There is no doubt that disfellowship is one of the hardest jobs that the Family of God has to carry out. This can be made more difficult if the fallen member is also an immediate family member. I appreciate a previous article entitled, “The Lost Son,” by Kristina Odom that dealt with this delicate subject, and I was spurred on to write more about this. I wholeheartedly agree that the story she referenced in Luke 15 gives us a stirring example of a family who has lost a beloved son. I love how the story tells of his father-ultimately referencing our Heavenly Father-who longingly waits for the son’s return. (Luke 15:20) This is truly what the Family of God does when one turns their back on God-we pray, we grieve, we wait, we long for their return to the Flock.
I would like to expound on this topic also because it is one of those areas that is so much a part of my life right now. Disfellowship seems to touch every Christian in some way if you have been a member of the Lord’s church for a good amount of time. Let’s start in Matthew 18:15-17, “And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. And 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-gatherer.” There are times when we see our brothers and sisters “fading” in their faith. Maybe they attend less often, or even refuse to give up worldly relationships that are steering them another way. These things can lead them to practice sin-and if we suspect or know about it-we need to go to them. The example says to go to them in private, so I understand this to be face-to-face, one-on-one. We should not talk behind their back, but love them enough to go straight to the source. This is our first step of disfellowship. Now, granted, I understand that some members just “pick up their marbles and leave” without a word to anyone. Obviously that is their choice, but as Christians, the remaining words of guidance still apply to the Faithful. Godly elders will meet with these fallen members, and then they will report to the congregation on what has happened. If the sinner refuses to listen, then the warning goes out-“treat them as a Gentile and tax-gatherer.” We know from Biblical examples that they did not associate at all with these people.
Let’s look at 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 next. “And if anyone does not obey our instructions in this letter, take special note of that man and do not associate with him, so that he may be put to shame. And yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.” The fallen have turned their backs on God, and therefore our relationship has changed with them. The Scriptures make it clear that they are no longer our dear brother or sister, but yet not an enemy either. Our job is to keep our relationship as one of admonishment, which means, “to strongly warn, rebuke, exhort.” If we continue in a friendship with them as if nothing is different, I feel we are doing a disservice to the Word of God. How could this lead to shame or godly sorrow by the fallen? Part of the “sting” of disfellowship would be that there is a separation from the godly. I vividly remember this happening with my Dad. He had fallen away for almost a year. All of the church family had gone to him and begged him to repent and return, but to no avail. One morning, after our Sunday morning assembly, the church was planning a picnic at the park. My Dad saw us making food and getting supplies ready for the picnic, and he decided that he would attend also. Of course he did not want to attend our assembly beforehand, but wanted to meet up at the park with us later. Since we did not have any elders at the time, the men of the church heard of my Dad’s plan and took the initiative of the Word and went to him and told him that he was not welcome to come to the picnic. It was a gathering of Christians, and he had turned his back on God. This hurt my father, he felt the “sting” of disfellowship and did not attend the picnic. We were thrilled though, that soon after this, he did repent and came back to the Flock! Only the Lord knows what would have happened if the congregation was not willing to carry out the recipe that God sets forth in the Scriptures.
How serious of a condition is a fallen one’s soul in? 2 Peter 2:20-22, “For if after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are once again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment delivered to them.” Hebrews 10:26-27 tells us further, “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the Truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.”
Sisters, I don’t think the Scriptures could be any more clear on this issue. God makes it known to us that some will fall away, we need to go to them in private, then take witnesses with us to confirm every fact, and if the fallen do not repent, they need to be disfellowshipped. Their souls are in danger of a fiery Hell, and we need to warn them diligently. It seems to me that our every contact with them is admonishing them.
Here is where I want to be careful not to “step on anyone’s toes,” yet cause all of us to consider our ways. God’s Word does not deal specifically with Facebook or Twitter, but Sisters, we need to realize the seriousness of associating with the fallen, whether it is face-to-face or over the internet. In my opinion, having casual conversation with them like there is nothing wrong, would be giving them the false idea that they are okay-when they are not. When they have been disfellowshipped, that is exactly what should happen– they are now “out” of our fellowship. You love their soul so much that you are willing to forfeit a friendship for them to see this. Things won’t be the same between you until they get their spiritual life in order. They have turned their back on the Word and God’s family. We should be busy with the work of a servant, warning them to come back before it is too late.
Right now, as I’m sure many of you do, I have several people on my prayer list suffering with cancer. They don’t know how many “tomorrows” they will be given. The fallen suffer from a greater “cancer” and that is a rotting of the soul. Let’s labor together by following the Scriptural example of disfellowship. Some will turn back, others will not, but that doesn’t mean the method we are following is not working, it simply means that they have a hardness of heart.
I will close with more words from our loving and caring Lord, who does not want any of us to perish (2 Peter 3:9). “When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you shall surely die,’ and you do not speak to warn the wicked man from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require from your hand. But if you on your part warn a wicked man to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, he will die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your life” (Ezekiel 33:8-9).
Robin serves with the South Twin Cities congregation in Rosemount, Minnesota, where her husband serves as an evangelist. She feels extremely blessed to have seven children, and eight grandchildren with two more on the way!