How Have Churches Understood “Handing People over to Satan”?
Historically, the church understood Paul’s instruction in one of three ways. One it was a type of curse, a casting out, with repercussions (death) without really any hope of restoration. Two it was a form of exclusion for a believer with a hope of repentance. Three it was also a putting out or excluding, but with a key distinction from number two, in that the one who is cast out was a false believer or one unsaved.
Of the three, the Pauline instruction appears to match the third understanding most accurately. The reason for this will be shown next.
Tertullian (circa 200) was the toughest of the views. He believed the instruction to be a type of curse that would result in physical death. To be sure, this was what came to be exclusion or shunning, but to the extreme without hope of reconciliation. Tertullian doesn’t make a distinction that the one cast out was or was not a sheep, a part of the flock of Christ.
So, therefore, the incestuous fornicator, too, he delivered, not with a view to emendation [correcting], but with a view to perdition, to Satan, to whom he had already, by sinning above an heathen, gone over; that they [those who remain] might learn there must be no fornicating.
For Tertullian, regardless of the state of the one who was cast out, whether a believer or not, once cast out, it was too bad.
who likewise, for the consecrating and purifying (of) that temple [old Testament example], wrote the law pertaining to the temple-keepers: “If any shall have marred the temple of God, him shall God mar; for the temple of God is holy, which (temple) are ye.” Come, now; who in the world has (ever) redintegrated [restored to wholeness] one who has been “marred” by God (that is, delivered to Satan with a view to destruction of the flesh), after subjoining for that reason, “Let none seduce himself;” that is, let none presume that one “marred” by God can possibly be redintegrated anew?
Archelaus (circa 275) believed it referred more to a culling of the false from the true, while his opponent believed it referred to the battle between the same object god, though with dual natures of good and bad.
Archelaus left an account of a conversation with Manes (Manichaeism, of whom Augustine was once a part, which maybe thus colors his perception) who believed in a type of dualism. This dualism meant that the good god and evil god were similar and equally powerful. For Manes, the idea of handing over a sheep (a believer) to Satan was perfectly okay. For Archelaus of monotheism, he thought it akin to blasphemy.
For on the supposition implied in your [Manes] similitude God thus handed over to Satan a soul that he might seize and ruin. But when did the shepherd ever do anything like that? Did not David deliver a sheep out of the mouth of a lion or of a bear?
For Archelaus, the king will “will put forth every possible exertion until he conquers and brings his adversary into his power.” There was no dualism. The one cast out was simply a false brother whose fate was still unknown. Paul said, cast out the evil one from your midst.
By the time of Chrysostom (circa 400), the idea of “casting out” a sinner was still maintained, though not as with immediate physical death ala Tertullian, but the distinction of whether that person was a real believer or not was being blurred. The dualism concept, though rejected as regards God per se, found its way into the status of a believer as good and evil. Retain the good and bad believer.
Chrysostom, like others, also believed Paul’s instruction referred to exclusion from the group, but with that key distinction. For Chrysostom, the one sinning was still of “old leaven”. He was not really part of the Body, though he was attending as part of the Body of the church as if he belonged. As such, to leave him in some way as still part of your Body was to allow, nay invite, evil to spread within it. The sin left unpunished was to encourage others of the same ilk. Demons gather as birds of a feather. Chrysostom agreed with Paul. Cast it out. And further, the one cast out was not really a believer.
Chrysostom identifies the source of the confusion.
Then lest he [Paul] should be thought too authoritative and his speech sound rather self-willed, mark how he makes them also partners in the sentence. For having said, “I have judged,” he adds, “concerning him that hath so wrought this thing, in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, ye being gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver such an one unto Satan.
Now what means, “In the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ?” “According to God;” “not possessed with any human prejudice.”
Some, however, read thus, “Him that hath so wrought this thing in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,” and putting a stop there or a break, then subjoin what follows, saying, “When you are gathered together and my spirit to deliver such an one unto Satan:” and they assert that the sense of this reading is as follows, “Him that hath done this thing in the Name of Christ,” saith St. Paul, “deliver ye unto Satan;” that is, “him that hath done insult unto the Name of Christ, him that, after he had become a believer and was called after that appellation, hath dared to do such things, deliver ye unto Satan.” But to me the former exposition (ἐκδοσις. It seems to mean “enunciation.”) appears the truer.
He then goes on to make his point about what happens if old leaven is retained in your church body.
[11.] But I have a strong conviction that the saying about the leaven refers also to the priests who suffer a vast deal of the old leaven to be within, not purging out from their borders, that is, out of the Church, the covetous, the extortioners, and whatsoever would exclude from the kingdom of Heaven.
With that as background, we now move into the modern age.
I am not aware of any church that believes the verse relates to physical destruction ala Tertullian. That if one is cast out one dies shortly thereafter and shall never return. However, this line of thinking may in a way be a supporting plank used to justify the numerous Inquisitions and imposements, though in reverse. Death was a favor. Die and you may be saved. If you live, you continue to blaspheme and surely will go to hell. Of course, the distinction must be noted that those being killed were not considered as believers in the first place. It was, if this was the train of thought, the Pauline instruction completely misunderstood and misapplied.
Most churches today believe in the potential for repentance and restoration without the necessity of whips and worse. To the point regarding church, however, this view of shunning assumes the one cast out is yet a believer who might repent and return. The “casting out” may exist within the confines of or outside the walls of the church. After all, against Tertullian, how could one learn not to blaspheme if one was dead? Many churches (Protestant Churches) today view the verse in terms of shunning (aka a form of excommunication). These sinners are put out, though there may be hope of restoration.
At the same time, other churches like EO and RC will evidently (see other answer to OP) retain the sinner yet employ a sort of restriction of rights or requirement for certain deeds of penance. It is exclusion from their communion, rather than from their denominations. This appears the polar opposite of Chrysostom’s view. If his view is one of casting out the unbelieving sinner, this view is one of retaining the believing sinner, but with the subsequent problems alluded to of being shuffled around within the organization. The evil, the old leaven, is retained within that church body.
Oddly, as hinted at, the second understanding, including Manes though admittedly within the constructs of dualism, save Archelaus and Chrysostom who operate as we do (monotheism), all of them operate within the assumption that the “one turned over to Satan” was nonetheless still a believer in some sense. Archelaus and Chrysostom took a very conservative view as did Paul. It was the “brother so-called” who was cast out. It was the evil one cast out. Cut out the cancer, don’t shuffle it from part to part.
The assumption of cutting it out being simply that the sow had returned to its vomit; it needed to be out of the clean house and never to return until true repentance and conversion had occurred. The sow was like Judas who hung around, partook, but remained in a state of fallen sin. That son of perdition was killed, albeit by self-inflection. There was no “born-againness” in operation, no fruit of the Spirit in those false brothers. With this view, we can understand that Christ is in fact more powerful than all the fallen angels put together. He tells us that, except for Judas, He lost none and won’t lose any of us. The shepherd (Christ) in no way would reject a sheep (believer). He will reject a goat, a satan masquerading as a light, but not a sheep. And He will do so and instructs us likewise to do so, even if churches don’t while they have the chance.