Recently, we have gone through the painful experience of having to withdraw from one of our members because he refused to repent from sin and had left the assembly. This has caused many of you to ask questions about your own conduct and attitude towards this and others whom the church has had to discipline. In answer to these I offer the following guidelines in order to help you deal with disfellowshipped members.
1. Do not be surprised
Jesus repeatedly stated the idea that the road to eternal life was narrow and not many would follow it.
Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. 14For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it." (Matthew 7:13-14)
We can be saddened that some brethren choose to leave the church for a variety of reasons, but let us not be surprised. People have done this from the beginning (Demas – II Timothy 4:10) and will continue to do so until the end. Jesus warned us of this.
2. Do what the Bible commands
When people are removed from the church because of unfaithfulness or unrepented sin, we are doing what God is commanding us to do with these people:
Remove the wicked man from among yourselves. (I Corinthians 5:13)
Not to do so would make us as disobedient as those who are being disfellowshipped.
3. Withdraw means withdraw!
The Bible also tells us
…not to associate with any so-called brother if he should be an immoral person, (…) not even to eat with such a one. (I Corinthians 5:11)
If anyone does not obey our instructions in this letter, take special note of that man and do not associate with him, so that he may be put to shame. And yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother. (II Thessalonians 3:14-15)
Disfellowshipment is corrective discipline and is done in order to bring people back to their senses and back to God. If we do not obey God in this, we push these people further away from Him and ourselves.
4. Be careful
If this experience teaches us anything, it should teach us how easily we can be trapped by sin. Let us therefore be careful to avoid occasions of temptations and ready to acknowledge and abandon the sins we do stumble in so that it does not become a master over us and separate us from God and the Church.
5. Pray for one another
Jesus continually prayed to God on behalf of the Apostles so that they would not be overtaken by Satan. We need to pray for others more when they are faithful rather than start praying for them only after they have fallen.
I know that it is not easy to see someone that you love suddenly abandon the church. It causes pain, discouragement and confusion but I believe that these feelings are part of the cost of discipleship to our Lord Jesus Christ.
I encourage you, therefore, to obey the Bible in this matter, love and pray for the brother who has left, be careful in your own life and continue to trust in our Lord to bring the rest of us safely home.
One thing is sure, however, no one is more eager to save your family or friends than God is and no one has suffered more rejection than He has. And yet, because of His great love and patience, God continues to offer His forgiveness and salvation to all who would come.