“Withdraw Yourselves”

By Dick Blackford

Some Questions And Answers

“. . . but if he refuse to hear the church, let him be unto thee as the Gentile and the publican ” (Mt. 18:17).

“. . . mark them that are causing the divisions and occasions of stumbling, contrary to the doctrine which ye learned. and turn away from them” (Rom. 16.17).

“. . . I wrote unto you not to keep company, if any man that is named a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an Idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner, with such a one no, not to eat” (1 Cor. 5.11).

“Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jew Christ, that)v withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly. . . ” (2 Thess. 3:6).

“And If any man obeyeth not our word by this epistle, note that man, that ye have no company with him, to the end that he may be ashamed” (2 Thess. 3:14).

“A factious man after a first and second admonition refuse. . . ” (Tit. 3:10).

Question 1: Why is it that many churches do not practice withdrawal as the Bible teaches?

Answer: There are several possibilities. It may be for any of the following reasons: (1) Because it is unpleasant. Parents ruin their children by claiming they love them too much to discipline them. The same thing can happen to children of God. Refusing to administer corrective discipline when needed actually indicates a lack of love. If we love the Lord and our brethren we will fulfill both the pleasant and unpleasant duties given to us. (2) Because it is abused. Nothing has been more abused than baptism, but should we quit practicing scriptural baptism? (3) Because of fear. There is fear of what others will think, fear of retaliation, and fear of hurting someone’s feelings. “. . perfect love casteth out fear, . . . he that feareth is not made perfect in love” (1 Jn. 4:18). (4) Because of ignorance. This shows a need to study. And though we may not always understand God’s motive (Deut. 29:29), it is still necessary to obey. When we do come to an understanding we will be able to see that it was good for us all along (Rom. 8:28). (5) Because of rebellion. It may be that some are not really serious about Christianity. Let it not be so.

Question 2: What means does God use to discipline His erring children?

Answer: I speak facetiously, but He could have chosen that the disorderly one be turned over an elder’s knee while another elder delivered a thrashing commensurate to the sins committed, but He did not. Instead, He has chosen that we “withdraw ourselves” as one means. We must quit keeping social company with the one who won’t repent. No more hunting, fishing, golfing, sewing, shopping, picnics, games, etc. until there is true repentance.

Question 3: For what sins are we to withdraw from one?

Answer: This question is easier answered than it appears. We must “withdraw from every brother that walketh disorderly” (2 Thess. 3:6). Every known sin for which a man will not repent causes him to be subject to withdrawal. Difficulty may come in determining if a sin has been committed. For example, we are not to keep company with a covetous brother (1 Cor. 5:11). Unless one openly admits this sin, it is not always easily perceived. This writer’s judgment is that a church is out of place in hiring a detective agency or expecting the preacher to become a “private eye” in such cases. Such situations must be handled with all care – and prayer.

Question 4: What does “with such an one, no not to eat” mean (1 Cor. 5:11)?

Answer: Just what it says. This is the extent to which we are to withdraw. The Lord intended that we get the point, so He showed the extent to which it is to be carried. We are trying to bring the erring to repentance. If we grow lax in following the Lord’s teaching, the chastening will lose its effect. Some have failed to take all that the Bible says on this subject. They think so long as they don’t eat with an unrepentant member that they can still keep company in all other ways. But we are not to “keep company” (socialize) of any kind. (This, of course, does not refer to incidental eating such as in a restaurant, at school or work, etc.). Difficulty in obeying this command should not keep us from understanding it.

Some have suggested that this means we are not to eat the Lord’s Supper with the withdrawee. The Bible does not teach closed communion. Each man is to examine himself regarding the Supper (1 Cor. 11:27-29).

Question 5: What if a person ties about his sins and there is no way of knowing?

Answer: We are not responsible for things beyond our control. The Lord never expects more of us than we can perform (Mt. 25:14-30). He will take care of the matter on judgment day.

Question 6: Are we guilty of judging when we decide to withdraw (Mt. 7:1-5)?

Answer: There is some judgment involved, but no guilt if done properly (1 Cor. 5:3,12,13). Jesus did not condemn the Pharisees for trying to get the mote from another’s eye. They were condemned for not getting the beam out of their own eye. He told them “first cast the beam out of thine own eye and then thou shalt see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye” (Mt. 7:5). (This is probably the most often quoted and most misunderstood passage in the Bible.) We are commanded to “judge righteous judgment” (Jn. 7:24).

Question 7: Is it wrong for the withdrawors to speak to the withdrawee?

Answer: Some have thought that “keep no company” means we should turn up our noses at the erring. God forbid! “Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother” (2 Thess. 3:15). Our association with the erring should be for spiritual reasons, not social.

Question 8: Isn’t withdrawal individual action? Where do we get authority to read a letter before the church?

Answer: Withdrawal is both an individual and a congregational matter. We withdraw ourselves (individuals) (2 Thess. 3:6). But this results when one refuses to hear the church (Mt. 18:17). The withdrawal announcement is to take place when we are “gathered together” (1 Cor. 5:4). Reading the letter is an expedient way of carrying this out. The information could be conveyed in other ways that are not as expedient. Remember though, it is just an announcement and not the withdrawal itself. The withdrawing is to take place in the life of each Christian after the announcement has been made. Our duty is not fulfilled just by reading a letter before the church, but the Scriptures do necessarily infer that some kind of an announcement be made.

Question 9: How long should brethren wait before withdrawing from a disorderly person?

Answer: This cannot be answered in terms of days, weeks, or months. So far as I know, the Bible does not mention a “grace period” consisting of so much time. Brethren must use mature judgment in such cases since the Lord has not told us how long to wait. However, there are two dangers that we should avoid: (1) Being too “quick on the draw” (or “withdraw” in this case). Punitive discipline is for those who refuse to repent. Effort should be made to restore the fallen (Gal. 6:1). There is no need for punitive discipline if the erring person is willing to repent when we seek to restore him. (2) Procrastinating, hoping for a change of mind which may never come. What parents would wait several months before correcting a child for a wrong deed? “Because sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil” (Eccl. 8:11).

When it is determined that a brother or a sister is walking disorderly and refuses to repent, withdrawal should then be practiced. It is a command of God (2 Thess. 3:6,14).

Question 10: What if the withdrawee is a member of one’s own household?

Answer: This is probably the only exception. One command does not cancel out another and withdrawal was not designed to destroy the family. However, the realm of the home is not merely a social thing. It is a divine and permanent relationship. We are not to stop fulfilling our roles and responsibilities to other family members (Eph. 5:22,23; 6:1-3). Even then, one should not act so as to condone or encourage the sinning child of God in any way.

Question 11: Won’t withdrawing drive people away?

Answer: That depends on the kind of people you have in mind. It may drive away the worldly minded. But it will draw those who respect godliness, love the Lord, and want to go to heaven. Our primary concern should be quality, not quantity. On the other hand, it may be the very thing (and the only thing) that will shake up and wake up those who are drifting rapidly over the falls to destruction.

“Deliver such a one unto Satan . . . that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor. 5:5). Some must be “snatched from the fire” (Jude 23).

Question 12: How can we withdraw from those who have already quit assembling?

Answer: Forsaking the assembling does not seem like such a bad thing to most folks. It isn’t immoral and other sins are far worse, they reason. However, it is far more serious than most realize, for it involves other sins. There is the failure to remember the Lord’s death in the way He has taught us (1 Cor. 11:23-25). Who can say immorality is worse than this? The command to sing praise to the Creator is omitted (Eph. 5:19). There is a refusal to teach and admonish others through congregational singing (Col. 3:16). Also, there is the responsibility to support the Lord’s work by the contributing of one’s means (1 Cor. 16:1,2; 2 Cor. 9:7). More than likely such a person has laid an occasion of stumbling in the way of another (Mt. 18:7). Who can say these are not serious matters? The Bible does not teach that sins of immorality are worse than religious sins. It is a man-made distinction.

Question 13: What should be the attitude of the one we are seeking to restore?

Answer: Naturally, we would hope he would show a willngness to repent. Sometimes, though, the person will refuse to discuss the problem. Should elders be forced to wait until such people “get in the mood” to talk? That could involve several years of waiting. The rebellious have long sought for ways in which they could gain an upper hand against the Lord. This and the “floating membership” concept (“I never identified with that congregation – even though it’s the only one I attend – so they can’t withdraw from me!”) have often been used. But when one is unwilling to discuss reasons for his unfaithfulness it is evident that he is unwilling to repent. His attitude should be that recorded in Luke 15:21.

Question 14: Is one congregation bound to accept the withdrawal decisions of another congregation?

Answer: No. Each congregation is independent and selfgoverning and cannot issue edicts for, or receive them from, other congregations. It could be that a congregation has abused the Bible’s teaching on withdrawal. Another congregation would certainly not have to submit to that! However, this does not mean that another congregation’s withdrawals should be ignored. Common sense would tell us that an investigation should be made. Indeed, in this age when many church jumpers think they have found a flaw in God’s plan and would use it to their sinful advantage, we should be extremely careful.

Question 15: If one who has “quit the church ” starts attending again, doesn’t this show that he has repented and can be used in the services?

Answer: The only way it might would be if we could read the person’s mind. No one can do that (1 Cor. 2:11) and it would end up being a “guessing game.” A person can change his habits without changing his mind about past conduct. One may commit several murders and then decide to quit murdering (for various reasons other than repentance). But if he does not repent of those murders he committed, he is still guilty. Cessation from wrongful deeds does not necessarily prove that one has repented of them.

If a quitter starts attending again without letting us know in some way (a confession) that he has repented, and we call on him to take part, we are acting as though nothing happened and may be endangering that person’s eternal welfare by giving him a false sense of security. The Corinthians were rebuked for continuing to act toward an unrepentant brother as though nothing had happened (1 Cor. 5). Before a man was to be appointed as a deacon, he was to prove himself (1 Tim. 3: 10). Again, common sense would tell us the same thing about anyone before he is used for a particular work.

Question 16: What are the consequences of not withdrawing from the disorderly?

Answer: (1) We displease God and place our own souls in jeopardy. (2) We may cause those needing correction to be lost. (3) The congregation becomes a haven for every religious misfit. This happens when people look to the church for what they can get from it socially. What we gain from the church socially should come as a by-product of being a Christian and not be looked on as an end in itself. (4) Respect for the church is lost by outsiders. The church becomes no different than any social club (which are a dime a dozen). When God intervened directly in a case of divine discipline, the Bible says that “great fear came upon the whole church, and upon all that heard these things” (Acts 5:11; also read 1 Tim. 5:20).

Question 17: In the parable of the tares and wheat, Jesus said let them grow together (Mt. 13.28-30). Doesn’t this show it is wrong to withdraw?

Answer: No. The passage is misapplied when used this way. In the parable, the field was not the church, but the world. The wheat represented those in the kingdom and the tares were the children of the devil. The harvest was the end of the world. Jesus said so (Mt. 13:36-40). We should accept His interpretation and not our own.

Question 18: What should be our attitude when the withdrawee repents?

Answer: Forgive him, comfort him, and confirm our love toward him lest he be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow (2 Cor. 2:5-11).

Question 19: Do you really think it will work?

Answer: Whether we see immediate results is beside the point and does not nullify our responsibility. If we have not procrastinated or acted hastily, if our attitudes are right and we sincerely pray, there is a good chance the erring will repent. Even if he does not, there are still other benefits. It will keep the church pure, maintain its good reputation, and draw those who respect godliness.

Question 20: What about those who should have been withdrawn from years ago, but because of our indifference we dragged our feet and did not do our duty?

Answer: We can repent and God (who is faithful) will you know. The one who has power to remove a congregation’s candlestick called upon the church at Ephesus for congregational repentance (Rev. 2:1-7). Let us look into the mirror of God’s word and see if one or more of those churches of Asia does not describe us.

There is no way to change the past. Since withdrawal is to be done without partiality, it would be impossible, in most cases, to go back and rectify the situation. Some of those people have moved away, been restored, or died. While we cannot undo the past, we can look to the future with the resolution that, beginning right now, we are going to do what is right.


Perhaps the point has not been emphasized enough that scriptural chastening is an act of love, not vengeance. Vengeance belongs to the Lord. He will recompense (Rom. 12:19). When brethren fail to fulfill God’s will, they are not demonstrating love – but a lack of it. “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth” (Heb. 12:6). Withdrawal is a means which the Lord uses. When brethren will not practice it they are preventing His plan from working. It is no wonder that there are many weak churches and ungodly members. God’s plan for bringing His erring children to repentance is as much essential as His plan for alien sinners (Gal. 6:10). If a member of my family walks disorderly and will not repent, I want the brethren to withdraw in an effort to save his soul. It may be unpleasant for me at the time, but I can endure it if it will bring my loved one to shame and cause him or her to repent. It is much better than standing in judgment, not having done the Lord’s will.

In this age of television and as the crime rate is soaring, the consciences of many of God’s children have become dull. There is not the remorse for sin that there used to be. The senses of many are no longer shocked at the terribleness of sin. David said: “Through thy percepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way ” (Psa. 119:104). If your attitude toward sin is not the same as David’s, it is time to awaken!

Guardian of Truth XXX: 9, pp. 268-269, 276-277
May 1, 1986