Maintaining a Balanced Viewpoint Toward Disfellowshiped Ones
1, 2. (a) Why does a Christian congregation rightly take action toward those exercising an immoral influence among them, and who bear a special responsibility in this regard? (b) What parallel dangers exist in handling such mattters?
A LITTLE leaven can ferment a whole lump of dough. So too can immoral influence infiltrate and corrupt a whole congregation. Rightly, any congregation should want to protect itself against such influence, and the elders of the congregation especially should be concerned with doing this.—1 Cor. 5:6; Acts 20:28-30.
2 There is real danger in being lax in this matter, as the congregation in Corinth was lax toward a wrongdoer in their midst, failing to take action to clear out such ‘leavening’ influence. But there is a parallel danger. What? That of going too far in the other direction, going from laxity to rigidity and hardness.
3, 4. What is the meaning of Paul’s words at 2 Corinthians 2:11?
3 We may note the warning given by the apostle Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians, evidently (according to the context) in connection with the sinner described in his first letter whom it had been necessary to ‘remove from among them.’ (1 Cor. 5:1-5, 13) In that case this wrongdoer apparently had repented. After speaking of the congregation’s forgiving this one for the sadness he had caused them congregationally, Paul went on to say, “that we may not be overreached by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his designs.” (2 Cor. 2:5-11) What did the apostle mean by this?
4 Satan’s “designs” are to devour any of God’s servants that he can, and he goes about “like a roaring lion” to accomplish that aim. (1 Pet. 5:8) The man who had been disfellowshiped in Corinth had been ‘handed over’ to Satan in the sense that he had been put out of the congregation and thus was thrust out into the world under Satan’s domain. (1 Cor. 5:5; Acts 26:18; 1 John 5:19) Like a “little leaven” in the “whole lump” of dough, this man had been “the flesh” or fleshly element inside the congregation; and by removing this incestuous man the spiritually minded congregation had destroyed the “flesh” from the midst of it. Now Satan’s design or aim would be to hold on to such prey until succeeding in completely swallowing up the man, destroying him spiritually. If the congregation, though in all good conscience, were to be overly cautious and reluctant about receiving the now truly repentant wrongdoer back, delaying unnecessarily his reinstatement, this would suit the Adversary’s purpose. (Compare 2 Corinthians 2:7.) So, other translations of 2 Corinthians 2:11 read: “For Satan must not be allowed to get the better of us; we know his wiles all too well.” (New English Bible) “And so we will not be outwitted by Satan—we know well enough what his intentions are [what he is after, Goodspeed].”—Jerusalem Bible.
5, 6. (a) As regards persons who have been disfellowshiped, what wrong attitude do Christian elders and congregation members need to avoid? (b) Illustrate this.
5 Congregational elders, as well as individual members of a congregation, therefore, ought to guard against developing an attitude approaching that which some Jewish rabbinical writers fomented toward Gentiles in viewing them as virtual enemies. It is right to hate the wrong committed by the disfellowshiped one, but it is not right to hate the person nor is it right to treat such ones in an inhumane way. As noted earlier, some rabbinical writings held that, even if in peril of death, no assistance should be extended to Gentiles. Suppose, then, a member of a Christian congregation boating on a lake were to see another boat containing a disfellowshiped person capsize, throwing the disfellowshiped one into the water where he struggled to stay afloat. Could the Christian ignore that one’s peril, row away and feel free from guilt before God—inasmuch as the one in danger of drowning was disfellowshiped, viewed as “a man of the nations”? Certainly not. That would be cruel and inhumane. We cannot imagine Christ Jesus doing so; nor would any other Jew of the first century who had a balanced viewpoint have reacted that way toward a Gentile or a tax collector in such a plight.
6 But consider a less extreme situation. What if a woman who had been disfellowshiped were to attend a congregational meeting and upon leaving the hall found that her car, parked nearby, had developed a flat tire? Should the male members of the congregation, seeing her plight, refuse to aid her, perhaps leaving it up to some worldly person to come along and do so? This too would be needlessly unkind and inhumane. Yet situations just like this have developed, perhaps in all good conscience, yet due to a lack of balance in viewpoint.
7. What can we learn from Jehovah God’s own example in this regard?
7 If we imitate our heavenly Father we will remember that he even showed certain considerateness toward the first human pair after their disfellowshiping in Eden, providing them with clothing. (Gen. 3:21) This was an undeserved kindness toward them. As Jesus reminded his disciples, Jehovah God “makes his sun rise upon wicked people and good and makes it rain upon righteous people and unrighteous.” (Matt. 5:45) The apostle Paul showed that, despite the independent course the Gentile nations took contrary to God’s way, Jehovah “did not leave himself without witness in that he did good, giving [them] rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling [their] hearts to the full with food and good cheer.” (Acts 14:16, 17) So, not “mixing in company” with a person, or treating such one as “a man of the nations,” does not prevent us from being decent, courteous, considerate and humane.
WHAT SPIRITUAL FELLOWSHIPING INVOLVES
8. (a) What does the Greek expression for “mixing in company with,” used by the apostle Paul at 1 Corinthians 5:9, 11, imply? (b) What does it mean to have “fellowship” with another? (c) Is it having fellowship with wrongdoers if we exhort them to repentance?
8 The Greek expression used by Paul for “mixing in company with” is the verb syn·a·na·miʹgny·mi, meaning “to mix or mingle together.” The basic verb involved (miʹgny·mi) is used at Matthew 27:34 to describe the mixing of wine with gall and at Luke 13:1 to describe Pilate’s mixing blood with sacrifices. So it involves a real merging or blending, a uniting into a combination or compound. For us to ‘mix in company’ with others would imply a fellowship existing among us. The English term “fellowship” has the sense of “comradeship; companionship; friendliness,” there being a “community [or, common and mutual sharing] of interest, sentiment, etc.” (The World Book Dictionary) So, to fellowship with another means accepting the other person as on an equal standing with oneself, being interested in and entertaining his views, sharing these with an open and favorable attitude. To have spiritual fellowship with another would be, in effect, to have a spiritual ‘good time’ together. But when we exhort a person to repentance we are not uniting ourselves with him in an amicable union; we are not sharing with him any improper attitude and sentiment he may have shown but, rather, are dealing with him as a person in need of correction.
9. (a) What would determine whether it would be proper for a congregation elder to speak words of exhortation to a disfellowshiped person with whom he meets up? (b) Why could the elder rightly exhort one who had been disfellowshiped but who was not following the course described at 2 John 7-11?
9 What, then, if a congregation elder were to meet up with a person who had been disfellowshiped, perhaps in the elder’s daily routine, on the street, in his secular work or similar activity? Would the elder be acting out of harmony with the congregation’s disfellowshiping action if he spoke to this one, urging him or her to ‘turn around’ and seek reconciliation again with his heavenly Father? Circumstances would govern. Of course, if the disfellowshiped one were following a course like those false teachers and propagandists described at 2 John 7-11, deliberately trying to influence others into false beliefs or immoral practices, the elder would want nothing to do with such a one. But not all who slip into a sinful way become ‘deceivers and antichrists.’ So, if that one is not of that class, would not Jehovah God’s own example allow for the elder to speak words exhorting the disfellowshiped one to seek to regain a good standing with God? Rather than being out of harmony with the disfellowshiping, by his words of exhortation the elder actually would show his support of such disfellowshiping action as having been right and needed.
10-12. (a) Do all persons who are disfellowshiped continue to manifest the traits or ways that made them like “leaven”? Illustrate. (b) What circumstances therefore need to be given due weight in determining the right attitude toward those disfellowshiped? (c) How does the parable of the prodigal son illustrate this understanding of matters?
10 We may note, too, that at 1 Corinthians 5:11 the apostle warns against mixing in company with one who “is” a fornicator or practicer of some other kind of serious wrongdoing. What, however, of the one who has been disfellowshiped for being that kind of person but who thereafter, either at an early point or at a later point in time, gives consistent evidence of discontinuing such wrong practice, stopping it? Can it be said that he or she still “is” a fornicator or whatever type of wrongdoer such a one was that caused him or her to be as “leaven” toward the congregation?
11 For example, a young person disfellowshiped for fornication may thereafter marry, raise a family and live a respectable life. Or one who was disfellowshiped for drunkenness may abandon such practice and, if drinking at all, may do so in moderation only. By such changes these individuals may now regain the respect of the community. Such ones may not yet have come and formally sought reinstatement by the congregation. Is there, however, not an evident difference between these and others who continue right on in the wrongdoing that brought their disfellowshiping? Those giving up the wrong practice may still manifest some appreciation for Christian truth, perhaps even defending the true Christian congregation when someone speaks evil against it. Should not such circumstances be given due weight and have an effect on our attitude as a congregation toward such ones?
12 Surely if the prodigal son of the parable had returned home in a drunken state, perhaps dragging along one of his harlot companions, the father’s reaction would not have been the same. But the father had reason to believe that the son was approaching with a right motive and, rather than suspect the worst, the father hoped the best and went out to meet his errant son.
13. What evidence of repentance surpasses that of words, as shown by statements of John the Baptist and the apostle Paul? (b) How does this principle then apply in the case of a person who has been disfellowshiped?
13 Today, too, we want to realize that one of the best evidences of repentance is not just in words, formally stated, but in actions. (Compare 1 John 3:18.) Thus, when certain ones came to John the Baptist (who was baptizing persons in symbol of repentance for forgiveness of sins), John did not view their formal action as the most important factor or all that was needed. Rather, he told them to go and “produce fruits that befit repentance,” citing for them examples of such fruit or good works, such as showing merciful generosity, abandoning cheating and extortion, abstaining from harassment or false testimony against others. (Matt. 3:7, 8; Luke 3:7-14) The apostle Paul similarly exhorted people to “repent and turn to God by doing works that befit repentance.” (Acts 26:20) Thus, when a person who was disfellowshiped ceases the wrong practice that caused the congregation to remove him as “leaven,” this change may be viewed as at least some indication that he is ‘turning around’ and repenting of his previous course.—Acts 3:19.
14. In what other way may one who was disfellowshiped manifest ‘fruit befitting repentance,’ and under what circumstances might an elder feel it good to approach such a one?
14 The one who was disfellowshiped may also give some evidence of ‘fruit befitting repentance’ by coming to Christian meetings that are open to the public. Again, if he or she comes there to argue in favor of or justify a wrong course and to try to win others over to an unscriptural viewpoint, such a one fits the description at 2 John 7-11. But where there is no attempt to do this, it would not be out of harmony with Scriptural counsel for an elder to approach such a one (perhaps on noting his or her presence at meetings a number of times) and to speak words of exhortation with a view to effecting a spiritual healing and full restoration as an approved member of the congregation.—Jas. 5:19, 20.
15. What one who has been disfellowshiped is seriously handicapped as to carrying out his or her desire to attend meetings, what might properly by done?
15 In some cases the one who was disfellowshiped may have a real handicap in getting to such Christian meetings, though having the desire to do so. The meeting place may be a considerable distance away and may not be served by public transportation. Or other personal or perhaps physical circumstances may prove a severe obstacle to attending meetings. In one case, a woman who had been disfellowshiped spent eight dollars in taxi fare to get to one meeting. She informed the elders that she wanted to attend but was financially unable to continue coming at such expense. She even demonstrated the genuineness of her desire one Sunday by walking the entire distance. If members of the congregation were to see such a one walking such a long distance to the meeting place and had space in their automobile to accommodate her, would it not be the humane thing to assist her?
16. Why is caution necessary in such arrangements, and therefore whose counsel should wisely be sought?
16 Of course, where there is no evidence of “fruits that befit repentance” and the individual is still known to be carrying on in an immoral course, this would alter matters, inasmuch as the providing of transportation or similar regular aid to such a one could prove a cause of reproach to the congregation with the community. For that reason, where congregation members know of someone who has been disfellowshiped and who apparently needs and desires assistance to be able to attend meetings, they would do well to seek the counsel of the congregation elders before arranging for such themselves.—1 Pet. 2:12; 3:16.
WITHIN THE FAMILY CIRCLE
17. What Scriptural obligations and relationships remain in effect within the family circle despite disfellowshiping actions?
17 Since blood and marital relationships are not dissolved by a congregational disfellowshiping action, the situation within the family circle requires special consideration. A woman whose husband is disfellowshiped is not released from the Scriptural requirement to respect his husbandly headship over her; only death or Scriptural divorce from a husband results in such release. (Rom. 7:1-3; Mark 10:11, 12) A husband likewise is not released from loving his wife as “one flesh” with him even though she should be disfellowshiped. (Matt. 19:5, 6; Eph. 5:28-31) Parents similarly remain under the injunction to ‘go on bringing up their children in the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah’ even though a baptized son or a daughter yet a minor is disfellowshiped. (Eph. 6:4) And sons and daughters, of whatever age, remain under the obligation to ‘honor their father and mother’ although one or both of these may be disfellowshiped. (Matt. 15:4; Eph. 6:2) This is not difficult to understand when we consider that, according to the Scriptures, even political officials of this world are to be shown due honor by Christians.—Rom. 13:1, 7.
18. How can parents carry out their obligation to bring up their children in the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah and still respect the disfellowshiping action of the congregation?
18 Family members can carry out these Scriptural obligations and yet not show themselves out of harmony with a congregational action disfellowshiping one of the family circle. This they do by not spiritually fellowshiping with such a one. But how, then, can parents carry out the injunction to discipline their children in harmony with God’s Word when one of their children is disfellowshiped? They can still use God’s Word or other publications that discuss the Bible in training the son or daughter, but they use these in a corrective manner, not as though having a spiritual ‘good time’ with such a one in the way they could with the other children. How this is handled is for the parents to decide. This does not call for unkindness, but they do not accord such disfellowshiped son or daughter the same approved spiritual relationship granted the others. The disfellowshiped son or daughter should be encouraged to attend the family study of the Bible in order to receive the “mental-regulating of Jehovah.”
19. How can a married Christian contribute to the restoration of his or her disfellowshiped marriage partner without being out of harmony with the congregation’s disfellowshiping action?
19 Similarly, when one’s mate is disfellowshiped, the other mate, as “one flesh” with such a one, may rightly do what he or she can to lead such a one to repentance and restoration in the congregation. The refraining from spiritual fellowship would not rule out use of the Bible or publications explaining the Bible, for, as we have seen, fellowshiping implies a mutuality of sentiment and viewpoint, a comradely equality. If the mate in good standing uses God’s Word or publications based on it as a purely restorative and corrective means, this would not constitute such fellowship. Thus a husband who was planning to do some reading of Scriptural material might encourage a disfellowshiped wife to listen to his reading thereof. Or a wife whose husband was disfellowshiped might ask him if he would be willing to listen while she did such reading. Of course, discussion may result from such reading. If so, the refraining from fellowship in a spiritual way is maintained by seeing to it that there is no sharing of any wrong sentiment or attitude manifested by the disfellowshiped one nor any willingness to accept any condoning of the wrong action that led to his or her being disfellowshiped. (See the book Organization for Kingdom-preaching and Disciple-making, page 173.)
20. (a) Would permitting a disfellowshiped minor son or daughter to return home necessarily require the father’s removal from a position of congregational responsibility? What is involved? (b) What would call into question the advisability of his continuing on in such a position of responsibility?
20 In some cases a minor son or daughter may be disfellowshiped for some immoral course and may leave home. Later, such a one may reconsider and ask for permission to return home. Whether this will be allowed is for the parents, particularly the father, to decide. Where the son or daughter expresses willingness to respect parental headship, the father may decide to allow such return and use it as a means for attaining the possible rehabilitation of the son or daughter. If the father is an elder or ministerial servant, this would not necessarily require his being removed from such position as long as he still maintains the respect of the congregation. Of course, if the son or daughter wanted to return and still continue in the immoral practice that led to the disfellowshiping, the father would hardly be looking well to the spiritual interests of his family if he allowed such a source of spiritual contamination to come back into the family circle. This would properly place in doubt his qualifications for any position of responsibility in the congregation.—1 Tim. 3:4, 5, 12.
21. Who rightly must determine the extent of association had with disfellowshiped relatives living outside the home? When only would the congregation elders become involved?
21 As to disfellowshiped family members (not minor sons or daughters) living outside the home, each family must decide to what extent they will have association with such ones. This is not something that the congregational elders can decide for them. What the elders are concerned with is that “leaven” is not reintroduced into the congregation through spiritual fellowshiping with those who had to be removed as such “leaven.” Thus, if a disfellowshiped parent goes to visit a son or daughter or to see grandchildren and is allowed to enter the Christian home, this is not the concern of the elders. Such a one has a natural right to visit his blood relatives and his offspring. Similarly, when sons or daughters render honor to a parent, though disfellowshiped, by calling to see how such a one’s physical health is or what needs he or she may have, this act in itself is not a spiritual fellowshiping.
22. In addition to minor sons or daughters, why might other disfellowshiped family members possibly be accepted into a Christian home as residents, and with whom does this decision rest?
22 In some cases where a disfellowshiped parent is aged or in bad health and needs care, the son or daughter might feel it advisable to bring such a parent into the home to fulfill proper filial obligations. So, too, Christian parents of a disfellowshiped son or daughter who is no longer a minor might decide to take such a one back into the home due to that one’s having a grave health problem or having been incapacitated in an accident or being in a destitute state financially. These are humanitarian decisions that Christian families must make and the congregational elders are not required to intervene where there is no sound evidence of a reintroduction of a corrupting influence within the congregation.
23. Under what circumstances would even family members rightly not be granted entrance to visit a Christian home?
23 Even where relatives are involved, however, when a disfellowshiped one uses his or her family ties as a means to carry on activity like that described at 2 John 7-11, his Christian relatives properly deny such a one entrance to their homes, informing the disfellowshiped one instead that he or she is not welcome since the visit is for the purpose of advancing wrong beliefs or conduct.—Jude 3, 4; compare Deuteronomy 13:6-8.
24. Where fleshly relationships are not involved, to whom should congregation members wisely look to take the lead in any restoring of disfellowshiped ones?
24 Where fleshly relationships are not involved, congregation members will do well to appreciate the advisability of letting the elders, as shepherds of the flock, bear the prime responsibility for exhorting or working toward the rehabilitation of disfellowshiped ones who, though in a sense still ‘quite a way off’ like the returning prodigal son, nevertheless, give evidence of desiring to take a right course. In some cases the elders may feel that certain ones could aid in the rehabilitation of a disfellowshiped one, perhaps owing to their having been instrumental in originally aiding that one to come to a knowledge of Bible truth.
BENEFITS OF A BALANCED VIEWPOINT
25. (a) What will enable us to maintain a balanced viewpoint toward disfellowshiped ones? (b) How is it that one ‘is handed over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, in order that the spirit might be saved,’ as stated at 1 Corinthians 5:5?
25 Holding to the Scriptures, neither minimizing what they say nor reading into them something they do not say, will enable us to keep a balanced view toward disfellowshiped ones. We will ever keep in mind the reason for disfellowshiping, to keep the congregation pure and approved by God, free from corrupting influence. Such “leaven” would cause the whole “lump,” the congregation, to ‘ferment’ spiritually. So the congregation in effect “destroys” this sinful fleshly influence from its midst by putting the unrepentant wrongdoer outside in the world dominated by Satan, doing so in order that the “spirit,” the dominant outlook, feeling and motivation, of the congregation may be preserved, saved.—1 Cor. 5:5.
26. (a) What will a balanced viewpoint enable congregation members to reflect, and how can this have a very beneficial and heartening effect on persons desirous of being accepted back into the congregation? (b) What may elders now feel it advisable to do in the case of certain disfellowshiped persons living in the area served by the congregation?
26 At the same time a balanced viewpoint will keep us reflecting harmoniously the divine qualities of our heavenly Father, who is both righteous and merciful. Those who may have been disfellowshiped and whose hearts sincerely move them to want to return will therefore feel no reason to be hesitant or doubtful as to the way their efforts to return will be received. They will not fear being rebuffed in coldness or indifference. They will realize that their situation is not hopeless and that the congregation elders will helpfully show them what they need to do to regain an approved standing in the congregation of God’s people and to enjoy fully all its benefits. Where elders have real reason to believe that some disfellowshiped ones in the area served by the congregation are in ignorance of such provisions, they may feel it advisable to communicate this information to them.
27. (a) What is essential for one to be restored to an approved standing in the congregation? (b) Why should those desirous of restoration be moved to manifest this quality and take the needed steps, to the rejoicing of all of God’s family in heaven and on earth?
27 True, to regain an approved standing in the congregation will require a genuine manifestation of humility on the part of the one who was disfellowshiped. (Isa. 57:15; Jas. 4:8-10) But life itself is at stake and, with the “acceptable time” of God’s goodwill and tolerance now drawing so short, they certainly will not want to let pride keep them from turning to their heavenly Father and seeking a good standing with him again and full association with his spiritual children or prospective children in their happy family relationship. (2 Cor. 6:1, 2) They will instead be grateful to God that he has made such merciful provisions for forgiveness and restoration and recognize that ‘this kindly quality of God is trying to lead them to repentance.’—Rom. 2:4.