Archive for the ‘disfellowship’ Tag

Corinthian Hot Potato   1 comment

Paul had just ordered the Corinthian church to expel a sinning Christian for the purposes of disciple. You should go back and read last week’s post if you haven’t already. Casual readers of the Bible or those who use search engines to cherry pick will accuse Paul of being abusive at this point, but it’s important to recognize that he had a long-standing relationship with the church at Corinth and this wasn’t the first time he’d communicated with them on this point.

I wrote you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. In no way did I mean the immoral people of this world, or the greedy and swindlers and idolaters, since you would then have to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who calls himself a Christian who is sexually immoral, or greedy, or an idolater, or verbally abusive, or a drunkard, or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person. For what do I have to do with judging those outside? Are you not to judge those inside? But God will judge those outside. Remove the evil person from among you. 1 Corinthians 5:9-13.

This is not the first letter Paul wrote to the Corinthians. Paul indicated in verse 9 that he had previously written to the Corinthians on the subject of separation. In that first letter, he instructed them not to associate with immoral people, including unbelieving sinners of all kinds, those who are immoral, those who are covetous, those who swindle, and those who are idolaters. The Corinthians either misunderstood or twisted Paul’s words to mean something other than what Paul intended. They apparently had the Pharisaical notion that equated holiness with separation from unbelievers. Now, Paul clarified his instructions. He wasn’t talking about avoiding contact with unbelievers. In Corinth in the 1st cenutry or the United States in the 21st century, there is no way to avoid contact with unsaved sinners. The only way to avoid “the world” is not to live in the world. I don’t know about you, but I like electricity and running water and access to a grocery store. That requires a job and living at least on the edge of society. Besides, Christians are not tasked with avoiding sinners. We’re supposed to live among them in such a way as to reveal Christ to them (see Matthew 5:13-16; 1 Peter 2:9-12)

Image result for image of church disciplineThe Christian must rub shoulders with the world in order to be a witness to the lost. What a Christian cannot do is participate with the world in sin. We are to be in the world, but we are to be unlike the world, living out the life of Christ as lights in a dark place (see Ephesians 5:3-14).

Paul never meant for the Corinthians to try to keep the church out of the world. They were supposed to keep the world out of the church, meaning that those who profess to be saved must live like they’ve been saved. Among those practices, we should not embrace a believer whose profession and practice are in contradiction to Biblical teaching. The Corinthians were not to associate with a person claiming to be a Christian, who continued to live in sin. Immorality is not the only basis for church discipline. Paul touches on them briefly — there’s covetousness, idolatry, slanderous speech, drunkenness, or swindling. Fellowship with someone who falls into this category is forbidden. This does not simply mean that this person is disfellowshipped from the meetings of the church. It means that individual believers must withdraw any manifestations of fellowship. This includes the sharing of a meal, which in biblical times was an intimate act of friendship (see Revelation 3:20).

Church discipline is a form of judging that is not only permitted but required. We’re not supposed to judge outsiders, but the conduct of those who profess Christ are to be scrutinized. God will judge unbelievers at the proper time. Some unbelievers will be saved by the grace of God and, like us, escape the wrath of God through faith in Christ. Others will be judged by God, but this is not our responsibility. The bottom line for the Corinthians is that they must put this immoral man out of their church.

This last expression, “Remove the evil person from among you,” is virtually a quotation of Deuteronomy 17:7: 

Suppose a man or woman is discovered among you – in one of your villages that the Lord your God is giving you – who sins before the Lord your God and breaks his covenant by serving other gods and worshiping them – the sun, moon, or any other heavenly bodies which I have not permitted you to worship. When it is reported to you and you hear about it, you must investigate carefully. If it is indeed true that such a disgraceful thing is being done in Israel, you must bring to your city gates that man or woman who has done this wicked thing – that very man or woman – and you must stone that person to death. At the testimony of two or three witnesses they must be executed. They cannot be put to death on the testimony of only one witnessThe witnesses must be first to begin the execution, and then all the people are to join in afterward. In this way you will purge evil from among you. Deuteronomy 17:2-7

The expression is similar to that found elsewhere in the Old Testament (see Deuteronomy 24:7). What Paul called for in the New Testament church is not significantly different from what Moses communicated to the nation Israel. We forget that God dwelt in the midst of His people in the Old Testament and thus the Israelites were required to remove sin and sinners from their midst. In the New Testament, Paul informed the Corinthians that God now indwells His temple, the church. They too must remove sin from their midst, because a holy God indwells them. In both cases, it is recognized that removing the sinner may include death. This is a serious step that can only be taken by Christians who take sin and God’s commandments seriously.

It’s hard for us in this day and age to read Paul’s words to the church of Corinth. He’s reminding the Corinthians of their duty to play a part in this process by removing the wayward and willful sinner from their midst. That raises several important issues for 21st century Christians.

Whatever happened to sin?

Dr. Karl Menninger, a secular psychiatrist, wrote a book entitled Whatever Became of Sin. Though not a Christian, Menninger recognized that evil was become “psychologized”. Had the Corinthian sinner lived today, I can just imaging the diagnoses that would be applied to him in order to explain away his behavior. Here’s a man, living with his father’s wife, so a psychologist would probably look for childhood sexual abuse while another advocate would insist it’s a genetic predisposition. Some would argue that his behavior is perfectly normal and that the narrow-minded church people are the real problem. There were be long, expensive, and intensive therapy prescribed … perhaps to the man and woman, but more like to the church members since church discipline would be considered harmful rather than helpful. Paul’s diagnosis was simple, and so was the prescription. The problem was the sin of immorality, and the prescription was to remove him from the church. When the Bible is the standard for conduct, and it is viewed and used for defining sin and righteousness, the diagnosis of this man’s problem is not that difficult.

Whatever happened to discipline (church and otherwise)? The Corinthian church failed to exercise discipline on the immoral man to whom Paul was referring. At the same time, Paul accused the church of being arrogant. To exercise discipline is to acknowledge that you have done all that you can, and that you have failed. If we are thinking clearly as Christians, we realize that there is nothing spiritual which we can accomplish. We cannot save anyone; we can only proclaim the message of Christ crucified, and know that God, through His Spirit, will draw those to Himself whom He has chosen. We cannot bring about the right living of a believer. Once again, we can, as faithful stewards, do what God has given us to do, but we cannot produce the results. In Paul’s words, we may plant or water, but it is God who gives the growth.

In our arrogance, we sometimes convince ourselves that, given enough time, we can turn someone from their sin. There is a great deal of emphasis on counseling in our culture, even in the church. There is a place for counsel, but we often give ourselves and our system of counseling too much credit. We don’t want to admit failure, and so we refuse to take that final step of “removing the wicked person from our midst.” Just a little more time and we can correct this person’s thinking. Church discipline is based upon the recognition that we have done what we can in the context of the church, and that God can turn that wayward person to repentance apart from us and apart from our ministry.

The modern churches have unconsciously begun to think of themselves as support groups. There are times when we rightly act as a support group, but the overall support group mentality is a very dangerous one. Support groups can cause individuals to put their trust in “the group” rather than in God, priding themselves for “being there,” no matter what the wayward one has done, or will do. The support group purposes to always “be there,” while the church is called not to be there indefinitely for the one who refuses to heed a rebuke and to turn from willful sin.

The therapeutic movement within Christianity has propagated an assumption is that we must love one another unconditionally. There is a sense in which this is true, of course. But we are not to “love” others unconditionally if we are attempting to redefine what love means. To exercise discipline on a wayward saint is to love that person and to seek their highest good. To unconditionally accept that person is to never refuse to have fellowship with them, thinking which directly opposes Paul’s teaching in our text. Popular theories about psychology and theology must never set aside Biblical commands. Paul’s words to the Corinthians in chapter 5 end with a clear command. When called for, we will either obey this command, or we will sin.

Image result for image of church disciplineWhatever has happened to church discipline? I have seen very little of it. Even when such discipline is taken, all too many church members are tempted to second-guess the church and to privately continue to fellowship with the one under discipline. That’s pretty serious because, if I understand the Scriptures correctly, to do that is to become a partner with that person in his or her sin.

Church discipline is a very clear duty of the church and individual Christians. So why don’t we practice it? I think arrogance plays a large role in that, with a huge sidecar of fear. I think we’re afraid to take a stand against sin because we are afraid of rejection because we’re being viewed as narrow and unloving. We may be unwilling to lose the friendship and the fellowship of those we love. Some church leaders are afraid of being sued for taking disciplinary action against a church member. It can and does happen and I think we’ll see more court actions in the future.

Sometimes we are afraid that the work of God will be thwarted by church discipline. I know of several instances where a Christian leader was the brother in sin. That leader, when rebuked, would not repent. It would ruin their career. And, when the church became aware of it, they feared the harm publicity would do to the work of God. Some of those Christian leaders are still on the field. Brad and I left a church we loved because of it. God’s work is bigger than any man or any organization. God’s work is making sinners holy, to His glory. When a leader continues in sin, the church should discipline him publicly, as an example to all (1 Timothy 5:19-20). When any saint is placed under discipline, it serves notice to the world that the church does not accommodate sin.

Finally, the teachings and practices of the “church growth movement” discourage church discipline. The church growth experts generally measure the success of a church by numerical growth. This movement seeks to attract unbelievers to the church by being “seeker-friendly,” by making unbelieving “seekers” feel comfortable with the church and with the Christian message. If you’ve stuck with me through Paul’s teachings in Chapters 1 & 2, you know this is impossible. The message of the cross is foolish. Divine truth concerning God is incomprehensible to the lost. Men and women are not saved by getting comfortable with God, but by becoming uncomfortable by the conviction of the Holy Spirit that they are sinners, that God is righteous, and that judgment awaits the sinner (John 16:7-11). When God struck Ananias and Sapphira dead for their deception, the unbelieving world was not comfortable. It caused them to stay away from the church. Nevertheless, many were being saved (see Acts 5:11-16). Sinful men should not and cannot be comfortable in the presence of a holy God, save through the cleansing of their sins by the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Men and women cannot come to faith without first becoming uncomfortable about their sin and God’s judgment. That is what being saved is all about—being saved from the wrath of God.

Now for the bottom line. Why would we discipline a wayward saint, when we will not discipline ourselves? I’m remarkably passive and quiet about those sins in others that I also have in my life. Self-discipline is often harder than church discipline.

God takes sin seriously. Just think about the cross of Calvary and you’ll see what I mean. God took our sin so seriously that He stepped down into history as Jesus to die in our place, to suffer the punishment for our sins. The good news of the gospel is that while God takes our sin seriously, and our sin must be judged, He has judged our sins in Christ. To enter into this forgiveness, all we need do is to receive the gift of salvation which God offers to us by faith in His Son. When we see how seriously God has taken our sins, we see how serious we must be about sin ourselves.

Restoration   Leave a comment

So what are we supposed to do when we know there are Christians in our congregations who have sinned and should be disciplined, but haven’t been?

If your church is not imposing discipline, then you might have to do it yourself. So I turn the blog over to Brad, my husband, because he’s passionate about the subject.  Lela

Brad

I became a Christian when I was 21, which means I lived a non-Christian life for 21 years before I came to know Jesus. My family are — well, dysfunctional is a mild term. I’ve been through five divorces and have half-siblings and step-siblings from each of my parents’ partnerings. Both my grandfathers drank themselves to death. My father tried to seduce Lela to have sex with him not long after we were married. And … I could go on, but you get the point.

Growing up amid free flowing booze and free flowing sex meant I learned some bad habits. I knew they were wrong and when I became a Christian, I set them aside. Well, I set the sex aside. Fairbanks is a small town. It would get back to Lela and she’s armed, so I control myself there.

But alcohol … nothing like it to make a cloudy day seem shiny bright. What better way to celebrate the holidays, birthdays, pay raises, job losses, Friday, Monday and any other day you might think of.

It just sort of snuck up on me, ran me over like a speeding car and left my life in a shambles. And, the church did nothing.

Oh, they supported Lela and comforted her and helped her make things work for her (we didn’t have kids yet), but pretty much they let me do what I wanted and almost nobody confronted me. One guy said something one time and I could  have taken it any way I wanted. I got into AA because I had to and it worked while I worked it and the church just sort of pretended nothing had happened.

And, then I started drinking again. This time Lela demanded sobriety. Our daughter had been born, she knew it was possible and she had had enough. And I reacted about like you’d expect a drunk to react — immaturely. And the church leadership counseled my wife to honor her vows and let me remain in the home — drunk, in hopes that I might come around.

The younger adults of our church were our social group and we spent a lot of time together. Not long into this, they made a choice that hurt me deeply. Two of them came to me and said “You need to stop drinking before you destroy your marriage and our friendship with you. One of them offered to take me to AA.” I told them it was none of their business. A week or so later, they came back with a third friend and told me that I was no longer welcome to attend functions with them — that included things like fishing, rock climbing, berry-picking, parties and hikes. Lela was more than welcome, but I was not … until I could demonstrate sobriety.

I wasn’t barred from the church (they couldn’t convince the leadership to disfellowship me), but if I tried to sit down with my friends, they would all get up and move to another table. If I tried to talk to one of them, it was like I wasn’t there. Now, of course, Lela couldn’t do this. We had a kid together and we were living together at least some of the time. We owned a house together. But drawing strength from her social group, she did leave me behind to go do things we’d done together before. She also took over paying all the household bills on her salary, which meant a lot of beans and rice since she is the primary cook in the household.

For a while, I used the isolation as a good excuse to hang out with “friends” who liked to drink and do other stuff. Then I left and went to work with my father in another state for a while. Lela will tell you she expected divorce papers eventually. But, in a motel room one night, bored and more or less sober, I pulled out my long-neglected Bible and started to write a letter to my wife saying I thought she was not following God’s will. Except every verse I ran across wasn’t about her, but about me. When I woke up the next morning to read the letter before posting it, I saw that God had written it to me. That evening I found an AA meeting. I didn’t go back to church right then, but the guy I got as a sponsor was a Baptist and when I did my Step 4, he suggested I had amends to make not only to Lela, but my church friends. So, I started calling them and apologizing. To a person, they all said they didn’t want amends. They wanted to see me repent and come back to God. And, they all said “We love you! Learn to love yourself.”

When I moved back to Fairbanks, I formally requested re-fellowship at the church that had never formally disfellowshipped me. The pastor had changed during the time and the new one understood what I wanted. He didn’t downplay my sin and pretend it hadn’t affected the church. By not denying the effects of my sin, I was able to heal from the effects of my sin. And one or two of those younger adults who made the difficult decision to limit fellowship with me are still my good friends 20 years later. And, yeah, Lela and I are still married and our son is evidence of the forgiveness we exercised.

Lela

The situation Brad described was not an easy one for me or the church to work through. When it was first proposed by a former drug addict, I didn’t think it was a good idea. It seemed a mine field where I’d end up divorced and Brad would end up spiritual roadkill. And, it could have been. Free will sucks in these situations.

Limited fellowship for the purposes of church discipline requires spiritual judgment (Galatians 6:1) so as not to intensify a bad circumstance. Our friends did it well. Brad remembers that throughout that first conversation, the offer was made to go to AA (in those days the Christian alternatives were few and far between). Brad rejected the help. In the second conversation, they were clear that they loved him and would be there whenever he asked for help, but they were shunning him until that time and that was a hard thing to do. As hard as it was for him to go through it, it was equally hard for them to do it to him.

It wasn’t easy for me. I couldn’t leave our daughter with him when I’d go on group outings, so it was often easier to not go … until a teenager in the congregation stepped forward as a free babysitter and solved my dilemma.

Brad felt rejected and angry and that made other problems in our marriage. He went deeper into drinking and other activities for a while and I was definitely scared when he left the state to go work for his dad. When he came back, he asked for readmission into the church, told me he thought we could work it out with time, … and then promptly went to Seward for vocational school. It didn’t feel like things were working out … though in retrospect he was taking time to work on himself before diving back into the family.

Would sobriety have happened without the shunning? Brad says he doesn’t think so. And certainly we both know recovering alcoholics who are divorced. My friend Rose will point out that divorce without remarriage in Christian circles looks an awful lot like marital disfellowship. The thing to remember is church discipline must operate in Christian love. Although disfellowship looks like punishment, it is is designed to save the soul of the wayward brother or sister (1 Corinthians 5:5) to protect the church by maintaining its purity. A little corrupting “leaven” will soon affect the entire loaf (5:6-7). Like the wayward Corinthian brother, Brad came back to the fellowship because, as a Christian, there was still a part of him in connection with God and God brought him to a place where he repented and started to once more value the things he had formerly trampled.

But unfortunately, this is not done very often. More often than not, people withdraw their friendship from the sinner because they don’t like what he/she is doing, but with little or no explanation and no method of potential return. The sinner feels just as rejected and judged, but they often don’t know why and when they want to return, they don’t feel like they’re welcome. Formality sets that aside.

Love doesn’t mean accepting everything someone else does without boundaries. There are times when God sets limits on our behavior, Christians, and there are times when He calls the churches to carry out effective discipline in love to bring a sinning Christian back to Him. But when we reinterpret what God’s love is and try to make it into the acceptance of sin in the church, we destroy ourselves as congregations and as individuals.

The Corinthian sinner returned to the church after it disfellowshipped him and the church apparently let him back in. It works if you work it.

Got Some Apostasy?   Leave a comment

What is apostasy?

That’s a question that has divided many churches over the centuries. Good and respectable Christians have differed over this question with regards to various doctrines. Someone is wrong on almost every issue. But does that disagreement warrant the refusal of fellowship?

  • Will Christians be here for the Tribulation or not?
  • Which English translation of the Bible should one use?
  • Can we eat meat sacrificed to idols?
  • Can Christians drink alcohol?
  • Can Christians dance?
  • Should Christians speak in tongues
  • Is it okay to baptize babies?
  • Is it okay to rebaptize previously baptized adults?
  • Do priests control our communication with God or is it more direct?
  • Can lay people argue with priests over spiritual matters?
  • Is salvation by faith or by following orthodoxy?

All these are questions that have divided churches and created new denominations as those who felt strongly on one side or another formed new congregations in a disfellowshipping.

Yeah, we don’t often look at it that way, but that is what the various church splits and particularly the denominations are all about at heart.

Some of those issues are silly (spiritually speaking) and no reason to break up a church. Some are more serious and may warrant diversification in the denominations while maintaining friendly relations. Others are absolutely critical and warrant disfellowship and use of that dreaded c-word “cult.”

How do you know which is which?

First, you have to take a careful look at the person advocating the false doctrine. New Christians sometimes teach error out of innocent ignorance. Think Apollos, gently instructed by Priscilla and Aquila. A gracious attitude that manifests itself in a willingness to discuss the subject and learn can be treated gently while a hard heart cannot.

If the person is a teacher of considerable experience who ought to know better and he persists in his error even after considerate brethren have tried to show him the Lord’s way more accurately, then that is a different story.

Second, and much more important, are the implications of the teacher’s doctrine.

Some erroneous teachings reflect upon the nature or character of the Godhead.  For example, those who teach the “dispensation” notion that the Jewish rejection of Christ was a surprise to God are reflecting upon the foreknowledge of God. This is a woefully dangerous error that Biblical Christians should not be soft toward.

Some cult alleged that Christ was initially created by God; He, therefore, does not possess a divine nature equal to the Father’s. This is a heretical concept that undermines the Lord’s claims regarding Himself.

Others attack the credibility of the Bible as an infallible revelation from God. There are teachers who allege that the Bible contains contradictions; that there are jars and clashes between the Gospel accounts. Genesis 1 is promoted as mythological; the Bible and the theory of evolution are said to agree on almost all issues. Biblical Christians cannot support or commend doctrines that radically undermine the Bible.

The above are instances of apostasy that I believe seriously undermine salvation. Biblical Christians should find no fellowship with those who teach the above doctrines.

On the other hand, there are those who argue for miraculous gifts and continued revelation for this age, contending for a form of subjective religion that ignores the completed, authoritative New Testament. When this is accepted, virtually anything goes in religion.

Then what do you say about those who deny the Lord’s clear plan of salvation and who obliterate the concept of the distinctiveness of Christ’s church?

Similarly, some teachers have publicly advocated that Christians should extend fellowship to those “baptized” as infants, to those who have been sprinkled instead of immersed, and to those who endorse the idea of salvation by “faith alone.”

Others have announced that the “church of Jesus Christ” is but one of many sectarian groups, hence active association ought to prevail across denominational lines.

While these second set of doctrines are concerning to me and I would seek membership at another church if they were taught at the one I am currently a member of, I have some degree of fellowship with those who hold to them. Why? Because they don’t affect salvation and our interaction gives us an opportunity to learn from one another and hopefully move toward a more Biblical Christianity.

But, absolutely, the churches need to be prepared to stand for God even when other churches do not?

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.

Shunned   Leave a comment

Shunning is the English translation of the German word the Amish use for disfellowship. It sounds harsh — and the way the Amish do it can be very, very harsh — but there is a reason a church body might consider it. The New Testament teaches that certain spiritual conditions can require a limitation of fellowship as a part of church discipline. The collective teaching of the New Testament regarding church discipline clearly make the case for what I’m talking about.

First, “discipline” covers a wide range — from simple “teaching” to the ultimate “withdrawal of fellowship.” This means it may be administered by degrees, in keeping with the needs of the individual.

Examples are always nice, right?

An impenitent drunk, abusive to his family, disruptive of social fellowship, quickly sliding toward rock bottom may need to be disfellowshipped formally (1 Corinthians 5:11). I know someone this happened to and it made the bottom come a lot quicker and probably saved his life. Conversely, another person with a drinking problem who is sincerely struggling to conquer it, may not need withdrawal but may need to be restricted in class teaching or serving in a public capacity. Both are a form of disfellowship, but they vary in degrees.

It’s not, nor should it be, one size fits all. Church discipline can take various forms. Most Christians, and most churches, understand this. My objection is that we don’t do this very often anymore and we don’t do the withdrawal method at all.

The act of withdrawal is a congregational process which takes place in the public assembly of the local church (1 Corinthians 5:4). This bothers a lot of people. How dare you air someone’s “private business” in public!

I beg to differ. There is a reason baptism is done in public. Jesus said “If you are ashamed of Me before men, I will be ashamed of you in Heaven” Our Christian lives start with a public acknowledgment of our faith through the act of profession and faith. Why do we assume that our struggles are thereafter private?

Beyond that, it needs to be understood that fellowship certainly can extend beyond the borders of a local congregation. The notion that a rogue brother may not be chastised beyond the boundaries of the local church without that church’s “autonomy” being violated is foreign to Biblical truth. Paul “judged” the fornicating brother at Corinth from Ephesus, hundreds of miles away (1 Corinthians 5:3; 16:8). How did Paul know about it? Someone from Corinth communicated it to him.

Disfellowship should not be taken lightly and because we don’t like someone in the congregation. The New Testament provides guidelines for who may be restricted and why.

In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul clearly stated that unrepentant immoral persons (fornicators, drunkards, and extortionists) are worthy of church discipline. Such characters are to be “delivered unto Satan” (5:5), or “put away” (5:13), for their own soul’s sake (5:5), and for the protection of the church (5:6-7). The church of today is woefully remiss in this duty.

Those who “fall away” (Luke 8:13) or who “depart from the faith” (1 Timothy 4:1) were subject to some degree of discipline in the early churches. Formal withdrawal of fellowship may not be appropriate for a  newborn Christian who almost immediately leaves the faith, because that person may not even understand the significance of the act, but for those who have matured somewhat, and then depart, discipline surely should be exercised (2 Thessalonians 3:6,14-15).

The New Testament instructs us to “turn away from” those who teach divisive doctrines contrary to apostolic truth (Romans 16:17). A heretic, after proper admonition, should be rejected (Titus 3:10).

Hymenaeus and Alexander made “shipwreck of the faith,” and Paul “delivered them unto Satan”, meaning he severed fellowship with them (1 Corinthians 5:5) that they might be taught not to blaspheme (1 Timothy 1:19-20).

But how do we, who are not Jesus and who are so far from the 1st century Christian experience, to determine which teachings are significantly erroneous to warrant disciplinary action? When brethren hold opposite viewpoints on various points of Bible interpretation, quite obviously someone is in error, but a simple question is —

Does that error pose a threat to the eternal welfare of others.

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