Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
August 3, 1961
NUMBER 13, PAGE 1,12-13a

Charles A. Holt, Wichita Falls, Texas

A Plain Command --- "Withdraw Yourself"

Read the following very carefully: "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 they received of us .... And if any man obeyeth not our word by this epistle, note that man, that ye have no company with him, to the end that he may be ashamed. And yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother." (2 Thess. 3:6, 14-15)

Let us note some of the facts set forth above: (1) This is a plain, positive command and is to be exercised "in the name (or by the authorization of) our Lord Jesus Christ." The performance of this duty, when necessary, is as binding as "repent and be the name of Jesus Christ." (Acts 2:38) How foolish for people to insist upon the last action — the law of induction into the church, and utterly refuse to comply with this law of dismissal from our company everyone who walketh disorderly. Yet there is perhaps no command of the Lord more difficult to get people to follow. How can any church claim to be a "church of Christ" and refuse to act upon His instructions?

(2) Those who will obey this requirement must "withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly." This means that individually and as a congregation we must withdraw ourselves from any and all who thus walk disorderly. This necessitates exclusion of every such person from both our individual relations and from any and all relation with the group (church). We dare not have any kind of social, spiritual, or other fellowship with such a one. We must not lend any sympathy to such a person in his or her wrong. By social relations with such a person we give the impression that he or she is deserving of our association; and this amounts to an exoneration and endorsement of the party. We must so completely withdraw from and ostracize the guilty party, that he feels and knows that he is truly unworthy of the company of the redeemed in any way. Such a person is truly a social outcast from the company of the saints, as well as excluded from all spiritual efforts. When this is done as it ought to be, then the stigma of such is severely felt by the guilty. In verse 14, this is stated in this plain language: ".... note (identify or mark) that man (for the benefit of all members of the church, so that all may do their duty along this line), that ye have no company with him...." Those who refuse to comply with this command, and support the church when such action is taken, are in rebellion against God just as surely as if they tried to set aside the command to be baptized. Those who refuse to comply with this teaching and who do have company with the disorderly, are themselves walking disorderly and are likewise subject to the same treatment accorded the other disorderly.

It is a pity that so many Christians and congregations are unwilling and/or afraid to carry out this command. Not a few times members even express doubts that this procedure is good or that it will work. Thus they exemplify their lack of faith in the Lord or else exalt their wisdom above what the Lord has commanded. Too many are fearful of what the results will be and it is very difficult for them to fully cooperate with others in carrying out this oft-needed corrective procedure. There is one thing that we need to remember in this and in all other efforts to carry out the Lord's will: that is, we are not responsible for the results, but only for doing what He requires. Let the Lord take care of the results; let us worry about doing His will. No church should claim to be a "church of Christ" when it refuses to carry out His instruction on this or any other point.

(3) The action of "withdrawing yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly" has a definite purpose as it pertains to the guilty party. It is not to be done out of hatred, spite or bitterness. Neither is it to be done because of any personal feelings or personal dislike; and certainly not for the personal satisfaction of seeing some brother accorded such treatment. When this action is taken for any of the above reasons, then those taking the action are as wrong as the one against whom the action is taken. It is to be done out of love for the Lord, the desire to obey His will, and because of love for the guilty party in hope that he may see the error of his way, make proper correction and be saved. Paul plainly says such action against a disorderly brother is to be taken "to the end that he may be ashamed." That is, that he may be made to see the shame of his conduct and thus be ashamed himself of having so acted as to bring such upon himself. When one realizes that his real and true friends (his brethren and sisters in the Lord) refuse his association, have withdrawn from him, will have no relations with him in any way which may be considered as recognizing him as a faithful brother; that he or she is completely isolated from their company, if there is anything in the person to which truth and right can appeal, then he will be ashamed and hastily make proper correction. If this kind of treatment from his brethren and sisters in Christ can not penetrate a man's arrogance or rebellious attitude, and thus break his stubborn pride — bring him to humility, then nothing will or can! It is for this reason that such action is carried out — "that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." (1 Cor. 5:4-5)

Sometimes uninformed and weak members will object to this procedure on the ground that what is needed is to show more love for the person — "if we will just love him it will be better." This is a mistaken idea of what love really is; both love for the guilty party and especially love of the Lord. We do not love the Lord unless we keep his commandments, and "withdrawing yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly" is one of them! Moreover, we do not really love the guilty unless we seek his salvation in the way the Lord has appointed. After all there is really no other way for anyone to be saved. We can not excuse someone simply because he is a close relative or a good friend. We dare not let our love for the person become sympathy for sin. This passage requires that we "withdraw ourselves from every brother (and sister too, of course) that walketh disorderly." It matters not who the person is — whether father or mother, son or daughter, husband or wife (and in this relationship it will be hardest of all to carry out this instruction. Of course, when this instruction is carried out by the church, individually and collectively, it does not free a wife or husband from his or her obligations in this relationship; but even so the husband or wife is to accept and recognize the withdrawal action accorded either the guilty husband or wife.), rich or poor, elder or deacon; and, of course, even preachers. At times there are some who hold to the perverted idea that love and friendship means that we must defend and encourage a person even in sin and wrong. When we do this it is neither love nor true friendship, but hypocrisy.

However, there are times when the ties of the flesh become more binding than the spiritual ties — with brethren and with the Lord. When we allow such to happen we can not be true disciples. (Matt. 10:34-38) Those who actually love us will seek our best interest and work for our salvation. Love "rejoiceth not in unrighteousness, but rejoiceth with truth." Needed and proper correction is a part of true love. "He that spareth the rod hateth his son; but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes." (Prov. 13:24) This is the same principle applied in a parent-child relationship. Parents who refuse or neglect to render corrective discipline to their children when needed and proper, do not really love them. Indeed they hate (love less) their own children than they do their own (the parents) pleasure and comfort. They fail to do their duty because the duty is unpleasant and thus they "hate" their own children. So it is with Christians and churches who fail to administer corrective discipline when needed and proper to any and every brother that walketh disorderly.

Sometimes the question is raised, "What is it to walk disorderly?" Certainly all of us must admit that we all sin, so there must be more involved than the mere act of sinning; otherwise we would all be withdrawing from each other. What sin, or what nature of sin, would one have to commit in order to be considered disorderly? Are we all disorderly? It would be difficult to classify sin as regards guilt or degrees of guilt. In fact, it is doubtful whether or not man knows the demerits of any sin. He cannot know how God regards sin except as God has spoken on the subject. Men may speak of the exceeding sinfulness of certain sins and of the comparative innocence of other sins; but their judgment may not be correct, and what they regard as minor offences may be monstrous in the sight of God, and -what men may consider heinous and unpardonable may not appear so to God. "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith Jehovah." (Isa. 55:8) Men look on the outward appearance; God looks on the heart. Some men who do very bad things are not had men at heart; other men who have not broken through into outrageous acts are at heart presumptuous, rebellious, envious, covetous, and ready to do all sorts of little, mean, underhanded disguised deeds of evil.

In the nature of things, however, we can only deal with persons whose sins are overt — manifested and seen. Any person who sins is in need of encouragement and admonition of faithful Christians; but only the person who sins and is impenitent, defiant, and shows the purpose to continue his sins should be considered disorderly. It is more the disposition than the deed. It is not so much a question of what the person has done as it is of his attitude toward his wrong and toward those whose duty it is to correct him. True, the apostle Paul did name certain sins that the church must put away from its fellowship (1 Cor. 5:11); but even persons guilty of these sins must be forgiven if they repent, as the history of the case at Corinth shows.

To answer the question, "Who is disorderly?" we would say that any person who persists in sin, any sin, or who refuses to repent, or to be corrected, should be regarded as disorderly and should be dealt with as such.

As in all others efforts to obey God, there will be persons who object to doing what is required by these plain commands; but these lessons are too plain to be misunderstood and too important and too emphatic to be ignored. If the church is properly organized, as it must be before these directions can be followed, the elders will pay no heed to puny and perverse objectors; for they are either too ignorant of God's word to have a voice in such serious affairs or they are actuated by some selfish, stubborn, or perverse desires; and that would, of course, disqualify them for any part in such matters. If people do not know what the Bible teaches, they must not criticize or otherwise hinder the elders who do know; and if they know, but will not obey, they are themselves disorderly and the Scriptures must be applied to them also. (The last four paragraphs above were copied almost exactly from "The Model Church," by G. C. Brewer.)

More study needs to be given to this serious matter in order that we may fully obey God, the church may be kept pure and souls saved.

We think the warning of brother Dudley's article is timely. Too many congregations continue to exist for long periods of time under an arrangement quite suitable and proper for new and immature congregations (having no men qualified for the eldership), but which are a perversion of God's plan when prevailing in congregations which have men within the membership who are qualified to serve as elders. If a "business meeting" has been functioning smoothly and acceptably for many months, there is a natural reluctance for any one to "rock the boat" by suggesting a change. But all need to understand that to accept such an arrangement as a permanent plan is contrary to God's provision for the government of his congregations. A "walker" is a wonderfully handy gadget in helping a year-old baby learn to walk; but for a three-year-old to need such a tool is cause for grave concern. As a congregation matures it must outgrow its "walker"; it must accept the status God has designed for his congregations, a working congregation under scripturally qualified (and appointed) elders.

— F. Y. T.