CAN WE WITHDRAW FROM THE WITHDRAWN?

Edward O. Bragwell, Sr.

“Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us” (2nd Thessalonians 3:6).

A brother or sister “quits the church,” or more correctly quits the Lord. Is there anything the church can do beyond urging them to return? Usually when we suggest that maybe the church should consider withdrawing from such a one, we are faced with: “You can’t withdraw from those who have withdrawn themselves.” We do not believe that those who raise this objection are willfully trying to avoid responsibility for discipline. I have heard it from some of the finest and more conscientious brethren that I know. But, I do believe that they have a misconception of the withdrawing process.

There is more to “withdrawing yourselves” than making a formal announcement at church and then no longer “using them” in a public way. Many seem to think that since the quitter no longer attends and participates in congregational activities that this constitutes his having withdrawn himself so we cannot “withdraw our fellowship” since the quitter has already withdrawn himself. But this solution to the problem will not do.

We suspect that part of the problem is that of referring to discipline as “withdrawing fellowship.” The scriptures refer to “withdrawing yourselves.” There is a difference. When one withdraws himself, it is true that his spiritual fellowship is withdrawn, but it goes beyond that. One withdraws his person, his company, or his social association from the offending party. Surely one can do this even though the brother or sister no longer attends the meetings of the church. Such withdrawal or isolation is designed to make the offender ashamed of his conduct and produce repentance. If Christians refuse to have any social association with such a one and let him know why he can have none then we believe many would feel the pressure and be restored that probably would otherwise be lost. Of course, this severing of company does not preclude contacts for the purpose of admonishing (2nd Thessalonians 3.15) and/or fulfilling other obligations one may have toward the person.

I have known many who have “withdrawn themselves” who continue to enjoy day-to-day association with Christians. That association has not been severed at all. It is precisely the company (“mixing up with” — Vine’s Dictionary) that must be withdrawn (1st Corinthians 5:9-13; 2nd Thessalonians 3:14). Such a person can still be “marked” or “noted” by the church and then each member can withdraw his company (association) that the one might be ashamed.

We can mark and refuse to company with a brother who walks disorderly whether or not he attends services. In fact, the very refusal to attend faithfully is walking disorderly and is grounds for marking and withdrawing ourselves.

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