What sort of attitude or conduct warrants the extreme measure of withdrawing fellowship? The New Testament addresses this matter in several ways:
- A brother who has sinned against another, but who refuses to repent of his transgression, could ultimately be disfellowshipped (Matthew 18:15-17);
- Those who cause occasions of stumbling and who initiate division are proper subjects for church discipline (Romans 16:17; Titus 3:10);
- Those who are practitioners of such sins as fornication, covetousness, extortion, idolatry, drunkenness, reviling, etc., could certainly be candidates for withdrawal (1 Corinthians 5:9ff);
- Advocates of soul-threatening doctrines must not be allowed to continue in open fellowship with the church (1 Timothy 1:19-20; 2 Timothy 2:16-18);
- Those who walk disorderly are to be refused association by the faithful (2 Thessalonians 3:6).
But what is disorderly conduct? There are those who simply grow weary of the Christian life and decide to "resign" from the church. When approached about their neglect, and warned of possible discipline, they raise a voice of protest, claiming: "What am I doing that is wrong? I am not committing adultery; I am not a drunkard. The church cannot withdraw from me." An appropriate response would be: "Are you faithfully serving God? Do you meet with your brethren to sing, pray, observe the Lord's Supper, etc.? What would be the fate of the family of God if every member were at liberty to do as you have done?" Spiritual neglect is disorderly conduct, and a fitting response to such is discipline—of some sort at least.
It would be well to remember, however, that a person's disposition is frequently the determining factor in terms of when, or whether, withdrawal of fellowship should be administered. No wise church leadership would hastily disfellowship a sincere Christian who, through weakness, had fallen into a sinful situation. As long as there is humility on the part of the offender, and a genuine effort to overcome the problem, long-suffering would be indicated. When, though, a surly, rebellious attitude is evidenced, more drastic measures may be speedily indicated.
Faithful elderships should let it be known that if a person wants to identify with the congregation over which they exercise supervision, he or she will be expected to live right, and to assume a healthy responsibility in the areas of Christian growth and service. If they become remiss in these matters, discipline, in some form or another, could be advisable.