the orders of his seniors, he should be warned twice privately by the seniors in accord with our Lord’s injunction (Matthew 18:15-16).  If he does not amend, he must be rebuked publicly in the presence of everyone.  But if even then he does not reform, let him be excommunicated, provided that he understands the nature of his punishment.  If, however he lacks understanding, let him undergo corporal punishment.

Blogs are, by nature and necessity, brief.  But I felt it was important to get the larger issue before you prior to our examination of it.  I hope you will read this post slowly.  Next week, we will begin our review of Benedict’s words in this chapter and the six that follow.

For now, suffice it to say that any group which intends to exist for the long-haul cannot avoid dealing with the need to remove members from time to time, and the equally important consideration of how to do it.

We will not hurry through this section of the Rule, because many of us are simply not good at this.  And we do not live in a time when “termination” is viewed positively.  Yet, if we hold to the image of the church as the Body of Christ, we cannot ignore learning what to do when we discover that the Body is ill.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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