Questions From Readers
● Is it proper to pray for a person who has been disfellowshiped (expelled) from the Christian congregation?—Czechoslovakia.
Scripturally, it does not seem fitting and proper for a faithful Christian to pray for a disfellowshiped person. The Bible names certain detestable things that God hates. These include fornication, idolatry, adultery, homosexuality and stealing. (1 Cor. 6:9, 10; Gal. 5:19-21) Jehovah’s law commands the Christian congregation to expel those who practice such things and who show no heartfelt repentance for their acts. The faithful members of the congregation should have no spiritual association with them.—See The Watchtower, July 1, 1963, pages 409-414, for discussion of the Scriptural basis for disfellowshiping.
Since the judgment of these persons is from God as expressed in his Word, prayer for such ones would be tantamount to asking God to overlook or condone the sins of unrepentant ones or practicers of wrongdoing. These disfellowshiped persons have spurned the mercy God gladly extends on the basis of Christ’s ransom to anyone who repents and turns from a bad course, sincerely asking Jehovah’s forgiveness.—1 John 1:9; 2:1, 2; 3:4-8; Heb. 6:1-8; 10:26-31.
Remember, too, that the Bible holds the appointed “older men” or overseers of the congregation responsible for seeing that its doctrinal and moral purity is maintained, so that God’s displeasure may not come upon the entire congregation. The apostle Paul made this clear when he directed the congregation at Corinth to correct a condition of serious sin that they had neglected.—1 Cor. 5:5-8, 12, 13.
The appointed “older men” in a congregation are to extend mercy if there is evidence of genuine repentance. (Matt. 9:13; Jas. 3:17; 5:11) But they must be equally zealous for justice and for the congregation’s standing before Jehovah. Paul commended the brothers at Corinth for the indignation they expressed on realizing the enormity of the sin and the reproach against God that was being carried on in their midst. He commended their zeal in correcting their former erroneous course of permitting such a bad practice.—2 Cor. 7:8-11.
The apostle John gives us further light on the question of prayer for disfellowshiped persons when he says: “If anyone catches sight of his brother sinning a sin that does not incur death, he will ask, and he will give life to him, yes, to those not sinning so as to incur death. There is a sin that does incur death. It is concerning that sin that I do not tell him to make request.”—1 John 5:16.
How, though, are we as individuals to know whether a person has committed a sin incurring death? John evidently refers to willful, knowing sin, as contrasted with one that does not incur death. Where the evidence indicated such willful, knowing sin, the Christian would not pray for the one so offending. (And such evidence must exist for a disfellowshiping to take place.) It is not a case of a person ‘being overtaken in a fault before he is aware of it’ and hence still meriting our prayers. (Gal. 6:1; Jas. 5:19, 20) God, of course, is the final Judge as to the heart attitude of the sinner, but in cases of disfellowshiping, the Christian does well not to risk having his prayer be in vain or be displeasing to God.
But what if a member of the congregation feels that the committee of “older men” acted harshly or hastily in disfellowshiping the individual? He should keep in mind that it is not his prerogative to make that judgment. The congregation committee, in investigating the case, gathers all the evidence available. Many of the facts, as well as the accused one’s attitude before the committee, may be unknown to others outside the committee. So one would do wrong to judge the committee’s action without all the evidence. (Prov. 18:13) And he would be wrong also because he is not Scripturally appointed to judge the matter. Even Jesus refused to act as judge in a matter over which he had not been appointed to act. (Luke 12:13, 14) If there are mistakes or injustices, Jesus Christ, the congregation’s Head and the Fine Shepherd, will certainly correct any such errors without lasting hurt to any faithful ones.—Col. 1:18; John 10:14; Rev. 3:19.
The disfellowshiped person may be one’s relative or a close friend. It may also be that, since his disfellowshiping, he seems to be giving evidence of repentance. Would it be proper to pray for him? In loyalty to Jehovah and his arrangements the Christian would refrain from praying for him. At the same time, he can draw comfort from Jehovah’s statement: “I take delight, not in the death of the wicked one, but in that someone wicked turns back from his way and actually keeps living.”—Ezek. 33:11.
In harmony with this statement of Jehovah, we can be assured that, if the person is truly repentant, God will raise him up in His due time, and will see that the individual is restored to association with the congregation. Then, when he is reinstated by the congregation, the one who has stuck faithfully and firmly to Jehovah’s law, and has stood by the congregation, will be able to give real, lifesaving assistance to the reinstated one.—2 Cor. 2:5-8.