Propriety of Disfellowshiping
1. Is it proper to disfellowship, and what does Titus 3:10, 11 say?
IS IT proper to disfellowship? Yes, as we have just seen in the above article, God put out of his congregation those that were opposed to him and that were corrupt. He disfellowshiped them. He got rid of them, and he advises us to do so with such persons. At Titus 3:10, 11 (NW) we read: “As for a man that promotes a sect, reject him after a first and a second admonition, knowing that such a man has been turned out of the way and is sinning, he being self-condemned.” So there is authority in the Greek Scriptures for anyone that starts sects or divisions to be rejected after he has been talked to a first and a second time and still he does not change his course of action.
2 We have other authority, too, in Romans 16:17, 18 (NW): “Now I exhort you, brothers, to keep your eye on those who create divisions and causes for stumbling contrary to the teaching which you have learned, and avoid them. For men of that kind are slaves, not of our Lord Christ, but of their own bellies, and by smooth talk and complimentary speech they seduce the hearts of guileless ones.” Here we have a plain statement from God’s Word that we should get rid of these persons that cause offense and divisions within His congregation. We have the authority, we have the right, and it is proper to get rid of them. They have no place in the congregation of God. Christ Jesus even disfellowships on what we probably might think less grounds than all of the things described above. Just because a person is lukewarm, and he is neither hot nor cold, Christ Jesus spews him out. He also declares, at Revelation 3:16 (NW): “So, because you are lukewarm and neither hot nor cold, I am going to vomit you out of my mouth.” Well, that is a disfellowshiping. Christ Jesus is not going to have any lukewarm persons permanently in his organization. You are either for him or against him. You will either come into the congregation of the Lord God and be his minister or eventually go out into the Devil’s organization. You cannot pussyfoot. You cannot be lukewarm. You cannot be passive. You have to be positively for the Lord God.
3. How did God disfellowship Jerusalem and natural Israel?
3 God disfellowships, too. We have seen that in the examples given above, but we remember that in Matthew 23:38 (NW) Jesus, speaking to Jerusalem, said: “Look! your house is abandoned to you.” He had been dealing with the Jews for a long period of time, and now the time had come to abandon them and their house or temple. Why? Because he had nursed them along and taken care of them like a hen with its little chicks, but they did not pay any attention to his Father in heaven, and now the time had come for God to abandon the whole business because they furnished only a faithful remnant and he was obliged to call out from the Gentile nations a people for his name.
4. To have fellowship with God, what action must his people take toward the world and toward those of their numbers who turn to darkness?
4 At 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 (NW) the apostle Paul said: “What fellowship does light have with darkness? . . . And what agreement does God’s temple have with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said: ‘I shall reside among them and walk among them, and I shall be their God, and they will be my people.’ ‘“Therefore get out from among them, and separate yourselves,” says Jehovah, “and quit touching the unclean thing,”’ ‘“and I will take you in.”’ ‘“And I shall be a father to you, and you will be sons and daughters to me,” says Jehovah the Almighty.’” Yes, Jehovah will disfellowship those who become lawless, turn to darkness and set up idols. He will expel such persons from his organization. If you want to be of the Lord’s organization, keep clean of the Devil’s world. If you do not want to, then get out of it. Those who are impure, immoral, are not spiritually fit for God’s organization. If such lukewarm compromisers or apostates do not voluntarily get out of his organization, then under his direction the organization itself will put them out.
5. What is the proper procedure for disfellowshiping, and how did Paul illustrate this procedure?
5 There is a proper procedure to follow in this regard. It must be an official act. Someone in authority must make the decision, and then the person is removed. At 1 Timothy 1:19, 20 (NW) is an example of the authority used by Paul, for he said: “Holding faith and a good conscience, which some have thrust aside and have experienced shipwreck concerning their faith. Hymenaeus and Alexander belong to these, and I have handed them over to Satan that they may be taught by discipline not to blaspheme.” They were put out of the congregation by an authorized servant. Paul did the same in the case recorded in 1 Corinthians 5:1-13, when he got rid of that professed Christian that had intercourse with his father’s wife. Paul took the action there because the ones in charge of the congregation had failed. He had the authority. A servant of Jehovah acted. In our present day we have congregations or companies of Jehovah’s witnesses and we have servants in our companies. These servants must discharge the responsibility that goes with the servant’s position to keep the congregation clean and must take the action. They are to be good shepherds and shepherd the flock.
6. So what must be laid against the one concerned, and before it can be accepted what must be done?
6 So first of all a charge must be made, by someone in the congregation or by some interested mature brother, about a person that has gone wrong. But just because a charge is made does not mean that we can disfellowship him. The Scriptures show that witnesses must be brought forth. No charge can be accepted unless there are two or three witnesses to establish the fact. That means an investigation. The company servant, the assistant company servant, the Bible study servant, and maybe some other mature brothers in the company should be called together to have a hearing, and those who are charged and the witnesses must be brought in and the matter be discussed. They cannot come to a conclusion that this person should be put out of the congregation on mere rumor or gossip. There must be two or three eyewitnesses that know such and such a thing occurred or was said. A decision cannot be made on guesswork. It may be that by a feeling or a sense that we have we believe the person is not good, but we may not be able to prove it. As long as we cannot prove it out of the mouth of two or three witnesses, that person cannot rightly be rejected. Otherwise you may be doing that individual a great harm.
7. How then is a decision made, what is done with it, and what does it fall to the company to do about it?
7 So then when we have our witnesses, we have our meeting with these persons who are obstreperous or going wrong or not living according to the law of God. We give them a fair hearing, we discuss the matter, we try to help them. But proof must be there of uncleanness, morally or spiritually, before anything can be done to them in the way of putting them out of the congregation. The servants certainly should be mature brothers and be willing to take the full responsibility in making their decision. Then their decision is presented to the company. Not for the company to vote on. No, but the company servant, the assistant company servant and the Bible study servant have to take all the responsibility for the course of action that is to be taken. If they are thoroughly convinced in their minds that that individual is wrong and should be put out of the company and the person has not made any steps toward repentance, then they tell the company, in the form of a resolution, of what they have done. They do not ask the company to vote on that resolution and say, “We approve your action.” No, the servants in the company are charged with the responsibility of shepherding the flock and of keeping the congregation clean. So the servants tell the company what action has been taken and that the offensive individual is no longer a member of this congregation. Then the congregation should co-operate to the fullest extent with the advice given by those who are looking after their interests, the servants in the organization.
8. Who must admonish the disorderly, and what must take place if he does not heed the admonition?
8 At 1 Thessalonians 5:14 (NW) Paul says: “We exhort you, brothers, admonish the disorderly, speak comfortingly to the depressed souls, support the weak, be long-suffering toward all.” It is the responsibility of the servants of God to look after the interests of the congregation. They admonish the disorderly one, but this disorderly one does not take the admonition. He still wants to walk in his way. When he will not repent, will not change his course of action, then he has to be set aside, he must be avoided.
9. By whom must the separation be determined upon, and how did Paul illustrate this at Ephesus?
9 Acts 19:9 (NW) says concerning Paul at Ephesus in Asia Minor: “But when some went on hardening themselves and not believing, speaking injuriously about the Way before the multitude, he withdrew from them and separated the disciples from them, daily giving talks in the school auditorium of Tyrannus.” Paul was interested in those that he was teaching there in the Jewish synagogue, and when he saw a group of synagogue attenders trying to pull away the disciples he made, then he took his true followers away from their company. He was not going to let them be contaminated by associating with those who were teaching false doctrines and abusing the truth. So, today the servants who carry the responsibility for the company set the policy according to God’s Word. The congregation accepts that policy on the part of the servants.
10. What did Paul instruct at 1 Corinthians 5:11, and how does the congregation support its servants in this connection?
10 At 1 Corinthians 5:11 (NW) Paul told the Christian congregation: “But now I am writing you to quit mixing in company with anyone called a brother that is a fornicator or a greedy person or an idolater or a reviler or a drunkard or an extortioner, not even eating with such a man.” No communion at all with these persons that are disfellowshiped or put out of the congregation. Why? Because this congregation of God must remain clean, undefiled, preserved for pure worship of the Most High. Consequently when that action of disfellowshiping is taken it really removes a person. He is out. Therefore all the congregation, all those who have dedicated their lives to God, should abide by the recommendation or the resolution on the part of the servants. They must support them.
11. What does the company disfellowshiping do in behalf of the Society and other companies, and why?
11 Well, now, what about this disfellowshiped person? First of all the company should report the matter to the Society, briefly stating facts, telling the Society who he is and why he was disfellowshiped and set aside, so it is informed. Now if this individual that was disfellowshiped leaves the community and goes to some other company and the company that disfellowshiped him knows of the matter, then out of the goodness of their heart and for the protection of the other company, it should be informed of the action they have taken. Not that the other company now has to disfellowship him. That was already done by the first congregation on behalf of and for the protection of all of Jehovah’s people. The disfellowshiping takes place in the company where the wrong was done, and he is disfellowshiped from that company and from all other companies. They know that this little leaven lodging anywhere in the loaf will corrupt the whole loaf. Necessarily then a warning should be given to the other company where this individual has gone, as Paul notified Timothy of Phygelus and Hermogenes and of Hymenaeus and Philetus. (2 Tim. 1:15; 2:17, NW) That is why they notify the Society, so it is cognizant of the fact.
12. Whom does Jude warn the companies against, and why must we be careful about letter writing?
12 Jude tells about men who were sneaking into the organization to corrupt it morally. Such men certainly should be reported to any company that they are drifting around in, because these slipped in only for the sake of loose conduct. For the safety of all of our brothers and sisters in the congregations round about they should be reported. That does not mean that individually you should write a lot of letters and say a lot of bad things about them, of what they have been doing. The fact should be reported that this man was at one time with us, but because of his course of action he has been disfellowshiped, and the reasons why should be given very briefly. Otherwise, it may be that in this day you would be accused of libel or slander and you might get yourself into difficulty. But our brothers may be warned of that individual. He is no longer allowed to be one of us, because we want to protect the organization, the congregation of the Lord God.
RESTRICTION OF PRIVILEGES
13. What course do some disfellowshiped ones take toward field service, but what fact must this not be allowed to hide?
13 Now some persons think they can stay in the truth, but they do not want to work according to God’s standards. So they keep going out in the field service, they go from door to door, they distribute books, they have Bible studies, still they are disfellowshiped from the congregation. Even after they are disfellowshiped, sometimes they put in many more hours than they did when they were with the congregation. What is the congregation going to do now with such an individual? We must keep in mind that this person has been disfellowshiped and is not a member of our company. We want to avoid him, we want nothing to do with him.
14, 15. (a) What is the extent of the disfellowshiped one’s privileges as regards meetings? (b) What of his field activity privileges?
14 Now meetings that are open to the public he can attend as long as he behaves himself and acts orderly. If that individual comes into a public meeting, say, a public lecture in a public auditorium, or Kingdom Hall, or city park, or a Watchtower study or a service meeting, it is public, the doors are open, and he may be admitted. If he comes into that meeting and sits down, as long as he is orderly, minds his business, we have nothing to say to him. Those who are acquainted with the situation in the congregation should never say “Hello” or “Good-by” to him. He is not welcome in our midst, we avoid him. If this one should be sitting in the Watchtower study and raise his hand, the chairman should never recognize him or allow him to make a comment. He is not one of us. He is not a recognized member in God’s congregation. Those who are informed and know the individual certainly should avoid him, have nothing to say to him. He has no privileges of service in the congregation whatsoever. He could go over to the book counter and get literature at the regular public rates, but the company should never give him books or magazines at company rates, because he is not one of us. What we would do for the public, for those in the Devil’s organization, we may do for that one.
15 If this one goes out in the field service, maybe getting the books at the counter at the regular rates instead of company rates or pioneer rates, and goes out from door to door, we cannot stop him. He has just as much right to go from house to house as anyone else if he wants to, but this congregation will not give him any territory. They will not accept his reports. When they come in he will not be one of those listed as a publisher in this company. He might put his report in the report box, but we tear it up and we throw it away. He is not one of us. He is a representative of the Devil’s organization trying to corrupt, disturb. He is not clean, and until that individual repents and changes his course of action he can never come back and be one of the Lord’s people.
16. How does the company treat him as not a recognized publisher?
16 So then the company is careful about him. It removes his card from the file of recognized Kingdom publishers. He is never given any of the monthly printed Informant. He may retain his Counsel booklet if he wishes, because this, if he reads it, might show him the course of action he should take. If he reads The Watchtower, if he reads the books of the Society, they show him the course that he should take; but as long as he does not take that course he is not welcome in the congregation.
17. On what condition may he be present at public meetings, and why?
17 If this individual becomes noisy or obstreperous he should be kept out of the Kingdom Hall and public meetings. That is the company’s perfect right. Otherwise, it may be that, if he comes into the public meetings and quietly hears the admonition and the counsel given in the studies, he will wake up, become ashamed, and repent.
18. What about permitting his attendance at private home meetings, and why?
18 Now how about private home meetings? Under no circumstances should he be welcomed or allowed to enter a private home, because the Scriptures are very definite on that point. So then in our home Bible studies, or what we call “area studies”, the person of the house, being one of God’s congregation, should keep him out. For 2 John 9, 10 (NW) states: “Everyone that pushes ahead and does not remain in the teaching of the Christ does not have God. He that does remain in this teaching is the one that has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, never receive him into your homes or say farewell to him.” So then in your private homes you would never open the door and allow that one to come in. You would never extend your hand in fellowship to such an individual. Remember, that individual at one time left the Devil’s organization. He was washed clean by the blood of Christ, he dedicated himself to God and God consecrated him for service. He was a minister. Now he has gone corrupt because he chooses to do so. He is sinning against the holy spirit. He is fighting against God. We cannot have anything to do with him. God is the one that is judging him, and he is using his servants in the earth to point that one out for the protection of the rest of the congregation.
19. By what personal course may a disfellowshiped person be reinstated?
19 Can a disfellowshiped person be reinstated, get back into the organization? Yes, he can if he repents. But he has to go farther than that. He must be converted. He must change his whole course of action. It is not just a matter of saying: “I’m sorry I did it; I was wrong.” He has to prove that he is willing to take an altogether different course of life than that which he had taken. He should make an open confession of his sins and ask forgiveness of the committee that drew up the resolution to disfellowship him. He should go to the persons concerned, admit his wrong, and point out to them what he is doing and what he is going to do in order to be reinstated.
20. At 2 Corinthians 2:6-11 what did Paul say about reinstatement, and what did he show must precede it?
20 In 2 Corinthians 2:6-11 (NW) we have an account of how Paul brought a sinner back into the congregation again. He said: “This rebuke given by the majority is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary now, you should kindly forgive and comfort him, that somehow such a man may not be swallowed up by his being overly sad. Therefore I exhort you to confirm your love for him. For to this end also I write to ascertain the proof of you, whether you are obedient in all things. Anything you kindly forgive anyone, I do too. In fact, as for me, whatever I have kindly forgiven, if I have kindly forgiven anything, it has been for your sakes in Christ’s sight, that we may not be overreached by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his designs.” This account may refer to the man that took his father’s wife and committed fornication and now repented. If so, then Paul says, ‘Well, bring him back; there is no reason that he should be overly sad thinking that he could never get into God’s organization again and gain life in the new world.’ Where else would a person go if he sinned against God and he really repented? We do not mean he may brazenly come back and say: “Well, I’m sorry about it. Fix me up, boys, I want to get back in the congregation.” No, there has to be a cutting of the heart. There has to be a hurting of the mind. He has to show repentance. He has to be sad about it and change his course.
21. On what must he be placed for a time before reinstatement, and why?
21 His getting reinstated in the congregation of God is a very serious matter, for him and for the congregation. The appointed servants may put him on probation if they want to. He will have to prove to the servants that he is going to behave himself in the future and act properly as a servant of Jehovah. They can test his sincerity. They should not reinstate him too quickly, even after he does repent and tells them what he is going to do, and makes an open confession. Why not? Because of public opinion. (2 Pet. 2:2, NW) His course of action may have been one of adultery and may have had wide publicity in the papers. Maybe he was put in jail for stealing. Maybe he was very rebellious. Maybe he went out and started a new organization and now is trying to come back. Well, all the people around the place know that that person was an obstinate, disorderly person, and not good company. So we should be careful as to how quickly we take such a person back into the congregation, because of what the “people on the outside” will say. (1 Tim. 3:7, NW) If a person commits adultery and is running around with men and women that are of loose conduct, and everybody knows it, and we say, “Oh, come on back, you’re welcome,” people on the outside will say: “Well, your whole congregation is of the same type.” So he has to be put on probation. His sincerity must be proved before we openly and fully accept his repentance.
22, 23. What does violation of probation result in, as shown by Shimei?
22 Remember the case of Shimei, who was put on probation. At one time he cursed David, and when Solomon became king as David’s successor certain restrictions were put around him. Solomon told him: ‘You ought to have been killed long ago. So now you must remain in the city of Jerusalem. But as soon as you go out of this city and cross the brook Kidron you are going to be put to death.’ Now, Shimei could have enjoyed his life and the favor that was shown toward him by staying right there in the city of Jerusalem. He had his slaves, the servants, and home. Three years after this order was given two of his slaves ran away. Shimei said: ‘Oh, I’m just going to get those fellows and bring them back.’ So he started out after them, crossed the Kidron, got his slaves and brought them back. Then it was reported to Solomon that he had left the city, and Solomon had him killed. Just to get two slaves back this man was ready to lose his life.
23 If, now, a disfellowshiped person wants to live in the new world and if the responsible brothers in the company put certain bounds or restrictions around him, is it not a great deal better to stay within those limits and live than to get outside of those limits and show that you are rebellious and acting contrary to God’s law? Shimei lost his life because he was not obedient to a very gracious arrangement on the part of King Solomon.
24. Who decide to make the reinstatement, who cooperate, and why?
24 So then the servants must make the decision on welcoming that brother back eventually. The servants that disfellowshiped him must make the announcement to the congregation, saying that, since this one has repented and they are now thoroughly satisfied as to his reformed course of action, “we receive him back.” Then the congregation should abide by the decision of the servants that are appointed in the company. Again the company does not vote on whether they will accept him back, because they have confidence in their servants that these have made the right investigation and the right decision.
25. What must the one to be reinstated do according to Colossians 3:5-10, and why?
25 In Colossians 3:5-10 (NW) it says: “Deaden, therefore, your body members which are upon the earth as respects fornication, uncleanness, sexual appetite, hurtful desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of those things the wrath of God is coming. In those very things you, too, once walked when you used to live in them. But now really put them all away from you, wrath, anger, injuriousness, abusive speech, and obscene talk out of your mouth. Do not be lying to one another. Strip off the old personality with its practices, and clothe yourselves with the new personality which through accurate knowledge is being renewed.” Of course, that instruction applies to those who originally came out of the Devil’s organization and have become Jehovah’s people, so it must also apply to a disfellowshiped person that is repenting and coming back. Now he has to put on that new personality, he must make his mind over, he must think the thoughts of God and put them into practice if he is ever to gain life in the new world.
26. What if a brother repents and makes it known before any disfellowshiping action takes place?
26 Well, what if a brother repents before he is disfellowshiped? He may realize that he has done wrong and he knows that the news of his course of action is getting in to the servants. Or he may feel his own shame while no one as yet knows what happened to him, and he goes to one of the mature brothers in the company, maybe the company servant, and he confesses his whole sin. Should that one then be exposed to the congregation and disfellowshiped because the company servant knows his course of action? Not if that person has truly repented. If he has asked forgiveness, and confessed his wrong, and he is changing his course of action, there is no reason why the brother that is spoken to need reveal that brother’s secret to another. His heart condition is right, and therefore mercy, love and kindness should be shown to that individual.
27. While not bringing about a disfellowshiping, what may the Society do or have done about such a repentant sinner?
27 Those who are stubborn, hardhearted, those who are going to have all the things they want their way, and that in addition to being in the congregation of God, these are the ones that have to be disfellowshiped and put away, because they are going to make the congregation unclean. But the one that comes with a contrite heart and confesses to a brother about his wrongdoing, there is no reason to whip him anymore. He has opened his heart, he has let you look at it and he wants help. If the Society removes a pioneer because of wrongdoing and the Society is the one agency that knows about the wrongdoing of the individual, there is no reason for the Society then to notify the company and have that company disfellowship that person, not if that person has confessed his sin and asked for forgiveness from the Society. Then that one can go on his way. The Society would probably put restrictions or bounds around that individual because of the course of action he has taken. By way of punishment it may take him off the pioneer list for six months or maybe a year, according to what that individual had done that would bring reproach to God’s name. But as long as that one has confessed his sin and asked for forgiveness, then the Society can help that one to get back in the right road and continue to be a servant of the Lord. If the action does not affect a company or other individual in it, there is no reason to make any notification or public announcement of it.
28. How far can we go in letting the sinner come back, and why?
28 What we must have in mind is this: we can show mercy to those who are of a contrite heart, and we can help them if we want to. But how far can we go in letting these individuals come back into the Lord’s organization? How far can we let the bars down? We cannot let the bars down at all to those who do not reform. We must keep in mind that the organization must remain clean for undefiled worship of the Most High. We must keep in mind the vindication of Jehovah’s sovereignty and name and the vindication of his Word. We must keep in mind the life of Christ and our walking in his footsteps, and the standard that he set. We must keep in mind our position as Jehovah’s witnesses. The disfellowshiped person did not keep these things in mind, and that is why he was removed from the congregation. That is why he was disfellowshiped. But now if he realizes that pure, undefiled, clean worship is the important thing, that the vindication of God’s name is more important than doing things his own way, when he sees that all this is necessary and he must live accordingly, then we can accept him back in the congregation.