Church Discipline, Part Three

Relationship to the Withdrawn

by Gene Taylor

Scripture tells us what our attitudes and actions must be toward those from whom we have withdrawn our fellowship. Yet, many err in their relationship to them. Some err by treating their sins too lightly, disregarding the withdrawal action and continuing to freely associate with them often offering comfort to them and belittling the faithful. Others err by over-reacting, snubbing and ignoring them with an attitude that is frequently hostile.

In this article we will focus on the condition of those from whom fellowship has been withdrawn and what the attitudes and actions of the faithful must be towards them.

The Condition of the Unfaithful

James 5:19-21 provides a description of the unfaithful. "Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins."

According to this passage, those who have become unfaithful:

Required Attitudes and Actions Toward Those from Whom the Church Has Withdrawn Its Fellowship

"Withdraw yourselves" (2 Thes. 3:6). To withdraw is to "hold aloof, avoid, abstain from familiar company" (Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon). Withdrawing is not a mere ceremony said by the elders or preacher in which it is announced that brother/sister "So-and-so" is withdrawn from after which members continue to fish, bowl, golf, and socialize with him/ her and in every other way treat him as they did in the past. Such a "withdrawing" will have little or no effect on the person. One who does not obey the direct command of God to withdraw is himself disorderly and disobedient.

"Have no company with" (2 Thes. 3:14; 1 Cor. 5:11). A brother from whom we have withdrawn fellowship should never be used in public assemblies of worship. Private association with such a one is also restricted by the word of God. Habitually mixing together in a social manner is prohibited. Anything that would imply endorsement of such a one must be avoided. We are not to listen to his efforts to gain sympathy.

"With such a one, no not to eat" (1 Cor. 5:11). To eat with a person is to acknowledge that person as a worthy equal (Acts 11:2-3; Gal. 2:11-13).

"Mark" and "avoid" (Rom. 16:17). To avoid is "to turn away from, to turn aside, lit., to bend out of" (Vine's Expository Dictionary of NT Words). R.C.H. Lenski says it means "have nothing to do with." Moses E. Lard, in commenting on this verse, said, "It was a separation of true brethren from false; and, without a reformation, it was final." At the same time, the withdrawn must not be forgotten. The real purpose of withdrawal is to get the person back. Too often people completely forget the one from whom fellowship has been withdrawn and make no effort at all to restore him.

"Count him not as an enemy" (2 Thes. 3:6). Those from whom the faithful have withdrawn are not to be considered as personal enemies. They should be treated in such a way that they find reassuring signs of love from their brethren but no signs of weakness toward their sin.

Be "as the Gentile and the publican" (KVJ: "heathen man and a publican") (Matt. 18:17). This means to have the same benevolent good will toward them as you have for those outside the church (2 Cor. 6:14-16). Have kindness and compassion, interest in their souls and be seeking their salvation. But leave no doubt in regards to lack of fellowship because of their sin. Do not share in or condone their sinfulness. "He is to be avoided; yet he is entitled to the earnest good will, and all the offices of humanity; the faithful disciples of Christ are to have no religious communion with him until he repents" (H. Leo Boles).

"Refuse" (KJV: "reject") (Titus 3:10). This also carries with it the idea of "avoid." "Decline, refuse, avoid" is how Vincent's Word Studies in the NT defines it.

"Receive him not...and give him no greeting" (KJV: "Receive him not...neither bid him God speed") (2 John 9-11). All from whom the faithful have withdrawn fellowship for not abiding in the teaching of Christ are not to be encouraged, aided or endorsed. Those who love the truth should neither aid nor comfort those who trample it underfoot. To show endorsement of any kind is to share in their evil works.

Forgive them if they repent (2 Cor. 2:6-8). Always be willing to forgive (Luke 17:13-14). If they repent and seek forgiveness, receive them into your fellowship once again.

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