OceanSide church of Christ

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Fellowshipping the Disfellowshipped

Victor M. Eskew


            The leadership of theOceanSide church of Christ takes the command to withdraw “from every brother that walketh disorderly,” and not after the apostolic traditions very seriously (II Thess. 3:6).  Since the arrival of this preacher to Atlantic Beach, several members have had to be disciplined by means of withdrawal.

            Some members of this congregation, however, have not completely honored the command to withdraw fellowship.  Some have fellowship with the disciplined sinner in a limited fashion.  Some maintain exactly the same relationship with the disciplined member that they had prior to the act of withdrawal.  They visit, socialize, and eat with the disobedient as if he/she is still a faithful member of the body of Christ.  These continued lines of fellowship are of grave concern to this writer.

            Let’s begin by reminding ourselves about what the Bible says about church discipline.  This practice is not commanded in one isolated scripture.  It is sprinkled throughout the entirety of the New Testament.  Even Jesus taught that personal issues between brethren could become matters of public concern for the church.  When they reach that point, a failure to hear the church would result in disciplinary action toward the guilty.  “And if he neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church:  but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican” (Matt. 18:17).  The Jews had absolutely no associations with heathens or publicans.  Thus, when a brother was to be treated “as” an heathen and a publican, the measures that needed to be taken were perfectly understood. 

            In Romans 16:17, Paul focuses upon this subject.  He writes:  “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.”  The word “avoid” means “to turn (one’s self) away, to turn away from…to shun one” (Thayer).  This is the same word that is found in I Peter 3:11, where in Peter exhorts his readers to “eschew evil.”  Whatever action one is to take to avoid evil, he is to take toward one who causes divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine of Christ.

            In I Corinthians 5, Paul addresses the matter of fornication in the church (I Cor. 5:1).  He instructs the church about how to handle this matter.  Paul’s words are very clear:  “To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh…” (I Cor. 5:5); “Purge out therefore the old leaven” (I Cor. 5:7); But now have I written unto you 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” (I Cor. 5:11); and, “Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person” (I Cor. 5:13).  Each one of these actions involves a very bold measure in the original language.  Take, for instance, the command found in verse 11.  Paul told the Corinthians “not to keep company with” the fornicator.  These words mean:  “do not mix up together with, do not associate with, do not be intimate with.”  Paul notes that this involves a social meal.  “…with such an one no not to eat.”

            Paul’s words to the church at Thessalonica are among the most familiar about disciplinary action.  Paul exhorted his readers, saying:  “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 traditions which he received of us…And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed” (II Thess. 3:6, 14).  The disciplinary actions are precisely noted:  “withdraw yourselves” and “have no company with him.”

            Several other passages could be brought into this discussion (II Cor. 6:17; Eph. 5:11; I Tim. 1:19-20; I Tim. 6:3-5; Tit. 3:10-11; II John 9-11).  The ones listed, however, are sufficient for us to understand how we are to handle a person who persists in sin and causes disciplinary actions to be taken against him.  Are these “congregational” duties?  Are these responsibilities to be taken by every faithful member of the congregation?  Yes!  Let’s go back to I Corinthians 5.  In the church at Corinth, a man was openly engaging in fornication with his father’s wife.  Instead of withdrawing from the man, the church had become “puffed up” toward the situation.  Paul writes to correct the problem.  His instructions to the church begin in verse 4.  “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus (emp. mine, vme).  The action was to be done when the church gathered together.  All were involved.  All were responsible for delivering this man to Satan.  None of the church was to keep company with him.  None within the church was to eat with him.  This was the duty of every faithful member of the church!

            Many Christians, including Christian leaders, believe these commands are too harsh and unloving.  They often involve close friends and family members.  Having no company with them and refusing to eat with them poses difficulties for the faithful.  These things and others keep them from being obedient to the divine command to withdraw. 

            All Christians who are violating God’s command to disfellowship the disorderly need to consider the faithful example of Abraham.  In Genesis 22:1-2, he received a difficult and heart-wrenching command from God.  “And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham:  and he said, Behold, here I am.  And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains I will tell thee of.”  This command was difficult for at least five reasons:  1) It involved murder; 2) It involved family, his only begotten son Isaac; 3) It involved a conflict between his love for God and his love for his son; 4) It was immediate, “Take now thy son…;” and 5) It went against the promises of God from the past (Gen. 12:3).  If anyone could claim that he had been commanded to do something difficult, it would have been Abraham.  Yet, he did not refuse to obey.  He did not stubbornly resist the command of God.  Abraham rose up early in the morning and made the journey unto the place which God had commanded him (Gen. 22:3).  Abraham’s attitude and actions should be our attitude and actions when faced with difficult commands, including the command to withdraw.

            Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this is a serious matter.  God commands that we withdraw from the disorderly (II Thess. 3:6).  If we refuse to do what God has commanded, we sin (I John 3:4).  Let’s muster the faith to do as God directs.  Let’s hope and fervently pray that the disorderly will repent of his/her sins and be restored.  Let’s keep the bride of Christ pure.  Let’s keep our own souls out of the fires of hell.