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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Of Excommunication and Other Censures

By The Cambridge Platform

Drawn up and adopted by the New England Synod in 1648.

[A Platform of Church Discipline. 1649.]

CHAPTER XIV.—1. The censures of the church are appointed by Christ for the preventing, removing and healing of offences in the church (I. Tim. v. 20; Jude 19; Deut. xiii. 11; I. Cor. v. 6; Rom. ii. 24; Rev. ii. 14, 15, 16, 20); for the reclaiming and gaining of offending brethren; for the deterring others from the like offences; for purging out the leaven which may infect the whole lump; for vindicating the honor of Christ and of his church, and the holy profession of the gospel; and for preventing of the wrath of God, that may justly fall upon the church, if they should suffer his covenant and the seals thereof to be profaned by notorious and obstinate offenders.

2. If an offence be private (Matt. v. 23, 24), (one brother offending another), the offender is to go and acknowledge his repentance for it unto his offended brother, who is then to forgive him; but if the offender neglect or refuse to do it, the brother offended is to go, and convince and admonish him of it, between themselves privately: if therefore the offender be brought to repent of his offence, the admonisher has won his brother: but if the offender hear not his brother, the brother of the offended is to take with him one or two more (verse 16), that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established (whether the word of admonition, if the offender receive it; or the word of complaint, if he refuse it), for if he refuse it (verse 17), the offended brother is by the mouth of the elders to tell the church, and if he hear the church, and declare the same by penitent confession, he is recovered and gained. And if the church discern him to be willing to hear, yet not fully convinced of his offence, as in case of heresy, they are to dispense to him a public admonition; which, declaring the offender to lie under the public offence of the church, doth thereby withhold or suspend him from the holy fellowship of the Lord’s Supper, till his offence be removed by penitent confession. If he still continue obstinate, they are to cast him out by excommunication.

3. But if the offence be more public at first, and of a more heinous and criminal nature (I. Cor. v. 4, 8, 11), to wit, such as are condemned by the light of nature; then the church, without such gradual proceeding, is to cast out the offender from their holy communion, for the further mortifying of his sin, and the healing of his soul in the day of the Lord Jesus.

4. In dealing with an offender, great care is to be taken that we be neither over-strict or rigorous, nor too indulgent or remiss: our proceeding herein ought to be with a spirit of meekness, considering ourselves, lest we also be tempted (Gal. vi. 1), and that the best of us have need of much forgiveness from the Lord. (Matt. xviii. 34, 35.) Yet the winning and healing of the offender’s soul being the end of these endeavors (Ezek. xiii. 10), we must not daub with untempered mortar, nor heal the wounds of our brethren slightly. On some, have compassion; others, save with fear.

5. While the offender remains excommunicate (Matt. xviii. 17), the church is to refrain from all member-like communion with him in spiritual things (I. Cor. v. 11), and also from all familiar communion with him in civil things (II. Thess. iii. 6, 14), farther than the necessity of natural or domestical or civil relations do require; and are therefore to forbear to eat and drink with him, that he may be ashamed.

6. Excommunication being a spiritual punishment, it doth not prejudice the excommunicate in, or deprive him of his civil rights, and therefore toucheth not princes or magistrates in respect of their civil dignity or authority (I. Cor. xiv. 24, 25); and the excommunicate being but as a publican and a heathen (II. Thess. iii. 14), heathens being lawfully permitted to hear the word in church-assemblies, we acknowledge therefore the like liberty of hearing the word may be permitted to persons excommunicate that is permitted unto heathen. And because we are not without hope of his recovery, we are not to account him as an enemy, but to admonish him as a brother.

7. If the Lord sanctify the censure to the offender, so as by the grace of Christ, he doth testify his repentance with humble confession of his sin, and judging of himself, giving glory unto God (II. Cor. ii. 7, 8), the church is then to forgive him, and to comfort him, and to restore him to the wonted brotherly communion, which formerly he enjoyed with them.

8. The suffering of profane or scandalous livers to continue in fellowship, and partake in the sacraments (Rev. ii. 14, 15, 20), is doubtless a great sin in those that have power in their hands to redress it, and do it not. Nevertheless, insomuch as Christ, and his apostles in their times, and the prophets and other godly men in theirs (Matt. xxiii. 3; Acts iii. 1), did lawfully partake of the Lord’s commanded ordinances in the Jewish church, and neither taught nor practised separation from the same, though unworthy ones were permitted therein: and inasmuch as the faithful in the church of Corinth, wherein were many unworthy persons and practices (I. Cor. vi. and xv. 12), are never commanded to absent themselves from the sacraments, because of the same; therefore the godly, in like cases, are not to separate.

9. As separation from such a church wherein profane and scandalous persons are tolerated, is not presently necessary; so for the members thereof, otherwise unworthy, hereupon to abstain from communicating with such a church in the participation of the sacraments, is unlawful. (II. Chron. xxx. 18; Gen. xviii. 25.) For as it were unreasonable for an innocent person to be punished for the faults of others, wherein he hath no hand, and whereunto he gave no consent; so is it more unreasonable that a godly man should neglect duty, and punish himself, in not coming for his portion in the blessing of the seals, as he ought, because others are suffered to come that ought not; especially considering that himself doth neither consent to their sin, nor to their approaching to the ordinance in their sin, nor to the neglect of others, who should put them away, and do not, but, on the contrary, doth heartily mourn for these things (Ezek. ix. 4), modestly and seasonably stir up others to do their duty. If the church cannot be reformed, they may use their liberty, as is specified. But this all the godly are bound unto, even every one to his endeavor, according to his power and place, that the unworthy may be duly proceeded against by the church, to whom this matter doth pertain.