OceanSide church of Christ
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WITHDRAWAL OF FELLOWSHIP IS NOT DISOWNING
Victor M. Eskew
The Bible teaches that there are certain individuals from whom we are to withdraw fellowship. Some of these are listed below:
1. Those who teach false doctrine and bring division to the body of Christ (Rom. 16:17-18)
2. Members of the church who engage in acts of immorality (I Cor. 5:11)
3. The unfruitful works of darkness (Eph. 5:11)
4. Those who walk disorderly and not after the apostolic traditions (II Thess. 3:10)
5. Those who will not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ (I Tim. 6:3-5)
6. Heretics (Tit. 3:10-11)
7. Those who transgress the doctrine of Christ (II John 9-11)
There are other passages that could also be listed, but these are the primary ones that reveal particular persons who are not to be fellowshipped by those who are spiritual.
It is easily seen that the New Testament teaches a great deal about the subject of church discipline. The problem arises when churches and individuals must apply these teachings within the local congregation. Almost all of us know individuals who fall into one of these categories. In some instances, these people are close friends or family members. Because of these close ties, members of the church react in opposition to the truth instead of doing as Abraham did when commanded to offer Isaac (Gen. 22:3), and immediately obeying God. Some will plainly say that they will never obey such a teaching. Some will point to others who have disobeyed God in this area in order to justify their disobedience. Rationalizations and justifications will be presented in an attempt to nullify the truth. Various scenarios will be presented in an attempt to show that there are occasions when the proclaimer of truth would not obey the command to withdraw.
One of the thoughts that some have when it comes to withdrawing from family members is that when we withdraw from them, we are “disowning” them. This is not what the Bible teaches on this matter. Withdrawal has to do with our close associations with the one in error. We are not to continue any ties that would lead the erring brother to think that we support his sin or false teaching. Paul reveals that social fellowship is one element of the withdrawal. “…with such an one no not to eat” (I Cor. 5:11). The individual withdrawn from must feel that something has been taken away him, namely, his close associations with his brothers and sister in Christ.
Does this command present some hardships? Certainly. We are no longer allowed to go out on Sunday afternoons to have lunch with this person. During the holidays, these individuals are not permitted to be part of our gatherings. We can no longer go to the movies or on vacation with this individual. Again, this person must feel that he has lost something very important. It is hoped that this withdrawal will have a profound impact on the sinner’s life. Paul put it in these words: “To deliver such an one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (I Cor. 5:5).
Do the actions mentioned in the preceding paragraph indicate that we have completely disowned the loved one? No, not in the least. We must continue to have lines of communication with this person. The communication, however, is to have a specific purpose. We are to rebuke (Eph. 5:11) and admonish them to cease their sinful activities and live godly lives (II Thess. 3:15). We are also permitted to render any necessary assistance to this individual when he is in need. If not, we would not be fulfilling the command to love. “But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother in need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him” (I John 3:17). We can also fulfill any responsibilities that our roles with this person require of us. Parents must continue to care for children who are in their home. The husband-wife relationship must remain intact. This command was never intended to bring these responsibilities to a halt.
There are individuals who get angry with the preacher when he speaks on these matters in a frank manner. Some become angry with God, even denying that a loving God would demand such things. Again, such attitudes do not reflect the faith of Abraham and other greats of the Bible who were called upon to make tremendous sacrifices for the Lord. They obeyed without hesitation. They trusted God to bring a positive outcome to difficult demands because of their obedient faith (Heb. 11:17-19).
The reality is that the individuals who are entangled in sin have caused the problem. They have either embraced false doctrine, or, have ceased to live a life that is well pleasing to God. They should be the ones who are held responsible. If there is any anger because of disciplinary action that must be taken, it should be toward them. Their actions have brought about this division. If they would repent and be faithful, full fellowship would be restored.
There is a passage that states: “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:37). We have often applied this teaching to those in the denominational world who must forsake their family traditions to become Christians. With regard to withdrawal of fellowship, we must now apply this teaching to our lives. May God grant us the faith to obey Him. May our faithful obedience cause many to turn from their sins and be restored. The Lord’s desire is that their soul will be saved when the Lord returns.