Withdrawing From the Withdrawn

The Objection Considered

The objection simply stated is this: "We cannot withdraw from those who have already withdrawn from the church because when one ceases to assemble with the saints, he has withdrawn himself and the church needs no further action." I have tried to be respectful toward those who take this position even though I believe it to be both wrong and dangerous. I assume that those who hold this position are sincere and are not trying to offer a feeble excuse to escape an unpleasant responsibility. But the fact still remains, the local church is commanded to withdraw from all who walk disorderly and it is the local church that is to do the withdrawing, not the sinner from the church.

There are several considerations behind this objection:

  1. It forces us to take the position that cases of withdrawal are to be only toward those who are "still in the church;"
  2. When one stops attending the church, hence, withdraws himself, the church's responsibility to him is over;
  3. Most who take this position feel that we should simply drop the names of the unfaithful from the roll of the church and avoid the thorny points of discipline.

This is simply not the case at all. Such positions show a lack of faith in God's word and a lack of conviction regarding what God says about discipline. We must respect what God says and love those who are in sin. As James P. Needham has said, this position ultimately "sanctions free-lance membership; one could decide he no longer wants to be a member of a local church, withdraw his membership and become a free-lancer. I have not found any authority for free-lance membership. Christians in the New Testament were identified with some local church."

Perhaps this illustration will help. Israel and Judah forgot God days without number (Jer. 2:32; 3:6-10). They had "forsaken the Lord" (Isaiah 1:4). In doing so they did the same thing that brethren are doing today in forsaking public worship. In spite of what Israel and Judah had done, for many years God was patient and longsuffering. Yet, He afterward punished them through the Assyrians and Babylonians. Their withdrawal from God and the long lapse of time did not preclude Divine chastisement from being exercised. I suggest that the absence of brethren today does not excuse them from being withdrawn from as the Bible directs.

Illustrations of What We Are To Do

According to John 10 and Luke 15, the good shepherd goes after his wayward sheep. Where there are elders, they stand in the same relation to the congregation that the shepherd does to his flock (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-4). Where there are no elders, the brethren must exercise the action of seeking the sheep that has gone astray (Gal. 6:1; James 5:19-20). To say that fellowship cannot be withdrawn from those who have withdrawn themselves, the purpose being to reclaim them, is to argue that the shepherd cannot seek his lost sheep because the sheep has withdrawn itself from the fold. Furthermore it is in the very context of the shepherd's leaving the ninety and nine in the fold and seeking the one that had gone astray (Matt. 18:12-14) that Jesus commanded corrective discipline (Matt. 18:15-17).

Then again, military terms are used to describe the affairs of the Kingdom of God. Read carefully 2 Timothy 2:3-4; Ephesians 6:10-18; and Philippians 2:25. Let us take a look at this relationship to illustrate the fallacy of the type of thinking we are dealing with in this article.

If a soldier goes AWOL he is not free from any disciplinary action simply because he "withdrew" himself from his company. Likewise, the soldier in the Lord's army is not free. Action must be taken against him.

Note several things that are not accomplished when the church takes no action against the one who withdraws himself:

  1. The offender does not know that he has been disciplined;
  2. He does not realize that he has been "delivered to Satan;"
  3. The faithful members of the church do not know he has been disciplined, and may even disobey a divine command;
  4. The offended is not ashamed but is usually "arrogant;"
  5. The primary purpose of all discipline is not accomplished;
  6. The local church continues to be subject to corrupting influences;
  7. The world does not know that the offender has been disciplined; so far as they know our silence equals condoning his behavior, and like David of old we may have given occasion to the enemies of God to blaspheme.

Such Failure Creates a Loophole

It has been suggested that if we cannot withdraw from the withdrawn, the local church could never discipline this type of disorderly person (2 Thess. 3:6). The reason being, the one who is walking in an unruly manner always "beats the church to the draw." All the offender would have to do to avoid being disciplined is to say, "You can't withdraw from me, I have already withdrawn from you!" The local church would be helpless to carry out the command to withdraw from the disorderly (2 Thess. 3:6).

Brethren, think about it!

— via Truth Magazine, January 13, 1977