EACH year thousands of people flock to Jehovah’s house of pure worship, in fulfillment of Bible prophecy. (Mic. 4:1, 2) How happy we are to receive them into “the congregation of God”! (Acts 20:28) They appreciate the opportunity to serve Jehovah with us and to enjoy the clean and peaceful environment of our spiritual paradise. God’s holy spirit and the wise counsel found in his Word help us to maintain peace and keep the congregation clean.—Ps. 119:105; Zech. 4:6.
2 By applying Bible principles, we put on “the new personality.” (Col. 3:10) We put aside petty disputes and personal differences. Viewing matters as Jehovah does, we overcome divisive worldly influences and work unitedly as an international brotherhood.—Acts 10:34, 35.
3 Nevertheless, from time to time, difficulties arise that affect the peace and unity of the congregation. What is the cause? In most cases, it is a failure to apply Bible counsel. We still have to cope with our imperfect human tendencies. Not one of us is without sin. (1 John 1:10) Someone may take a false step that could introduce moral or spiritual uncleanness into the congregation. We may offend someone by our thoughtless words or deeds, or we may be stumbled because of what someone has said or done. (Rom. 3:23) At times like these, what can we do to set matters straight?
4 Jehovah has lovingly taken all of this into consideration. His Word provides counsel on what to do when difficulties arise. Personal assistance is available from loving spiritual shepherds, the elders. By applying their Scriptural counsel, we can regain a fine relationship with others and maintain a good standing with Jehovah. If we receive discipline or reproof because of some wrongdoing on our part, we can be sure that such correction is an expression of our heavenly Father’s love for us.—Prov. 3:11, 12; Heb. 12:6.
SETTLING MINOR DIFFERENCES
5 There may be times when personal disputes or difficulties of a minor nature arise between those in the congregation. These should quickly be settled in a spirit of brotherly love. (Eph. 4:26; Phil. 2:2-4; Col. 3:12-14) Very likely, you will find that problems of a personal nature involving your relationship with a fellow Christian can be resolved by applying the apostle Peter’s counsel to “have intense love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Pet. 4:8) The Bible says: “We all stumble many times.” (Jas. 3:2) By applying the Golden Rule, doing to others all things that we want them to do to us, we can usually forgive and forget minor offenses.—Matt. 6:14, 15; 7:12.
6 If you discern that someone was offended by what you said or did, you should take the initiative to make peace without delay. Remember, your relationship with Jehovah is also affected. Jesus counseled his disciples: “If, then, you are bringing your gift to the altar and there you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar, and go away. First make your peace with your brother, and then come back and offer your gift.” (Matt. 5:23, 24) There may have been a misunderstanding. If so, open up the lines of communication. Good communication among all in the congregation goes a long way toward preventing misunderstandings and solving problems that arise because of human imperfection.
PROVIDING NEEDED SCRIPTURAL COUNSEL
7 At times, overseers may find it necessary to give counsel in order to readjust a person’s thinking. This is not always easy. To the Christians in Galatia, the apostle Paul wrote: “Brothers, even if a man takes a false step before he is aware of it, you who have spiritual qualifications try to readjust such a man in a spirit of mildness.”—Gal. 6:1.
8 By shepherding the flock, overseers can protect the congregation from many spiritual dangers and may prevent serious problems from developing. Elders strive to make their service to the congregation measure up to what Jehovah promised through Isaiah: “Each one will be like a hiding place from the wind, a place of concealment from the rainstorm, like streams of water in a waterless land, like the shadow of a massive crag in a parched land.”—Isa. 32:2.
MARKING DISORDERLY ONES
9 The apostle Paul warned of certain ones who could exert an unhealthy influence on the congregation. Paul said: “We are giving you instructions . . . to withdraw from every brother who is walking disorderly and not according to the tradition that you received from us.” He clarified that statement by writing: “If anyone is not obedient to our word through this letter, keep this one marked and stop associating with him, so that he may become ashamed. And yet do not consider him an enemy, but continue admonishing him as a brother.”—2 Thess. 3:6, 14, 15.
10 Occasionally, someone not guilty of practicing a grave sin for which he could be expelled from the congregation shows flagrant disregard for God’s standard that should govern Christians. This could include such things as being extremely lazy, critical, or dirty. He could be “meddling with what does not concern [him].” (2 Thess. 3:11) Or he might be one who schemes to take material advantage of others or indulges in entertainment that is clearly improper. The disorderly conduct is serious enough to reflect badly on the congregation, and it has the potential to spread to other Christians.
11 The elders will first try to help a disorderly person by giving him Bible-based counsel. However, if the individual persists in disregarding Bible principles in spite of repeated admonition, the elders may decide that a warning talk should be given to the congregation. Elders will use discernment in determining whether a particular situation is sufficiently serious and disturbing to others to warrant a warning talk. The speaker will provide appropriate counsel concerning disorderly conduct, but he will not name the disorderly one. Consequently, those who are aware of the situation described in the talk will take care to avoid socializing with such an individual, although they will continue spiritual association, “admonishing him as a brother.”
12 Hopefully, the firm stand taken by faithful Christians will help the disorderly one to become ashamed of his ways and will move him to change. When it is clearly evident that the individual has abandoned his disorderly course, it is no longer necessary to treat him as a marked individual.
RESOLVING CERTAIN SERIOUS WRONGS
13 Willingness to overlook offenses and to forgive does not mean that we are unconcerned about wrongdoing or that we approve of it. Not all wrongs can be charged to inherited imperfection; nor is it proper to overlook wrongs that go beyond minor offenses. (Lev. 19:17; Ps. 141:5) The Law covenant recognized that some sins are more serious than others, and the same is true in the Christian arrangement.—1 John 5:16, 17.
14 Jesus outlined a specific procedure for solving serious problems that may arise between fellow Christians. Note the steps that he set out: “If your brother commits a sin,  go and reveal his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen,  take along with you one or two more, so that on the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter may be established. If he does not listen to them,  speak to the congregation. If he does not listen even to the congregation, let him be to you just as a man of the nations and as a tax collector.”—Matt. 18:15-17.
15 In view of the illustration that Jesus subsequently gave, recorded at Matthew 18:23-35, it appears that one of the sins considered at Matthew 18:15-17 involves financial or property matters, such as failing to repay a loan or committing fraud. Or the offense might be slander, which seriously affects someone’s reputation.
16 If you have evidence that someone in the congregation has committed such a sin against you, do not be hasty to turn to the elders, asking them to intervene on your behalf. As Jesus counseled, speak first with the one against whom you have the complaint. Try to resolve the matter between just the two of you without involving anyone else. Keep in mind that Jesus did not say ‘go only once and reveal his fault.’ Therefore, if the person did not admit the wrong and ask forgiveness, it may be good to consider approaching him again later. If the matter can be resolved in this way, the one who sinned will certainly appreciate that you have not told others about his sin or marred his good reputation in the congregation. You will have “gained your brother.”
17 If the one who committed the offense accepts responsibility, seeks forgiveness, and takes steps to right the wrong, there is no need to carry the matter further. Although the sin was serious, an offense of this kind can be settled between the individuals involved.
18 If you are not able to gain your brother by revealing his fault “between you and him alone,” then you may do as Jesus said, “take along with you one or two more,” and speak with your brother again. Those whom you take with you should also have the objective of gaining your brother. Preferably, they would be witnesses of the alleged wrongdoing, but if there are no eyewitnesses, you may choose to ask one or two more to be witnesses to the discussion. They may have experience in the matter at issue and may be able to establish whether what occurred was truly a wrong. Elders chosen to act as witnesses do not represent the congregation, since the body of elders has not specifically assigned them to do so.
19 If the matter has not been resolved after repeated efforts—you spoke with him alone and you went to him with one or two others—and you feel that you cannot let it pass, then you should report the matter to the overseers of the congregation. Remember that their goal is to maintain the peace and cleanness of the congregation. Having approached the elders, you will want to leave the matter in their hands and trust in Jehovah. Never should you allow the conduct of someone else to stumble you or to rob you of your joy in Jehovah’s service.—Ps. 119:165.
20 The shepherds of the flock will investigate the matter. If it becomes evident that the person has indeed committed a serious sin against you and is unrepentant and unwilling to make reasonable and appropriate amends, it may be necessary for a committee of overseers to expel the wrongdoer from the congregation. Thus they protect the flock and safeguard the cleanness of the congregation.—Matt. 18:17.
HANDLING CASES OF SERIOUS WRONGDOING
21 Some serious offenses, such as sexual immorality, adultery, homosexuality, blasphemy, apostasy, idolatry, and similar gross sins, require more than forgiveness from an offended individual. (1 Cor. 6:9, 10; Gal. 5:19-21) Because the spiritual and moral cleanness of the congregation are threatened, such serious sins must be reported to the elders and handled by them. (1 Cor. 5:6; Jas. 5:14, 15) Some individuals may approach the elders either to confess their own sin or to report what they know regarding the wrongdoing of others. (Lev. 5:1; Jas. 5:16) Regardless of the manner in which the elders first hear reports of serious wrongdoing on the part of a baptized Witness, an initial investigation will be made by two elders. If it is established that there is substance to the report and that evidence is available showing that a serious sin has been committed, the body of elders will assign a judicial committee of at least three elders to handle the matter.
22 The elders exercise watchful care over the flock, seeking to protect it from any elements that would be spiritually damaging. They also endeavor to use God’s Word skillfully to reprove any who have erred and to restore them to spiritual health. (Jude 21-23) This is in harmony with instructions given to Timothy by the apostle Paul, who wrote: “I solemnly charge you before God and Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, . . . Reprove, reprimand, exhort, with all patience and art of teaching.” (2 Tim. 4:1, 2) Doing so may take much time, but this is part of the hard work of the elders. The congregation appreciates their efforts and considers them “worthy of double honor.”—1 Tim. 5:17.
23 In every situation where guilt is established, the primary endeavor of the overseers is to restore the wrongdoer to spiritual health. If he is genuinely repentant and they are able to help him, their administering of reproof, either in private or before any possible witnesses who testified during the judicial hearing, will serve to discipline him and instill wholesome fear in the onlookers. (2 Sam. 12:13; 1 Tim. 5:20) In all cases of judicial reproof, restrictions are imposed. Thus the wrongdoer may be helped to make “straight paths” for his feet thereafter. (Heb. 12:13) In due course, the restrictions are removed as the individual’s spiritual recovery becomes manifest.
ANNOUNCEMENT OF REPROOF
24 If a judicial committee determines that an individual is repentant but that the matter is likely to become known in the congregation or in the community or if the congregation needs to be on guard concerning the repentant wrongdoer, a simple announcement will be made during the Life and Ministry Meeting. It should read: “[Name of person] has been reproved.”
IF THE DECISION IS TO DISFELLOWSHIP
25 In some cases, the wrongdoer will have become hardened in his course of sinful conduct and will thus fail to respond to efforts to help him. Sufficient “works that befit repentance” may not be in evidence at the time of the judicial hearing. (Acts 26:20) What then? In such cases, it is necessary to expel the unrepentant wrongdoer from the congregation, thus denying him fellowship with Jehovah’s clean people. The bad influence of the wrongdoer is removed from the congregation, thereby safeguarding its moral and spiritual cleanness and protecting its good name. (Deut. 21:20, 21; 22:23, 24) Upon becoming aware of the shameful conduct of someone in the Corinthian congregation, the apostle Paul admonished the elders to “hand such a man over to Satan . . . , so that the spirit [of the congregation] may be saved.” (1 Cor. 5:5, 11-13) Paul also reported the disfellowshipping of others who had rebelled against the truth in the first century.—1 Tim. 1:20.
26 When it has been determined that an unrepentant wrongdoer should be disfellowshipped, a judicial committee should let the person know of the decision, clearly stating the Scriptural reason(s) for the disfellowshipping. Upon informing the wrongdoer of the decision, the judicial committee will tell him that if he believes that a serious error in judgment has been made and he wishes to appeal the decision, he should do so in a letter, clearly stating the reasons for his appeal. Counting from the time he was notified of the committee’s decision, he will be given seven days for this. If an appeal is received, the body of elders will contact the circuit overseer, who will select qualified elders to serve on an appeal committee to rehear the case. They will make every effort to conduct the appeal hearing within one week after the letter is received. If there is an appeal, announcement of the disfellowshipping will be postponed. In the meantime, the accused person will be restricted from commenting and praying at meetings and from special privileges of service.
27 An appeal is granted as a kindness to the accused and allows him a further hearing of his concerns. Thus, if the wrongdoer deliberately fails to appear at the appeal hearing, the disfellowshipping will be announced after reasonable efforts have been made to contact him.
28 If the wrongdoer does not wish to appeal, the judicial committee will explain to him the need for repentance as well as what steps he can take toward being reinstated in due time. This would be both helpful and kind and should be done in hopes that he will change his ways and in time qualify to return to Jehovah’s organization.—2 Cor. 2:6, 7.
ANNOUNCEMENT OF DISFELLOWSHIPPING
29 When it is necessary to disfellowship an unrepentant wrongdoer from the congregation, a brief announcement is made, stating: “[Name of person] is no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” This will alert faithful ones in the congregation to stop associating with that person.—1 Cor. 5:11.
30 The term “disassociation” applies to the action taken by a person who is a baptized Witness but deliberately repudiates his Christian standing by stating that he no longer wants to be recognized as, or known as, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Or he might renounce his place in the Christian congregation by his actions, such as by becoming part of a secular organization that has objectives contrary to Bible teachings and therefore is under judgment by Jehovah God.—Isa. 2:4; Rev. 19:17-21.
31 Concerning those who renounced their Christian faith in his day, the apostle John wrote: “They went out from us, but they were not of our sort; for if they had been of our sort, they would have remained with us.”—1 John 2:19.
32 When a person disassociates himself, his situation before Jehovah is far different from that of an inactive Christian, one who no longer shares in the field ministry. A person may have become inactive because he failed to study God’s Word regularly. Or perhaps he experienced personal problems or persecution and lost his zeal for serving Jehovah. The elders as well as others in the congregation will continue to render appropriate spiritual assistance to an inactive Christian.—Rom. 15:1; 1 Thess. 5:14; Heb. 12:12.
33 In contrast, if a person who is a Christian chooses to disassociate himself, a brief announcement is made to inform the congregation, stating: “[Name of person] is no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” Such a person is treated in the same way as a disfellowshipped person.
34 A disfellowshipped person or one who has disassociated himself from the congregation may be reinstated when he gives clear evidence of repentance and over a reasonable period of time demonstrates that he has abandoned his sinful course. He shows that he is desirous of having a good relationship with Jehovah. The elders are careful to allow sufficient time—many months, a year, or even longer, depending on the circumstances—for the person to prove that his repentance is genuine. When the body of elders receives a letter requesting reinstatement, a reinstatement committee will speak with the individual. The committee will evaluate the evidence of “works that befit repentance” on his part and decide whether to reinstate him at that time or not.—Acts 26:20.
35 If the person requesting reinstatement was disfellowshipped from another congregation, a local reinstatement committee will meet with the person and consider the plea. If the members of the local reinstatement committee believe he should be reinstated, they will forward their recommendation to the body of elders in the congregation that originally handled the matter. The involved committees will work together to make sure that all the facts are gathered to arrive at a just decision. However, the decision to reinstate is made by a reinstatement committee of the congregation that originally handled the matter.
ANNOUNCEMENT OF REINSTATEMENT
36 When the reinstatement committee is convinced that the disfellowshipped or disassociated person is genuinely repentant and should be reinstated, an announcement of the reinstatement is made in the congregation that originally handled the matter. If the person is now in another congregation, the announcement will be made there as well. It should simply state: “[Name of person] is reinstated as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
CASES INVOLVING MINOR BAPTIZED CHILDREN
37 Serious wrongdoing on the part of minor children who are baptized should be reported to the elders. When the elders handle cases of serious sins involving a minor, it is preferable that the baptized parents of the young person be present. They will want to cooperate with the judicial committee, not attempting to shield the erring child from necessary disciplinary action. Just as when dealing with adult offenders, the judicial committee endeavors to reprove and restore the wrongdoer. However, if the young person is unrepentant, disfellowshipping action is taken.
WHEN UNBAPTIZED PUBLISHERS ARE WRONGDOERS
38 What should be done when unbaptized publishers become involved in serious wrongdoing? Since they are not baptized Witnesses, they cannot be disfellowshipped. However, they may not fully understand the Bible’s standards, and kind counsel may help them to make “straight paths” for their feet.—Heb. 12:13.
39 If an unbaptized wrongdoer is unrepentant after two elders have met with him and have tried to help him, then it is necessary to inform the congregation. A brief announcement is made, stating: “[Name of person] is no longer recognized as an unbaptized publisher.” The congregation will then view the wrongdoer as a person of the world. Although the offender is not disfellowshipped, Christians exercise caution with regard to any association with him. (1 Cor. 15:33) No field service reports would be accepted from him.
40 In time, an unbaptized person who was removed as a publisher may wish to become a publisher again. In that situation, two elders would meet with him and ascertain his spiritual progress. If he qualifies, a brief announcement is made, stating: “[Name of person] is again recognized as an unbaptized publisher.”
JEHOVAH BLESSES PEACEFUL AND CLEAN WORSHIP
41 All who are associated with the congregation of God today can rejoice in the rich spiritual estate that Jehovah has given to his people. Our spiritual pastures are indeed lush, and we have an abundance of refreshing waters of truth. We also have Jehovah’s protective care through his theocratic arrangement under the headship of Christ. (Ps. 23; Isa. 32:1, 2) Being in the spiritual paradise in these troublesome last days has given us a feeling of security.
By maintaining the peace and cleanness of the congregation, we continue to let our light of Kingdom truth shine
42 By maintaining the peace and cleanness of the congregation, we continue to let our light of Kingdom truth shine. (Matt. 5:16; Jas. 3:18) With God’s blessing, we will have the joy of seeing many more people come to know Jehovah and serve with us in doing his will.