The God Centered View of Discipline
, March 1, 2010

2 Thessalonians 3:6,14-15: (6) But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us… (14) And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. (15) Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.

The world doesn’t care a bit for this New Testament teaching. Sewell Hall writes of a home study on Acts in which a number of community ladies attended. He says, “We lost them, however, not at Acts 2:38 but at Acts 5, when we noted the implications of the Holy Spirit’s action in removing Ananias and Sapphira from the fellowship of the Jerusalem church. They could not believe that Christians could be so “judgmental” as to withdraw from immoral and disorderly members. Showing them 1 Corinthians 5:11 and 2 Thessalonians 3:6 made no difference.” (http://www.embryhills.com/2009/01/16/church-discipline)

But it is my experience that many brethren in the Lord’s church have just as much difficulty obeying this command as the world does in accepting it. One question that often arises among brethren is whether or not the local church should withdraw from an erring Christian who has “withdrawn himself” from fellowship with the church. He has ceased to attend the services and has made it clear that he intends to continue in his unfaithfulness to the Lord. Some argue that a church cannot withdraw from someone who has already withdrawn himself from them, and thus the apostle Paul’s teaching to “note” and “withdraw” does not apply in such cases.

Please permit a few questions that will hopefully help us to understand the scriptures on this matter. When a brother continues to forsake the assembling of the saints, is he engaged in willful sin? Is he walking disorderly? Is he in danger of losing his soul? The scriptures say yes.

Hebrews 10:24-27: And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the day approaching. For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.

Are the elders held responsible by God to oversee the souls of those entrusted to them (1 Peter 5:2-3; Hebrews 13:17)? Is this brother in need of the efforts of brethren to restore him through repentance?

Again, yes.

Galatians 6:1: Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.
James 5:19-20:  Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.

If our brother will allow us to discuss his sin with him, then we should by all means use such an opportunity to call him to repentance. But if he rejects our efforts to call him back from sinful conduct, the Bible instructs us to withdraw ourselves from him. Does the Bible qualify this command by saying “unless he has already withdrawn from you”? Doesn’t Paul say that we are to “withdraw from EVERY brother who walks disorderly” (2 Thessalonians 3:6)?  Again, what do the scriptures say? Are we told to publicly note “every” brother’s decision to live in sin?

Some say that such actions won’t do any good because the brother doesn’t have or want any social contact with his brethren anyway. Whether or not that is so doesn’t change God’s command. But it isn’t so anyway. I have known many brethren who have chosen a life of sin and have never been publicly noted and withdrawn from by the church, but who continue to have significant social contact with brethren. That ought not to be. And then brethren will justify their social interaction by saying, “Well, he hasn’t been withdrawn from by the church!” The truth is, we are given specific instructions not to associate on a social basis with a fallen away brother, but rather to warn him of the danger his soul is in (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15). Even if the leadership of a local church doesn’t meet its responsibilities, we should meet ours.

Thus, churches that act according to the scriptures will (1) “note” such a one; e.g., inform the church that every effort to restore this fallen brother has to this point been refused, (2) instruct the members that each Christian is to cease their common social contact with that erring Christian, and (3) instruct the members that continuing efforts should be made to restore such a one (admonish him as a brother). See also 1 Corinthians 5:3-5, 9-13 for another description of these actions.

Hopefully, our brother will be brought to shame over his sin (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15) so that his spirit may be saved in the day of judgment (1 Corinthians 5:5). Hopefully, he will repent. But even if such discipline does not often work in restoring a brother, the church must obey the Lord.  It is the utmost of arrogance to think that we know better than the Lord in these matters. Our work is to obey the Lord and leave the results to Him (1 Corinthians 3:6).

Those who resist these public actions by arguing that “he has already withdrawn himself from us and so we cannot withdraw from him” are employing human wisdom, not the Word of God, to come to such a conclusion. God says that a failure to note a brother’s lifestyle of sin is a failure to protect the church from the leavening influence of sin. Let us respect and obey the Lord’s will in these matters. “Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” (1 Corinthians. 5:6).
May the Lord bless each of us as we attempt to do His will in His way, so that souls may be strengthened and saved through His gospel.