But He Is Already Gone!
Bible students recognize that the Scriptures teach the need for church discipline. Discipline itself is a somewhat generic word with a much wider meaning than folks are normally inclined to give it. Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary provides the following definitions:
- Training to act in accordance with rules; drill;
- Activity, exercise, or a regimen that develops or improves a skill; training;
- Punishment inflicted by way of correction and training;
- The rigor or training effect of experience, adversity, etc.;
- Behavior in accord with rules of conduct;
- A set or system of rules and regulations;
- The system of government regulating the practice of a church as distinguished from its doctrine;
- An instrument of punishment, esp. a whip or scourge, used in the practice of self-mortification or as an instrument of chastisement in certain religious communities;
- A branch of instruction or learning;
- To train by instruction and exercise; drill;
- To bring to a state of order and obedience by training and control;
- To punish or penalize in order to train and control; correct; chastise.
Obviously, not all of these definitions are germane to the Biblical concept of discipline, but many of them are. The Hebrew word MUSAR is equivalent to our word “discipline.” It comes from YASAR, a word which means “to bind, to tame; hence to correct, chastise, instruct, admonish.” The words are used in the Old Testament concerning the disciplinary action of a parent toward his child, and of the disciplinary action of God toward His people.
The Greek equivalent of “discipline” is PAIDEIA, which means “to bring up, rear a child; to train and teach, educate; to chasten, discipline.” This word is used in Ephesians 6:4 to refer to bringing up a child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Forms of the word are used eight times in Hebrews 12:5-11, which
discusses the necessity of discipline, both by earthly parents and by God. Discipline involves all of the training done up to and including withdrawal.
- In 2 Thessalonians 3:6, we read, “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly (leads an unruly life NAS) and not after the tradition which he received of us.” Here we see one type of individual Christian—one who walks disorderly—from whom the church is to withdraw
- The Bible also teaches us, in Matthew 18:15-17, to exercise this final step of discipline with those who refuse to correct personal offenses against other brethren.
- Romans 16:17-18 teaches the church to mark those who cause divisions contrary to the gospel.
- Also to be withdrawn from are those who are factious, teaching heresy. This involves those who teach error and seek to influence others to follow their false teaching. See Titus 3:10.
- 2 John 9:10-11 indicates that one who supports or protects a false teacher would also be subject to the same actions, for he is “Partaker of his evil deeds.”
There are others, as well, against whom the church should take such steps, but this gets the idea across.
If there were no Scriptural reason to do this, other than the fact that it is commanded, that would be more than sufficient. Passages such as 2 Thessalonians 3:6 are as clear and as explicit as Acts 2:38. However, failure to withdraw fellowship shows a lack of love and concern for the erring brother or sister. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul wrote about a brother who was caught up in a sin of immorality and was not repenting. He wrote in verse 5, “To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” The primary purpose of such a step is to save the individual from eternal damnation.
Let’s go back to 2 Thessalonians 3:6 and more closely examine a few of the words used in that passage.
- First we note the word “command.” This is an injunction, not a suggestion or an option.
- We note the phrase, “in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This simply means by Jesus Christ’s authority.
- Note, “withdraw yourselves.” This is actually a nautical term, denoting “to shorten the sails;” metaphorically, to keep out of the way, withdraw from, to avoid intercourse and fellowship with.
- Focus now on “walketh disorderly.” The proper idea of this word is that of soldiers who do not keep the ranks, who are irregular in any way.
- Finally, note “after the tradition which he received of us.” This is the doctrine of Christ that Paul delivered to them. When it comes to taking this sort of action in this sort of case, we have a choice. We can either obey the Lord, or not obey Him. That truly is what it boils down to.
We often hear the statement, or one similar to it, “You can’t withdraw from someone who has already left the congregation.” That sounds reasonable, but one should never make or believe such a statement unless it can be substantiated by book, chapter, and verse. Where does the New Testament speak of one “quitting,” or walking away from, a faithful congregation of the Lord’s people to engage in unauthorized activities, and that person’s actions removing the responsibility of the last faithful congregation of which they were a part? How much more “disorderly” and “out of rank” can a person get than to walk away from the Lord’s church to participate in man-made traditions and religious practices? Since this is a military term, you who are veterans, consider what would have happened if you had walked away, went AWOL, from your legitimate military service.
Can Christians who want to continue in fornication simply say that they are leaving the congregation and consequently not be subject to withdrawal? Should we just let them go, or should we do what the Lord commands? Such reasoning says that all a person has to do is say, “I’m leaving, I no longer want to be considered a member here,” and our responsibility toward them ends. That is not true! Love demands that we take the final step in an effort to save their souls, and quite frankly, ours as well. I have known of people who said they were leaving a congregation, without repenting of sins they had committed there, in order to avoid being disciplined — thus blatantly attempting to manipulate God and His people. This cannot be! I have searched for 30 years and have not found the passage which says that if a person just walks away, our responsibility toward him ends. Where is the passage that even hints at such an idea?