The 39: Church Discipline (2)

Article 33 on excommunication is an excellent example of the second principle we have underlined throughout our study in how the Anglican confession is the sum of the historical formularies. 

That person which by open denunciation of the Church is rightly cut off from the unity of the Church, and excommunicated, ought to be taken of the whole multitude of the faithful, as an Heathen and Publican, until he be openly reconciled by penance, and received into the Church by a Judge that hath authority thereunto.

Article 33 repeats article 32 of Cranmer’s 1553 original. The only change is in the title. 1553’s “Excommunicate Persons are to be avoided” became “Of Excommunicate Persons, How They are to be Avoided.” The article is another excellent example of sola scriptura. It intends the reform according to the Scriptures of the abuse of discipline by the Roman Catholic Church. The Reformers were very conscious of the need for biblically faithful church discipline as they were also careful to avoid the corruption that had given rise to the Reformation in the first place, that one could buy oneself out of the consequence that their sinfulness has brought upon them. 

In the 1552/1662 Book of Common Prayer, there are many places dedicated to pastoral discipline. The instruction to the Minister at the beginning of the order for the administration of the Lord’s Supper alludes to the biblical pattern found in Matthew 18 and Titus 3.

If a Minister be persuaded that any person who presents himself to be a partaker of the holy Communion ought not to be admitted thereunto by reason of malicious and open contention with his neighbours, or other grave and open sin without repentance, he shall give an account of the same to the Ordinary of the place, and therein obey his order and direction, but so as not to refuse the Sacrament to any person until in accordance with such order and direction he shall have called him and advertised him that in any wise he presume not to come to the Lord's Table; Provided that in case of grave and immediate scandal to the Congregation the Minister shall not admit such person, but shall give an account of the same to the Ordinary within seven days after at the latest and therein obey the order and direction given to him by the Ordinary; Provided also that before issuing his order and direction in relation to any such person the Ordinary shall afford to him an opportunity for interview.

Reading this rubric in light of article 33 and article 19 on the nature of the church as a local congregation of faithful people, we can see again see how our Anglican forebears avoided the pitfalls of the medieval church that preceded. The pattern is the congregation and its ordained ministers in the first order, then in more serious public moral failure in consultation with the bishop.

Within the text of Order for the Lord’s Supper is the provision for the announcement of excommunication as part of the public notices given before the sermon, the grace, and dismissal of the congregation before those who remain to gather to partake of the Lord’s Table.

Then the Curate shall declare unto the people what Holy-days, or Fasting-days, are in the week following to be observed. And then also (if occasion be) shall notice be given of the Communion; and Briefs, Citations, and Excommunications read. And nothing shall be proclaimed or published in the Church during the time of Divine Service, but by the Minister: nor by him any thing but what is prescribed in the Rules of this Book, or enjoined by the Queen, or by the Ordinary of the place.

At the Preface to The Commination, the order of prayer Cranmer added in 1552 for the First Day of Lent, commonly called “Ash Wednesday," clearly underlines his intent: the desired restoration of the early church's pattern of "godly discipline." 

That at the beginning of Lent, such persons as stood convicted or notorious sin were put to open penance, and punished in this world, that their souls might be saved in the day of the Lord; and that others, admonished by their example, might be the more afraid to offend.Instead whereof, until the said discipline may be restored again, (which is much to be wished,) it is thought good that at this time (in the presence of you all) should be read the general sentences of God's cursing against impenitent sinners, gathered out of the seven and twentieth chapter of Deuteronomy, and other places of Scripture; and that ye should answer to every sentence, Amen.

A further formulary, The Ordinal, also implies the exercise of godly discipline in the charge to those being ordained a priest or consecrated bishop to be ready, with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God's Word.

And finally, the substance of the ministry of the word through the homilies assumes the exercise of pastoral exhortation and admonition, particularly in the following:

Book One Book Two
6. Christian Love 2. Against Idolatry
7. Against Swearing and Perjury 4. Good Works, Especially Fasting
8. Falling Away from God 5. Against Gluttony and Drunkenness
10. Civil Order and Obedicence 6. Against Excess of Apparel
11. Against Adultery 7. Prayer
15. Worthy Reception of the Sacrament
18. Matrimony
19. Repentence
20. Against Idleness
21. Against Rebellion


When we gather what the formularies have set out as the marks of the church in word, sacrament, and discipline, one can outline an ascending order of seriousness and its pastoral response:

  1. Godly Exhortation – the ordinary work of the Spirit through the ordinary means of grace (Word and sacrament) that quietly moves the believer to put sin to death and to turn to Christ.
  2. Godly Admonition – the ordinary work of the Spirit through those same means to confront members tenderly in a warning of their danger and exhorting them to repentance and a more profound fidelity to Christ. 
  3. Humble Rebuke – the work of the Spirit in censure by confronting an individual member in setting out the specific character of his or her offense. Offering them reproof and exhorting them to repentance and more consistent fidelity to the Lord Jesus.
  4. Public Suspension – due to its public nature, a suspension is censure by the local church’s ordinary (the ordained presbyter) in which one is deprived of the privilege of participation at the Lord’s Table, of lay office, or of both. Those under discipline would still be allowed to sit under the Ministry of the Word, but would not be allowed to go forward to the Table. This is, in fact, the most crucial element in public church discipline: to bring the offender to repentance and, eventually, to restoration. Therefore, unless there are grave fears for the safety of others, no one under discipline should be prevented from attending divine worship and from listening to the word of God read and preached.
  5. Public Excommunication – is the most severe form of censure and is the last resort to be applied only in cases of offense made worse by persistent impenitence while suspended. It is the declaration by the ordained presbyter and in consultation with the presbyter consecrated to the episcopal office (bishop) that the offender is no longer considered a member of the body of Christ, taken instead as a “heathen or publican.”

Although the church discipline as described in the article has fallen into abeyance in the established Church of England and the American mainline Protestant Episcopal Church, Anglican's today have an opportunity to restore the principles found in these formularies to their proper pastoral place in the life of the local church.

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For previous articles in this series, see:
  1. Introduction
  2. One God in Trinity, Trinity in Unity (Art. 1)
  3. The Incarnation and Atonement (Art. 2)
  4. The Work of Christ (Arts. 3-4)
  5. The Holy Spirit (Art. 5)
  6. The Rule of Faith: Part 1 (Art. 6)
  7. The Rule of Faith: Part 2 (Art. 7)
  8. The Rule of Faith: Part 3 (Art. 8)
  9. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 1 (Art. 9)
  10. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 2 (Art. 10)
  11. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 3 (Art. 11)
  12. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 4 (Art. 12)
  13. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 5 (Arts. 13-14)
  14. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 6 (Art. 15)
  15. Guilt, Grace, and Gratitude: Part 7 (Art. 16)
  16. Grace Alone! (Art. 17)
  17. Christ Alone! (Art. 18)
  18. The Visible and Invisible Church: Part 1 (Art. 19)
  19. The Visible and Invisible Church: Part 2 (Art. 20)
  20. The Visible and Invisible Church: Part 3 (Art. 21)
  21. The Visible and Invisible Church: Part 4 (Art. 22)
  22. The Visible and Invisible Church: Part 5 (Art. 23)
  23. The Visible and Invisible Church: Part 6 (Art. 24)
  24. The Sacraments: Part 1 (Art. 25)
  25. The Sacraments: Part 2 (Art. 26)
  26. The Sacraments: Part 3 (Art. 27)
  27. The Sacraments: Part 4 (Art. 28)
  28. The Sacraments: Part 5 (Art. 29)
  29. The Sacraments: Part 6 (Art. 30)
  30. The Sacraments: Part 7 (Art. 31)

Henry Jansma (@HenryJansma) is rector of All Souls Anglican Church in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and canon theologian for the Missionary Diocese of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America East.

Henry Jansma