There is so much sinfulness in today’s world, just as it has been since Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden. The amount of sin in this world is so prevalent that some people tend to look the other way when it comes to certain sins. For example, homosexuality, which is specifically condemned in Romans chapter 1, is applauded and commended in today’s society. With so much wrongdoing going on in the world today, and this trend is affecting more and more Christians, what authority do the elders in any given congregation of the church of Christ have to discipline Christian members who are persistently living in a spiritually lost state? Can members of the Lord’s church socially distance themselves from unrepentant members of their congregation and still be considered faithful?
CHURCH DISCIPLINE IS ACTUALLY COMMANDED.
Every person who has studied the Word of God and who is strong in his or her faith knows that there are plenty of examples in the Bible which authorize church discipline, namely, the withdrawing of a congregation from an unrepentant sinner. Here are some of these examples:
2.In I Corinthians 5, Paul uses this whole chapter to speak against the church at Corinth for not withdrawing from an erring member who has committed fornication and is unwilling to repent. Here is what God says through Paul to the church at Corinth:
“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.And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you. 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,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.Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators:Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. 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.For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.” (I Corinthians 5:1-13).
Paul is telling the church at Corinth something that we are to observe, even if this involves co-workers, family members, etc. He is saying that in order for the church to stand strong, the leadership of a congregation must withdraw from members who are persistent in living sinful lives and who show no signs of repentance. By allowing these erring members of the church to stay as members of the congregation without consequence is taking a big risk. The risk involves that erring member influencing other members of the congregation to sin, thus weakening the entire flock. Elders are overseers of their flock (I Peter 5:1-4, Hebrews 13:17), and it is their job to separate those who are unapologetically living in open sin from the other members of that flock in order to protect it. They work to protect the purity of the church.
We can see from verse 2 of I Corinthians Chapter 5 that some of the members of that congregation were unwilling to withdraw from the erring member in question. They even seemed upset that they were asked to do such a thing. Sadly, there are many members of the Lord’s church today who profess to be spiritually strong, but who act in the same way as the spiritually weak Christians did at Corinth. Just as the apostle Paul who was inspired by God rebuked those weak members at Corinth who were against the authorized command to withdraw, I Corinthians 5 is also a rebuke to anyone today who goes against the biblically authorized act of withdrawing from persistently unfaithful members.
The two examples that I have just mentioned should be enough to convince any Christian that the act of an eldership commanding the withdrawing of the congregation which they oversee from an unrepentant erring member is fully authorized by the Bible. Both Jesus, the Son of God, and Paul, who was inspired by God, specifically command this act. Paul also speaks in favor of the Lord’s church withdrawing from unfaithful and unrepentant members. The word “withdraw” is actually used by the apostle Paul in 2 Thessalonians 3:6; “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 tradition which he received of us.” Now, if these words do not make it clear that the act of withdrawing from an unrepentant erring member of the church is authorized by God, then the person reading this article is not facing reality!
WHAT DO WE DO WHEN WE WITHDRAW FROM A FELLOW CHRISTIAN?
Now that the subject of the church withdrawing from unrepentant members has been established to be biblically sound, we will now look at what is required of the faithful members of the church when it comes to the treatment of the member that has been formally withdrawn from.
Paul instructs the faithful members at Corinth not to “keep company” with the person being withdrawn from, nor to even eat with that person. Let’s look at I Corinthians 5:11 again; “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.” These instructions are very clear, and even though this may seem “unloving” by the world, it is not unloving at all.
So, what is the purpose of a congregation withdrawing from an erring member?The purpose of withdrawal is to, hopefully “wake up” that erring member into repentance. This may bring one back to repentance, but if not, it still works to ensure that the church's purity is protected, sometimes it does not, but that is entirely up to the sinning party. The eldership and the other faithful members of a congregation are only accountable for their part, which is to fully withdraw from the sinful party in every way until that person or persons repent.
As Christians, we must make sure that we are judging others in a righteous manner.Christ says in John 7:24, "Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment." This means that we must look at every person’s actions and compare it to the Bible. If a person is committing sin, then we must rebuke them in hopes that they will repent. Galatians 6:1 declares, "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted." Rebuking those who are not committing sin, and who have all authority from the Bible to do what they do, is unrighteous judgment, and we must avoid this. We must also analyze our own lives and make sure that we are faithful in the Lord in all things before we try to help another person improve their spiritual state. Others will be more likely to listen to us if we do not have anything amiss in our lives. All righteous judgment is done out of love. (Matthew 7:1-5).
SATAN WOULD RATHER THE COMMAND TO WITHDRAW BE A COMMAND "FORGOTTEN" BY ALL.
Christians must also remember that Satan does not want anyone to go to Heaven, and he will try to stop any erring member from repenting at all costs, and he will often get other Christians to help him. Whenever I see a Christian speak against an eldership who has withdrawn from an unrepentant member, I know that the devil is truly at work and has influenced that weak Christian to try to place a stumblingblock before the unrepentant person and others in an attempt to keep them from going to Heaven. Some Christians really show how spiritually weak they are when things like this happens.
Just after admonishing Elders on how to feed the flock and in how to take care of the flock, I Peter 5:8-9 says, "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour:Whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world." Remember, they watch for our souls. May we live in such a way that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for us (Hebrews 13:17).
We must all make sure to stand on God’s Side in this matter and every other matter, and to not let Satan skew our view on this topic and everything else in this life. We have to be able to put God in the forefront of our minds and face the Truth without being concerned about what others will think of us. We will be blessed so much more by God by doing so! “And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it” (Matthew 10:38-39).