By Jimmy Tuten, Jr.
Recently a set of Edgar Dye’s lecture series notes on “Church Discipline” came across my desk and under the heading of “Objections to Disfellowshipping Considered” he covered a point that has given me problems from time to time. It is a prevalent objection that is very common, and I am sure others have had to deal with it too. In this writing I would like to cover this one objection.
The Objection Considered
The objection simply stated is this: “We cannot withdraw from those who have already withdrawn from the church because when one ceases to assemble with the saints, he has withdrawn himself and the church needs no further action.” I have tried to be respectful toward those who take this position even though I believe the position to be fallacious. I believe those who hold this position are sincere and are not. trying to offer a feeble excuse to escape an unpleasant responsibility. But the fact still remains, the church is commanded to withdraw from all who walk disorderly and it is the church that is to do the withdrawing, and not the sinner from the church.
There are several considerations behind this objection:
(1) It forces tine to take the position that cases of withdrawal are to be only coward those who are “still in the church”.
(2) When one stops attending the church, hence, withdraws himself, the church’s ,responsibility to him is over.
(3) Most who take this position feel that’ we should simply drop the names of the unfaithful from the roll of the church and avoid the thorny points of discipline.
This is simply not the case at all. Such positions show a lack of faith in’ God’s word and a lack of conviction regarding what God says about discipline. We must respect what God says and love those who are in sin. As James P. Needham has said: “It sanctions free-lance membership . . . One could decide he no longer wants to be a member of a local church, withdraw. his membership and become a free-lancer. I have not found any authority for free-lance membership. Christians in the New Testament were identified with some local church.”
Perhaps this illustration will help: Israel and Judah forgot Jehovah days without number (Jer. 2:32; 3:6-10). They had.,” forsaken the Lord” (Isa. 1:4). In doing so they did the same thing that brethren are doing today in forsaking public worship. In spite of what Israel and Judah had done, for many years God was patient and longsuffering. Yet, He afterward punished them through the Assyrians and Babylonians. Their withdrawal from God and the long lapse of time did not preclude Divine chastisement from being exercised. I suggest ‘that the absence of brethren today does not excuse them from” being withdrawn from as the Bible directs.
Illustrations Of What We Are To Do
According to John 10 and Luke 15, the good shepherd goes after his wayward sheep. Where there are elders, they stand in the same relation to the congregation that the shepherd does to his flock (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:1-4). Where there are no elders, the brethren must exercise the action of seeking the sheep that has gone astray (Gal. 6:1; Jas. 5:19-20). To say that fellowship cannot be withdrawn from those who have withdrawn . themselves, the purpose being to reclaim them, is to argue that the shepherd cannot seek his lost sheep because the sheep has withdrawn itself from the fold. Furthermore it is in the very context of the shepherd’s leaving the ninety and nine in the fold and seeking the one .that” had gone astray (Matt. 18:12-14), that Jesus commanded corrective discipline (Matt. 18:15-17).
Then again, military terms are used to describe the affairs of the Kingdom of God. Read carefully 2 Timothy 2:3-4; Ephesians 6:10-18; Philippians 2:25. Let us take a look at this relationship to illustrate the fallacy of the type of thinking we are dealing with in this writing.
If a soldier goes AWOL he is not free from any disciplinary action simply because he “withdrew” himself from his company. Likewise, the soldier in the Lord’s army is not free! Action must needs be taken against him.
Note several things that are not accomplished :when the church takes no action against the one who withdraws himself:
(1) The offender does not know that he has, been withdrawn from.
(2) He does not realize that he has been “delivered back to Satan”.
(3) The faithful members of the church do not know he has been withdrawn from and may even disobey. a diving command.
(4) The offended is not ashamed but is usually “puffed up.”
(5) The primary purpose of all discipline is not accomplished.
(6) The church is subject to corrupting influences.
(7) The world does not know that he has been withdrawn from either. So far as they know our silence equals condoning his behavior, and like David of old we have given occasion to the enemies .of God to blaspheme.
Such Failure Creates A Loophole
It has been suggested that if we cannot withdraw from the withdrawn (the one who withdraws himself from the church), the church could never withdraw from this type of disorderly person (2 Thess. 3:6). The reason being, the disorderly always beats the church to the draw! All they would have to do to avoid being withdrawn from is to say, “You can’t withdraw from me, I have already withdrawn from you”. The church would be helpless to carry out the command to withdraw from the disorderly (2 Thess. 3:6).
Brethren, think about it!
Truth Magazine XXI: 2, 25-26
January 13, 1977