Family Responsibilities in Keeping Jehovah’s Worship Pure
IN ORDER to preserve the purity of Jehovah’s worship, the Bible lays upon the Christian congregation the responsibility to ‘remove the wicked man from among themselves.’ (1 Cor. 5:13) This cutting off, disfellowshiping, or excommunicating from God’s visible organization preserves His pure worship, acts as a protection for the entire congregation, and also may move the wrongdoer to repent of his wicked works and become reconciled to God.—2 Cor. 7:10.
In the July 1, 1963, issue of the Watchtower magazine, the Scriptural principles involved in disfellowshiping, or excommunicating, were discussed. The purpose of this procedure, the consequences to those disfellowshiped, and the attitude that other members of the Christian congregation are to take were examined from God’s Word. The principles are definite, clear and easily understood where a disfellowshiped person is not related to others in the Christian congregation. All association with him is severed.
But what of those who are related to the one cut off? What should be the attitude of those who do have family or blood ties with that one? In analyzing the responsibilities of family members in keeping Jehovah’s worship pure, there are two situations that must be considered. One is where relatives in good standing with the congregation do not live under the same roof with the disfellowshiped person; that is, where relatives are not of the immediate family circle. The other situation is where those in good standing do live under the same roof with the disfellowshiped person, where the disfellowshiped one is a member of the immediate family circle.
RELATIVES NOT IN IMMEDIATE FAMILY CIRCLE
The disfellowshiping of a relative does not cancel out natural blood ties. However, it would be well to appreciate that only the contacts absolutely necessary in matters pertaining to family interests should be carried on with one who is disfellowshiped and who lives outside the family circle.
The principle here is similar to that mentioned in the July 1 issue of The Watchtower, page 413, where it was pointed out that Christians who are secularly employed at the same establishment with a disfellowshiped person do not converse with him unless it is necessary in order to perform the work, and then the conversation is limited to that work. In the case of the disfellowshiped relative who does not live in the same home, contact with him is also kept to what is absolutely necessary. As with secular employment, this contact is limited and even curtailed completely if at all possible.
An important point to note is that, while there are natural ties that may be the reason for an occasional contact, the spiritual ties are completely severed. There can be no discussing of matters of worship with relatives who are disfellowshiped.
What if a person cut off from God’s congregation unexpectedly visits dedicated relatives? What should the Christian do then? If this is the first occurrence of such visit, the dedicated Christian can, if his conscience permits, carry on family courtesies on that particular occasion. However, if his conscience does not permit this, he is under no obligation to do so. If courtesies are extended, though, the Christian should make it clear that this will not be made a regular practice. If it becomes habitual, it is no different from associating with any other disfellowshiped person, and it violates the spirit of the disfellowshiping decree. The excommunicated relative should be made to realize that his visits are not now welcomed as they were previously when he was walking correctly with Jehovah.—2 John 9-11.
It is vital that dedicated Christians in the congregation, by their actions, make clear to the disfellowshiped relative that his course of conduct is disapproved by the family. They must maintain a firm stand for righteous principles. The wrongdoer has to realize that his status is completely changed, that his faithful Christian relatives thoroughly disapprove of his wicked course and show this disapproval by limiting contacts to only those which are unavoidable.
The importance of this can readily be seen in smaller communities, where some congregations may include several related family groups. If all family ties with an excommunicated person were kept as before, in what way could it be said that the brothers were cooperating with the disfellowshiping procedure, which is designed to keep God’s visible organization clean? Actually, they would be violating the spirit of the disfellowshiping action. Furthermore, instead of this being any kindness to the disfellowshiped one, they would actually be doing him harm.
Permitting the transacting of necessary business with relatives who are disfellowshiped should be viewed as the exception. The Scriptural rules are: “Keep your eye on those who create divisions and occasions for stumbling contrary to the teaching that you have learned, and avoid them.” “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.” “Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.”—Rom. 16:17; 1 Cor. 5:11, 13.
The foundation principle for this matter is found at Matthew 12:47-50. Someone said to Jesus: “Look! Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak to you.” Jesus replied: “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers? . . . whoever does the will of my Father who is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.”
Bible principles do not support regular association with relatives who do not live in the same home with a disfellowshiped person. Our main purpose should be to keep the worship of Jehovah pure. We should not see how close we can get to relatives who are disfellowshiped from Jehovah’s organization, but we should “quit mixing in company” with them.
INSIDE THE FAMILY CIRCLE
Additional principles come into play where a disfellowshiped person lives in the same home and is part of the same family circle with Christians. Some of the Scriptural principles that need to be taken into consideration are (1) 1 Timothy 5:8: “If anyone does not provide for those who are his own, and especially for those who are members of his household, he has disowned the faith and is worse than a person without faith.” (2) Matthew 22:21: “Pay back, therefore, Caesar’s things to Caesar, but God’s things to God.” (3) Matthew 19:5, 6: “‘For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother and will stick to his wife, and the two will be one flesh’ . . . Therefore, what God has yoked together let no man put apart.” (4) Colossians 3:18, 19: “You wives, be in subjection to your husbands . . . You husbands, keep on loving your wives.” (5) Ephesians 6:1, 2: “Children, be obedient to your parents in union with the Lord . . . ‘Honor your father and your mother.’”
The Christian head of the house, the father, is therefore required to continue the physical association with, and to provide food, shelter and clothing for those in his household who are disfellowshiped. If the disfellowshiped one is a minor child, the parents cannot disassociate themselves from him. He is still part of the household. God’s laws require that the parental responsibility be carried out. Even Caesar’s laws require that minor children be provided for by the parents. So the parents are still under command from God to correct and discipline the child. This must be done by using Biblical principles. Parents should require that the minor attend the family study and listen, although he would not participate in the discussion with the group. The parents should strongly recommend his reading the Bible and publications explaining the Bible, such as the Watchtower and Awake! magazines and other Bible helps. If the disfellowshiped minor has questions to ask, he can ask one of his parents in private and he will be shown how to find the answers or be given the answer, but that is all. This, together with the minor’s attendance at Christian meetings, will aid in his restoration. (Jas. 5:20) Parents must appreciate the seriousness of their child’s dedication and baptism and realize that dedication to Jehovah puts the child under Jehovah’s corrective arrangements when his laws are violated.
Regarding the relationship between husband and wife, Jesus’ words at Matthew 19:5, 6 must be adhered to. No one can set apart man and wife, not even if one of the two is disfellowshiped. The exception, of course, is where adultery has been committed. Then the innocent mate may depart if so desired. (Matt. 19:9) When attending congregation meetings at the Kingdom Hall, husband and wife, together with children, are to remain together and not be separated because one is disfellowshiped. There is no spiritual communication involved here. They are merely sitting together as a family. This family bond must not be tampered with. However, it would be improper for the mate in good standing to try to force the company of the disfellowshiped mate on other brothers in the congregation when conversing with them. While the family unit stays together, the excommunicated member of the family still may not associate with other members of the congregation.
But does this principle of staying together apply if a man and woman are engaged to be married and one is afterward disfellowshiped? No, as the marriage has not been consummated. The Christian should sever the tie with the disfellowshiped one. “Get out from among them, and separate yourselves.” (2 Cor. 6:17) If the Christian disregards this by marrying the disfellowshiped one, he too can be disfellowshiped.
Although established family ties in the household remain unbroken when one is disfellowshiped and the normal functions of the household are carried out daily as usual, there is something that is broken. This is the spiritual communication between the one disfellowshiped and others in the family circle. As with other examples previously mentioned, when one is disfellowshiped, discussion with him of matters involving worship must be terminated.
Hence, if it is the wife that is excommunicated, the husband will continue to conduct the family Bible study with the children, and on appropriate occasions he may lead his children in prayer. The wife may sit in and hear the prayer or follow along in the study, thereby taking in valuable information, but she would not contribute to the discussion.
If the husband is the one disfellowshiped, the wife and children are still in subjection to the head in family matters. This is not canceled out. The wife does not become the head of the house in carrying out the daily pursuits of life. But if the husband sincerely wants to do what is right, he will take the necessary actions to reconcile himself with Jehovah and his visible organization. He will realize that he is not qualified to direct family spiritual affairs. However, the wife, at some convenient time when the husband is not in charge of the situation, will arrange to study the Bible with her children.
The same principle applies at mealtimes. There can be no spiritual association here. The disfellowshiped family head is not in position to lead his family in prayer, nor would he properly call on someone else present to represent the family in prayer, thus having them do so at his direction. Any who want to pray may do so privately. However, in his absence, faithful dedicated members of the family could join together in prayer.
If the excommunicated husband insists on offering prayer at mealtimes, the dedicated members of the household would not say “Amen” to the prayer, nor would they join hands as some have the custom, as this would be participating spiritually. They could bow their heads and offer their own silent prayer to Jehovah. If he insists on expressing his views on religious matters, he cannot be prevented from doing so in his own house; but faithful Christian members of the household are not obligated to participate in a discussion. They show respect for the decree disfellowshiping the wrongdoer from God’s organization. “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.”—Acts 5:29.
It is a serious responsibility for Christians to keep the worship of Jehovah pure. To do this the Christian will comply with Jehovah’s righteous requirements, even where members of his own family are cut off from God’s visible organization. Love for God comes first. The Christian takes appropriate measures to show he agrees with Jehovah’s ways, thereby pleasing Him and maintaining pure worship.