Can We Withdraw From the “Withdrawn”?

By Edward O. Bragwell, Sr.

Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition he received from us (2 Thess. 3:6).

A brother or sister “quits the church,” or more correctly quits the Lord. Is there anything the church can do beyond urging him to return? Usually when we suggest that maybe the church should consider withdrawing from such a one, we are faced with: “You can’t withdraw from those who have withdrawn themselves.” We do not believe that those who raise this objection are wilfully trying to avoid responsibility for discipline. I have heard it from some of the finest and more conscientious brethren that I know. But, I do believe that they have a misconception of the withdrawing process.

There is more to “withdrawing yourselves” than making a formal announcement at church and then no longer “using them” in a public way. Many seem to think that since the quitter no longer attends and participates in congregational activities that this constitutes his having withdrawn himself so we cannot “withdraw our fellowship” since the quitter has already withdrawn himself. But this solution to the problem will not do.

We suspect that part of the problem is that of referring to discipline as “withdrawing fellowship. ” The Scriptures refer to “withdrawing yourselves. ” There is a difference. When one withdraws himself it is true that his spiritual fellowship is withdrawn, but it goes beyond that. One withdraws his person, his company, or his social association from the offending party. Surely one can do this even though his brother or sister no longer attends the meetings of the church. Such withdrawal or isolation is designed to make the offender ashamed of his conduct and produce repentance. If Christians refuse to have any social association with such a one and let him know why he can have none then many would feel the pressure and be restored that probably would otherwise be lost. Of course, this severing of company does not preclude contacts for the purpose of admonishing (2 Thess. 3:15) and/or fulfilling other obligations one may have toward the person.

I have known many who have “withdrawn themselves” who continue to enjoy the day-to-day association with Christians. That association has not been severed at all. It is precisely the company (“mixing up with” – Vine’s Dictionary) that must be withdrawn (see 1 Cor. 5:9-13; 2 Thess. 3:14). Such a person can still be “marked” or “noted” by the church and then each member can withdraw his company (association) that the one might be ashamed.

The concept that we cannot withdraw from the withdrawn (meaning one who no longer attends) because he has withdrawn himself presents still another problem. Suppose a brother (or sister) becomes an adulterer but still attends all services, sings, bows in prayer, eats the Lord’s supper, etc. (we have known this to happen) withdraw from him?

“Of course, they can,” you say.

But wait a minute. Does the fact that he still attends regularly and participates in worship not mean that he refuses to be withdrawn from? How can the church withdraw from one who refuses to be withdrawn from?

“But, we can’t keep him from coming and participating,” you say.

Right again!

“Each member can refuse to associate with him on a day to day basis.”

Right one more time!

“After all, we can ‘withdraw ourselves’ from him even though he is regular in attendance and participates in the worship.”

Now, my brother, you are beginning to get the point! If the fact that one quits means that he has “withdrawn himself” and we cannot withdraw from him – if one refuses to quit it must mean that there is nothing further we can do, since he refuses to be withdrawn from. If not, why not?

I believe that we can mark and refuse to company with a brother who walks disorderly whether or not he attends services. In fact, the very refusal to attend faithfully is walking disorderly and is grounds for marking and withdrawing ourselves.

Guardian of Truth XXXV: 11, p. 340
June 6, 1991