By Stan Adams
More and more the subject of withdrawal of fellowship is giving brethren difficulty. It is hard to understand how we can misunderstand such a plain command as is found in 2 Thessalonians 3:6 “withdraw yourselves from every brother that walks disorderly.” In 1 Corinthians 5 the congregation was told to “deliver such an one to Satan.” This congregation was not doing what God wanted and they were all wrong, because of it. They had a brother there who would not repent of his evil! He had to be dealt with. I know that many have become hesitant to withdraw from brethren, partly because of the threat of being sued. Others are timid about it because they do not want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Still others hesitate to practice corrective discipline because of family ties and the bad attitudes of many about discipline. I am also convinced that many simply do not grasp the concept of the Bible teaching on discipline and need to study more and learn how to practice what God has commanded on this issue. Brethren, none of these “reasons” will excuse us from our responsibility to withdraw from the disorderly!
One idea which has been gaining popularity among brethren for years is this: “We can’t withdraw from them, they withdrew from us!” or “They removed themselves from our rule, we can do nothing.” While I fully understand that a congregation cannot withdraw from someone that has moved away and placed membership with another local group, I also would like to stress that the liberals and denominations are not faithful congregations of God’s people. I would also like to make clear that “congregation hoppers” have become epidemic in many areas. It is the responsibility of the local congregation to “check out” brethren (as much as possible without hiring detectives) to see if they have sins which need correction in the congregation they left. Let us not be party to those who would run from congregation to congregation stirring up the same trouble.
Let’s set up the scenario of 1 Corinthians 5 in a modern day congregation and see how many today might advise this congregation to act, or what advice might be given to the fornicator, in order for him to “escape” the stigma of withdrawal.
Scene – A business meeting or elder’s discussion.
Discussion – Well, the preacher has a point about us doing something about “brother fornicator.” But we have to be careful, or he might sue us. Maybe if we wait long enough, he will go way to another group and it will be their problem. Maybe we could have a few lessons preached about fornication and it will make him uncomfortable and he will leave. It will be hard to see him go, he’s a nice fellow. Is he really under our oversight? You know, none of us is perfect. He is wrong in what he is doing, but he is a good boy, let’s be patient with him and just love him.
Scene – Brother fornicator’s house.
Discussion – You know that preacher Paul really has the brethren upset and they are ready to take some kind of action against you. Do you have a good lawyer? We can teach them a lesson or two about messing with you! Maybe there is another solution. I can quit attending or join some idol’s temple or denomination and tell the brethren, I am not a member there anymore. Then they “can’t touch me.” I sure am glad that you brethren are over there to help me get out of this thing. Well, brother, you can count on us to block any action they might take against you. Who do they think they are anyway? It is none of their business who you are married to and what you do with your private life. We’ll defend you, don’t worry.
Scene – Another business meeting or elders discussion.
Discussion – Brethren, this brother may remove himself from our oversight, then we’ll have no further obligation to him, as far as withdrawing from him. Some have heard that he is going to start attending a heathen temple in town or that he no longer wants to be a member here and he is not a part of any group anymore. Pardon me, but will that relieve us from discipline or make it even more urgent? Isn’t turning your back on the Lord and serving a false religion walking disorderly also? Isn’t failing to attend services for no scriptural reason and refusing to repent, walking disorderly? I believe that violates Hebrews 10:25 and other passages. After all he committed these sins while he was still under our oversight. We have an obligation and a charge from God to withdraw from this brother, if we truly love him. Like Paul told us, we need to do this because he has a valuable soul and we want him to repent. After all, when we commit any sin, don’t we in a way remove ourselves from the oversight of God for a while? Aren’t we serving Satan anytime we sin? It seems to me that Paul is telling us that this brother has committed himself to Christ and has been in allegiance to him for these many years. He has strayed from the right way and is walking disorderly. We have no choice but to withdraw from him. Even if he left us today, we would still be responsible for our care and duty toward him while he was here among us, wouldn’t we? I suggest strongly that we obey what Paul has told us, as we all know he is speaking as the Spirit of God moves him and we must obey God. If we do not do this, we can all be lost for our failure to love this brother and for our stubbornness and fearfulness in following the command of God. Brethren, we do not want to be guilty of “bidding this brother Godspeed” in his evil (2 Jn. 11). If we aren’t careful we are doing to have to withdraw from the ones that are defending him and bidding him Godspeed, also. The congregation here needs to know that evil cannot be tolerated among the people of God. They need to see that obedience to God’s commands is serious business. A failure to do so is not a “misdemeanor” but a “felony” against God and against his people. Let’s pray for the Lord’s help and guidance and do what brother Paul so strongly admonished us to do.
Scene – A meeting held after the action was taken.
Discussion – Brethren, let’s praise God for his wisdom. Our brother is back with us. He saw the seriousness of his sin and has repented. Let’s work with him to strengthen him, since he has a rough road ahead of him. God’s way works! We have a lot of work to do with some who condoned his actions, however. Let’s work with them to get them to repent also, so we will not have to take action against them for “bidding Godspeed” to this brother who has now admitted his sin and has repented. Brother, please help us to win back these weak folks who think we were mean to you.
Brethren, let’s all remember that if we love one another, we will care for one another. Sometimes this will require corrective discipline. Let us not shun providing the necessary care for one another, even though it may be hard and may require some risks. If more congregations would practice corrective discipline as the Lord commands, then churches would grow, and brethren would be more serious about service. On the other hand, when a congregation is permissive with the members and allows them to blatantly disobey God without penalty, it will not be long before the congregation will be composed of uncommitted people who are merely marking time. They will not feel any urgency to obey the Lord’s commands and consequently will be like Laodicea, they will be lukewarm, and make the Lord sick.
May we all realize the necessity of keeping the body of Christ pure and of loving our brethren enough to correct them when they are wrong. Let us not turn on one another and devour those who are trying to do right when error is pointed out or when sin is exposed. We can be lost for not fulfilling our responsibility in this area. Brethren, let us be strong and firm in our defense of Truth and our dedication and love for God and one another.
Guardian of Truth XXXVI: 9, pp. 259-260
May 7, 1992