By Larry A. Bunch
There are various “kinds” of discipline (or, “degrees”). We will note each one, beginning with the “milder” form of discipline and progressing to the “sterner.”
Many sins are sins of ignorance. Brethren must be taught in order to do God’s will and avoid sin. This is one of the purposes of the Bible classes and preaching services. This is also why it is so important for brethren to attend all the services of the church.
Not only did Jesus instruct the apostles to “. . . make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them . . . .” but to also “. . . teach(ing) them to observe all that I commanded you. . .” after their conversion (Matt. 28:19-20). All things in the assemblies are to be done for the edification or spiritual building-up of the saints (1 Cor. 14:26). This is one of the purposes of the assembly (Heb. 10:24-25) resulting in better service to God and spiritual growth of the Christian. It will also help them to be able to teach and convert others (2 Tim. 2:2). In Acts 20:7 we have an example of Paul’s public teaching and in verse 20 he declared to the Ephesian elders that he taught them “publicly.”Private Instruction and Exhortation
Not only did Paul teach the Ephesians publicly, but also “from house to house” (Acts 20:20). Many times a Christian may be zealous in his work for God, yet not know the will of God on a particular subject as he should. Then it is necessary to go to him and instruct him privately (see Acts 18:24-28). The fact that one is taught privately is no reflection on them or their character, it simply means that they need instruction they have not received from the public assemblies. It is also possible for one to hear a lesson taught publicly, but not make application of the lesson to himself. So, in our work of admonishing the unruly, encouraging the faint-hearted and helping the weak (1 Thess. 5:14), we go and teach them privately.
Privately Rebuke and Admonish
That private visit (to teach) may not be enough and sterner teaching is then necessary. Or a brother may be involved in a sin that he knows to be sin and a rebuke is called for instead of just teaching. Instead of talking to everyone about our brother’s sin, we go to him privately. It is not wise to parade every sin before the public if it can be handled privately and discreetly (see Luke 17:3; Matt. 18:15).
Gross and brazen sins, committed in open defiance to God and His will, merit public condemnation. You seldom hear someone’s name called from the pulpit or mentioned in the announcements in this light, yet many times it is needful (see 2 Peter 2:13; Gal. 2:11-14; 1 Tim. 5:20; 1:18-20; 2 Tim. 2:17; 4:10; 3 John 9).
This is usually referred to as “withdrawing of fellowship.” Some object to that term, but it adequately describes the action taken. (If someone in the congregation objects to the use of this term, then I have no objection to referring to it in another way — so long as God’s will is fulfilled in the matter.)
Brethren in Christ have fellowship with one another. As long as one is walking in the light of the Gospel, he has fellowship with others who are doing the same thing and they have fellowship with God (1 John. 1:7). This is a spiritual fellowship and may be true whether one knows the others who are “walking in the light” or not. This is why we should be able to go into any congregation comprised of people serving God according to His will and feel right at home. Another “facet” of fellowship involves joint-participation. This is simply working and worshiping with our brethren in Christ (Phil. 2:25; 2 Cor. 8:23; Rom. 15:25-27; 1 Cor. 10:16-17; etc.).
Although the New Testament usage of the term translated “fellowship” is limited to “communion, fellowship, sharing in common” (W. E. Vine, Vol. 2, p. 90, “Koinonia”), “partnership” (ibid., “metoche”), “to have fellowship” (ibid., “koinoneo”), I believe we can demonstrate that the English definition of the word “fellowship” is applicable to New Testament practice.
“Fellowship” is defined by Webster as: “1. the condition of being an associate; mutual association of persons on equal and friendly terms; communion; companionship; . . . 2. a mutual sharing, as of experience, activity, interest, etc.; partnership; joint interest . . . .
If “fellowship” is to be limited to those things as defined by W. E. Vine or to things peculiarly “spiritual” (?), then why are we not to even eat a meal with a brother living in adultery (1 Cor. 5:11)? May we eat a meal with a brother as long as we do not “fellowship” him in “spiritual” matters? May we associate with the ungodly and false teachers at times other than in a “spiritual” atmosphere (1 Cor. 5:9; 2 Tim. 3:5; 2 Thess. 3:14-15; 2 John 9-11)?
Since we are to “have no fellowship with” certain brethren, then I affirm that the term “withdraw fellowship” adequately describes this type of action. Since the instruction to “have no fellowship” includes social activities (1 Cor. 5:11), we must “withdraw” from those who claim to have withdrawn themselves from the church. Otherwise, brethren could continue their social activities with the ungodly because they have “withdrawn themselves from the church.” The fornicator could “avoid church discipline” (withdrawing) by “withdrawing” first!
In order to comply with the instructions of the Lord in the matter of church discipline, it is necessary that obstinate sinners be publicly named so brethren can avoid them and have no fellowship with them. For example, if a Christian quits attending the services of the church, then it is the obligation of the brethren to make sure all members of the local congregation are informed concerning the matter so that all social fellowship in process may cease and/or that none might start (Heb. 10:25 and many other passages and principles, with 2 Thess. 3:6). (This, of course, would be done only after efforts were made to restore the erring Christian and it was determined that he or she was determined to continue in their own way regardless of God’s will.) Continued next week.
Truth Magazine XXI: 23, pp. 357-358
June 9, 1977