Church Discipline, Part Two

Withdrawing Fellowship

by Gene Taylor

After all efforts to restore a fallen brother or sister fail, the Christian must then heed the command of the Lord to withdraw his fellowship. The many problems that often arise from the application of this teaching usually stem from either improper attitudes toward it and its application or a misunderstanding of the purpose of such a withdrawal.

Universal Fellowship

Universal fellowship is the unity of all saints (1 Cor. 1:9). This is a relationship shared by all whom God accepts as saved whether or not they even know each other (1 John 1:3). This fellowship is established and controlled by God (1 John 1:6-10). He alone adds to it (Acts 2:47; Col. 1:13). He alone has perfect knowledge of all "those who are His" (2 Tim. 2:19). The ultimate judgment concerning who is actually a child of God and who will be saved or lost rests with the Lord (John 1:12-13; Gal. 3:26; 2 Cor. 5:10).

Local Fellowship

Local fellowship is a functional, shared unity which is a personal or local matter. No provision is made for universal fellowship in the sense of functional sharing (Gal. 2:9). Joint participation, association and interaction is shared on a personal and/or local level (Phil. 4:15-16). It is initiated and controlled personally and/or locally by those directly involved (Phil. 1:5; 2 Cor. 8:1-4). Those involved in this fellowship must appeal to the word of God for guidance and exercise great judgment and effort.

Each individual must determine with whom he will have spiritual partnership. He must not make the mistake of having fellowship with some God would not (1 Cor. 5). Neither should he refuse those whom God would have (3 John 10).

Since we cannot know the heart of another as God can (Acts 15:8; Luke 16:15), our fellowship is extended on the basis on what we can know. We can only base our determination to extend fellowship on the words and actions of others. The withdrawal of fellowship must be on the same basis.

Withdrawing Fellowship

The New Testament relates in plain terms from whom the Christian should withdraw his fellowship.

The Purpose of Withdrawing Fellowship

The act of withdrawing fellowship is not done to get revenge. Vengeance belongs to the Lord (Heb. 10:30). Thus it is never to be a means of venting one's bitterness upon a brother, kicking him out of the church or driving him away. It is not "excommunication." Such is not a Biblical term but is, rather, Roman Catholic in its origin. It is not done to hurt anyone. Sin has already caused the sinful brother or sister the greatest of harm: the loss of his soul.

Being an act of love and concern, its purpose is to:

The Procedure of Withdrawal: Its Manner of Action

Before proceeding, make sure your actions and the collective actions of the church as a whole are out of love and kindness and that all is done scripturally, consistently, impartially, constantly and wisely. But love for God demands you act. Love for your sinful brother also demands action (Gal. 6:1). It is akin to the love that prompts a parent to discipline a child.

A good general rule to follow is that of Matthew 18:15-17. While this is primarily designed for offenses between individuals, it can be a wise procedure for handling offenses against the collective.

Some suggested steps to follow:

  1. Pray for the fallen one (1 John 5:16).
  2. Try to convert him (Jas. 5:19-20).
  3. Restore him if possible (Gal. 6:1).
  4. Admonish him (1 Thes. 5:14).
  5. As a last resort, if he will not repent, withdraw from him (2 Thes. 3:6; 1 Cor. 5:4-5, 13).
  6. In which case it is the duty of the church as a whole to support such action (1 Cor. 5:9-13; 2 John 10-11; Matt. 18:17).

Conclusion

"The result of church discipline properly administered in the light of the Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:16), in the love of Christ, and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit was a clean church, wholesome, wholehearted (1 Cor. 5:7-8)" (Baker's Dictionary of Theology, p. 167).

Related Articles On Church Discipline: