Q When we exclude folks from membership in the church, are they excluded from the kingdom of Christ? Is it true that "whatever [we] bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever [we] loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Matt. 18:18)? Will these people spend eternity in hell?
A I do not draw that conclusion. I think we administer discipline in recognition of our fallibility. We do it humbly. We do it sincerely. In that sincerity, we are declaring an end to a person's membership in the visible church and thus proclaiming that this person is in danger of being out of fellowship with Christ and his people. This is undoubtedly a stern but deadly serious warning.
It is exactly what discipline should be: a final urgent "sermon" that warns a person not to deny our Redeemer's claim on us. On the other hand, we are not able to make "final" judgments about this person's membership in the invisible church, the church as only God can see it. We are not saying that this person's name is most definitely excluded from the "book of life" and, therefore—without question—destined for hell.
There is some comfort in knowing that we do not make that judgment. Only God does. In the meantime, we proclaim the gospel of the one who is the "hound of heaven," who is relentlessly knocking at the doors of our hearts. And we acknowledge with Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 85 that we exercise Christian discipline with God-given authority.
—Henry De Moor is professor of church polity emeritus at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Mich. He’s the author of Christian Reformed Church Order Commentary (Faith Alive 2011).