This article serves as a reminder of the delicate line between church member disfellowship and its errors. The practice of church member disfellowship serves as an act of correcting individuals that have either fallen or gone astray from the faith while the errors are the permissible church functions and behaviors beyond the scriptural prescription which leads to member damage and spiritual abuse. Moreover, there is a delicate line between a righteous and biblical way to handle member disfellowship and the extra unrighteous afflictions imposed on members which does additional harm. There is no doubt the reason behind the biblical disfellowship is the hopes to reestablish a reassessment of faith, and to restore commitment to the commandments of God. Likewise, churches hope through their extra unbiblical afflictions imposed on members they will be taught a lesson to live for God. So how to know when the line has been crossed? The bible teaches to believe not every spirit, instead, try the spirit to determine whether the spirit is of God. The same method should be used to determine whether the line between disfellowship and its errors has been crossed.
The Biblical Disassociation:
The word disfellowship does not appear in the bible. Nevertheless the term is used by churches to explain their practice of excommunication. The true biblical principle under the phrase “Not keeping company” means to disassociate. There are three terms used by church organizations; disfellowship, excommunication and shunning. There is barely any variance in how they are authorized. During the acts of shunning, members of the organization will deliberately avoid the person(s) bring shunned. Individuals shunned will not receive any assistance from those within the group; they are expected to continue alone. The behavior on the account of the church is taken from Paul’s letter to the Roman assembly, which states;
“Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.”
If this verse is singled out and read unaccompanied, it would appear to be applicable. However, once the next few verses are read, it becomes clear who must be avoided.
“For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.”
The subjects noted in the above aren’t brothers or sisters in Christ, they are as Paul wrote to Jude, men that have crept in without notice, “These men are spots in your feasts of charity, when they feast with you, feeding themselves without fear..” It’s clear that anyone using the letter to the church in Rome as a means to exercise shunning will have a difficult time explaining on the Day of Judgment why they deliberately avoid members of Christ body. The church is ordered to avoid people who serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; who by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple, because they cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine. The church is not allowed to avoid or disfellowship the brotherhood based on this passage without falling into error. While it is agreed that member disassiocaton is biblical, it is unbibical to use Romans to exercise the practice.
15 “If your brother sins against you go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
The above scriptures are often used in support of shunning, disfellowship, and excommunication. However, in most situations the orders of scriptures are violated by those ordering the disfellowship. First there must be a strict adherence to the orders of the scriptures. Thus individuals cannot be allowed to avoid order number one, (go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone) before completing the order, neither can the whole church get involved before steps one and two has been accomplished. If the orders of the scriptures are broken, it will then create offenses across the board. Thus everyone involved will be guilty, and an order of disfellowship under these conditions will bring condemnation on all offenders. Secondly, this passage of scripture cannot be used in every situation. It is important to realize that the principle of Christ regarding this subject surrounds offense against a brother, not general sins. It will be a complete injustice to treat someone as a Gentile and a tax collector because they have fallen or were found in sin. On the other hand, if all the scriptures are followed and the accused is guilty and refuses to adhere to the correction listed in the scriptures the church must follow the scriptures and mark the individual as a Gentile and a tax collector.
2 Thessalonians 3:10-15
10 For even when we were with you, this we commanded you, that if any would not work, neither should he eat. 11 For we hear that there are some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are busybodies. 12 Now them that are such we command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.
13 But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing. 14 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. 15 Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.
There’s an order of the scripture written to the church in Thessalonica which also must be observed. Once it came to Paul’s attention that some in the church refuse to work, he instructed the guilty by a letter saying “We (Church Leaders) command and exhort by our Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread. This order must be carried out before disfellowship can be administered. The church cannot automatically refrain or break-fellowship with members without giving warning and those warnings must be direct. However after trying to reach the accused if the offender continues to error he must be noted by Paul’s letter, and then the church must withdraw from keeping company. This disfellowship unlike the account in Matthew is a light rebuke. In this letter Paul instructs the church to count him not as an enemy, (a Gentile and a tax collector) but admonish him as a brother. The word admonish means a light rebuke. This indicates that the church doesn’t completely avoid the accused in this account.
1 Corinthians 5:1-5
It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife.2 And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you.
3 For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, 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,
5 To deliver such a one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
11 But now I have 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.
The First Epistle to the Corinthians is the cornerstone to disfellowship, and it’s also the foundation for the disfellowship errors. First Corinthians shouldn’t be the rule of thumb for every circumstance. For instance, Paul wrote both letters to the Corinthians and Galatians and in his letter to the Galatians he says,
Brothers,if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. -Galatians 6:1
It isn’t necessary to disfellowship everyone that has fallen into transgressions. The church must first attempt to restore. In this sense, the word restores is often misunderstood. It isn’t the tradition of standing up before the church and being prayed for by leadership. Instead, it’s confronting the person that’s been caught in the transgression, reminding him of the word and his sins. This must be done by those that aren’t carnal but spiritual. How to identify those that are spiritual? Well, they will be gentle and humble and they will carry the burden of the person that has fallen fulfilling the law of Christ. After attempting to fulfill the law of Christ if there’s no sign of repentance disfellowship become unavoidable.
Disfellowship is necessary when repentance is inactive in the heart of the individuals that have either fallen or gone astray from the faith. While repentance resolves disfellowship, in some cases where sin reoccurs, individuals may possibly lose positions, or certain roles in the church. However, once the offender has repented the church must restore the individual to the fellowship to prevent Satan from over-taking the member with much sorrow. For this reason the church must not allow its emotions to guide its decisions in the event disfellowship is required. It’s interesting to note that disfellowship mission isn’t proposing to fulfill hatred, frustration or bitterness, so leaders must remain spiritual even when the accused is causing personal hurt.
In the church, member disfellowship should be as rare as the case found in the letter to the Corinthians. Paul records fornication so grievous that not even the heathen would be guilty of it, that a man is sleeping with his stepmother. The man who has done such a thing should be expelled from your fellowship. How rare is this? A man sleeping with his stepmother. It seems as rare as a member sinning against another member and refusing to take correction from the whole church. In both accounts, the church went through great length to reframe from disfellowship. It is apparently wrong when disfellowship is a force of habit.
Therefore, church leadership must realize that disfellowship comes after all else has failed, that is, it should be the last course of actions to restore souls back to the faith. Although the church has the authority to disfellowship, it must demonstrate carefully when the authority is necessary. On the other hand, when disfellowship is permitted to function beyond the scriptural prescription errors is formed leaving members spiritually abused, and often completely destroyed.