Questions From Readers
■ How can we assist those in our congregation who have a disfellowshipped relative?
It is fine when elders and others give warm and loving consideration to Christians who are in this situation, for by showing kindness and understanding they can help to counteract the emotional and spiritual strain the situation may produce. Yet Christians having a disfellowshipped relative, and those who want to help, need to have a clear and proper view of disfellowshipping.
God’s Word directs the congregation to expel those who unrepentantly practice sin. (1 Corinthians 5:11-13) This protects the congregation in general from contamination and upholds its good name. But on a personal basis loyal Christians in the family, and others wanting to help them, need protection too. We can appreciate why by considering what a person’s being disfellowshipped reveals about his heart condition. Note the following two situations in connection with disfellowshipping:
First, when a person has committed a serious sin for which he might lose God’s favor and be disfellowshipped, a committee of spiritual elders meets with him. He may already have realized the wrongness of his course, repented in his heart and begun to produce “works that befit repentance.” (Acts 26:20) When that is so, the elders will reprove him with God’s Word, will offer Biblical advice on ‘making straight paths for his feet’ and will pray with him and for him. Since he is repentant, he need not be expelled or viewed as disfellowshipped by his family or others.—1 Timothy 5:20; Hebrews 12:13; James 5:14-16.*
Second, it may be that when the committee meets with the sinner, he has not yet repented. During the meeting the elders may be able to touch his heart, bringing home to him the gravity of his sin. (Compare 2 Samuel 12:1-13.) Of course, since he has not up till then produced any ‘fruit that befits repentance,’ the elders should exercise real caution to make sure that he is not merely sorry or ashamed over being found out. (Luke 3:8) Being concerned about the congregation, they should be absolutely convinced that he is now truly repentant and ready to “turn to God by doing works that befit repentance.” (Acts 26:20) If they are convinced that he is repentant, he may remain in the congregation and be helped by the elders, his family and others.
What is the point of mentioning these two aspects? It is to illustrate that if someone is disfellowshipped, he must at the time have had a truly bad heart and/or been determined to pursue a God-dishonoring course. Peter said that the condition of such a person is worse than before he became a Christian; he is like ‘a sow that was bathed but has gone back to rolling in the mire.’ (2 Peter 2:20-22) This should help Christian relatives and others to have God’s view of a disfellowshipped person.
But human emotions and attachments can have a powerful effect, making it difficult for people to act in accord with the disfellowshipping decree if a relative is involved. (Compare Numbers 16:16-33.) For example, a faithful Christian wife realizes that her husband’s being disfellowshipped means that the spiritual ties that formerly existed have been severed. He has, by his conduct and its results, broken a spiritual bond between himself and true Christians. His wife will continue to show love and respect for him as husband and family head, even as do wives whose husbands never were believers. (1 Peter 3:1, 2) But it will not be possible to have spiritual fellowship with him, sharing in Bible discussions and prayer with him as she once did. (Proverbs 28:9) She certainly will feel this loss.
Another sort of loss may be felt by loyal Christian grandparents whose children have been disfellowshipped. They may have been accustomed to visiting regularly with their children, giving them occasion to enjoy their grandchildren. Now the parents are disfellowshipped because of rejecting Jehovah’s standards and ways. So things are not the same in the family. Of course, the grandparents have to determine if some necessary family matters require limited contact with the disfellowshipped children. And they might sometimes have the grandchildren visit them. How sad, though, that by their unchristian course the children interfere with the normal pleasure that such grandparents enjoyed!
These examples show why fellow Christians should be alert to the special need that may exist when someone in the congregation has had a close relative disfellowshipped. The apostle Paul urged Christians to “speak consolingly to the depressed souls,” which might well describe the loyal Christian family member. (1 Thessalonians 5:14) Nor should we limit our comforting, encouraging words to a single expression when the disfellowshipping occurs. The need for upbuilding may extend for a long while. In a sense, it may grow as the faithful one is for a long period of time deprived of spiritual fellowshipping with the family member. Of course, it is not necessary for us to keep mentioning disfellowshipping in conversation. We just need to go out of our way to be warm, genuinely interested and, above all, spiritual.—Proverbs 15:23; Ecclesiastes 12:10.
Much good can also be accomplished by providing Christian association. Sometimes a Christian whose mate has been disfellowshipped feels isolated. As mentioned above, the expelled mate has proved that he is not the sort of person that we want to be around. And we need to be careful not to get involved in fellowshipping with him just because we want to visit or help the Christian mate. So maybe a visit can be made when the disfellowshipped one is known to be out of the house.
We need to help our brothers and sisters who have disfellowshipped relatives to see the truthfulness of the inspired words: “There exists a friend sticking closer than a [fleshly] brother,” or other fleshly relative. (Proverbs 18:24) We may not be able to undo all the hurt or make up for all the loss that the disfellowshipped person has caused his Christian relatives. Yet, by being aware of the special needs such Christians have “we may be able to comfort those in any sort of tribulation,” including this one. And lovingly we can strengthen those who have this special need.—2 Corinthians 1:3, 4; Hebrews 12:12, 13.
For a more complete discussion of the various factors to be considered in identifying genuine repentance as well as what is involved in “works that befit repentance,” see The Watchtower of September 1, 1981, pages 24-26.