|vol 2 no 12
||April 6, 1997
Withdrawing Fellowship 2
In our last article we dealt with the action, purpose, object and occasion of withdrawing as well as the proper attitude toward those withdrawn from. In this article we will discuss some of the problems which are often associated with the action of withdrawing fellowship.|
No Fellowship to Withdraw
The action and purpose of withdrawing fellowship from an unfaithful saint presupposes the existence of fellowship. The idea of fellowship is "a sharing in" with reference to some spiritual attitude or activity. Sometimes individual Christians or the local church as a whole fail in the responsibility to share in this way with other Christians. What positive soul saving effect will it have on an unfaithful person to go through the motions of withdrawing from them under such circumstances? How can we take away that which we have never given in the first place?
Having the "right hand of fellowship" extended (i.e., receiving public acknowledgment as a faithful Christian) by an individual or a church is certainly a great blessing. And that acknowledgment is certainly to be taken away during the process of withdrawing. But according to I Cor 5 and 2 Thess 3 that is not all that is withdrawn. These passages clearly point out that our fellowship in specific actions must also be withdrawn. We must therefore see to it that we are having fellowship in these areas in order for the withdrawing of our fellowship to have its desired effect.
One Who Withdraws from the Church First
The passages in the N.T. that discuss the subject of withdrawing indicate that the individuals to be withdrawn from still desire to maintain fellowship with the churches even though they are living in sin (I Cor 5, for example). If a person does not desire that fellowship then we do not have a situation parallel with those presented in scripture. If an unfaithful saint therefore has left the church and broken off association and communication with other Christians, then all we can do is mark that person as being unfaithful. There would seem to be nothing more we could withdraw from them since they have, in fact, withdrawn from the church.
The Announcement is not the Withdrawing
How many times have we heard statements like "Yes, we withdrew from brother so-and-so months ago." The meaning being that a public announcement had been made concerning one's unfaithfulness and that he was being withdrawn from. The impression may be given (even intended in some cases) that the announcement was in itself the withdrawing. Certainly a public announcement must be made in such cases, and the guilty party needs to be contacted with news of the intended action, but the announcement itself is not the withdrawing. The announcement may very well begin the process, but the withdrawing itself must be carried out by individual members of the church as they scripturally withdraw themselves from the unrepentant individual.
In conclusion, before we take a bad situation and make it worse by unscripturally withdrawing from an erring brother, we need to be certain that we understand the correct purpose and action of church discipline. Being more careful will not only help bring a lost soul back to Christ but will also help us avoid some of these mistakes. -EB-
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