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Weak Brothers   Leave a comment

“How dare you support shunning a weak brother/sister whose attendance is slipping or even one who has completely fallen away! That is not a sin! You can’t find that anywhere in the Bible.”

That’s what the email said.

Yeah, I thought I was being clear, but apparently I wasn’t. So let me say it again.

I don’t think any informed Bible student would advocate disfellowshipping a “weak” brother or sister whose sole problem is that his or her attendance “is slipping.”

Those who are merely weak — undisciplined, but with sincerity and a teachable demeanor — ought to be afforded patience as they are taught Christian responsibility (Heb. 10:24) and admonished to be more diligent. Church discipline does involve the severest form — withdrawal of fellowship — but one size does not fit all.

Withdrawal of fellowship would involve:

  1. Christians — church discipline is not about non-Christians
  2. Church members of relatively long-standing so they are aware of church displinary procedures
  3. Church members who have exhibited a rebellious attitude to less severe forms of church discipline.

Disfellowship ultimately is for the purposes of:

  • saving the wayward person’s soul (1 Corinthians 5:5)
  • protecting other saints from evil influences (1 Corinthians 5:6)

While a formal “putting away” (1 Corinthians 5:13) should never be taken lightly, it may be the very procedure needed to restore the neglectful person, and to safeguard the church from a bad example. Disfellowship is more than just punishment (2 Corinthians 2:6). Like the parent who forcebly removes a child from the street before they are run over, it is an act of love designed to reclaim the rebellious (Hebrew 12:6), and enhance the welfare of others.

The decision as to when, and upon whom, to proceed with radical discipline is the judgment of the local church’s elders, or, if the congregation has no elders, the men and women who serve in the leadership capacity, exercised with the greatest of affection and patience, and giving the benefit of the doubt whenever possible.

It should not be an informal procedure that just sort of happens. It should involve visitation with the lapsing member and an attempt to encourage them back into church attendance before the formal procedure is undertaken.

The suggestion was made that there must be a particular sin associated with disfellowship procedures. While some passages associate disfellowship with specific sins (1 Corinthians. 5:9), there are also more generic phrases that are used in disciplinary contexts. In Galatians 5 and 2 Thessalonians 3, there is no specific sin discussed, but a more generic disorderliness.

Then there’s just the logic of it. If the church could withdraw fellowship from the drunkard (1 Corinthians 5:11), might it not also withdraw from a drug addict? There is a necessary inference that drug addicts and alcoholics engage is similar behaviors that result in disruption of not only their own lives, but the community of the church.

Paul was specifically discussing those who were unwilling to work in 2 Thessalonians 3, but he also encompassed a broader scope of people by using the phrase “every brother who walks disorderly.” The remedy for the lazy brother was simply “neither let him eat,” i.e., do not subsidize him if he refuses to labor properly.

The term “disorderly” (2 Thessalonians is a unique usage in the New Testament) is a generic designation which points to a rebellious, insubordinate attitude that warrants a severe response from the church.

And the exercise of church discipline continues to be a tragically neglected obligation among the Lord’s people. The softer we become on sin within the congregations, the harder it is for us to stand against sin in any form.

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