Questions From Readers
● The main article of the September 15, 1954, Watchtower told about one witness of Jehovah not speaking to another witness in the same congregation, this going on for years because of a personal grievance, and the point was made that this showed a lack of true neighbor love. However, could this not be a case of a proper application of the counsel given at Matthew 18:15-17?—A. M., Canada.
No! We can hardly view this scripture as advising such a time-consuming process and possibly ending up in two members of the congregation not speaking and avoiding each other just because of some minor personal disagreement or misunderstanding. It would be contrary to the requirement of love.
Matthew 18:15-17 (NW) reads: “Moreover, if your brother commits a sin, go lay bare 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, in order that at the mouth 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.”
How can we think this text means we should hold a grudge and not speak for days or weeks or years, when we are specifically told: “Let the sun not set with you in a provoked state,” but rather be “freely forgiving one another”? Love “does not keep account of the injury.” “Have intense love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.” And Jesus said: “Happy are the merciful, since they will be shown mercy. However, I say to you that everyone who continues angry with his brother will be accountable to the court of justice.” Jehovah’s Word would hardly give such advice that would allow for many personal snubs and feuds to continue in a congregation to mar its unity and fill it with internal strife.—Eph. 4:26, 32; 1 Cor. 13:5; 1 Pet. 4:8; Matt. 5:7, 22-24, NW.
Jehovah will preserve the oneness and loving spirit within his congregation, and he will cause to be put out any who would continually disrupt unity and make divisions within it. There are occasions when members of a congregation are to quit speaking and associating with others, but the causes must be very serious, much more so than mere personal differences of no congregational consequence. Brothers were to separate from those who were disorderly, creating strife and rebelling against the truth. A congregation was to put from its midst unclean ones: “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.” (1 Cor. 5:11; Acts 19:9; 2 Thess. 3:6, NW) For such serious offenses brothers would disfellowship and treat as “a man of the nations” the guilty ones, but not for trivial personal offenses. Such minor things were to be forgiven, covered over by love, mercifully dismissed, not being kept account of or being provoked over beyond sunset.
Hence we must view the sin mentioned at Matthew 18:15-17 as a serious one that must be terminated, and, if that is not possible, then the one so sinning is to be disfellowshiped from the congregation. If the sinning one cannot be made to see his grievous error by mature brothers of the congregation and cease his wrongdoing, then the matter is of such importance that it be brought before the congregation committee for congregational action. If the committee cannot induce the sinner to repent and reform he must be disfellowshiped from the congregation in order to preserve the cleanness and oneness of the Christian congregation. If the wrongdoer is wicked enough to be shunned by one brother he merits such treatment by the entire congregation. If it is not that serious, then the matter should be cleared up and all unite in love and in service, with no foolish personal feuds persisting within the congregation. If the text was merely about a personal matter of no serious sin and which resulted in one’s not speaking to another but both remaining in the congregation, then certainly Jesus would not have said one should view the other as a rank outsider, as “a man of the nations and as a tax collector.” They would still have to recognize each other, not as an outsider, but as brothers in the congregation, even if they did not speak. The final rating of the unrepentant offender is too severe to mean anything less than a disfellowshiped standing, and since there is no provision for individuals’ disfellowshiping other individuals in the congregation in what might be called a personal disfellowshiping, the disfellowshiping must mean it is a congregational matter.
Certainly Jesus was not here laying the foundation for a congregation split by internal personal quarrels and with a strained and tense atmosphere pervading it. So this text cannot be used to support individuals’ refusing to speak to each other within the Christian congregation, and the position taken on this point by The Watchtower cited by the questioner remains unweakened.
The fear of Jehovah is the beginning of knowledge; but the foolish despise wisdom and instruction.—Prov. 1:7, AS.