If a Relative Is Disfellowshiped . . .
1, 2. (a) What was God’s purpose as to family religion? (b) Some families faced what decision in Korah’s time?
AFTER Adam had been alone for some time, God said: “It is not good for the man to continue by himself.” Then He created Eve and instituted human marriage. (Gen. 2:18, 21, 22) Thereafter, earth’s population was to grow. So each person would come to have many relatives. Even if some family members, such as children, did not live nearby they could be visited and pleasant times shared.—Gen. 1:28; Job 1:1-5.
2 God had purposed that families should be united in true worship, so religious beliefs would not create any divisions. But incidents occurred in which religion became a family issue. One of these was when Korah, Dathan and Abiram rebelled. Jehovah confirmed that he was dealing through Moses and Aaron, not through these religious rebels. Then Moses told the people to get away from the rebels’ tents. What would the children and households of Korah, Dathan and Abiram do? Would they put loyalty to family ahead of loyalty to Jehovah and his congregation? Most of those closely related to the rebels put family before God. Jehovah executed these relatives along with the rebels.—Num. 16:16-33.
3. Some of Korah’s family made what wise choice?
3 However, some of Korah’s sons remained loyal to God and His people. They were not executed along with the rest of Korah’s household and the families of Dathan and Abiram. (Num. 26:9-11) In fact, descendants of these surviving Korahites were later blessed with special service at the temple and mentioned with honor in the Bible.—2 Chron. 20:14-19; Ps. 42, 44-49, 84, 85, 87.
4. In what other way might family loyalty pose a test in Israel?
4 A similar decision between loyalty to family and loyalty to God was faced when an Israelite became an apostate. Would his family, moved by human emotion or blood ties, try to shield him from being cut off? Or would even his brother, son or daughter realize that loyalty to God and the congregation was the right and wise course? (See Deuteronomy 13:6-11.) In the Christian arrangement today a sinner is not cut off by execution, but Christians may face tests because of a relative’s being disciplined.
RELATIVES MAY CAUSE PROBLEMS
5, 6. (a) How might family division develop over religion? (b) Why must Christians not compromise in this situation? (Ps. 109: 2-5)
5 Family connections and affection can be very strong. This is natural and is in accord with God’s arrangement. (John 16:21) But these strong ties can also bring a difficult test on Christians. Jesus explained that one effect of a person’s becoming a Christian would be that relatives might oppose. Jesus said: “I came to put, not peace, but a sword. For I came to cause division, with a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a young wife against her mother-in-law. Indeed, a man’s enemies will be persons of his own household. He that has greater affection for father or mother than for me is not worthy of me.”—Matt. 10:34-38.
6 Christians do not want such enmity to exist. And there is no reason why relatives should oppose or hate them for having become clean, moral, honest servants of God. Yet true Christians realize that they cannot put family before God. In the long run, what is in everyone’s best interest is for Christians to continue faithful to God. In time they may be able to influence their relatives to walk on the way leading to salvation.—Rom. 9:1-3; 1 Cor. 7:12-16.
7, 8. Who is at fault over family problems that disfellowshiping may cause? (Deut 32:4)
7 Relatives may also cause problems for true Christians in another way. This may develop when a relative is disfellowshiped. As discussed in the preceding articles, if a person in the congregation unrepentantly practices gross sin, God requires that he be disfellowshiped. (1 Cor. 5:11-13) The conduct of the wrongdoer has changed his relationship with Jehovah and therefore with family members who are Jehovah’s Witnesses. God is not to blame for these results, because his standards are righteous and just. (Job 34:10, 12) Nor does the fault rest with the faithful Christian relatives. It is the disfellowshiped person who has made problems for himself and for his relatives, as did Korah, Dathan and Abiram.
8 We need to examine two distinct situations. The first is where a Christian lives in the same household with a disfellowshiped or disassociated family member. The second is where such a relative is not in the immediate family circle.
IN THE IMMEDIATE FAMILY CIRCLE
9. What is the situation as to family obligations if a person’s mate is not a Christian or is disfellowshiped?
9 A person might become a Christian without others in that one’s family circle accepting the faith. For instance, a wife might be serving Jehovah, but her husband not. Despite that, she is still “one flesh” with her husband and is obliged to love and respect him. (Gen. 2:24; 1 Pet. 3:1-6) Or she might be married to a man who was a dedicated Christian but was later expelled from the congregation. Yet that would not end their marital ties; only death or a Scriptural divorce would do that.—1 Cor. 7:39; Matt. 19:9.
10, 11. How does disfellowshiping affect spiritual ties in the home?
10 Similarly, if a relative, such as a parent, son or daughter, is disfellowshiped or has disassociated himself, blood and family ties remain. Does that mean, then, that in the family circle everything remains the same when one member is disfellowshiped? Definitely not.
11 A disfellowshiped person has been spiritually cut off from the congregation; the former spiritual ties have been completely severed. This is true even with respect to his relatives, including those within his immediate family circle. Thus, family members—while acknowledging family ties—will no longer have any spiritual fellowship with him.—1 Sam. 28:6; Prov. 15:8, 9.
12. With regard to spiritual communion, what changes might occur when a family member is disfellowshiped?
12 That will mean changes in the spiritual fellowship that may have existed in the home. For example, if the husband is disfellowshiped, his wife and children will not be comfortable with him conducting a family Bible study or leading in Bible reading and prayer. If he wants to say a prayer, such as at mealtime, he has a right to do so in his own home. But they can silently offer their own prayers to God. (Prov. 28:9; Ps. 119:145, 146) What if a disfellowshiped person in the home wants to be present when the family reads the Bible together or has a Bible study? The others might let him be present to listen if he will not try to teach them or share his religious ideas.
13. How would parents deal with a disfellowshiped child in the home?
13 If a minor child is disfellowshiped, the parents will still care for his physical needs and provide moral training and discipline. They would not conduct a Bible study directly with the child, with him participating. Yet this does not mean that he would not be required to sit in on the family study. And they might direct attention to parts of the Bible or Christian publications that contain counsel he needs. (Prov. 1:8-19; 6:20-22; 29:17; Eph. 6:4) They can have him accompany them to and sit with them at Christian meetings, hoping that he will take to heart Biblical counsel.
14, 15. What should be done about a disfellowshiped parent’s moving back into the home?
14 But what if a close relative, such as a son or a parent who does not live in the home, is disfellowshiped and subsequently wants to move back there? The family could decide what to do depending on the situation.*
15 For example, a disfellowshiped parent may be sick or no longer able to care for himself financially or physically. The Christian children have a Scriptural and moral obligation to assist. (1 Tim. 5:8) Perhaps it seems necessary to bring the parent into the home, temporarily or permanently. Or it may appear advisable to arrange for care where there is medical personnel but where the parent would have to be visited. What is done may depend on factors such as the parent’s true needs, his attitude and the regard the head of the household has for the spiritual welfare of the household.
16, 17. (a) How might parents react to the possibility of a disfellowshiped child’s moving back home? (b) What can we learn on this from the parable of the prodigal son?
16 This could be true also with regard to a child who had left home but is now disfellowshiped or disassociated. Sometimes Christian parents have accepted back into the home for a time a disfellowshiped child who has become physically or emotionally ill. But in each case the parents can weigh the individual circumstances. Has a disfellowshiped son lived on his own, and is he now unable to do so? Or does he want to move back primarily because it would be an easier life? What about his morals and attitude? Will he bring “leaven” into the home?—Gal. 5:9.
17 In Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, the father ran to meet and then accepted his returning son. The father, seeing the lad’s pitiful condition, responded with natural parental concern. We can note, though, that the son did not bring home harlots or come with a disposition to continue his sinful life in his father’s home. No, he expressed heartfelt repentance and evidently was determined to return to living a clean life.—Luke 15:11-32.
DISFELLOWSHIPED RELATIVES NOT LIVING AT HOME
18, 19. (a) How should Christians view association with disfellowshiped relatives who are outside the immediate family? (b) Why is this position appropriate? (2 Tim. 2:19)
18 The second situation that we need to consider is that involving a disfellowshiped or disassociated relative who is not in the immediate family circle or living at one’s home. Such a person is still related by blood or marriage, and so there may be some limited need to care for necessary family matters. Nonetheless, it is not as if he were living in the same home where contact and conversation could not be avoided. We should keep clearly in mind the Bible’s inspired direction: “Quit mixing in company with anyone called a brother that is a fornicator or a greedy person . . . , not even eating with such a man.”—1 Cor. 5:11.
19 Consequently, Christians related to such a disfellowshiped person living outside the home should strive to avoid needless association, even keeping business dealings to a minimum. The reasonableness of this course becomes apparent from reports of what has occurred where relatives have taken the mistaken view, ‘Though he is disfellowshiped, we are related and so can treat him the same as before.’ From one area comes this:
“One person who was disfellowshiped was related to about one third of the congregation. All of his relations continued to associate with him.”
And a highly respected Christian elder writes:
“In our area some disfellowshiped ones with large families have been met, as they enter the lobby of the Kingdom Hall, with a fanfare of backslapping and handshaking (even though the disfellowshiped one was known by them to be still living immorally). I feel a deep concern that those who have been disfellowshiped need to see that their course is hated by Jehovah and by his people and that they should feel a real need to become genuinely repentant. What will help these disfellowshiped ones to change when they are continually greeted by all in their large families who know of their practices?”
20, 21. When it comes to disfellowshiped relatives, why do we need to be careful? (2 Tim. 2:22)
20 There must have been congregations in the first century where many were related. But when someone was disfellowshiped, were all the relatives to carry on as normal as long as they did not discuss Scriptural matters with the disfellowshiped person? No. Otherwise the congregation would not really be applying the command: “Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.”—1 Cor. 5:13.
21 Great care needs to be exercised that a person’s situation as a disfellowshiped sinner is neither overlooked nor minimized. As the sons of Korah well demonstrated, our chief loyalty must be to Jehovah and his theocratic arrangement. We can be sure that when we uphold his standards and prefer association with his organized people, rather than with wrongdoers, we will have his protection and blessing.—Ps. 84:10-12.
SOCIAL GATHERINGS AND DISFELLOWSHIPED RELATIVES
22. Why may family gatherings pose special problems as to disfellowshiped relatives?
22 Normally, relatives are often together at meals, picnics, family reunions or other social gatherings. But when someone has unrepentantly pursued sin and has had to be disfellowshiped, he may cause difficulties for his Christian relatives in regard to such gatherings. While they realize that they are still related to him, they do not want to ignore Paul’s advice that faithful Christians should “quit mixing in company” with an expelled sinner.
23. What would be the situation with a disfellowshiped relative and a Christian wedding?
23 There is no point in looking for some rule as to family members being at gatherings where a disfellowshiped relative might be present. This would be something for those concerned to resolve, in keeping with Paul’s counsel. (1 Cor. 5:11) And yet it should be appreciated that if a disfellowshiped person is going to be at a gathering to which nonrelative Witnesses are invited, that may well affect what others do. For example, a Christian couple might be getting married at a Kingdom Hall. If a disfellowshiped relative comes to the Kingdom Hall for the wedding, obviously he could not be in the bridal party there or “give away” the bride. What, though, if there is a wedding feast or reception? This can be a happy social occasion, as it was in Cana when Jesus attended. (John 2:1, 2) But will the disfellowshiped relative be allowed to come or even be invited? If he was going to attend, many Christians, relatives or not, might conclude that they should not be there, to eat and associate with him, in view of Paul’s directions at 1 Corinthians 5:11.
24. Loyal Christians can most enjoy what association? (Prov. 18:24)
24 Thus, sometimes Christians may not feel able to have a disfellowshiped or disassociated relative present for a gathering that normally would include family members. Still, the Christians can enjoy the association of the loyal members of the congregation, having in mind Jesus’ words: “Whoever does the will of God, this one is my brother and sister and mother.”—Mark 3:35.
25, 26. If a disfellowshiped relative dies, what would be the situation as to a funeral?
25 The fact is that when a Christian gives himself over to sin and has to be disfellowshiped, he forfeits much: his approved standing with God; membership in the happy congregation of Christians; sweet fellowship with the brothers, including much of the association he had with Christian relatives. (1 Pet. 2:17) The pain he has caused may even survive him.
26 Should he die while disfellowshiped, arrangements for his funeral may be a problem. His Christian relatives may like to have had a talk at the Kingdom Hall, if that is the local custom. But that would not be fitting for a person expelled from the congregation. If he had been giving evidence of repentance and wanting God’s forgiveness, such as by ceasing to practice sin and by attending Christian meetings, some brother’s conscience might allow him to give a Bible talk at the funeral home or grave site. Such Biblical comments about the condition of the dead provide a witness to unbelievers or comfort to the relatives. However, if the disfellowshiped person had still been advocating false teachings or ungodly conduct, even such a talk would not be appropriate.—2 John 9-11.
LESSONS FOR ALL OF US
27. How should we view God’s judgments?
27 All of us need to appreciate that it is Jehovah’s judgment that counts. (Prov. 29:26) That is true as to hateful practices, for the Bible shows that these are things that God detests. (Prov. 6:16-19) But it is also true as to his judgment of individuals. Jehovah’s Word plainly says that “unrighteous persons,” those carrying on the “works of the flesh,” will not inherit his kingdom. (1 Cor. 6:9, 10; Gal. 5:19-21) Such persons have no place in heaven, nor will they fit in the earthly realm of the Kingdom. Accordingly, anyone who wants to remain in the clean congregation of God today must meet His standards. God simply will not permit “leaven” to remain as a corrupting influence among his holy people.—1 Cor. 5:6-13.
28. How may the matter of disfellowshiping put our loyalty to the test?
28 Naturally, if a close relative is disfellowshiped, human emotions can pose a major test for us. Sentiment and family ties are particularly strong between parents and their children, and they are also powerful when a marriage mate is disfellowshiped. Still, we must recognize that, in the final analysis, we will not benefit anyone or please God if we allow emotion to lead us into ignoring His wise counsel and guidance. We need to display our complete confidence in the perfect righteousness of God’s ways, including his provision to disfellowship unrepentant wrongdoers. If we remain loyal to God and to the congregation, the wrongdoer may in time take a lesson from that, repent and be reinstated in the congregation. Yet, whether that occurs or not, we can draw comfort and strength from what David said late in life:
“All [God’s] judicial decisions are in front of me; . . . And let Jehovah repay me according to my righteousness, according to my cleanness in front of his eyes. With someone loyal you will act in loyalty; with the faultless, mighty one you will deal faultlessly; with the one keeping clean you will show yourself clean . . . And the humble people you will save.”—2 Sam. 22:23-28.
Comments on the situation of elders and ministerial servants are presented in “Questions from Readers” in The Watchtower of February 1, 1978.
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A disfellowshiped parent may need to be cared for in the home of Christian children
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The prodigal son did not return home to continue his sinful living, but was repentant. His father accepted him back