Is the Watchtower Society's practice of disfellowshipping consistent with the Bible?
2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15 "Now we are giving you orders, brothers, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, to withdraw from every brother walking disorderly and not according to the tradition you received from us....But if anyone is not obedient to our word through this letter, keep this one marked, stop associating with him, that he may become ashamed. And yet do not be considering him as an enemy, but continue admonishing him as a brother."
- The "word through this letter" of 2 Thessalonians included more than non-serious sins. It included those not glorifying "the name of our Lord Jesus", those refusing to work for a living, and any who had been swayed by apostasy.
- Paul did not say to disfellowship and shun such people, but rather instructed the congregation to 'mark' or 'take note of' such a person, yet "continue admonishing him as a brother". There is a difference between taking note of someone's behavior so as not be influenced by it and completely shunning the person.
1 Corinthians 5:11 "But now I am writing you to quit mixing in company with anyone called a brother that is a fornicator or a greedy person or an idolater or a reviler or a drunkard or an extortioner, not even eating with such a man.
- This advice is in regards to a person "called a brother" who "is" a wrongdoer. No indication is given that they should be avoided when they are no longer recognized as a Jehovah's Witness brother. Nor does it say to shun a person who has stopped their wrongdoing.
2 Corinthians 2:5-6 "Now if anyone has caused sadness, he has saddened, not me, but all of you to an extent-not to be too harsh in what I say. This rebuke given by the majority is sufficient for such a man."
- Paul does not insist that everyone participate in the rebuke. Some may choose not to.
When the person was publicly reproved, the congregation was to know why. Paul openly told the congregation of the wrong conduct of Peter, Hymenaeus, Alexander and Diotrephes. To avoid legal problems, the Society does not follow this scriptural advice. The extent of both the disfellowshipping and disassociating announcement is now stated in Organised to do Jehovah's Will (2005) p.154 to be restricted to:
"[Name of person] is no longer one of Jehovah's Witnesses."
2 John 7-11: "For many deceivers have gone forth into the world, persons not confessing Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist. Look out for yourselves, that you do not lose the things we have worked to produce, but that you may obtain a full reward. Everyone that pushes ahead and does not remain in the teaching of the Christ does not have God. He that does remain in this teaching is the one that has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, never receive him into your homes or say a greeting to him. For he that says a greeting to him is a sharer in his wicked works."
- John is here referring to the antichrist and it should not be applied across the board to all forms of sin.
- Galatians 6:1 "Brothers, even though a man takes some false step before he is aware of it, you who have spiritual qualifications try to readjust such a man in a spirit of mildness, as you each keep an eye on yourself, for fear you also may be tempted."
- In the scriptures, it makes no mention of a time limit over which the process must take place. It does indicate that quite some period of time may be involved. If a person is addicted to certain practices or if they are having doubts about doctrine it could take months of effort to overcome these. Yet in many cases when a Jehovah's Witness confesses or another person reports their activities to the elders they are disfellowshipped within a few weeks.
What did Jesus have to say on the matter?
- Luke 6:27-37, in list form: "But I say to you who are listening,
- Continue to love your enemies,
- to do good to those hating you,
- to bless those cursing you,
- to pray for those who are insulting you.
- To him that strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also; and from him that takes away your outer garment, do not withhold even the undergarment.
- Give to everyone asking you, and from the one taking your things away do not ask [them] back.
- "Also, just as you want men to do to you, do the same way to them.
- "And if you love those loving you, of what credit is it to you? For even the sinners love those loving them. And if you do good to those doing good to you, really of what credit is it to you? Even the sinners do the same.
- Also, if you lend [without interest] to those from whom you hope to receive, of what credit is it to you? Even sinners lend [without interest] to sinners that they may get back as much.
- To the contrary, continue to love your enemies and to do good and to lend [without interest], not hoping for anything back; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind toward the unthankful and wicked.
- Continue becoming merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
- "Moreover, stop judging, and you will by no means be judged; and stop condemning, and you will by no means be condemned."
- Jesus introduced the standard on how Christian wrongdoers should be treated, saying at Matthew 18:15-17: "Moreover, if your brother commits a sin, go lay bare his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take along with you one or two more, in order that at the mouth of two or three witnesses every matter may be established. If he does not listen to them, speak to the congregation. If he does not listen even to the congregation, let him be to you just as a man of the nations and as a tax collector."
- Jesus did not say to never utter a word to an unrepentant wrong doer but to treat them "as a tax collector". He himself spoke to and ate with tax collectors. (Matthew 9:11).
- In determining if a person should be disfellowshipped the elders form a (judicial committee) to meet with the 'wrongdoer'. This is done in private, and the wrongdoer is not allowed an onlooker, lawyer or recording device. The word "judicial committee" does not appear in the Bible and both the Israelites and early Christian congregations kept matters open to ordinary persons. Rather than being done in private in front of elders only, matters were done at the city gates so a fair discussion with onlookers could be made. This prevented the injustice that can take place before small closed bodies of elders.
- Since the word disfellowship does not appear in the Scriptures, the New World Translation Reference Bible "Bible words indexed" directs the reader to the term "expelled". The references given are regarding the Pharisees' practice of expelling from the Synagogue. The closest Scriptural example the Watchtower can find for the term disfellowship is that of the Pharisees.
In light of Scriptural evidence, does the Watchtower Society's policy of disfellowshipping seem to be in harmony with what Jesus taught and with what was practiced by first century Christians?