Is it best to put away an individual after the Breaking of Bread where unbelievers and visitors are present?
On the authority of God’s Word, assemblies have carried out the two-fold discipline of putting away from their fellowship an individual guilty of the sins listed in the passage (1Cor 5:11) and also placing that individual under social discipline (“with such an one, no not to eat,” v 11). The social discipline does not refer to “eating” the Lord’s supper (1Cor 11:20). This word (“eat”) is used for social eating (e.g., Luke 15:2; Gal 2:12), but not for the necessary meals of those in a household or for the Lord’s Supper.
Generally, assemblies have carried out this discipline at the close of the Breaking of Bread. One reason may be that this is the gathering at which nearly all in the assembly are present. Another reason may be that at this meeting it will be most evident that the person under discipline is no longer a part of the assembly.
A drawback of exercising discipline at this sacred occasion is the affect it has during the meeting on those aware of what’s coming. Also, believers leave the gathering with tears of grief and with upset hearts, rather than the fragrance of worship. Such occasions of discipline are tragic landmarks in any assembly’s history.
Whether or not the assembly carries out this discipline after the Breaking of Bread, however, it is essential that only the assembly be present during this time. David’s words, “Tell it not in Gath, publish it not in the streets of Askelon; lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice” (2Sam 1:20) expresses the principle. Unbelievers or believers not in the fellowship of that assembly (including visitors who have participated in breaking bread) should not be party to what takes place. It is the assembly’s act and such news should not spread to others. That such a sin should exist in the “temple of God” (1Cor 3:16) is a shame to the assembly and dishonoring to God. As much as is possible, unbelievers should not be aware of the assembly’s action nor have occasion to gloat over such matters.
Should an assembly hold a special meeting for excommunication?
As stated above, carrying out such discipline at the close of the Breaking of Bread has some disadvantages. Asking visitors to leave also alerts them to the likelihood of a discipline case, although they may not know its specifics. On the other hand, an advantage is that the greater part of the assembly is more likely present at this meeting than at another occasion.
As always, the Scriptures give us the needed guidance. In writing about putting away an individual from the assembly (1Cor 5), Paul speaks about the gathering of the assembly (v 4, “when ye are gathered together”). It is interesting that he doesn’t address matters regarding the breaking of bread or assembly prayers and ministry until chapters ten through fourteen. While it is likely that believers in New Testament times met only once a week, the segregation of the teaching about discipline from the usual “coming together” of the assembly lends weight to separating that gathering from the other meetings. That does not mean that the meeting for assembly discipline cannot be on the occasion of the regular assembly meetings, but it does allow for the possibility of having the Lord’s authority (“in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” v 4) to act in a separate gathering. Such a gathering seems advisable.
The one disadvantage is that a lesser number of the believers may be able to attend this gathering than attend the Breaking of Bread. With that in view, the elders should make every effort to plan a gathering at a time convenient for most of the believers. And the believers should take extraordinary measures to attend such a rare and solemn gathering. Being present is not pleasant, but important.
Paul speaks about “this punishment which was inflicted by the many” (2Cor 2:6, RV). All in the assembly, apart from the person involved in the discipline, “inflict” the “punishment.” The assembly acts in discipline and the unity of the assembly in such action is crucial. If there is a division of opinion on such a matter, the elders should not rush to judgment. Any who are unconvinced should express their concern courteously and privately to the elders, who should listen to those concerns if they may raise some crucial evidence the elders have missed. Otherwise, without divulging the specifics of the evidence to which they are privy, they can thoughtfully allay the concerns of the unconvinced individual, thus making their impartiality clear (1Tim 5:21). Once that individual has expressed his concerns, he (or she) is responsible to submit to the decision of the guides (Heb 13:17). Disunity on matters of discipline is devastating to the assembly, destructive to the individual who is under discipline, and ultimately displeasing to the Lord (Psa 133:1).
How does an assembly carry out “rebuke before all” (1Tim 5:20)?
An important part of this question is that an assembly carries out this internal discipline. This rebuke takes place within the assembly, does not result in removing an individual from the assembly, and is administered by the assembly. The passage does not envision an individual arising on his own to correct a perceived wrong. In this passage, Paul is writing to Timothy about some behavior that has a public impact on the assembly’s testimony and has been clearly proven (1Tim 5:19), but does not call for excommunication (1Cor 5:11).
The elders guide this assembly action (Heb 13:7, 17, 24, “your,” “your guides,” Murdock NT). They have verified the sin and have likely spoken to the individual personally. On behalf of the assembly, an elder would address the assembly to give the unanimous decision of the elderhood regarding this matter.
The word “rebuke” means “bring convincing proof” (Liddell), “a rebuke which carries conviction” (WEV), “to show people their sins and summon them to repentance” (Kittel). Therefore the elder would specify the sin, show its seriousness from the Word of God, and graciously, but clearly, admonish the individual regarding the sin. This assembly action is necessary to preserve others from following the example of the offending believer (“that others also may fear”) and to clear the assembly of appearing to tolerate such disobedience to the Word of God.