Questions From Readers
● How should a faithful Christian act toward a relative outside the immediate family circle who has been disfellowshiped?—N. W., Canada.
This situation is one that can be a test for a Christian who wants to be faithful to Jehovah and yet has natural affection for the disfellowshiped relative. We can be grateful that God has clearly covered this matter in his Word.
The Bible shows that Jehovah is willing to forgive. All humans are sinful, but He is willing to excuse such sins on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice if individuals repentantly seek forgiveness.—Rom. 3:23; Acts 26:20.
What happens, though, if a person who sought such forgiveness in the past and became a dedicated servant of God commits a sin? Jehovah recognizes human imperfection and still will forgive if the sinner admits his error and proves by his course that he has repented. (1 John 1:9) However, if a person claiming to be Christian makes a practice of sin and refuses to repent and change, then God’s directions are plain. This occurred in the first century, for a man in the Corinthian congregation practiced immorality. The inspired directive to that congregation was: “Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.” Yes, expel him from the congregation.—1 Cor. 5:13.
That step was important. No corrupting influence should be allowed to remain in God’s organization. As the apostle Paul wrote, “a little leaven ferments the whole lump.” If that immoral one stayed, the good spirituality of the entire congregation could be lost.—1 Cor. 5:5-7; Josh. 7:1-25.
How were the faithful Christians in Corinth to treat that man? Paul wrote: “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.” (1 Cor. 5:11) Thus this expulsion from the congregation appropriately can be termed disfellowshiping, for the faithful Christians cease to have fellowship with the practicer of sin. To what extent?
The apostle John helps us here. The disfellowshiped one may have become apostate, teaching unscriptural doctrines. Or by his immoral way of life he may, in effect, be teaching that one can be a Christian and, at the same time, an adulterer or fornicator. This obviously is not remaining in the righteous teachings of Jesus. Concerning such ones who at one time were Christian brothers or sisters John writes: “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 a greeting to him.”—2 John 9, 10.
The next verse emphasizes the seriousness of this: “For he that says a greeting to him is a sharer in his wicked works.” (2 John 11) This does not necessarily mean that a Christian who speaks with one who was disfellowshiped for stealing, for example, is himself becoming a thief, though that could easily occur. But by disregarding God’s counsel and talking to that one he is as much as saying that he approves of the thief’s conduct, as if it does not matter.
Thus we have established from the Bible itself the basic position of a faithful Christian toward a disfellowshiped one—have no fellowship at all with him, not even speaking with him. Now what if that expelled person is a relative?
Where the disfellowshiped individual and the faithful Christian are in the same family, living in the same household, such as a man and wife, other Biblical factors come into play. If the wife of a Christian man were disfellowshiped for lying, he still would be married to her; the Bible says that they are joined together as one flesh. (Eph. 5:31) In that case he would still have to care for her as his wife and a member of his household. This would involve talking with her about the daily matters of their life Yet, out of respect for the disfellowshiping decree, which severed their connection as spiritual brother and sister, he definitely would not conduct a Bible study with her or have fellowship on spiritual matters. (For more details, see The Watchtower of July 15, 1963, pages 444-446.)
But the primary question under consideration has to do with a relative outside the immediate family, one who does not live in the same household. Would any contact be possible?
Again, the disfellowshiping does not dissolve the flesh-and-blood ties, but, in this situation, contact, if it were necessary at all, would be much more rare than between persons living in the same home. Yet, there might be some absolutely necessary family matters requiring communication, such as legalities over a will or property. But the disfellowshiped relative should be made to appreciate that his status has changed, that he is no longer welcome in the home nor is he a preferred companion.
This course is both Scriptural and reasonable. As we have seen, God advises Christians to “quit mixing in company” with such a person, “not even eating” with him. He also instructs Christians ‘never to receive him into their homes or say a greeting to him.’ If normal social communion between relatives were maintained with this disfellowshiped one, a thing that is not necessary since he lives outside the home, would the Christian be obeying God? In a small congregation with a number of interrelated families, if everyone acted toward the expelled one the same as before the disfellowshiping occurred—going shopping together, having picnics together, minding each other’s children—that one would hardly feel that all his faithful Christian relatives literally hated the evil he practiced. (Ps. 97:10) Nor would outsiders be able to detect any change even though they might know of the unchristian course of the sinner.
We must keep in clear focus the fact that the disfellowshiped one’s not being able to enjoy the companionship of his Christian relatives is not their fault, as if they were treating him shoddily. They are acting according to principles, high principles, God’s principles. The disfellowshiped one himself is responsible for his situation; he has brought it upon himself. Let the burden rest where it belongs!
If the expelled sinner wants to be restored to sweet fellowship with Jehovah as well as faithful Christians, that is possible. Isaiah wrote: “Let the wicked man leave his way, and the harmful man his thoughts; and let him return to Jehovah, who will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for he will forgive in a large way.” (Isa. 55:7) A disfellowshiped person who is repentant can be forgiven and reinstated into the congregation.—2 Cor. 2:6-8.
But until that happens, faithful Christians have an obligation to uphold the disfellowshiping action by avoiding association with the disfellowshiped individual. If that one is a relative living outside the home, they will try to have no fellowship with him at all. And if some unavoidable and absolutely necessary family matter comes up, they will keep contact with that one to a bare minimum, definitely not having any interchange of thoughts on spiritual matters. In that way they prove their loyalty to God, his Word and his congregation.