Our Conduct Toward The Disfellowshipped

By Irvin Himmel

A number of New Testament passages bear directly on our attitudes and actions toward people from whom we have withdrawn. This article assumes that proper procedures have been followed prior to the withdrawal. When the withdrawal becomes a reality, what then?

“As an Heathen Man and a Publican”

In Matthew 18:17, Jesus said concerning a brother who has wronged another and refuses to correct the matter, even after it has been brought to the attention of the church and he neglects to hear the church: “Let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.”

This means that “he is to be treated as we properly treat heathen men and publicans, or men of wicked habits” (J.W. McGarvey). Such a person “must be considered as an incorrigible sinner, whose company and conversation being contagious, ought to be shunned by all who have any love of goodness. . . ” (James Macknight).

This does not suggest that we should refuse to speak to the person if we meet him on the street. It does not justify our acting in an uncivil manner toward him. “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).

The one from whom the faithful have withdrawn due to persistence in evil is to be regarded as an outcast, but he is not to be hated and despised. He is no more to be regarded as in fellowship with God and the faithful than a pagan or a crooked tax-collector.


In Romans 16:17, Paul admonished the saints to “mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.”

“Avoid” (Gk. ekk1ino ) means “to turn away from, to turn aside, lit., to bend out of” (W.E. Vine). It means not only to “keep out of their way, but remove from it if you fall in with them” (Marvin Vincent). The sense is: “have nothing to do with them” (R.C.H. Lenski).

The brother who has been disfellowshipped for causing divisions and offenses through teaching contrary to the doctrine of the apostles, and sometimes this is the specific reason for withdrawal, is not be sanctioned. People who cause divisions and stumbling in the manner under consideration are to be avoided “by refusing to recognize and associate with them as brethren” (David Lipscomb). Paul was calling for separation. “It was a separation of true brethren from false; and, without a reformation, it was final” (Moses E. Lard).


A term of somewhat similar meaning was used by Paul in Titus 3: 10 where we are told how to deal with heretics. “A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject.”

The word “reject” (Gk. paraitou ) is from a verb meaning “to ask of one and then to beg off from one” (A.T. Robertson). It means to “decline, refuse, avoid” (Marvin Vincent). “There seems to be a reference here to Matthew 18:15-17. Official exclusion from church-membership is probably indicated” (William Hendriksen).

“Not to Keep Company … No Not to Eat”

In 1 Corinthians 5:9-13, Paul taught that we are “not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. “

This passage clearly forbids our mixing together with the disfellowshipped in an intimate and habitual manner. Whatever implies endorsement must be avoided.

“When we reflect that our Lord ate with publicans and sinners, and that Paul regards it as permissible to accept invitations to eat in heathen homes (x. 27), the detailed aoplication of this injunction is not easy. But the principle is plain. There is to be no close fellowship with anyone who claims to be a Christian, but whose life belies his profession. ” (Leon Morris).

Marshall E. Patton offers some pertinent comments on this passage in his fine book Answers For Our Hope:

“The phrase ‘no not to eat’ is in apposition to ‘not to keep company’ found in the same verse (also v.9). This means that the expression explains further what is involved in ‘not to keep company.’ Since Paul says ‘not to keep company’ does not apply to the world (v. 10), it follows that the eating forbidden is eating engaged in with the world, hence, a common meal. The idea is to preclude any social communion with a brother that would imply encouragement and endorsement of evil.”

“Count Him Not As An Enemy”

In 2 Thessalonians 3:6, Paul gave commandment to “withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly.” “Withdraw” signifies “the withdrawing into oneself, a holding oneself aloof from the offender in question. This is not to be done in a spirit of superiority” (Leon Morris).

In verses 14 and 15 Paul said, “and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.”

The companying that is forbidden “seems not itself to mean the absolute ignoring of the delinquent, but the refusal to hold free intercourse or have familiar dealings with him” (J.B. Lightfoot). So far as religious communion or sharing is concerned, he is “as an heathen man and a publican.” Any social communion that implies sanction or lends encouragement to his wickedness is forbidden.

But when we let him know that we are withdrawing from him due to his having broken the fellowship, we should admonish him “as a brother.” We must guard against improper measures. He is not to be considered as a personal enemy. The object of withdrawal is to make him ashamed.

“Receive Him Not . . . Neither Bid Him God Speed”

John taught (2 John 9-11) on how lovers of the truth should act toward false teachers – men who abide not in the doctrine of Christ. “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.”

The principle taught here would apply to all who have been disfellowshipped for not abiding in the teaching of Christ. They are not to be encouraged, aided, nor endorsed. This has no reference to people with whom we may have differences of judgment or opinion. John writes about people who clearly advance beyond Christ’s teaching.

One of the most difficult questions relating to our conduct toward the disfellowshipped pertains to the physical family. If a teenage daughter who still lives at home is disfellowshipped for refusing to repent of fornication, must she be kicked out of the house? David Lipscomb reasoned: “A daughter does not cease to be a daughter when she is guilty of fornication. The duty still rests on the mother to do what she can to save her daughter. If refusing to eat with her or driving her from home would help to save her from her sinful course, the mother should do it. If it would dishearten her, discourage her, and drive her deeper and more surely into sin, it would be wrong for her to send her away” (Queries And Answers , pp. 181, 182).

Personally, I do not view the withdrawal of ourselves from the ungodly as shutting out the fulfillment of duties in the husband-wife relationship, parent-child relationship, or other relationships that pertain to physical ties. However, this brings us to matters involving judgment.

There is a certain area of common sense that must be exercised in determining how long someone should be admonished before there is a withdrawal. in the case of the heretic, the Bible provides the answer. “If two admonitions will not stop the factious man he should be rejected at once. The more time he has the more trouble he will make” (R.L. Whiteside), Reflections). In other types of cases, more admonitions may be in order.

The same is true of our conduct toward the disfellowshipped. We may sum up what the Bible teaches in this way: We are forbidden to have religious and social communion with him or to do anything that would sanction, encourage, or lend support to his sinful course. But we must use our best judgment about what to do in various possible circumstances. If he shows any indication of remorse, or if we come in contact with him at work, because of family relations, or quite by chance, additional admonitions may be appropriate.

Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 19, pp. 581, 599
October 4, 1984