Questions and Answers about Withdrawal
To augment and compliment the article, "The Act of Withdrawal," I have asked and answered the following commonly asked questions pertaining to church discipline.
Question: How can you reconcile the act of withdrawal with biblical love?
Answer: It must be understood that withdrawal is also biblical teaching (if you have not read the above referenced article, please first do so by clicking on, "The Matter of Withdrawal"). The problem with many is that they do not understand biblical love. Love involves "keeping God's commandments" and withdrawal is a commandment of God (2 Thes. 3: 6, 14, I Jn. 5: 3, Click on, "Bible Love" to read more).
Question: How much time should be given for the one practicing sin to repent before withdrawal takes place?
Answer: The answer is relative and depends. First of all, the scriptures do not specify a time, except in the case of the one attempting to cause division, "after the first and second admonition" (Tit. 3: 10, 11). It has been my experience that the average case ranges from about two to three months. The time in general should be indicated by the attitude of the sinner, his willingness to talk and consider. However, if there is no correction, there must be withdrawal for the sake of obedience to the command (2 Thes. 3: 6-14).
Question: Since all sin, would not the command to withdraw apply to every member to the point of not even having a church left?
Answer: "Walking disorderly" is describing the practice of sin and not a sin committed and then repentance is experienced (2 Thes. 3: 6).
Question: What if the one walking disorderly is a prominent member?
Answer: There must be no respect of persons in the matter of withdrawal (cp. I Tim. 5: 19, 20).
Question: How about a physical family member, is all family relationship to be cut off and the person "buried," as taught by some religions?
Answer: One of the most difficult and painful aspects of withdrawal often involves family members from whom the church has had to withdraw. Some say, "there must be no contact, even with family members." Such teaching poses many contradictions. How about the husband whose wife has been withdrawn from by the church? Is he "to avoid , have no company with , no not to eat"? How can he (applies to the wife whose husband has been withdrawn from by the church) fulfill his duties and privileges as a husband and cease all contact (Eph. 5: 22-33)? How about the parents whose child from whom the church has withdrawn, are they to avoid and have no contact except to admonish? It is apparent that there are two separate relationships involved: the spiritual and the physical. Some have said, "the only contact can be that of duty and not social." What does this mean? These relationships involve social contact. Even in the case of grown children whose parents have been withdrawn from or parents whose children are grown, the physical relationship must continue, I am convinced.
Even though we recognize the continuance of the physical family relationship in the instances of withdrawal, there must be a change and difference in treatment on the spiritual level. The husband must indicate his spiritual disapproval of his wife and not participate or approve in any way. Care must be taken in "general Bible studies" and prayer. There are many strains as a result of the withdrawal action but the relationships must continue, because there are inherent duties and the requirement of the expression of love, not only spiritual admonition, but family and phileo endearments. My heart goes out to all Christians who have family members concerning whom the church had to withdraw. It is a very difficult time, caused by the disobedient. I view the teaching, "the husband must leave his wife" in the circumstance of withdrawal and "the parents must spiritually bury their child" as totally extreme. All family members who have experienced the withdrawal of a family member and have upheld it, should be highly commended by other Christians and given an understanding hug!
Question: Why cannot the withdrawn from person simply place membership at another church in town, since churches are autonomous?
Answer: This is too often what happens. A brother gets caught up in sin and will not repent. The church finally withdraws to shame the brother and another church takes him in with no questions asked. Imagine if there were another local church in Corinth who took in and defended by their actions the sinner of I Corinthians 5. Do you think he would have felt the shame and repented? Such practices involve the whole receiving church in sin (I Cor. 5).
Question: What should be the attitude toward a church that extends fellowship to the one from whom a church has withdrawn?
Answer: While the decision to reject or accept into fellowship is an individual church matter, there can be consequences. For instance, how do you think members of the church at Corinth would have viewed a receiving church, after they had done all that they did in attempting to shame the fornicator (I Cor. 5)? If there had been another church that had sinfully comforted and defended the sinner, the withdrawing members would have had to view all the receiving members as in sin. If not, why not? However, such does not mean that one church has the right to attempt to control, direct, or superintend another local church. The rule of elders is limited to the church where they serve (I Pet. 5: 1ff.).
Question: How can a church practice controlled fellowship?
Answer: One way in the matter of prospective members to be received into the local fellowship is to investigate the people. A simple call to the elders where they were members can establish a lot. If the prospective member was withdrawn from by the church they left, they must be questioned as to the reason and an investigation made to determine the scripturalness of the withdrawal. In the case of present members, the members and elders should try to be aware of what is happening and when a matter comes to light that appears to be sin, the elders should make an orderly examination.
Question: What should be done if it is determined that a prospective member was unscripturally withdrawn from by a local church?
Answer: It is a biblical fact that fellowship can be both sinfully withheld and extended (cp. 3 Jn. 9; 2 Jn. 9-11). I personally have seen all these scenarios. A member wanted to be identified where I was preaching and I knew that they had recently been withdrawn from by another church in the city. The announcement was made to the church that there had to be some inquiry before fellowship could be extended (the family simply came forward during a service and expressed the desire to place membership). A meeting was set up with the elders of the withdrawing church and proof for the withdrawal was respectfully requested. After a few minutes, the elders said to the preacher, "we acted without proof and we were wrong!"
Question: What should members do in placing membership?
Answer: The ideal is for them to first meet with the elders and express their desire. They need to question the elders as to what the church is doing and teaching to make sure they can fellowship the brethren (fellowship is a two way street, if you will). They also need to allow the elders to question them and make any contact that needs to be made (cp. Acts 9: 26, 27). Prospective members and churches need to be honest and forthright with each other. The church providing a letter of commendation for members who are moving is a good practice (2 Cor. 3: 1).
Question: Must there be elders present in order for scriptural fellowship to be practiced?
Answer: The simple answer is, no. However, there are many challenges and difficulties in the absence of qualified elders.
Question: How about the member who withdraws from the local church, how can the church withdraw from him?
Answer: There are two essential aspects of fellowship: assistance or participation and/or approval. These two basic actions are seen in 2 John 10. "Receive not into your house," pertains to allowing the false teach a base of operation, providing lodging and food for him. The language, "neither bid him God speed" shows one is not even to approve or wish well. One can not actually assist, but still be guilty of violating 2 John 10 by approving of the work of the errorist or the one not meeting the qualifications for fellowship. Even if a member officially withdraws membership, such does not necessarily preclude the local church from any action. For example, a local church might be in the process of withdrawing or disciplining a rebellious member and that member then say, "I will beat you to it by removing myself!" The church would still have some duty to inform the membership of the situation so they can avoid any fellowship situations (participation or approval and actively admonishing) outside the local church climate. Be it known, however, that reference is not being made to the member who simply moves away or peaceably leaves without any problems (cp. Heb. 10: 25ff.).
Question: Can a church withdraw from a member of another local church?
Answer: As earlier mentioned, each local church is autonomous. We do not read of a "church withdrawing from a church." In the strict sense, withdrawal suggests some kind of "togetherness." Fellowship exists in two areas: the local church and in general (Acts 9: 26, 27; I Jn. 1: 3-9). There could well be a situation of a member of a local church who is teaching error or conducting himself in such a way that should involve the notification of others. This is precisely what I believe Romans 16: 17 ("mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them") is teaching. Romans appears to have been addressed to multiple local churches in Rome (cp. Rom. 16: 4-18). There could be contact; hence, the warning to "avoid them." Perhaps the better term to use in this circumstance, though, is "mark." (In this vein, there could be a slight possible application difference between "mark" and "withdraw," albeit, they can and usually do involve the same climate, cp. 2 Jn. 1-10).