The 1527 Anabaptist Schleitheim Confession included the practice of the ban (or shunning), according to which the sinful offender should be warned twice before they are finally cast off and shunned from the community. Shunning was an extreme practice that set parent against child and child against parent as it expected community members to cut all contact with the offending member.
Shunning harkens back to the New Testament practice of turning offending members over to Satan. One finds the formula appearing in 1 Corinthians 5:4-5 where Paul addresses a man in a sexual relationship with his father’s wife:
“4 So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5 hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.”
One also finds the practice of turning over to Satan being described in 1 Timothy 1:18-20 where Paul advises this extreme action against a couple offending members from the community:
“18 Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, 19 holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith. 20 Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.”
It isn’t clear what Paul meant exactly by “turning over to Satan”. Was it merely an exclusion from communal gatherings? Or did it also include such extreme actions as parents refusing to have a relationship with children who they deem to be engaged in some particularly sinful behavior?
While the numbers of Anabaptists may be small, many Christians practice an informal ban on deviant members which goes well beyond exclusion from community fellowship to a complete cutting off of relationship. Consider, for example, how many Christian parents have placed their gay children under a de facto form of shunning after learning of their sexual identity. I just learned the other day of yet another instance of this practice when I discovered that two parents I knew from my childhood now refuse even to acknowledge the existence of the son they brought into the world because he’s gay.
As I said, I don’t know what turning over to Satan meant exactly. But I am convinced that it cannot mean the unconscionable rejection of a child. I know this because whatever turning over to Satan is, it is justified by its fruit — a tough love that increases the likelihood that the wayward individual will be redeemed. And I find no fruit in the casting off of a beloved family member or friend. On the contrary, where sin increases, grace increases all the more (Romans 5:20). And there is no grace in shunning those you love.