Questions From Readers
◼ What is the fitting response of the congregation if someone leaves the true Christian faith and joins another religion?
Such a thing sometimes occurred in the first century. Thus it is understandable that it happens on occasion today. When it does, the congregation appropriately responds to protect the spiritual cleanness of the loyal Christians in it.
One dictionary defines apostasy as “renunciation of one’s religion, principles, political party, etc.” Another says: “Apostasy . . . 1 : renunciation of a religious faith 2 : abandonment of a previous loyalty.” Accordingly, Judas Iscariot was guilty of a form of apostasy when he abandoned the worship of Jehovah God by betraying Jesus. Later, others became apostates by deserting the true faith even while the apostle John and other early disciples were alive. John wrote: “They went out from among us, but they were not of our sort; for if they had been of our sort, they would have remained with us.”—1 John 2:19.
What is to be done when a similar thing happens today? The elders, or shepherds, of the congregation might learn of a baptized Christian who has ceased associating with Jehovah’s people and who has apparently become associated with another religion. In harmony with Jesus’ words about being concerned about any stray sheep, the spiritual shepherds should be interested in helping such a person. (Matthew 18:12-14; compare 1 John 5:16.) But what if the shepherds designated to look into the matter determine that the person no longer wants to have anything to do with Jehovah’s people and is determined to remain in a false religion?
They would then simply announce to the congregation that such one has disassociated himself and thus is no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Such a person would have ‘abandoned his previous loyalty,’ but it is not necessary for any formal disfellowshipping action to be taken. Why? Because he has already disassociated himself from the congregation. Likely he is not trying to maintain contact with his former brothers so as to persuade them to follow him. For their part, the loyal brothers are not seeking fellowship with him, since ‘he went out from them, for he was not of their sort.’ (1 John 2:19) Such a disassociated person who ‘has gone out from us’ might begin to send letters or literature promoting false religion or apostasy. That would underscore that the individual definitely ‘is not of our sort.’
The Scriptures warn, though, that some would try to remain among God’s people and there attempt to mislead others. The apostle Paul advised: “From among you yourselves men will rise and speak twisted things to draw away the disciples after themselves.” (Acts 20:30) He pointedly warned Christians ‘to keep their eye on those who cause divisions and occasions for stumbling contrary to the teaching that they had learned, and avoid them.’—Romans 16:17, 18.
So if someone became a false teacher among true Christians, as did Hymenaeus and Philetus in Paul’s day, the shepherds of the flock would have to take protective steps. If the person rejected their loving admonition and continued to promote a sect, a committee of elders could disfellowship, or expel, such one for apostasy. (2 Timothy 2:17; Titus 3:10, 11) The individual brothers and sisters in the congregation would follow Paul’s direction to “avoid” the one who tried to “cause divisions.” John counseled similarly: “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, never receive him into your homes or say a greeting to him.”—2 John 10.
◼ When the Jews returned to Jerusalem from captivity in Babylon, was their trip about 500 miles (800 km) or 1,000 miles (1,600 km)?
The direct distance from ancient Babylon to Jerusalem was about 500 miles. Such a trip would mean crossing extremely inhospitable terrain, including long stretches of very arid land or desert. An alternative route that was about twice as long was up the Euphrates valley toward Haran, and then down by Damascus into the Promised Land. Abraham used this latter route when taking his family from Ur to Canaan.—Genesis 11:31–12:5.
The Bible does not describe the route the Jews took when returning to Jerusalem from Babylonian captivity. (Ezra 8:1-32; 7:7-9) So either of the two figures is a possibility and could be given in mentioning the trip. Of more significance is the fact that the returning Jews were to be free of Babylonish beliefs and practices as they passed on “the Way of Holiness.”—Isaiah 35:8-10; compare pages 153-7 of the book Man’s Salvation out of World Distress at Hand! published in 1975.