The New Testament contains limited examples of excommunication. Jesus, in Matthew 18:17, teaches that those who repeatedly offend others should be treated as "Gentiles or tax collectors." In Romans 16:17, Paul writes to "mark those who cause divisions contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned and avoid them", (meaning from Jesus and the apostles); and in 1 Corinthians 5, he instructs the Corinthians to expel an immoral member of their community. Also, in 2nd John vv. 10 & 11, the elders write unto the elect lady "whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house [οικιαν, residence or abode, or "inmates of the house" (family)], neither bid him God speed: for he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds".
Anathema was used in the early church as a form of extreme religious sanction beyond excommunication. The earliest recorded example was in AD 306. The Roman Catholic church still makes use of the sanction, though it is rarely used against an individual. Some modern churches refer to any form of exclusion as anathema.
Excommunicated persons are barred from participating in the liturgy in a ministerial capacity (for instance, as a reader if a lay person, or as a deacon or priest if a clergyman) and from receiving the eucharist or the other sacraments, but is normally not barred from attending these (for instance, an excommunicated person may not receive Communion, but would not be barred from attending Mass). Certain other rights and privileges are revoked, such as holding ecclesiastical office.
Excommunication can be either ferendae sententiae (declared as the sentence of an ecclesiastical court) or, far more commonly, latae sententiae (automatic, incurred at the moment the offensive act takes place). The excommunicant is still considered Christian and a Catholic as the character imparted by baptism is indelible.
In the Roman Catholic Church formal excommunication is normally resolved by a statement of repentance, profession of the Creed (if the offense involved heresy), or a renewal of obedience (if that was a relevant part of the offending act) by the excommunicant; the declaration of the reconciliation itself, by a priest or bishop empowered to do this; and then the reception of the sacrament of Reconciliation. In many cases, this whole process takes place within the privacy of the confessional and during the same act of confession.
Offenses that incur excommunication must be absolved by a priest or bishop empowered to lift the penalty. This is usually the local ordinary (bishop or vicar general) or priests whom the local ordinary designates (in many dioceses, most priests are empowered to lift most excommunications otherwise reserved to the bishop, notably that involved with abortion).
The Roman Catholic Church, especially during the Middle Ages, was obliged to issue formal pronouncements of excommunication in regard to officials and monarchs who had personally excommunicated themselves from the Catholic Church. After the Reformation, with many princes announcing the separation themselves, the practice was discontinued.
An analogous penalty, interdict, arose as a form of excommunication of a whole area, barring celebration of the sacraments in a town or region.
Before the 1983 Code of Canon Law, there were two degrees of excommunication: vitandus (shunned, literally "to be avoided", where the person had to be avoided by other Catholics), and toleratus (tolerated, which permitted Catholics to continue to have business and social relationships with the excommunicant). This distinction no longer applies today, and excommunicated Catholics are still under obligation to attend Mass, even though they are barred from receiving the Eucharist or even taking active part in the liturgy (reading, bringing the offerings, etc.). Indeed, the excommunicant is encouraged to retain some relationship with the Church, as the goal is to encourage them to repent and return to active participation in its life.
In the Middle Ages, formal acts of public excommunication were accompanied by a ceremony wherein a bell was tolled (as for the dead), the Book of the Gospels was closed, and a candle snuffed out - hence the idiom "to condemn with bell, book and candle." Such public ceremonies are never held today, but exactly the same principles apply. Only in cases where a person's excommunicable offense is very public and likely to confuse people - as in an apostate bishop ordaining new bishops in public defiance of the Church - is a person's excommunicated status even announced, and that usually by a simple statement from a church official.
Although Lutheranism technically has an excommunication process, some denominations and congregations do not use it.
The Lutheran definition, in its earliest and most technical form, would be found in Martin Luther's Small Catechism, defined beginning at Questions No. 277-283, in "The Office of Keys." Luther endeavored to follow the process that Jesus laid out in the 18th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. According to Luther, excommunication requires:
Beyond this, there is little agreement. Many Lutheran denominations operate under the premise that the entire congregation (as opposed to the pastor alone) must take appropriate steps for excommunication, and there are not always precise rules, to the point where individual congregations often set out rules for excommunicating laymen (as opposed to clergy). For example, churches may sometimes require that a vote must be taken at Sunday services; some congregations require that this vote be unanimous.
The Lutheran process, though rarely used, has created unusual situations in recent years due to its somewhat democratic excommunication process. One example was an effort to get serial killer Dennis Rader excommunicated from his denomination (the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) by individuals who tried to "lobby" Rader's fellow church members into voting for his excommunication.
In the ideal, discipline in the Anabaptist tradition requires the church to confront a notoriously erring and unrepentant church member, first directly in a very small circle and, if no resolution is forthcoming, expanding the circle in steps eventually to include the entire church congregation. If the errant member persists without repentance and rejects even the admonition of the congregation, that person is excommunicated or excluded from church membership. Exclusion from the church is recognition by the congregation that this person has separated himself or herself from the church by way of his or her visible and unrepentant sin. This is done ostensibly as a final resort to protect the integrity of the church. When this occurs, the church is expected to continue to pray for the excluded member and to seek to restore him or her to its fellowship. There was originally no inherent expectation to shun (completely sever all ties with) an excluded member, however differences regarding this very issue led to early schisms between different Anabaptist leaders and those who followed them.
Excommunication among the Old Order Amish results in shunning or the Meidung, the severity of which depends on many factors, such as the family, the local community as well as the type of Amish. Some Amish communities cease shunning after one year if the person joins another church later on, especially if it is another Mennonite church. At the most severe, other members of the congregation are prohibited almost all contact with an excommunicated member including social and business ties between the excommunicant and the congregation, sometimes even marital contact between the excommunicant and spouse remaining in the congregation or family contact between adult children and parents.
Some regional conferences (the Mennonite counterpart to dioceses of other denominations) of the Mennonite Church have acted to expel member congregations that have openly welcomed non-celibate homosexuals as members. This internal conflict regarding homosexuality has also been an issue for other moderate denominations, such as the American Baptists and Methodists.
The practice among Old Order Mennonite congregations is more along the lines of Amish, but perhaps less severe typically. An Old Order member who disobeys the Ordnung (church regulations) must meet with the leaders of the church. If a church regulation is broken a second time there is a confession in the church. Those who refuse to confess are excommunicated. However upon later confession, the church member will be reinstated. An excommunicated member is placed under the ban. This person is not banned from eating with their own family. Excommunicated persons can still have business dealings with church members and can maintain marital relations with a marriage partner, who remains a church member.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ("LDS Church"; see also Mormon) practices excommunication (as well as the lesser sanctions of private counsel and caution, informal probation, formal probation, and disfellowshipment) as penalties for those who commit serious sins or who embarrass the church.
According to the Church Handbook of Instructions, The purposes of Church discipline are (1) to save the souls of transgressors, (2) to protect the innocent, and (3) to safeguard the purity, integrity, and good name of the Church. Excommunication is generally reserved for what are seen as the most serious sins, including committing serious crimes; committing adultery, polygamy, or homosexual conduct; apostasy, teaching false doctrines, or openly criticizing LDS leaders. A 2006 revision to the Church Handbook of Instructions states that joining another church is also an excommunicable offense, however merely attending another church does not constitute apostasy.
As a lesser penalty, Latter-day Saints may be disfellowshipped, which does not include a loss of church membership. Once disfellowshipped, persons may not take the sacrament or enter LDS temples, nor may they give prayers or sermons in church meetings, though disfellowshipped persons may attend most LDS functions and are permitted to wear temple garments, pay tithes and offerings, and participate in church classes if their conduct is orderly. For lesser sins, or in cases where the sinner appears truly repentant, individuals may be put on probation for a time, which means that further sin will result in disfellowshipment or excommunication.
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 disciplinary council" (what was once called a "church court;" the change was apparently meant to avoid talking about guilt and instead focus on repentance). There, the stake presidency and Stake High Council handle matters. Six of the twelve members of the high council are assigned to represent the member in question to "prevent insult or injustice." The member is invited to attend, but the council can go forward without him. Again, the members of the high council consult with the stake president, but the decision about which discipline is necessary is the stake president's alone. It is possible to appeal this decision to the Church's world leaders.
The procedure followed by a church disciplinary council is described in church handbooks and the Doctrine and Covenants . For female and adolescent male members, the bishop (leader of the ward) determines whether excommunication is needed. He does this in consultation with his two counselors, the bishop makes the determination in a spirit of prayer and his counselors ratify the decision. That decision is appealable to the stake leadership.
Considerations used in what form of discipline to use follows the following factors, listed in order from those that suggest a stern discipline, to those that suggest a more lenient discipline:
Those who are excommunicated lose their church membership and the right to partake of the sacrament. Notices of excommunication may be made public--especially in cases of apostasy, where members could be misled--but the specific reasons for individual excommunications are typically kept confidential and are seldom made public.
Persons who have been excommunicated are usually allowed to attend church meetings but participation is limited. They cannot offer prayers for the congregation, give talks, etc., cannot enter LDS temples, or wear temple garments, or pay tithing. Excommunicated members may be re-baptized after a waiting period and sincere repentance, as judged by a series of interviews with church leaders.
Some critics have charged that LDS leaders have used the threat of excommunication to silence or punish LDS members and researchers who disagree with established policy and doctrine, or who study or discuss controversial subjects, or who may be involved in disputes with local, stake leaders or general authorities. A notable case regarding researchers is the so-called September Six.
However, LDS policy dictates that local leaders are responsible for excommunication, without influence from General Church leadership, arguing this policy is evidence against systematic persecution of scholars. In contrast, some claim that LDS leadership keeps watch on certain apostate groups such the message boards at exmormon.org and report on writers and topics to their local leaders through the Strengthening Church Members Committee. Apologists further suggest that some alleged excommunications never take place, or are used as a publicity stunt. They cite the case of Thomas W. Murphy, who they say only claimed he was threatened with excommunication or other disciplinary action because of his research of how DNA research challenges LDS teachings. Recent evidence, such as witnesses at the meeting with the stake president and the letter requesting Murphy's attendance at the court, refute this claim that the disciplinary action was simply a publicity stunt.
Jehovah's Witnesses practice something similar to excommunication — using the term "disfellowshipping" — in cases where a member actively violates requirements of the Watchtower Society. In excess of 30 disfellowshipping offences have developed over time, some actions specifically stated as wrong in the Bible and others indirectly implied.
When a member confesses or is accused of a disfellowshipping offence a "judicial committee" of at least three local lay clergy called "Elders" is formed. This committee will investigate the case and determine guilt, and if the person is deemed guilty, the committee will determine if the person is repentant. Repentance is completely based upon evidence of repentance, which includes the attitude of being sorry and ‘works befitting repentance,’ as referred to in Acts 26:20 and 2 Corinthians 7:11, such as trying to correct the wrong, making apologies to any offended individuals, compliance with earlier counsel, principles, and laws based on the Bible.
If the person is judged guilty and is deemed unrepentant, he or she will be disfellowshipped. This is done as a firm form of discipline to motivate an erring individual to renounce and change their current course of action. If within 7 days no appeal is made, the disfellowshipping is made formal by an announcement at the next congregation Service meeting. Appeals are granted to determine if procedural errors are felt to have occurred that may have affected the outcome.
Disfellowshipping is a severing of friendly relationships between all members of the Jehovah's Witnesses and the one disfellowshipped by reasoning on 1 Corinthians 5:11, which says: "What I meant was that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a Christian yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or a drunkard, or a swindler. Don't even eat with such people." Even family interaction is restricted to the barest of minimums such as presence at the reading of wills and providing essential elder care. The exception is if the disfellowshipped one is a minor and living at home, wherein such cases the parents are allowed to continue to attempt to convince the child of the value of the religion's ways and share in family activities. Although viewed as harsh, this discipline encourages the disfellowshipped individual to conform to Biblical standards and keep the person from influencing other members of the congregation.
Several policies are set forth to disfellowshipped persons to continue motivating a change of action. Yearly, the Elders are required to consider meeting with disfellowshipped individuals and try to determine if any change of lifestyle has happened and to encourage the said person. Disfellowshipped persons can talk and meet with Elders at anytime. Disfellowshipped persons can also write a letter requesting reinstatement back into the congregation at anytime. It is ultimately up to the disfellowshipped person to become a member of the congregation again.
Disassociation is a form of disfellowshipping where a member vocally or in writing renounces their faith or by their actions renounces their faith. An example of this would be joining another religious or military organization or taking a blood tranfusion. Disassociated members are viewed the same as disfellowshipped members.
After a period of time, a disfellowshipped person may apply to be reinstated into the congregation. The original judicial committee will meet with him to determine repentance, and if this is established, the person will be reinstated into the congregation. He may now participate with the congregation in the public ministry (house to house preaching), but is prohibited from commenting at meetings or holding any privileges for a period set by the judicial committee. (Or, if the applicant is in a different area, the person will meet with a local judicial committee that will communicate with either the original judicial committee if available or a new one in the original congregation.)
Recently there has been some controversy with their disfellowshipping practices in regards to recent sex abuse scandals, which has led to changes in this regard. Jehovah's Witnesses are now instructed to report all cases of sex abuse to the local authorities in states where it is a legal requirement to do so. Those who are found guilty of child/sexual abuse by a judicial committee are themselves subject to mandatory consideration for disfellowshipping and remain permanently sanctioned from teaching in or holding a position of authority in any congregation. This is a safety mechanism to protect against future incidents. This is supported by the legal system where individuals found guilty of a sex offense are required to register as sex offenders. In several cases, recurrent sex offense has occurred. With this in mind, Jehovah's Witnesses will not allow someone found guilty of a sex offense to be "appointed" to a position of trust.
Excommunication as exists in Christian faiths does not exist in Islam. The nearest approximation is takfir, a declaration that an individual or group is kafir (or kuffar in plural), meaning a non-believer. However this does not prevent an individual from taking part in any Islamic rite or ritual if he/she wishes to and indeed a declaration of takfir is prima facie null and void against an individual who denies the accusation (see below).
"Takfir" has been practiced usually through courts. More recently cases have taken place where individuals have been considered kafirs. These decisions followed lawsuits against these individuals mainly in response to their writings which some have viewed as anti-Islamic. The most famous cases are of Salman Rushdie, Nasr Abu Zayd, and Nawal El-Saadawi. The implications of such cases have included divorcing these people of their spouses, since under Islamic law, Muslim women are not permitted to marry non-Muslim men.
However, Takfir remains a highly contentious issue in Islam primarily because there is no universally accepted authority that it has sanction in Islamic law. Indeed, according to classical commentators, the reverse seems to hold true given Muhammad reportedly equated the act of declaring someone a kafir itself to blasphemy if the person concerned maintained that he was a Muslim.
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 Charedi community, cherem stopped existing after The Enlightenment, when local Jewish communities lost their political autonomy, and Jews were integrated into the greater Gentile nations in which they lived.