Discipline: Simple Suspension
Sometimes a faith-professing member of God’s covenant does not attend the covenant celebration, the Lord’s Supper. Most commonly this happens when the supervising office-bearers, the consistory, determines a person is living in sin and thus is breaking the covenant. However, it can happen in a different way too. That different way is known as “simple suspension”.
“Simple suspension” is the topic of this article.
Sin is a threat to covenant unity, with God and with God’s people. As the sacraments express covenant unity, a consistory may decide a sinner should not participate in the sacraments. As this has consequences most frequently for participation in the Lord’s Supper, such a decision is usually phrased in terms of the Lord’s Supper. The technical terms used are “suspended from the Lord’s Supper”, “withheld from the Lord’s Table”, and “debarred from the Lord’s Supper”.
Silent and Simple
The threat to covenant unity may exist because of sin and a refusal to repent on the part of the sinner. That is cause for the exercise of church discipline (see: Discipline: Ground), and will see the imposition of church discipline. The first step of formal church discipline is to decide to “silent censure”. Because “silent censure” is contrasted with “simple suspension” it is also referred to as “silent suspension”.
“Simple suspension” is the decision that an individual not take part in the Lord’s Supper for reasons other than hardening in sin and refusing to repent. This decision can be taken by the individual himself. This decision can also be taken by the consistory as body that supervises the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.
One may decide not to partake in the Lord’s Supper for a variety of reasons. There could be a struggle with sin that is not known to anyone. The person may have something against someone and reconciliation is still outstanding. The individual may know of a persistent rumour and consider participating in the Lord’s Supper may harm peace in the church.
If a person decides not to attend the Lord’s Supper, he should make this known to his elder. It is also for this reason that elders keep track of those who did not participate in a Lord’s Supper celebration.
Similarly a consistory may decide that a person should be suspended from the Lord’s Supper. A simple suspension is decided to if a there is an accusation of sin but no guilt has yet been determined. The accusation is, however, of such a nature, that, should it be true, it would mean church discipline. Or it is so public that, until the truth is determined, allowing the person to participate in the Lord’s Supper would sow unrest and discord in the church. Sometimes accusations of sin come to light right before a Lord’s Supper celebration and time is too short to do the visiting and meeting that is needed to decide whether silent censure is required or not. Sometimes there has been a confession of sin but no proof of repentance yet.
When consistory decides to discipline and the accused individual appeals that decision to classis, there should be a stay of execution on the silent censure. In the interim the consistory can decide to silent censure.
In extreme cases a consistory may even decide to cancel a Lord’s Supper celebration. Basically this is a simple suspension for the whole congregation.
May a consistory pull back from imposing a simple suspension and instead advise an individual member not to participate? It is certainly in place for an elder, without the backing of consistory, to suggest to an individual not to participate for this one time.
However, thoughts are divided on whether it is proper for a consistory to advise a member to refrain from participating. Some feel that if a consistory determines there is sufficient evidence to strongly suggest that covenant unity is threatened a consistory should always decide to a simple suspension. If it cannot do so, it (as consistory) should not say anything.
A true believer will understand the motivations of the consistory and should not be troubled by a decision to a simple suspension. For this to be the case it does have to be clear to the individual being withheld that the suspension is a simple suspension, and not silent censure.
Because the Dutch terms “eenvoudig” (“one-fold”) and “enkelvoudig” (“once-fold”) are so similar, some are under the impression the term is “single suspension” not “simple suspension”. The conclusion has been drawn that a “simple suspension” is once only to the extent there can never be two successive simple suspensions. That is incorrect. Pending an appeal a simple suspension may actually be repeated.
It is wise, though, for a consistory to decide to a single suspension just with a view to a particular Lord’s Supper celebration. This will ensure the consistory reviews the situation prior to each Lord’s Supper celebration.
Simple suspension is not a measure of church discipline. It is the decision of an individual or a consistory to withhold an individual from the Lord’s Supper with a view to peace in the congregation.