The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary







Excommunication is religious censure which is used to deprive or suspend membership in a religious community. The word literally means "out of communion". (Sections in alphabetical order.) ( Excommunications(List) )



Calvin's view on excommunication

In John Calvin's Institutes of The Christian Religion, he said (4.12.10):

For when our Saviour promises that what his servants bound on earth should be bound in heaven, (Matth. 18: 18,) he confines the power of binding to the censure of the Church, which does not consign those who are excommunicated to perpetual ruin and damnation, but assures them, when they hear their life and manners condemned, that perpetual damnation will follow if they do not repent. [Excommunication] rebukes and animadverts upon his manners; and although it ... punishes, it is to bring him to salvation, by forewarning him of his future doom. If it succeeds, reconciliation and restoration to communion are ready to be given. ... Hence, though ecclesiastical discipline does not allow us to be on familiar and intimate terms with excommunicated persons, still we ought to strive by all possible means to bring them to a better mind, and recover them to the fellowship and unity of the Church: as the apostle also says, "Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother" (2 Thess. 3: 15). If this humanity be not observed in private as well as public, the danger is, that our discipline shall degenerate into destruction.

Some Reformed churches today do not make use of excommunication (or church discipline in its lesser forms), though it is often still required by their constitutions.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ("LDS Church"; see also Mormon) practices excommunication, as well as the lesser sanctions of disfellowshipping and probation, as penalties for those who committ serious sin. The decision to excommunicate a Melchizedek Priesthood holder is generally the province of the leadership of a Stake, which consists of several local wards. Excommunications occur only after a formal "church court" in which twelve members of the Stake High Council listen to evidence and then vote.

Those who are excommunicated lose the right to take the Sacrament and membership in the Church, which to be regained must include re-baptism of the individual. Persons who have had such sanctions are welcome and encouraged to attend Church meetings, but cannot participate, enter into the temples, or wear temple garments. In many cases, the Church makes known the fact that a person has been excommunicated, whereas the reasons why are kept confidential. Excommunicated members may be re-baptized after a waiting period and sincere repentance, as judged by a series of interviews with Church leaders.

Excommunication is generally reserved for the most serious sins, including serious crimes, adultery, polygamy, homosexual conduct, apostasy, teaching false doctrines, and openly criticizing Church leaders. In the case of apostasy, false teaching, and being openly critical of church leadership, excommunication is often a last resort after repeated warnings.

Some critics have charged that Church leaders have used the threat of excommunication to silence researchers and critics in the Church who disagree with established policy and doctrine — most notably the so-called September Six.

However, Church policy dictactes that local leaders are responsible for excommunication, without influence from General Church leadership. Latter-day Saint apologists claim that many alleged excommunications never take place or are used as a publicity stunt used for gain. A recent example they cite is Thomas Murphy, who claimed he was threatened with excommunication because his DNA research challenged Church teachings. (see Archaeology and the Book of Mormon). Such an excommunication has neither taken place nor been arranged.

As a lighter penalty, Latter-day Saints may be disfellowshipped, which means that they do not lose their membership in the Church, but may not participate in the Sacrament, Church meetings (though they may attend), and temple ordinances, but still may wear temple garments unlike excommunication. For lesser sins, or where the sinner appears truly repentant, the member may be put on probation for a time, which means that further sin will result in disfellowshipment or excommunication.

Eastern Orthodox Communion

In the Orthodox Church, excommunication is the exclusion of a member from the Eucharist. It is not expulsion from the Church. This can happen due to minor reasons like not having confessed within that year or be imposed as part of a penitential period. The Orthodox Church does have a means of expulsion, by pronouncing anathema, but this is reserved only for acts of serious and unrepetant heresy. Even in that case, the individual is not "damned" by the Church but is instead left to his own devices.

Jehovah's Witnesses

Jehovah's Witnesses resort to disfellowshipping in cases where a person has seriously violated the Bible's moral standards, based on their understanding of the Bible. Disfellowshipping is not automatic, the individual’s sincere repentance or lack thereof is the determining factor. If a judicial committee established by the congregation is convinced that the person has not repented of the sin(s) committed, disfellowshipping will result. If the person believes that an error in judgment has been made, he or she has the right to appeal. The matter would then be investigated by a committee of different elders from another congregation. Disfellowshipped persons may be reinstated into the congregation if they cease the activities that led to their disfellowshipping and give evidence of having repented; they will not, however, be considered eligible for special privileges, such as being a congregation elder, for a number of years after their reinstatement. For more information, see Practices of Jehovah's Witnesses and Shunning.

Roman Catholic Church

Excommunication is the most serious ecclesiastical penalty for Roman Catholics. While a person excommunicated is not "damned" by the Church, the person is barred from participating in its communal life. The outward sign of this loss of community involves barring the person from participating in liturgy, i.e., receiving the Eucharist or the other Sacraments. Certain other rights and privileges normally resulting from membership in the church are revoked, such as holding ecclesiastical office. Excommunication is intended to be only temporary, a "medicinal" procedure intended to guide the offender toward repentance. In the Roman Catholic Church excommunication is usually terminated by repentance, confession, and absolution. Excommunications offences must be absolved by a more senior official or a priest that has permission from a senior official.

Automatic excommunication

There are a few offenses for which Catholics (of the Latin Rite) are automatically excommunicated:

Also, in the matter of Papal conclaves, all who are present in the conclave, including Cardinals and aides, are bound by oath to keep the details of the conclave secret. Only the Pope can allow details on the election to be released. If anyone present at the conclave reveals secret information without the authorization of the Pope, that person would face automatic excommunication. Simony - or selling of church offices - also would result in automatic excommunication in the case of a Papal election.

Some ecclesiastical offenses incur an automatic interdict, which for a lay person is virtually equivalent to excommunication.


Main article: takfir.

In Islam, takfir is a declaration deeming an individual or group kafir, meaning non-believers.


Cherem is the highest ecclesiastical censure in Judaism. It is the total exclusion of a person from the Jewish community. Except in rare cases in the Ultra-Orthodox community, cherem stopped existing after The Enlightenment, when local Jewish communities lost their political autonomy, and Jews were integrated into the greater gentile nations which they lived in. A fuller discussion of this subject is available in the cherem article.

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Last updated: 06-01-2005 23:16:57
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