Questions From Readers
● Would it ever be in order to pray regarding someone who has been disfellowshiped from the Christian congregation?
In the past it has been held that such prayers would not be proper. And there are good Scriptural reasons for restraint. But relevant Bible counsel recommends considering the individual situation rather than taking a categorical position.
Particularly does 1 John 5:16, 17 help us to get God’s view. There it is stated: “If any one sees his brother committing a sin that is not deadly, he must ask and God will give him life for those who are committing sin that is not deadly. There is sin that is deadly. I do not say that he should pray in behalf of that. All unrighteousness is sin, and [yet] there is sin that is not deadly.”—The Riverside New Testament.
The apostle John first mentions “sin that is not deadly,” or, as the New World Translation renders it, “sin that does not incur death.” Since all of us are imperfect and unrighteous, we are all guilty of sin. (Ps. 51:5; Rom. 3:23; 1 John 3:4) One who sins needs to repent and pray for God’s abundant mercy. (1 John 1:8-10) As John shows, others also can pray for him.
Next, John refers to ‘deadly sin,’ or “sin that does incur death.” What is that? It is sin for which one cannot be forgiven; it is “deadly” for it leads to the “second death,” or eternal death. (Rev. 21:8) Earlier, Jesus explained that a person could carry sin to the point of sinning against the holy spirit, for which there is no forgiveness. (Matt. 12:31; Luke 12:10) Similarly, the apostle Paul showed that if one who knew God’s truth practiced sin willfully, repentance and forgiveness would no longer be possible.—Heb. 6:4-6; 10:26, 27.
John tells us not to pray for one who committed such “deadly” sin. This brings to mind God’s words concerning the Israelites who were so given to wickedness that He was going to let the Babylonians take them into captivity. God told Jeremiah: “Do not pray in behalf of this people, neither raise in their behalf an entreating cry or a prayer nor beseech me.”—Jer. 7:16-20; 14:11, 12.
God, not we on earth, determines if someone has sinned against the holy spirit. Yet, we can appreciate from John’s inspired words that we should not pray in behalf of a person who gives evidence of practicing sin deliberately. John also wrote in 2 John 9-11 about persons who spread unchristian views. Prayers in their behalf would be offensive to God.
Should we conclude, then, that a person who is disfellowshiped because of unrepentant sin likely has committed a “sin that does incur death,” about which we should not pray? Not necessarily. Recall that in the first-century Corinthian congregation a man fell into immorality. For a while he was unrepentant and so had to be disfellowshiped. (1 Cor. 5:1, 9-13) It seems, however, that in time he repented and was reinstated. (2 Cor. 2:5-10) That would indicate that, even though he had been disfellowshiped, he had not committed the sin that incurs death, about which Christians are not to pray. The same can be true today.
When a person is disfellowshiped, it may not then be clear whether the sin will ‘incur death’ or not. But in time evidence of repentance and turning around may begin to appear. (Compare Acts 2:36-38; 3:19.) That might first be observed by someone close, such as a husband’s detecting it in his disfellowshiped wife’s attitude and conduct. So he may conclude that it seems she has not committed ‘deadly sin’ and he may be moved to pray for her. He might pray that if Jehovah—who reads hearts—finds a basis for pardoning her error, may God’s will be done. Also, he might express to God his hope that she draw strength from the Bible so as to overcome her weakness.
While someone personally may feel that he can approach God regarding a disfellowshiped person, it would not be fitting to do so in public or congregational prayers. It should be appreciated that others hearing such prayers may not yet know of the evidence indicating repentance. Or they may not yet be convinced that the person has not committed a “sin that does incur death.”
Consequently, in instances where a Christian believes it is proper to pray regarding a disfellowshiped person, he should do so in private prayers only. And all of us can strive to guide our thinking in this connection by the inspired counsel of Jehovah’s Word.