The Word Abused: 2 Thess. 3:6

By Mike Willis

In the October, 1976 issue of Restoration Review, Editor Leroy Garrett examined another one of the abuses of the Scriptures which occur among brethren. Again, his purpose was to examine one of the verses used against false teachers, make it innocuous and replace it on the shelf. He has already written a treatise on each of the following passages: 2 Pet. 2:1; 1 Cor. 1:10; 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1; Rom. 16:17-18; Gal. 1:8-9; Amos 3:3; Rom. 14:23; 1 Jn. 1:7; etc. The overall aim of this series on the “Word Abused” is obvious to anyone with his eyes open: Garrett is trying to persuade us to quit using these Scriptures with reference to those who have sinfully introduced instrumental music in worship, sponsoring churches, institutionalism, etc. Rather, we are told to ignore these unscriptural innovations and practice sweet fellowship with one another. Before I get off onto his doctrine of fellowship, let me return to 2 Thess. 3:6. Here is the passage as it appears in 2 Thess. 3:6:

“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 which he received of us.”

After giving a pretty good commentary on the historical circumstances which caused Paul to write this verse, Garrett examined the verse. By the time he had finished with this verse, he concluded that all that it was teaching was the following:

“Using the coming of Christ as a reason, some of them no doubt sincerely, a number had turned to a life of Idleness and indolence, which not only made for an Imposition upon others who were poor to start with, but which also violated the principles and example that Paul had set before them. Some strong measure had to be applied. So he is telling the faithful to avoid or hold aloof those who refuse to work and bear their own load. When they come around, don’t let them impose on you, don’t feed them. Put a hoe or an ax in their hand and let them work for what they eat. This is what he is telling them.

“That this has no reference to any kind of formal. withdrawing of fellowship is evident by the context.”(1)

He concluded, therefore, that one abuses this passage when he applies it to doctrinal matters which presently divide us. Hence, he wrote:

“Paul could never have dreamed that his words, `Withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly’ would someday be used as a prooftext for ‘withdrawing fellowship’ from those who veer from this or that doctrinal position, whether in reference to a divorce, speaking in tongues, Im. porting an organ, becoming a Mason, conducting a Sunday School, using uninspired literature, adopting the pastor system, or supporting a TV-radio program through the treasury of the church.”(2)

You will notice that once again Garrett considered how the ones who oppose innovations abuse the Scriptures. Wonder why he has never found time to write on passages such as Rev. 14:2; 1 Cor. 14:7; Psa. 150; etc. which are used by the instrumental music brethren to justify the introduction of mechanical instruments of music in the worship? Wonder why he refuses to treat passages such as Gal. 6:10 and Jas. 1:27 as used by the liberals among us to justify orphans homes? Brother Garrett, are we who oppose these innovations the only ones who abuse the Scriptures? Methinks the brethren can see the wolf behind the sheep’s clothing!

Who Are The Disorderly?

Who are the ones described as “disorderly” in 2 Thess. 3:6? The historical situation at Thessalonica reveals, as Garrett has said, that the disorderly were those who quit working and sponged off their brethren because they thought that the Lord’s second coming was imminent. However, you must notice that Paul said, “Withdraw yourself from every brother that walketh disorderly.” Is the form of disorderliness which was practiced at Thessalonica the only form which it may take? Certainly not! Hence, anything which might properly be described as “disorderly” must be treated in the same fashion as the form of disorderliness at Thessalonica was treated. A proper understanding of “disorderly” (ataktos) is needed.

Ataktos comes “from the verb tassa which is a military term referring to the act of arranging soldiers in military order in the ranks. When the Greeks wanted to make a word mean the opposite to what it meant originally, they placed the letter Alpha as its first letter. Thus atakteo refers to soldiers marching out of order or quitting the ranks, thus being disorderly. The word therefore means `deviating from the prescribed order or rule.”(3) “Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament comments as follows: ” . . . it characterizes a man as one who sets himself outside the necessary and given order. In view of the attested breadth of meaning one must be on guard against taking it too narrowly in the Thessalonian Epistles. In 2 Th. 3 one might easily conclude from v. 7 that the primary reference of the group is to laziness. But outside Christianity the verb, when applied to work, does not in the first instance lay emphasis on sloth but rather on an irresponsible attitude to the obligation to work. Certainly the tines in v. 11 are not guilty of mere inaction but of a busy unrest which obviously finds expression outside the community.”(4)

Notice that the emphasis of the word ataktos is on “deviating from the prescribed order or rule.” Other expressions in this text confirm that this is so. The one who is ataktos refuses to walk “after the tradition which he received of us” (v. 6); he does not obey “our word by this epistle” (v. 14). Hence, any person who refuses to conform to the traditions handed down by the apostles might properly be described as a disorderly man subject to the discipline prescribed in these verses.

The traditions (paradosis) of the apostles included, not only what was said about working to earn a living, but also God’s revelation pertaining to the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:2), the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:23), the holy commandments (2 Pet. 2:21) and the faith (Jude 3). (See the usage of paradidmi in the sense of passing down doctrines from one generation to the next.) Hence, any express violation of God’s revelation is “deviating from the prescribed order or rule” and, therefore, might properly be called “disorderly.” Hence, the instructions of this passage, although expressly written concerning one particular form of disorderly behavior, can be legitimately applied to any form of disorderliness whether doctrinal or moral.

What Was To Be Done With The Disorderly?

Another perversion of this passage, according to Garrett, is the idea of making “withdrawing yourselves” mean any kind of formal withdrawal of fellowship. He said,

“The brother who would not heed the apostle’s urgings was to be kept at bay. They were not to associate with him nor In any way encourage his prodigality, including turning him away from the door at mealtime. This might lead the brother to shame and get him back in line. Paul never really touches upon the subject of excluding such ones from the fellowship of the congregation, as he does, for instance, in the case of the fornicator at Corinth.”(5)

Let us notice the passage to see whether or not what he asserted is true.

Those who say that this passage has nothing to do with the formal withdrawal of fellowship are forced to believe in several levels of fellowship. A large number of denominational commentators make a distinction between withdrawal of fellowship and excommunication; Garrett has accepted the distinction. However, I would like for someone to go through the Scriptures and demonstrate the difference between the two. He needs to prove that there are various levels of fellowship such as full-fellowship and limited-fellowship (a brother in the fellowship of the church with whom Christians are forbidden to associate). Keep in mind that Brother Garrett sees a difference between excommunication and what 2 Thess. 3:6 commands! The word stello means “keep away, stand aloof . . . from someone.”(6) Hence, the passage expressly demands that one keep away from anyone who walks disorderly. Am I to believe that God commands me to shun someone who is in the fellowship of the church? The person is either in the fellowship of the church or he is not. If he is in the fellowship of God’s people, he should be treated as such; he should be called .on for prayer and otherwise used in the service of worship. If he is not, he should be disfellowshipped. Where, Brother Garrett, can I read of shunning a brother who is in full fellowship with God and the church? Brother Garrett, your slip is showing!

Actually, this passage is teaching the very same thing as 1 Cor. 5 teaches: whenever a brother refuses to submit to the Lord’s commandments, he is to be publicly disfellowshipped. To demonstrate that this is so, notice the following evidences:

(1) He is to be “noted” (v. 14). The word “note” is translated from semeioo which means “to mark for oneself.” The person under rebuke is to be noted by every individual member in order that he might be shunned. How was every Christian , in Thessalonica to learn of this man’s conduct? Was a gossip campaign to be started to inform every member? Surely not; rather, the man was to be publicly exposed, marked or noted. Regarding the word semeioo, Bengel commented, ” . . . mark, with a note of censure; using this epistle to admonish him, and enforcing it upon him . . . . The meaning of the verb paradeigmatizein, to make an example of, is akin to this. It may be done to others by letters, if abroad, or face to face, if present.”(7) Similarly, C.A. Auberlen and C. J. Riggenbach said, “Point him out by an agreement in the church, in order that this may be done.”(8)

(2) The man was to be avoided by faithful Christians. The very same commandments as were given with reference to the Corinthian fornicator (cf. 1 Cor. 5:9-13) were given with reference to this man. The congregation was forbidden to have social fellowship with the disorderly member.

The books of First and Second Thessalonians give us some more information regarding church discipline which we need to notice. 1 Thess. 5:14 commanded, “Now we exhort you, brethren’, warn them that are unruly (ataktous) . . . .” About three months passed between the writing of First Thessalonians and Second Thessalonians. Apparently, the unruly or disorderly (ataktos) Christians had refused to change their ways. Therefore, when Paul wrote Second Thessalonians, he commanded the brethren to withdraw from them. Hence, we should give the disorderly among us today fair warning and a short time to repent. If they refuse, we should publicly withdraw from them as this Scripture directs.

Unconditional Forgiveness?

Another statement made by Garrett which demands some attention is this:

“We all walk disorderly in one way or another, just as we are all wrong or `brothers in error’ in one way or another. It Is a matter of Intention and the condition of the heart as to how serious these errors are. What really counts is our faithfulness to Jesus. If we Ilk him up In our lives, yielding ourselves to his example and to the scriptures the best we know how, then our feebleness, our disorderly moments in act and thought, our errors of judgment and behavior will be covered by his love and grace. If this is not the way of it, then we may as well call the whole thing off, for all our works, even those ‘done In righteousness,’ are for naught. It is only by his mercy that we are saved, not by orderliness of doctrine and practice.”(9)

There are a number of comments which I want to make about these statements.

(1) “It is a matter of intention and the condition of the heart as to how serious these errors are.” This statement implies that one can do evil deeds (i.e., things which are not authorized in the Scriptures) from a good heart. Though one might inadvertently fall into sin, his heart is sinful if he refuses to repent of it once he has been warned as 1 Thess. 5:14 demands. No person is to be disfellowshipped without that kind of a warning. The person who continues his sinful, disorderly ways once he has been warned does not have a pure heart. Those have led the liberals into apostasy have been duly warned; yet, they refuse to repent. Hence, their hearts are not so pure as Brother Garrett would have us to believe they are.

(2) ” . . . our errors of judgment and behavior will be covered by his love and grace.” Amen! However, we must hasten to ask whether those “errors” (does Brother Garrett mean “sins”?) will be covered conditionally or unconditionally. If they are covered conditionally, one must repent and pray for forgiveness before they will be covered. If they are covered unconditionally, then one can be saved without turning from his wicked ways. Apparently, the latter is what Garrett believes since he concludes that a person can be saved without renouncing mechanical instruments of music in worship, tongue speaking, institutionalism, etc. Where, Brother Garrett, can I read of God forgiving sins unconditionally? If He will forgive my sins unconditionally, will He also forgive those of the denominationalists unconditionally (without faith, repentance and baptism)? If He will forgive my sins unconditionally, will He also forgive those of the sincere Jews who disbelieve in Jesus unconditionally? And, will He also forgive unconditionally the sincere atheists? If He does not forgive all men on the same basis, God is a respector of persons. The doctrine of “unconditional forgiveness” logically leads to universalism. If we can fellowship our disobedient, liberal brethren, we can fellowship atheists on the same basis.

(3) “It is only by his mercy that we are saved, not orderliness of doctrine and practice.” That we are saved, by mercy and grace cannot be doubted. Yet, we are saved by grace through faith (Eph. 2:8). The act of believing is without value unless one believes the right things. Just as the act of eating will not keep a man alive unless he eats the right things (e.g., the man who eats arsenic will not live even though he does eat), also the act of believing will save no one unless he believes the right things. Hence, orderliness of doctrine and practice are essential to salvation, otherwise Jesus would never have said, “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (Jn. 8:32).


In conclusion, let me remind you that Leroy Garrett is trying to dilute every passage which we have used to defend ourselves against wolves in sheep’s clothing. His purpose for doing this is obvious: he is trying to persuade churches to extend the right hand of fellowship to those who use instruments of music in worship, speak in tongues, support human institutions (colleges and orphans homes) from the congregational treasury, destroy congregational autonomy through the sponsoring church arrangement, etc. Brethren, wake up the to the dangers which exist among us. Unshield your swords and help us to destroy this foe before his pernicious doctrine infiltrates other congregations among us!

Truth Magazine Vol. XXI: 5, pp. 67-70
February 3, 1977