Question 15: What is our authority for “withdrawing” from a brother and is that authority exclusive or inclusive of withdrawing because of or in addition to any other sin(s)?

15.) What is our authority for “withdrawing” from a brother and is that authority exclusive or inclusive of withdrawing because of or in addition to any other sin(s)?

Our only authority for withdrawing from a brother is scriptural direction or precedent. If I understand this question correctly, that authority is exclusive of “withdrawing because of or in addition to any other sin(s)”. There is no doubt in my mind that brethren have misapplied and twisted the scriptures to justify erroneous withdrawing both on an individual basis and wholesale, causing unjust harm to individuals and many divisions detrimental beyond our comprehension to the Body of Christ. Let me cite some of our errors.

1.) Over the years we have used the term “withdraw fellowship” so much that we think it is Biblical terminology. It is not. The closest thing to it is 2 Thessalonians 3:6 which in the King James Version reads: “withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly.” Nevertheless this is not an injunction to withdraw fellowship and kick them out of the church. The New English Bible reads: “Hold aloof from every Christian brother who falls into idle habits.” Then verse fifteen says, “Yet do not count him as and enemy, but admonish him as a brother.”

2.) Second, to use a word I learned from Alexander Campbell, we have been very “latitudinarian” in our application and use of scriptures to justify the withdrawing of fellowship. We have applied scriptures that aren’t applicable. We have used scriptures that are specific in an inclusive way, particularly with regard to interpretations of issues that identify our party. In other words we go beyond the scriptures contrary to our claim that we are silent where the scriptures are silent. We apply scriptures out of context to suit our sectarianism. We need to be less latitudinarian in our use of some scriptures and more latitudinarian in our recognition of brethren in Christ.

3.) There is no scriptural authority for the withdrawing of fellowship on the grounds of the issues relative to the ceremonies, forms, methods, procedures, traditions of our assemblies, per se. We have no right to make anything a test of fellowship which God has not expressly made a condition of salvation. Yet that is what we have done with our unwritten creeds concerning cups, classes, instrument music, unfermented wine, and a host of other things. If these are necessary to be in our fellowship we should require that persons subscribe to our views at their baptisms.

4.) There is no scriptural authority for withdrawing fellowship from entire congregations of Christians. We don’t know the circumstances and minds of every person in every congregation. We practice “guilt-by-association” procedures. Relative to this, where in the scriptures were “the faithful” told to go out and start a “loyal” congregation? Not once was a congregation of believers told to separate or split. Not once was a group of believers told to come out and separate themselves from among the believers.

5.) Interestingly, there is no scriptural authority for withdrawing from believers who do not agree to/consent or participate in a withdrawal action. In 2 Corinthians 2:6 the apostle Paul indicates that not all the Corinthian brethren participated in the action he called for in 1 Corinthians 5. Yet failure to “line up” relative to withdrawing action is a major reason for withdrawing fellowship in the one cup, no classes segment of the Churches of Christ. I know this firsthand. There is no respect of congregational autonomy.

6.) There is not scriptural authority for withdrawing fellowship from those whose predecessors were instrumental or involved in causing division. Their successors are not responsible for their “fathers’” sins. Many of these people are ignorant or oblivious of the issues. In a wholesale way we maintain the status quo because it fits in with our legalism and sectarianism.

Do the scriptures ever authorize disciplining and “withdrawing” from individuals? Certainly! There seems to be three main reasons. One has to do with denial of belief in Christ. Another is for moral turpitude, and the third is for manifesting the party spirit and causing division. Nevertheless, this action must be taken in love and done fairly. So often the action is a reaction and the recipient is not treated fairly. I know of cases where brethren were called on the phone after a group had met unbeknowns to them and told they were no longer one of them. Kangaroo courts have been all too common. To finish my answer, far, far, too many brethren who are sincere believers, live exemplary moral lives, and manifest the Spirit of Christ rather than the party spirit have been ostracized because they disagreed intellectually with some aspects of the unwritten party creed.

P.S. To reiterate, this series of questions was submitted by a number of brothers and sisters in Christ for a study held in Las Vegas in February, 2008, and I am sharing with you my answers to them at that time.

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One response to “Question 15: What is our authority for “withdrawing” from a brother and is that authority exclusive or inclusive of withdrawing because of or in addition to any other sin(s)?

  1. Alabama John

    Don’t forget the withdrawing of sisters and not just brothers.

    If we disagree with the church or elders (if there are any), where we are a member, we as individuals can WITHDRAW ourselves from them. Withdrawing works both ways, but the individual doing it is not mentioned, but is far more frequent than the church doing the withdrawing..

    I personally have never seen a single person withdrawn from in the traditional cofC come back.

    I have seen those that withdrew themselves from a local church when the objected practice or person left or repented return and be a member there once more.

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