Church Discipline: What Does Suspension Mean?
There are times within a disciplinary process that some in the church must be temporarily postponed from their normal opportunity to take part in the formal fellowship or service of the saints. The status of those so suspended is not revoked (as with excommunication from membership or deposition from office), but their regular activities are restricted.
The Orthodox Presbyterian Church’s Book of Church Order explains:
- Suspension is a form of censure by which one is deprived of the privileges of membership in the church, of office, or of both. It may be for a definite or an indefinite time. Suspension of an officer from the privileges of membership shall always be accompanied by suspension from office, but the latter does not necessarily involve the former.
- An officer or other member of the church, while under suspension, shall be the object of deep solicitude and earnest dealing to the end that he may be restored. When the trial judicatory which pronounced the censure is satisfied of the penitence of the offender, or when the time of suspension has expired, the censure shall be removed and the offender shall be restored. This restoration shall be accompanied by a solemn admonition. Restoration to the privileges of membership may take place without restoration to those of office.
- When a minister has been indefinitely suspended, the judicatory shall immediately notify all the presbyteries of the church.
The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) 30:2 on church discipline instructs that Christ has ordained officers with delegated ecclesiastical authority, “ … whereof, they have power … to shut [His] kingdom against the impenitent, both by the Word, and censures …” WCF 30:4 describes the process of censure, first with admonition then to be followed as necessary by “suspension from the sacrament of the Lord's Supper for a season …” In its chapter about the Lord’s Supper, WCF 29:8 instructs, “… all ignorant and ungodly persons, as they are unfit to enjoy communion with Him, so are they unworthy of the Lord's table and cannot … be admitted thereunto.”
Most Reformed and confessional churches practice session-controlled or restricted communion (or, “fencing the table”), only admitting communicant members in good standing along with visitors who first confirm the same with Session. Jesus shared His supper with select people in a private room. Just as partakers must meet qualifications to participate, so may they be disqualified for a time.
Gordon J. Keddie writes:
The church … has a corporate responsibility, through her elders, to set things in order. The elders cannot read the hearts of their people, but they can assess the credibility of their confessions of faith and the consistency of their daily lives … the ungodly must be prevented from coming to the Table and the godly only admitted when they have shown by profession of faith before the church and a consistent life before both church and world that they truly do ‘discern the Lord’s body’.
The Westminster Larger Catechism Question 173 asks, “May any who profess the faith and desire to come to the Lord's supper, be kept from it?”; its answer: “Such as are found to be ignorant or scandalous, notwithstanding their profession of the faith, and desire to come to the Lord’s Supper, may and ought to be kept from that sacrament, by the power which Christ has left in his church, until they receive instruction, and manifest their reformation.” Similarly, the “Directory for the Publick Worship of God” insists that, “The ignorant and the scandalous are not fit to receive the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.” To be ignorant is to not know or to deny basic doctrine (1 Cor. 11:29). To be scandalous is to undermine one’s profession by immoral living (Titus 1:16).
As those with sundry rebellious lifestyles will have no access to the Great Supper of the Lamb in heaven, neither may they be admitted to His table on Earth.
In 1 Corinthians 5:6-11, Paul makes it clear that discipline is necessary to keep the church’s fellowship pure from worldly influence and that this must sometimes include excommunication and suspension from the Lord’s Supper. Ken Golden writes, “Self-examination … doesn’t exclude the decisions of church officers. The church still has a responsibility to judge its own, especially when its members are blind to their sins.”
Any dinner party host has a right both to approve the invitation list and deny those who show up sullied or exhibiting nasty table manners. As Paul essentially put it, With Some You Are Not to Eat.
Grant Van Leuven has been feeding the flock at the Puritan Reformed Presbyterian Church in San Diego, CA, since 2010. He also serves the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals as community engagement coordinator as well as assistant editor for MeetthePuritans.org. He and his wife, Fernanda, have six covenant children: Rachel, Olivia, Abraham, Isaac, Gabriel, and Gideon. He earned his M.Div. at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA.
 The Book of Church Order of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (Willow Grove, Pa.: The Committee on Christian Education of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, 2011), 112. See chapter VI, “Censure and Restoration”, B.: Degrees of Censure.
 Ibid, 113.
 Westminster Confession of Faith (Glasgow: Free Presbyterian Publications, 2003), 119.
 Ibid, 120. In most modern books of church order the additional step of rebuke is carefully taken after admonition and before suspension from communion or office.
 Ibid, 118. Emphasis, GVL.
 It also should be noted that catechumens in the ancient church were required to exit the assembly before the Lord’s Supper was to be served. The practice of communion tokens in various historic Reformed contexts also is an important precedent to consider.
 Gordon J. Keddie, The Lord’s Supper is a Celebration of Grace: What the Bible Teaches About Communion (Auburn, Mass.: Evangelical Press, 2000), 83.
 WCF, 262-263.
 Ibid, 384.
 See 1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:21; Eph. 5:3-5; and Rev. 21:8; 22:15.
 Ken Golden, Eating and Drinking with God (Lancaster, Pa.: Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, 2020), 29. He also explains, “ … the Lord’s Supper is a visible church ordinance. For that reason, only members of a visible church in good standing should be allowed to partake.” Ibid, 27.
 1 Corinthians 5:11. For a sermon by the author on this Scripture text and Westminster Larger Catechism Q&A 173 by this sermon title, see https://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=2215120408