It might be called Shunning, Disfellowshiping , or Excommunication, but anyway you slice it, it is a breaking off of fellowship from an individual. It says in effect, that “you” are no longer a part of “us”. The reasons that this should be practiced are: For the good of the congregation that he is being withdrawn from and for the good of the person from which fellowship is being withdrawn. The first reason is easy and requires no more than vigilance against Satan’s attacks. The second reason is harder and requires our key ingredient.
For the “good of the person” to be truly sought, the key ingredient in a Withdrawal process is Brotherly Affection. Without this key ingredient, the Withdrawal is guaranteed to fail. Even though some might confuse success with the action taken to withdraw from a person, success is only truly accomplished if the person withdrawn from comes back. This is not to say that the protection of the other members from the influence of the person is not a success, but because it is instinctive to protect the sheep in the fold, it is the easiest part of the process to practice. The hard part is letting our emotions of brotherly affection be shown and stomped on and hurt by someone who we want to rescue from Satan.
The good shepherd secured the 99 sheep (partial success) and went looking for the one (complete success). I know that if that sheep had been unwilling to return with the Good Shepherd, had run away from him, had insisted on playing with the wolves that the Shepherd would have been glad to have the 99. Consolation would be found in knowing that he had done what he could.
An example from Scripture
Without Brotherly affection, withdrawing fellowship does not become the incentive Paul imagined when he told the church at Corinth to withdraw from an ungodly brother. The situation was clear cut: One of the members was living a life of fornication. However, the congregation still accepted him into their midst. What may have been perceived by them as a tolerance of someone who was sinning (after all we are all sinners) was perceived by Paul (correctly so) as arrogant and puffed up on their part and dangerous to the rest of the congregation.
Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? (1Co 5:6)
However, protection of the rest of the saints was not Paul’s only hope:
you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. (1Co 5:5)
The hope Paul expresses is to have this individual saved in the final day. It is not the process of withdrawal that does the saving but the repentance that this process can lead to. Jesus, in Matthew 18, also wants us to go to a brother who is causing offense and resolve the issue. If he repents “you have gained your brother” which is the goal.
When brotherly affection is missing on either the part of the congregation. or the individual that is being withdrawn from, that bond that is being severed is not strong enough to be missed. Without brotherly affection, it is easy to find fault, sit in judgement, coerce and push to keep someone in line who may be having difficulties that no one knows about…because no one has the affection for this person to find out.
What if it is missing?
When brotherly affection is missing on the part of the person being withdrawn from, then there is no loss associated with the withdrawal. “Well, they were never on my side anyway”, “This bunch of Christians is just holier-than-thou”, “I am better than some of those hypocrites” and so on. In other words, the bond that comes from tasting that the Lord is gracious (1 peter 2:1-2) was not made. Nor were these words heeded:
Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, (1Pe 1:22)
Yet, I think that it right to expect that the primary responsibility for the brotherly affection bond to be formed falls to the congregation. More than just potlucks and handshakes at service, a bond must be formed that says “I want to be with you” and “together we will journey toward Heaven”. In this manner, if a brother decides to take a detour into Satan’s temptation highway, the separation will have an effect on both parties and more of a chance to succeed in bringing the erring brother back.
Sometimes it is necessary to withdraw fellowship but, having the key ingredient of Brotherly Affection already baked into the relationship will give the process of withdrawal the best chance for success.
photo credit: Jerrod Maruyama