Separation from Disobedient
Key New Testament texts
I Corinthians 5:1-13.
The apostle Paul seriously rebukes the Corinthians for failing
to discipline one of their number who was involved in incest.
Paul writes sternly to them, commanding that the guilty
person "be taken away from among you" (I Corinthians 5:2).
Paul does not encourage believers to leave the world by
walling themselves up in a monastery (5:10). But he does
warn that believers must not keep company with one whose
doctrine or practice fails to reflect scriptural standards
(5:11). He concludes the chapter by commanding, "Therefore
put away from among yourselves that wicked person" (5:13).
The disobedient brother is not to be allowed to continue
his downward course but rather is to be admonished and corrected
that he may be turned from his ruinous pathway. Until he
repents, believers are not to have fellowship with him.
3:6, 14-15. The apostle commands believers to withdraw
from every brother who behaves disorderly and not after
the apostolic traditions. Paul does not leave the reader
to wonder what those traditions are. The apostle clearly
declares the traditions to be his own teaching whether by
word or by epistle (II Thessalonians 2:15). If any brother's
practice or teaching does not agree with the teaching of
Scripture, believers are to withdraw from him. Lest any
believer fail to realize the importance of this discipline,
the apostle repeats the command in the same chapter. If
any man will not obey the teaching in Paul's epistles, Christians
should "note that man, and have no company with him, that
he may be ashamed" (II Thessalonians 3:14). To allow him
to continue in his error without trying to get him to repent
would be wrong and unkind to the man himself. Other Christian
brethren are not to treat him as an enemy but to admonish
him as a brother (II Thessalonians 3:15).
"Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go
and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he
shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he
will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more,
that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may
be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell
it unto the church; but if he neglect to hear the church,
let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican. Verily
I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall
be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth
shall be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 18:15-18). "But avoid
foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and
strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain.
A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition
reject" (Titus 3:9-10).
Old Testament parallel
In the Law, God
required an Israelite to rebuke one who had fallen into
sin. "Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou
shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin
upon him" (Leviticus 19:17). The Israelites who entered
the Promised Land understood the principle that when some
of God's people became disobedient, their brethren must
first reprove and then take such action against them as
might be necessary (Joshua 22:11-20). The book of Proverbs
has much to say about the principle of rebuke (25:12, 27:5).
Ezra understood the seriousness of the sin of the brethren
and the necessity for action (Ezra 9-10). Nehemiah recognized
the importance of disciplinary action, including separation
a professing Christian who deliberately refuses to modify
some aspect of his conduct to conform to the clear teaching
of Scripture, although claiming to have faith in Christ's
the church: Action taken by the body of believers to
correct the disobedience of one of its members. Anyone who
loves the brethren desires to see them do right (I Corinthians
13:6). Proper church discipline results in the building
up of the church, not in its destruction (II Corinthians
Explanation and Application
While many people
see the necessity of separation from the world system and
from teachers of false doctrine, the necessity of separation
from a Christian brother is hard for them to accept. The
early Church was of one accord, and ideally there should
be a spiritual unity, a oneness, which pervades the entire
body of Christ. If believers act as they should, there will
be unity in the Church. The Church, however, does not always
live up to the ideal. She has not yet been presented without
spot or wrinkle. Believers are not yet all that they should
be or will be. In the present everyday life of the church,
therefore, it is sometimes necessary to break fellowship
with a Christian brother.
a disobedient brother is only a part of discipline in the
church. Anytime a brother is disobedient in regard to a
clear command of God's Word, it becomes necessary first
to rebuke him (Matthew 18:15-17; II Timothy 2:25). Matthew
18 makes it clear that if this brother fails to respond
to the initial rebuke, then various other efforts should
be made in order to correct his errant lifestyle, beliefs,
or practice. Only as a last resort is it necessary to separate
from this brother but not in a spirit of glee or self-righteousness.
Concerned Christians have to break fellowship with heavy
hearts, and even then there is still the hope that true
repentance will be the result. Furthermore, the act of separating
from a Christian brother may vary in extent and nature from
one case to another according to the severity and persistence
of his disobedience.
Because of so much
confusion concerning this last type of separation, it is
necessary to present some examples of situations that are
likely to arise in our time. (1) When a Christian chooses
to live like the world in open sin or adopts a worldly lifestyle,
he becomes a danger to other Christians. The church is obligated
by Scripture to deal with him. Depending on the extent of
his backsliding, he may be counseled with, excluded from
positions of leadership, forbidden to take part in the public
programs of the church, and even excluded from membership.
(2) If a brother becomes enamored with some false teacher
of a false doctrine, lends support to him, and gives him
Christian recognition, then he is "partaking of his evil
deeds" and may thereby deceive and lead astray other Christians.
He must, therefore, be dealt with. (3) A Christian leader
who refuses to take action against those who have been disobedient,
but is instead an encouragement to them, is himself disobedient
to the clear commands of the Bible. It is the responsibility
of other Christian leaders to rebuke this man and eventually
to separate from him if there is no repentance. (4) A brother
who causes divisions in the church must also come under
discipline. The word "heresy" meant in New Testament times
a sect, party, or division, and the Bible condemns schisms.
The local assembly must, therefore, deal with any Christian
who by his conduct or teaching disrupts the unity of the
a disobedient brother is not based upon merely personal
conflicts or differences of opinion on minor matters of
interpretation or church polity. Denominational differences
on matters of church government or mode of baptism should
not preclude fellowship and cooperation with spiritual Christians
of other denominations (I Corinthians 1-3). Furthermore,
this separation is not a total rejection which allows no
place for repentance; but every effort should be made to
restore the brother, making full allowance for possible
ignorance, errors of judgment, and momentary weakness. Time
should be allowed for those young in the faith to achieve
a degree of spiritual maturity which enables them to understand
these truths. The brother who has just realized his responsibility
and is moving away from compromise may be treated in a different
light from one who is abandoning a separated position and
moving into compromise. For example, a brother or pastor
who is still in an apostate denomination but who has begun
to see the problems of fellowship with these people should
be taught and encouraged to make a complete break with his
separate from disobedient brethren, therefore, for the following
- To preserve the
testimony of God's people in the eyes of the world (I
- To prevent a
disobedient brother from influencing others to do wrong
(I Corinthians 5:6-7; Galatians 5:9).
- To set an example
which will encourage others to be obedient (I Timothy
- To bring about
repentance in the one who has been disobedient (II Timothy
2:25; Hebrews 10:24; Revelation 3:19).
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