In Cyprian’s day (3rd Century AD) the Christian church in the West was grappling with heretics on the one hand and with persecution on the other hand. Cyprian, the Bishop of Carthage (North Africa), typically handled these difficulties with a biblical and pastoral mindset. Below is one example of Cyprian’s forgiving spirit in light of church discipline and restoration. It is from a letter he wrote about excommunication, repentance, and re-admission into the fellowship of the saints.
“The Church is neither closed here to any one, nor is the bishop denied to any. Our patience, and facility, and humanity are ready for those who come. I entreat all to return into the Church. I beg all our fellow-soldiers to be included within the camp of Christ, and the dwelling place of God the Father. I remit everything. I shut my eyes to many things, with the desire and the wish to gather together the brotherhood. Even those things which are committed against God I do not investigate with the full judgment of religion. I almost sin myself, in remitting sins more than I ought. I embrace with prompt and full love those who return with repentance, confessing their sin with lowly and unaffected atonement [amends].”
And so we say today that Christian discipline is “unto repentance.” Our goal in loving discipline and church censure is restoration. The Westminster Confession says that the kingdom of heaven is opened unto penitent sinners, by the ministry of the gospel and by absolution from censures (WCF 30.2). Where there is true repentance, there is liberal forgiveness (Matt. 18:22).
The above quote can be found in “Epistle LIV” from Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 5 (p. 345).