SHUNNING - Unchristian Psychological Torture

by EdenOne 55 Replies latest watchtower beliefs

  • EdenOne

    Some time ago, I wrote an extensive article on shunning and published it on my website. Since that website had views on doctrinal matters that no longer reflect my current stand, I took the website down. However, my views on this matter are still current, and for the benefit of everyone here, I'm going to post the article here. It's called "SHUNNING - UNCHRISTIAN PSYCHOLOGICAL TORTURE" and it's divided into 10 chapters.




    On the 5th century BC, the Athenians instituted a form of social rejection called ostracism. Once every year, the people of Athens could elect one person to be expelled from the affairs of the polis. During the assembly at the Agora, the people were asked whether they wished to hold an ostracism, or not. If the answer was “yes”, they would be asked who should be ostracized. The names that gathered enough “support” would be nominated by the presiding officers to become subject to popular vote within two months time.

    On this occasion, each voter would be given an ostrakon [a piece of broken pottery; this is where the term ostracize derives from] where each voter would scratch the name of the individual he wished to be ostracized. Then, the presiding officers would sort the votes in separate piles. According to Plutarch and Philocorus, a minimum quorum of 6.000 votes was necessary to validate an ostracism. If the vote was validated, the nominated individual had ten days to leave the city, and it should remain exiled for a period of ten years. Death penalty impended upon those who attempted to return before the ten-year ban. The ostracized individual wouldn’t lose his citizen status, nor his assets were confiscated. This practice appears to have been abandoned by the Athenians after the 4th century BC. Other Greek cities, such as Syracuse, Miletos, Argos and Megara appear to have adopted similar practices.

    This was unlike a proper judicial court process, in the sense that there wasn’t an express accusation nor a prosecutor, no inquiry, no witnesses, no trial, no defense; it was understood as a pragmatic way to resolve political and social tensions in a preemptive, rather than punitive fashion, as ten years would normally suffice to deflate whatever issues that had prompted the expulsion. It is theorized that this procedure was instituted as an outlet to allow the populace to vent their public reproach upon individuals they perceived as tyrants, traitors, arrogants, misbehaved or in any other way a threat to public stability, without resorting to mob violence, lynching murder or even civil war.

    The underlying aspect of absolute social rejection and exclusion imparted by the original practice of ostracism became the modern synonym of the term. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines ostracism as “exclusion by general consent from common privileges or social acceptance”. The Collins dictionary defines it as “to exclude or banish (a person) from a particular group, society, etc”.


  • EdenOne


    Part 2 - Ostracism, social rejection and psychological torture


    Ostracism is, therefore, in its modern sense, a blanket term to accommodate several forms of social rejection. These may be classified as active or passive. Active forms of social rejection may include teasing, bullying or ridiculing. Passive forms of social rejection include ignoring a person, denial of communication, social isolation. Shunning is a deliberate form of passive social rejection perpetrated by a group or an individual upon an individual or a group of individuals as a form of sanction, expressed through extensive denial of association and communication with the target(s) of such disciplinary measure. When a tight group perceives one of its members as a dissident, or otherwise a threat, it reacts by more or less formally rejecting association with said member, and that action spreads to the entire community as a form of solidarity. The purpose is to socially isolate the dissenting member from the rest of the community.

    Researcher Kipling D. Williams noted, in his work The Pain of Exclusion (2011):

    “Psychologists Roy Baumeister of Florida State University and Mark Leary of Duke University have argued in a 1995 article that belonging to a group is a need - not a desire or preference - and, when thwarted, leads to psychological and physical illness. Ostracism uniquely threatens all these needs … Social rejection also deals a uniquely harsh blow to self-esteem, because it implies wrongdoing. Worse, the imposed silence forces us to ruminate, generating self-deprecating thoughts in our search for an explanation. The forced isolation also makes us feel helpless… Ostracism makes our very existence feel less meaningful because this type of rejection makes us feel invisible and unimportant. In fact, the emotional fallout is so poignant that the brain registers it as physical pain.”

    Almerindo E. Ojeda, from the Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas University of California at Davis, in his essay What is Psychological Torture? (2006) postulated that social isolation must be understood as a form of psychological torture.

    The United Nations’ Convention Against Torture (1987), defines ‘torture’ as:

    any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by, or at the instigation of, or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity”.

    It becomes common sense, then, that shunning, as a deliberated act of social isolation perpetrated by a group upon a dissenting member as means of punishment decreed by a person acting in an official capacity within that group, designed to inflict mental suffering, is indeed a form of psychological torture.

    The goals ascribed to the practice of shunning may include:

    a) The attempt to modify the behavior of the shunned individual;

    b) Removing or limiting the influence of said member or formal member from the group;

    c) To act as a deterrent to dissention from the group, either by imparting the fear of exclusion directly onto on the individual, or motivating group members to apply peer pressure upon the individual to discourage dissenting behavior.

    d) To isolate a member of the group or the entire group from social or intellectual interaction with external influences deemed threatening to the group.

    The practice of shunning is known to have devastating effects on the shunned individual’s life, as shunning usually is applied regardless of any existing relationship ties, such as family, friends, professional and recreational ties, etc. In the most extreme cases, shunning may result in breaking families apart, destroying marriages and separating children and their parents. It has also a detrimental effect on the shunned member’s closest familial, spousal, social, emotional and economic bonds. Therefore, the effect of shunning extends far beyond the mere punishment of the shunned individual through psychological suffering, but such psychological suffering pervades as well the lives of those who deliberately cut ties with the shunned member, thus causing the perpetrators of shunning to become its victims also. The depth of such traumatic emotional bruises accomplished by means of this relational aggression cannot be overstated.

    For the above reasons, extreme forms of shunning have become at odds with civil rights.


  • EdenOne


    Part 3 - Shunning among Jehovah's Witnesses


    One must start by saying that shunning isn’t an exclusive tenet of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ beliefs.

    Within the most orthodox Jewish communities, Cherem is the most rigorous form of ecclesiastical censure and signifies a ban for an indefinite period, during which no one was permitted to associate with, nor teach the offender, nor work for him, nor benefit him in any way, except when he was in need of the bare necessities of life.

    Until 1983, the Catholic Church’s Code of Canon Law had a provision for a most severe form of excommunication, known as vitandi. The Catholic Encyclopedia defines this sanction as a decree demanding that “the faithful must have no intercourse with them [the shunned ones] either in regard to sacred things or, to a certain extent, profane matters”.

    Among the Amish, shunning is also practiced. It is often termed Meidung, the German word for “avoidance”. The stated intention is not to punish, but to be used in love to win the member back by showing them their error. In the case of these very closed communities, shunning has a most devastating effect on the shunned individual, since previously he had virtually no social contact with others beyond his denominational community, thus leaving the shunned individual in a state of almost complete social isolation.

    The Church of Scientology has also its own form of shunning, termed disconnection. This involves members in good standing to quit all communication with Suppressive Persons, or dissenters considered antagonistic towards Church doctrine and policy. Failure to cut ties with a disconnected person is in itself considered a Suppressive Act.

    Other churches practice milder forms of excommunication, but this article will focus of the particular case of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

    Among Jehovah’s Witnesses there are several forms of congregational discipline. These may be divided between judicial and non-judicial actions.

    On the non-judicial group, these actions may include “Local Needs”, where a local elder addresses the congregation in the Service Meeting with a local matter deemed by the Body of Elders as being worthy of attention; “Shepherding Calls”, where two elders encourage or give counsel in private to a member of the congregation regarding a perceived flaw or fault or other spiritually endangering situation; sometimes special assignments or recommendations are withheld from an individual based on perceived spiritual weaknesses of the individual; sometimes existing assignments or positions of responsibility are removed; “privileges of service” may be limited or withdrawn entirely; “marking” involves avoiding close social interaction with someone who repeatedly insists on wrongful behavior despite counseling from elders.

    Serious sins will involve the elders of the congregation taking judicial action towards the member of the congregation known to be, or accused to be, or suspected to be guilty of a serious transgression. Only baptized Witnesses are subject to judicial procedures. These judicial procedures may result in formal reproof or disfellowshipping. Evidence of actions leading to judicial procedure may come from voluntary confession to the elders or from witnesses to the said action. A judicial committee of three elders is formed when evidence of serious transgression is deemed credible, and this committee will investigate the allegations. A judicial hearing is arranged, where the judicial committee takes on the role of prosecutor, judge and jury. After the charges are presented, and the source of the accusation is disclosed, the accused is given the opportunity to make an opening statement. If no admission of guilt is offered, witnesses will be heard, one at a time. Once all witnesses are heard, the committee dismisses the accused and the witnesses, and reviews the evidence presented and the attitude of the accused, as well as possible mitigating circumstances.

    The judicial committee may decide that there’s not sufficient evidence to proceed with a disciplinary action; or that the sin involved isn’t serious enough to require a disciplinary action; or, in case of proof of serious sin, that mitigating circumstances and/or an attitude of repentance were verified, in which case verbal admonishment and formal reproof may ensue; or, if no evidence of sufficient repentance is verified, the disciplinary action taken by the judicial committee may be a decision of disfellowshipping the individual.

    A person may appeal in writing from the disfellowshipping decision if he believes that a serious judgment error was made; if no appeal is made, or if the appeal is rejected, or if a second judicial committee upholds the original decision, a short announcement is made to the congregation, stating that “[name of member] is no longer a Jehovah’s Witness.” A similar announcement is made when someone takes the initiative to dissociate from the congregation. In this case the person writes a letter of dissociation, where he states the wish to no longer be acknowledged as a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In practical terms, the result is the same, and there’s no difference made in the announcement made to the congregation. In either case, no explanations are given to the congregation as to the reasons why someone is no longer a Jehovah’s Witness.

    In brief, the above describes the procedure of excommunication practiced by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. The stated intention of the disciplinary action in the shape of disfellowshipping is explained in the book Organized To Do Jehovah’s Will, the basic procedure manual for all baptized Jehovah’s Witnesses:

    “It is necessary to expel the unrepentant wrongdoer from the congregation, thus denying him fellowship with Jehovah's clean congregation. This is done to remove the bad influence of the wrongdoer from the congregation, thereby safeguarding the moral and spiritual cleanness of the congregation and protecting its good name (…)” (Organized To Do Jehovah’s Will, Ed. 2005, p. 153 – bold added by me)

    Therefore, the primary reason for terminating someone’s membership from the congregation is to the benefit of the congregation, not to the benefit of the individual who is disfellowshipped. The spiritual interests of the disfellowshipped individual come second, although they are also apparently taken into account:

    “The strong discipline shows love for the wrongdoer. It may be just the jolt he needs to come to his senses and take the steps necessary to return to Jehovah.” – Keep Yourself In God’s Love, Ed. 2008, p. 35.

    Thus, disfellowshipping is regarded as a measure of discipline, a form of “tough love” from Jehovah’s organization, which may help the wrongdoer to come to its senses and return to the congregation.

    Once the announcement is made that someone is “no longer a Jehovah’s Witness”, the relationship of the congregation towards the disfellowshipped or dissociated individual changes radically. How does the Watchtower Society instruct its members to treat disfellowshipped or dissociated individuals?

    In the official website of the Jehovah’s Witnesses,, in a section of Frequently Asked Questions, the visitor may encounter the following question: Do you shun former members of your religion? The first paragraph answers:

    “Those who were baptized as Jehovah’s Witnesses but no longer preach to others, perhaps even drifting away from association with fellow believers, are not shunned. In fact, we reach out to them and try to rekindle their spiritual interest.” – November 6th, 2013

    This part of the answer seems to indicate that those who “were baptized … but no longer preach … drifting away from association with fellow believers” are considered among the “former members”, although no publication of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is clear about such statement. These are Jehovah’s Witnesses that, due to several circumstances became inactive and faded out from the congregation, not being subject to any disciplinary action by the local body of Elders. True, these inactive individuals are still considered fellow Jehovah’s Witnesses and, despite perhaps some lukewarm treatment by others active in the congregation, they continue to enjoy fellowship with their brethren Witnesses. But the Watchtower Society is clear enough about how those who were subject to disfellowshipping are to be treated:

    “If, however, a baptized Witness makes a practice of breaking the Bible’s moral code and does not repent, he or she will be shunned or disfellowshipped.”

    An article in the Watchtower magazine stated the following:

    “The expelled person is not a mere man of the world who has not known God nor pursued a godly way of life. Rather, he has known the way of truth and righteousness, but he has left that way and unrepentantly pursued sin to the point of having to be expelled. So he is to be treated differently (…)the Bible commands Christians not to keep company or fellowship with a person who has been expelled from the congregation. Thus "disfellowshiping" is what Jehovah's Witnesses appropriately call the expelling and subsequent shunning of such an unrepentant wrongdoer. Their refusal to fellowship with an expelled person on any spiritual or social level reflects loyalty to God's standards and obedience to his command”. – The Watchtower, 1981, Sept. 15, p. 20-26; “Disfellowshipping – How to view it.”

    Quoting the above article from the Watchtower, the book Pay Attention to Yourselves and to All The Flock (A book on congregational policies only available to active Elders, Ed. 1991, p. 103) instructed:

    “Disfellowshipped and disassociated ones are shunned by those who wish to have a good relationship with Jehovah.” – added bold by me.

    It’s interesting to note that in the article of 1981, the Watchtower acknowledges the difference between “expelling” and “shunning” as two separate stages of the procedure of disfellowshipping, as does the Pay Attention … book; whereas in the website (as of November 6th, 2013) the Watchtower Society simply equates shunning with disfellowshipping. This will be brought to notice further on this article.

    How strict is the order to shun the disfellowshipped or dissociated individual? Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that even a simple polite greeting may be enough to be classified as “sharing in that person’s sins”, as the following passage of the said Watchtower article reads:

    “As distinct from some personal "enemy" or worldly man in authority who opposed Christians, a disfellowshiped or disassociated person who is trying to promote or justify his apostate thinking or is continuing in his ungodly conduct is certainly not one to whom to wish "Peace." (1 Tim. 2:1, 2) And we all know from our experience over the years that a simple "Hello" to someone can be the first step that develops into a conversation and maybe even a friendship. Would we want to take that first step with a disfellowshiped person? … All faithful Christians need to take to heart the serious truth that God inspired John to write: "He that says a greeting to [an expelled sinner who is promoting an erroneous teaching or carrying on ungodly conduct] is a sharer in his wicked works.”

    Failing to keep strict avoidance of contact with the disfellowshipped person may bring the member in good standing to be under scrutiny from the congregation Elders. The 2010 edition of the book Pay Attention to Yourselves and All the Flock states:

    “If members of the congregation are known to have undue association with disfellowshipped or disassociated relatives who are not in the household, elders should counsel and reason with those members of the congregation from the Scriptures. ... If it is clear that a Christian is violating the spirit of the disfellowshipping decree in this regard and does not respond to counsel, it may be that he would not qualify for congregation privileges, which require one to be exemplary. He would not be dealt with judicially unless there is persistent spiritual association or he openly criticizes the disfellowshipping decision.” - pp.114-116

    Elders in each congregation are instructed to keep a stern watch so that members of the congregation keep strict avoidance of the disfellowshipped / dissociated individual. A member of the congregation may lose privileges or even get himself disfellowshipped if openly and repeatedly challenges the shunning policy. This is perceived as a real possibility by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who are thus psychologically coersed into accepting and sharing in the practice of shunning disfellowshipped and dissociated former members whom they considered to be part of their spiritual family up until then.


  • EdenOne


    Part 4 - Doctrinal development and scriptural support


    What is the biblical support invoked by the Jehovah’s Witnesses for such policy towards disfellowshipped and dissociated individuals? How has this practice evolved over the years?

    Before we inspect those Scriptures, one must keep in mind that the terms disfellowshipping and dissociation aren’t “scriptural” – meaning, that they don’t appear in the Bible, anywhere.

    In 1882, Charles Taze Russell, the first President of the Watchtower Society wrote:

    “We are not of those who disfellowship Christian brethren on account of some differences of opinion; but when it comes to the point of denying the very foundation of all christianity we must speak out and withstand all such to the face, for they become the enemies of the cross of Christ.” – The Watchtower, 1882, December, p. 423.

    In his work Studies in the Scriptures, Vol. VI, Russell conceded that disciplinary actions, such as termination of fellowship, were a matter for the entire church, not just for a restrict committee of Elders; even then, it was only meant for those who rejected Christ’s ransom, and no shunning was involved:

    “The administration of discipline is not the function of the elders only, but of the entire Church. Thus it is evident that the Elders were in no sense to be judges of the members-hearing and judgment were left to the local body, or Church. Indeed, even if the transgressor refuses to hear (obey) the decision of the entire Church, no punishment is to be inflicted or even attempted. What then? Merely the Church is to withdraw from him its fellowship and any and all signs or manifestations of brotherhood. Thenceforth the offender is to be treated "as a heathen man and a publican." Matt. 18:17" Studies in the Scriptures Vol. VI - The New Creation (1904) pp. 289, 290

    In the book What Pastor Russel Said, published in 1916, the following is credited to the first president of the Watchtower Society:

    “The Lord's word does not authorize any court of the Elders, or anyone else, to become busybodies. This would be going back to the practices of the Dark Ages during the inquisition; and we would be showing the same spirit as did the inquisitors.”

    In 1920, the Watchtower Society, now under the leadership of J.F. Rutherford, advocated:

    “We would not refuse to treat one as a brother because he did not believe the Society is the Lord's channel. If others see it in a different way, that is their privilege. There should be full liberty of conscience”- The Watchtower, 1920, April 1, p.100-101.

    Thus it can be said that in the first decades since 1879, the practice of terminating one’s fellowship with the Christian congregations under the auspices of the Watchtower Society as a disciplinary action was at best a truly rare event, justified by exceptional wrongdoing, such as causing a schism whitin the movement.

    However, the policy started to change after WWII. In May of 1944, an article in The Watchtower transferred the responsibility of disciplinary action from the entire congregation into judicial committees. A broader number of offenses, mostly involving sexual misconduct and apostasy, became subject to judicial action. The leadership of the Jehovah’s Witnesses became increasingly interested in setting clear guidelines for disfellowshipping, treating the subjects of disfellowshipping in no uncertain terms:

    “ (…) the reason for disfellowshipping is that some persons get into this congregation of God that do not love Christ. Those who are acquainted with the situation in the congregation should never say Hello or Goodbye to him. He is not welcome in our midst, we avoid him. Such an individual has no place in the clean organization or congregation of God. He should go back to the wicked group that he once came from and die with that wicked group with Satan’s organization.” - The Watchtower 1952 March 1 p.131,134 - emphasis added by me

    Reviewing the evolution of the implementation of the disfelowshipping policy, The Watchtower conceded that special emphasis was put on this disciplinary action since early 1950’s:

    “this extreme measure of excommunication or disfellowshiping was not widely practiced among the congregations and was not made a requirement on congregations until 1952. No longer could Christian conduct be viewed simply as a matter affecting only the individual or individuals involved." - The Watchtower 1967 October 1, p.596

    By 1957, association with a disfellowshipped person became itself a reason to be disfellowshipped:

    “If a publisher refuses to do this and ignores the prohibition on associating with the disfellowshipped one, that publisher is rebelling against the congregation of Jehovah, and rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as idolatry and teraphim. If after sufficient warning the publisher persists in associating with the disfellowshipped person instead of aligning himself with Jehovah's organization he also should be disfellowshipped.” - The Watchtower, 1955 Oct 1 p.607

    As stated before, the terms “disfellowshipping” and “dissociation” can’t be found in the Bible. So, where does the concept of “termination of fellowship” come from?

    The Jehovah’s Witnesses justify their policy of disfellowshipping, or excommunication, mainly on the following Scriptures:

    Matthew 18:15-18 "If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he won't listen, take one or two more with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. If he pays no attention to them, tell the church. But if he doesn't pay attention even to the church, let him be like an unbeliever and a tax collector to you.” - HCSB

    1 Corinthians 5:11-13 “But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler-- not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES.” - NASB

    2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14 “ And now, dear brothers and sisters, we give you this command in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: Stay away from all believers who live idle lives and don't follow the tradition they received from us (…) Take note of those who refuse to obey what we say in this letter. Stay away from them so they will be ashamed.” – NLT

    Titus 3:10 – “Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them.” - NIV

    1 Timothy 1:19, 20 “Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked. Hymenaeus and Alexander are two examples. I threw them out and handed them over to Satan so they might learn not to blaspheme God.” - NLT

    2 John 9-11 “Anyone who does not remain in Christ's teaching but goes beyond it, does not have God. The one who remains in that teaching, this one has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your home, and don't say, "Welcome," to him; for the one who says, "Welcome," to him shares in his evil works.” - HCSB

    Romans 16:17 - And now I make one more appeal, my dear brothers and sisters. Watch out for people who cause divisions and upset people's faith by teaching things contrary to what you have been taught. Stay away from them.” - NLT

    We shall examine first the action of disfellowshipping, and then we’ll examine the action of shunning, because they can and should be disentangled.


  • EdenOne


    Part 5 - Authority to discipline through suspension of fellowship


    Disfellowship is defined as “excommunicate” or “exclude someone from fellowship”, and “exclusion from fellowship, especially as a form of discipline in some Protestant and Mormon Churches.”

    Dissociate is defined as “to declare that one is not connected with or a supporter of (someone or something)”.

    In the terminology of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, both terms refer to ending affiliation with the congregation of the Jehovah’s Witnesses; the first as a result of disciplinary action by the congregation, the latter as a result of initiative from the individual. Because they both result in the shunning of the individual by the members of the congregation, we shall now only encompass both situations by the single term ‘disfellowship’.

    A key question that needs to be addressed is: Does the church have the right to excommunicate one of its members?

    The Catholic Encyclopedia argues that since the ecclesia is a society, a spiritual society at that, one of its consequences is that it has “the right to exclude and deprive of their rights and social advantages its unworthy or grievously culpable members, either temporarily or permanently. This right is necessary to every society in order that it may be well administered and survive”. The members of any society, governed by legitimate authority, are in pursuit of common goals using suitable means. Members of said society who by their obstinate disobedience, reject the means of attaining this common end deserve to be removed from such a society.

    It’s clear, from the Scriptures quoted above, that both Jesus and the apostles validated this notion. One may question the arrangement by which the legitimacy of authority is established, the process to determine guilt or innocence, or the treatment dispensed to those who are excommunicated, but the validity of ending fellowship with a member of the Christian community on grounds of irreconcilable non-conformity is entirely legitimate from a Scriptural point of view.

    Jehovah excommunicated Satan from his heavenly circle (Revelation 12:7, 8); He banished Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, and also their son Cain after he murdered Abel. (Genesis 3:23, 24; 4:8-15); He rejected Saul and removed him from his office as King of Israel - 1 Samuel 15:26.

    Jesus Christ said he would reject and eject unsuitable individuals from his church. In Revelation, he told to his disciples in Laodicea: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:16) He also promised to take disciplinary action against wrongdoers lurking within the congregations, such as “that woman, Jezebel” and the supporters of the Nicolaitan sect. (Revelation 2:1, 6, 12-23) In several of his parables - the wedding clothes, the talents, the dragnet, the sheep and the he-goats – there are explicit references to individuals who claim to follow the Son of God, but are rejected and ‘cast away’ from his presence. (Matthew 13:49, 50; 22: 12, 13; 25:30, 41) He was very direct in his words:

    “Not everyone who says to Me, Lord, Lord!' will enter the kingdom of heaven (…) Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' Then I will announce to them, I never knew you! Depart from Me, you lawbreakers!'” – Matthew 7:21-23 - HSCB

    The apostles of Jesus Christ followed suit their God and their Master in this regard. The correspondence exchanged between the apostle Paul and the Corinthian congregation specifically mentions one scandalous known case of fornication that was being tolerated by the local Christian congregation, and Paul instructed his fellow brethren:

    “In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 5:4, 5 - NASB

    To ‘deliver this man to Satan’ meant to cast away the unrepentant member away from the congregation, to the world outside the church, the realm of Satan, where he would face dire spiritual needs that might cause him to destroy his fleshy sins – repent – and return to the house of salvation, the Christian congregation. In fact, this was exactly what happened, and, having heard news of this man’s repentance, Paul instructed the Corinthian congregation to reinstate the repented sinner. – 2 Corinthians 2:6-8

    In similar terms, Paul also instructed Timothy to cast away from the congregation in Ephesus two rebellious members, Hymenaeus and Alexander:

    “Cling to your faith in Christ, and keep your conscience clear. For some people have deliberately violated their consciences; as a result, their faith has been shipwrecked. Hymenaeus and Alexander are two examples. I threw them out and handed them over to Satan so they might learn not to blaspheme God.” – 1 Timothy 1:19, 20 - NLT

    In his letter to the Hebrews, the apostle Paul likened God to an earthly father who corrects his children by discipline. He wrote:

    “the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives (…) God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.” - Hebrews 12:6-10 – HSCB

    In the same passage of his letter to the Hebrews, Paul quotes from Proverbs 3:11, 12, and exhorts his brethren:

    “My son, don't make light of the LORD's discipline, and don't give up when he corrects you.” - Hebrews 12:5 - HSCB

    The Christian shouldn’t complaint about God’s discipline, as if any discipline coming from God is unwarranted, unfair, or too hard to bear. It’s true that being the subject of a disciplinary action is a trialing time for anyone, as Paul admitted:

    “No discipline seems enjoyable at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it yields the fruit of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it. – Hebrews 12:11 – HSCB

    However hard to bear, God assures us that no discipline will be dispensed that is too hard to endure for his children. We are remembered:

    “No trial has overtaken you that is not faced by others. And God is faithful: He will not let you be tried beyond what you are able to bear, but with the trial will also provide a way out so that you may be able to endure it.”- 1 Corinthians 10:13 – NB

    When God cursed and banished Cain after murdering his brother, he complained: “My punishment is too great for me to bear! Today you are driving me from the land, and I will be hidden from your presence; I will be a restless wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me!" God then made provisions that Cain’s life would be spared and he could have a place to live, land to cultivate, and he could get married and raise a family. His punishment was mitigated so that it wasn’t “too great to bear”. - Genesis 4:11-17

    Therefore, given the above, it seems unquestionable that the modern Christian church has the right to cease fellowship with members that unrepentantly do not conform to the Christian norms, and individual Christians shouldn’t be weary that such disciplinary actions are implemented within the congregation.


  • besty

    thanks - great stuff - why dont you make a new website just for this? :-)

  • EdenOne


    Part 6 - Does disfellowshipping really equal a death sentence?


    In the pages of The Watchtower magazine, the Watchtower Society drew clear comparisons between the capital punishment of stoning in ancient Israel, and the Christian practice of disfellowshipping.

    “Instruction was given to those in the nation who were in responsible positions to see that the violators were removed and stoned, because they were worthy of death (disfellowshipped) as the result of profaning God’s Word” – The Watchtower, April 1, 1958, p. 211

    “In ancient times, 24.000 Israelites were put to death in one day for this offense against God, and presently thousands each year are disfellowshipped from the Christian congregation for fornication.” – The Watchtower, August 1, 1986, p. 14

    Already in 1952, the following comment had been made in the section Questions From Readers of The Watchtower:

    “The law of the land and God's law through Christ forbid us to kill apostates, even though they be members of our own flesh-and-blood family relationship.” – The Watchtower, November 15, 1952, p. 703

    The likening of Christian disfellowshipping to the ancient capital punishment of stoning is enough to send chills down the spine of any sincere disciple of Christ. Why is this comparison inadequate and even shocking?

    We must remember that early Christians lived in a time and amidst a society where stoning was practiced openly, although admittedly not too often. The Bible recorded a few episodes involving Jesus, Stephan and Paul. (John 8:59; Acts 7:58, 59; 14:9; 2 Corinthians 11:25) Despite the public acceptance of the practice as a punitive action, there isn’t any record whatsoever that depicts the early Christians engaging in such practice as means to enforce internal discipline. They could have done it if such was their understanding, but they didn’t. The reason is that they understood that such punitive type of action wasn’t allowed anymore among the believers, even against the greatest dissenters or the most degraded of sinners amongst them. In fact, the mere idea that a member of the congregation that becomes subject of disciplinary action resulting in his ejection from the congregation is for all purposes physically dead and should be treated as such cannot be found in the Scriptures.

    We do find the notion of ‘spiritual death’, however. For example, on the subject of some widows in Ephesus, Paul wrote to Timothy:

    “Now a true widow, a woman who is truly alone in this world, has placed her hope in God. She prays night and day, asking God for his help. But the widow who lives only for pleasure is spiritually dead even while she lives.” – 2 Timothy 5:5, 6 NLT

    The same concept of ‘spiritual death’ can be found in the parable of the prodigal son. When the father rejoices that his youngest son has returned, he says:

    For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” – Luke 15:24

    Jesus said about those in the congregation of Sardis:

    “I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” – Revelation 3:1

    To become ‘spiritually dead’ differs much - even metaphorically speaking – from the capital punishment practiced in ancient Israel. Although the ancient Jews believed in a resurrection of both wicked and righteous, as expressed in Daniel 12:1-4, someone sentenced to death in their earthly life didn’t have any possibility of repentance or rehabilitation once the death penalty was executed. And this is a symbolical difference that really matters, and the reason why any semblance between a disfelowshipping and capital death in ancient Israel is altogether unacceptable. Even the Watchtower Society recognizes that the disfellowshipped person may in time be readmitted into the congregation, if such reinstatement is sought after by the individual and enough evidence of genuine repentance is shown over a reasonable period of time.

    Therefore, to resemble disfellowshipped individuals from the Christian congregations of the Jehovah’s Witnesses to dead people, even criminals punished with capital penalty, and encouraging active members to treat those who left as if they were dead by shunning them, qualifies as nothing more than simple rhetoric of hate. And the Bible condemns hate in no uncertain terms:

    If someone says, "I love God," but hates a Christian brother or sister, that person is a liar … Whoever says, "I know him," but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person … anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness.” - 1 John 4:20; 2:4, 11 NLT

    And what exactly has Jesus commanded his followers to do?

    “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” - Luke 6:27 ESV

    The Watchtower Society leadership would argue that those who left the Jehovah’s Witnesses by disfellowshipping fall into a special category, presumably worse than ‘enemies’ and ‘haters’, that warrant an exception to the commandment of Jesus. While it’s true that Paul wrote than someone who has ‘denied the faith is worse than an unbeliever’, this simply means that such person doesn’t have the excuse of ignorance that may benefit the unbeliever, but this still doesn’t warrant such person an exceptional treatment that denies him/her basic human decency from their former brethren. - 1 Timothy 5:8

    Further evidence can be seen in the fact that the disfellowshipped person that seeks reinstatement isn’t required to be rebaptized. Once the reinstatement takes place, he/she is automatically part of the congregational fellowship - a “brother” or a “sister”. Why not rebaptize? Because the fellowship has been indefinitely suspended, but not permanently cancelled. That person who was expelled from the congregation is still a brother or a sister in Christ because on the occasion of their baptism they have consecrated their lives to God in a sacrament that is deemed irrevocable. While ousted from the congregation, they’re simply a brother or sister who finds itself in a temporary condition of ‘spiritual death’ towards the congregation - although not necessarily towards God or Jesus. Therefore, there can be no exception – those who have been disfellowshipped from the congregation must not be hated nor treated as if they died a physical death, for that is a violation of Christian principles.

    “God is love”, explained the apostle John. (1 John 4:16) “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) “God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.” (Romans 5:8) How could a God of love, willing to sacrifice so much for a sinning mankind, subject any human being to torture, even the psychological type?

    As mentioned before, very much like a human father, “the Lord disciplines the one he loves.” (Hebrews 12:6-10 – HSCB) But, which father in his sound mind would subject his children to torture as means to discipline or punish them? Wouldn’t the laws of the land consider that a crime? God and Christ are no criminals. When the Israelites strayed from the worship of Jehovah to serve Moloch, they subjected their own children to unspeakable suffering by ritualistically burn them in the altar fire for worship, “a thing I did not command; I never entertained the thought”, said Jehovah. (Jeremiah 7:31) The idea of subjecting someone to that sort of torture and death is abhorrent to God. Wouldn’t this be true when it comes to subjecting someone to psychological torture so unbearable, that such could result in someone taking its own life? Surely a God of love would consider that very thought similarly abhorrent.

    In the same passage of his letter to the Hebrews, Paul quotes from Proverbs 3:11, 12, and exhorts his brethren: “don't make light of the LORD's discipline, and don't give up when he corrects you”. (Hebrews 12:5) We shouldn’t complaint about God’s discipline, as if any discipline coming from God is unwarranted, unfair, or too hard to bear. Yet, it’s legitimate to ask if “shunning” – understood as the total avoidance, severing of all communication or interaction towards the disfellowshipped person – is something that God ever sanctioned, or if it’s something else, to wit, a man-made rule.

    Jesus warned about man-made rules taught by religious authorities dressed as theocratic ordinances. He exposed the self-righteous Jewish religious leaders for being unreasonably concerned with the strict adherence to the Law even in minutiae, while they grossly disregarded the superior value of mercy. (Matthew 12:7) He said about such leaders:

    “They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.” – Matthew 23:4 NLT

    What made their demands ‘unbearable’? After all, the “wisdom from above is … considerate, full of mercy”, James wrote. (James 3:17) Quoting from Isaiah 29:13, Jesus Christ said about these religious leaders:

    “Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God. For you ignore God's law and substitute your own tradition. Disregarding the command of God, you keep the tradition of men.'” – Mark 7:7, 8 NLT, HCSB

    Therefore, it is necessary to ask:

    Is the practice of shunning disfellowshipped individuals a command of God, or a tradition of men?

    Jesus taught that LOVE would be the identifying trait of his disciples. Not discipline; not righteousness; not zeal; not faith; not even sanctity; all those are desirable traits of the Christians, but LOVE is the ultimate Christian quality. (John 13:34, 35) “Love never fails”, wrote Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:8. Love can achieve what mere discipline and punishment often fail to achieve: genuine repentance from the wrongdoer or the one that grew bitter cold towards Christian values. Love stimulates love in return.

    Christian shepherds are urged to imitate the way of the Great Shepherd, Jesus Christ. “[Christ] is able to deal compassionately with those who are ignorant and erring”, and he expect that those Elders to whom his precious sheep are entrusted to imitate his style of shepherding. (Hebrews 5:1; 1 Peter 5:2, 3) And how exactly should a fellow brother or sister who has given in to sin or doubt be treated, not only by the Elders but by every other single member of the congregation?

    “Dear brothers, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. – Galatians 6:1

    This is a very interesting text. First, because the task to rehabilitate a brother or sister that have been overcome by sin isn’t entrusted specifically to the Elders, but rather, is assigned to the entire congregation of brethren. And how should the sinner be rehabilitated? By being shunned by the congregation as if that person was good as dead? No! The ‘godly’ way to rehabilitate that brother or sister is to be gentle with that person, not harsh. This is true for those who repent before disfellowshipping becomes a necessity, but also for those that eventually fail to respond to help and need be disfellowshipped.

    True, some who left the Christian congregation start behaving as “enemies of the torture stake of the Christ”, which ultimately may result in them not attaining salvation. (Philippians 3:18, 19) But Paul mentioned those “with tears” of sorrow, and not with inflamed hatred. King David once wrote that he ‘had nothing but hatred for those who hated Jehovah’, and ‘counted God’s enemies as his own’ (Psalm 139:20, 21) David certainly had strong feelings against those who rebelled against Jehovah, and in many ways true Christians rightfully feel outraged when others – some of them former fellow Christians – turn against God and Christ, sometimes resorting to blasphemous insults against their Maker and their Savior, towards whom they’ve lost faith. However, David lived in a pre-Christian era. Had he lived in the days of Christianity, wouldn’t he heed to the words of Christ: “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”? (Matthew 5:44) This was indeed a “new commandment” that Jesus introduced – to love others the way God has loved mankind. (John 3:16) No more “hate your enemy” was the way of the godly person; rather, “love your enemy”. And what do we accomplish by loving our enemy? “So that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven”. (Matthew 5:43-45) Whether harsh punishment is due, it’s not up to us, humans to dispense, but for God to decide. We should leave it in his wise hands. – Hebrews 10:29, 30

    Therefore, what compassion, gentleness and love is there in treating a disfellowshipped person with silence, distance and avoidance? None. What value is there in making the painful sacrifice of avoiding contact with people we love as friends, relatives, neighbors, co-workers, even close family, if by doing that we’re denying them – and ourselves – what is of greatest value to God than any sacrifice, to wit, mercy?


  • EdenOne


    Part 7- Did Jesus shun sinners?


    Every Christian is urged to become ‘imitator of the Lord’. (1 Thessalonians 1:6) What do we learn by the example of Jesus regarding the way to deal with sinners?

    For example, the gospel according to Luke tells us of a woman known in the community for her immoral lifestyle approached Jesus and anointed his feet. She recognized her need for redemption from sin and showed by her actions that she truly appreciated the person through whom God provided that redemption. But she was still living a sinful way of life. Yet, Jesus did not shun her because she hasn’t yet shown “works of repentance”. He could see her heart in a way no human judge can, but yet, he set the example to his disciples who one day would judge sinners in the congregation, by not shunning sinners. He told her in a most kind way: “Your sins are forgiven” – Luke 7:49

    Tax collectors were poorly regarded in Israel during Jesus’ lifetime, because not only they collected tax money to their foreign oppressors, but often they were unscrupulous, taking more money than what was due from the population. For this, they were regarded as notorious sinners and traitors of the nation. However, contrary to popular practice, Jesus didn’t shun these people either. We read:

    “Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, "This man welcomes sinners and eats with them." Luke 15:1, 2

    Jesus didn’t mind being called “a friend of tax collectors and sinners”. (Luke 7:34) He knew better the difference between shunning a person’s wrongful conduct, and shunning the person itself. He firmly condemned sin, but he was merciful towards sinners, encouraging them instead to repent and change. To his holier-than-thou detractors, he said:

    “There will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” – Luke 15:1-10

    Jesus’ disciples had a powerful example of tolerance in his Master. Even towards his unrepentant foes, the Pharisees and Sadducees and Scribes, Jesus didn’t shun them. He kept exchanging arguments with them, sometimes with strong words, but he didn’t treat them as if they were dead. This reaped good results: After his death, some of the Pharisees embraced Christianity. (Acts 15:5) Jesus not even shunned Judas, despite that during the last supper he was aware that his apostle had betrayed him for money. (John 13:2, 11) Why, Jesus didn’t shun Satan, the most unrepentant of God’s enemies! - Matthew 4:1-11

    Following his rebuke of the Pharisees for their derogatory remark regarding his association with tax collectors and sinners, Jesus went on to tell one of his most powerful lessons: the parable of the prodigal son. The story had two parts, here’s the stretch of Luke 15:11-32 :

    "A man had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the estate I have coming to me'. So he distributed the assets to them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, where he squandered his estate in foolish living." - Luke 15:11-14

    Typically, a son would only access his inheritance upon his father’s death. Reclaiming his share of the state while his father was still living revealed a rebel, immature and selfish attitude, not to mention an astonishing disrespect by his father’s authority. Soon his foolish choices brought him into hardships.

    "After he had spent everything, a severe famine stuck that country, and he had nothing. Then he went to work for one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. He longed to eat his fill from the carob pods the pigs were eating, but no one would give him any."- Luke 15:15, 16

    Away from the mature guidance of his father’s household, the son not only squandered his resources, but he begins to experience hard times, even food shortage, hitting a rock bottom low when he is forced to attend pigs, an unclean animal, and wishing to eat what they ate.

    "When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired hands have more than enough food, and here I am dying of hunger! I'll get up, go to my father, and say to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight. I'm no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired hands.'. So he got up and went to his father." - Luke 15:17-20

    The younger son finally awakes to the misery of his situation. He comes to his senses and realizes that he should go back to his father’s household, for even one of the servants has a better living than he does. He gathers courage and makes his way back to his father’s house, humbled.

    "But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him, and was filled with compassion. He ran, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him. The son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned agains heaven and in your sight. I'm no longer worthy to be called your son.' "But the father told his slaves, 'Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then bring the fattened calf and slaughter it, and let's celebrate with a feast, because this son of june was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!' So they began to celebrate." - Luke 15:20-24

    The father sees him while he is still at a distance, and, filled with compassion, runs to meet and greet his younger son back. He cares not for the speech that his son had prepared. Without further delay, he orders the preparation of a feast to celebrate the return of his son to the household. The rest of the parable deals with the reaction of the older son; it’s not relevant for this article, so I’ll leave it out.

    What lessons do we learn from this parable that are pertinent to the issue of shunning?

    The father represents our heavenly Father. His household represents the Christian congregation. The younger son represents everyone who, with a rebellious attitude and disregard for counseling, leave the congregation to the world outside to pursue an unchristian, ungodly way of life. For a while, these sons of God appear to enjoy an illusive freedom to do as they please outside the congregation. However, as Peter wrote:

    When people escape from the wickedness of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and then get tangled up and enslaved by sin again, they are worse off than before.” - 2 Peter 2:19, 20

    Eventually, the spiritual condition of many who leave degrades, as unwise choices are made, life circumstances shift and world conditions take unexpected turns. Some find themselves hitting personal rock bottom lows, far from the congregation, embarrassed and helpless. This is when many come to their senses and realize that they’d be better off in the congregation after all, and they make a painful journey back to the ‘household’ of their Father.

    The father is a picture of the Heavenly Father, Jehovah. Just as the Father depicted in the parable, God often indulges us, yielding what is his and allowing us to misuse it out of respect for the freedom of choice that he has given us, even if we sometimes are boldly insulting towards him. But he knows that the misuse of our freedom will have no better results than it did with the prodigal son's misuse of his freedom, and God trusts that we will learn our lesson and come back to him. Thus, God awaits patiently, with loving compassion to restore his wayward sons and daughters when they return to him with humble hearts. He then offers them everything in his household, restoring full relationship with joyful celebration. He doesn't even dwell on the past waywardness.

    When Jesus told this story, if he was teaching his disciples to shun those who leave the congregation, would he mention that the Father, while the son was still away in the distance, ran to meet him? Wouldn’t he say something to the effect that the Father waited for him by the gate? But instead, the Father went outside to reach for his son. The reason? The Father was “filled with compassion” for his wayward child. Before his son finished his pre-scripted speech, the Father interrupts him and takes the conversation into a very different direction, something that even the son didn’t expect – a celebration is ordered to welcome the homecoming son. The father doesn’t treat him like a lowly servant. He is still a son! And did Jesus mention that the Father gave strict orders to those servants in his household to refrain from talking with the younger son until he has shown enough penitence? On the contrary! Everyone should rejoice and celebrate, because the son that was spiritually dead was now living again.

    What’s the message conveyed by this powerful story? No disciple of Christ should treat his brother or sister that went astray from the congregation as if they were as good as dead. God certainly doesn’t do that, and each one of us is urged to “follow God's example, therefore, as dearly loved children.” (Ephesians 5:1) The example he sets is to be patient and compassionate with those who have left, in hopes that someday they may come back to their senses, leave their mortal sins behind and attain salvation.

    Jesus didn’t shun sinners. The three parables that he told in reply to the accusation that he welcomed sinners and tax collectors and ate with them – the prodigal son, the lost coin, the lost sheep – all convey the idea that they are lost, and he wants to recover them. Jesus greeted, talked and shared meals with those known sinners, because he wanted to recover them. He didn’t treat them with silence and avoidance, as if to shame them, hoping that shame, guilt and solitude would accomplish winning them. This just wasn’t Christ’s way to do things.

    When he gave advice about solving problems within the congregation, he specified three stages. The last stage would be to bring the matter to the attention of the congregation. What should the congregation do if the wrongdoer wouldn’t repent? Jesus said:

    “If he pays no attention to them, tell the church. But if he doesn't pay attention even to the church, let him be like an unbeliever and a tax collector to you.” – Matthew 18:17 - HSCB

    What was Jesus saying here? Many Bible commentators point out that pious Jews wouldn’t have civil nor religious conversations with gentiles, nor with a ‘notorious sinner’ - such as a tax collector was accounted - and much less would have a meal together or enjoy friendly and familiar acquaintance. In this perspective, it would seem logical that shunning would be the way to treat those who leave the congregation. This is the current official teaching of the Governing Body of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

    However, this fails to take into account the obvious: What example should Christ’s disciples imitate - his example, or that of the holier-than-thou Jewish leaders? John wrote:

    “Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Jesus did.”

    - 1 John 2:6 - NLT

    Many other Bible verses urge us to have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. (Philippians 2:3-8; 2 Corinthians 3:18; John 15:9-11; 1 Corinthians 11:1) If Jesus didn’t shun sinners, nor has he instructed us to do so, should we go and shun those who were disfellowshipped, treating them as if they were “as good as dead”, non-existent? That’s entirely the un-Christian thing to do.

    Yet, despite all evidence, the Watchtower Society and its leadership would have the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that their authority is such, that they can have the audacity to blatantly reverse the very words of Jesus: “Love your enemies”. How so? The following is a passage of the Watchtower in 1961:

    "Jesus encouraged his followers to love their enemies, but God's Word also says to "hate what is bad." When a person persists in a way of badness after knowing what is right, when the bad becomes so ingrained that it is an inseparable part of his make-up, then in order to hate what is bad a Christian must hate the person with whom the badness is inseparably linked." The Watchtower 1961 July 15 p.420

    When someone claiming to be invested with theocratic authority twists the legitimate words from divine origin, to mean something that they don’t, in order to make them suit their own doctrinal agenda, isn’t that the same thing that the Pharisees were guilty of? “Because of your traditions you have destroyed the authority of God's word”, accused Jesus. (Mark 7:13 GWT) Each Christian, individually, should ask itself the same question that Peter and John asked the judges of the Sanhedrin:

    “Which is right in God's eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges!” – Acts 4:19 NIV


  • EdenOne


    Part 8 - What about Bible passages that apparently support shunning?


    There are only two Bible passages that are usually mentioned to support the practice of shunning among the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They are 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 and 2 John 1:10, 11.

    However, before we examine these passages, it’s important to put them into context. The early Christian congregation functioned as a voluntary religious association; this Christian fellowship had its major expressions in the form of communal gatherings. These events, originally held once a week, borrowed from existing Jewish and Greco-Roman traditions and practices in social and religious gatherings and adapted them to the Christian theme and developed a few new features as well. As a rule, whenever early Christians met as a community, the central event was the sharing of a meal, typically a supper, or Deipnon, later known as the Eucharistia. Along with it, another component was the Symposium, variably comprised of prayers, thanksgivings and blessings, preaching, reading of scriptures and authoritative writings, singing, prophesying and healings; naturally, convivial exchange between the members of the community took place throughout the entire function. In the early days of the Christian congregation, there weren’t dedicated meeting places – the congregations gathered in private homes of brethren who generously allowed the use of their household for this Christian feature. – 1 Corinthians 16:19; Romans 16:23; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 1:2

    Researcher Valery A. Alikin, in his excellent study The Earliest History of the Christian Gathering – Origin, Development and Contento f the Christian Gathering in the First to Third Centuries (2009) wrote: “The food and drink consumed at Christian suppers, for example, were often said to represent Christ, whereas taking the meal was sometimes regarded as a rite accomplished in remembrance of Jesus. The Christian character of the meal also led to its being designated by typically Christian appellations, such as “the Lord’s Supper. (...) The participants experienced the meal as a gathering of the new family of the children of God. In their view, it expressed their community and unity “in Christ.” Looked at sociologically, it helped to mark the boundaries between them as Christians and the outside world”.

    The early Christians understood the Lord’s Supper as the expression of the congregation’s community with Christ . (1 Corinthians 10:16) Sunday, the first day of the week, was the day of choice for the Christian meetings to take place, usually in the evenings. (1 Corinthians 16:2) Thus, Sunday received a special Christian name because of the communal gatherings that were held on that day. They designation of the Sunday as the “Lord’s day”, or kuriakh. It appears that the early Christians of Jewish origin preserved the Sabbath evening as the family gathering for a meal, but instituted the Sunday – the first possible evening after the Sabbath – as the evening for the Christian meal, considered now as of greater value, to the point of outshining and eventually replacing the Sabbath altogether.

    The ordinary pattern of the two-fold communal meal of the early Christian congregations until the third century usually began with the participants reclining or sit down by the table; the host would say grace over the food and the drink. The bread was broken and the participants proceeded to eat. Bread and wine featured as the main elements of most evening meals consumed by ordinary people in antiquity, and they constituted the central components of the Christian group supper. It isn’t clear if other kinds of food and drink were used during the Eucharistia, but early Christian writers hint that water, olive oil, salt and herbs, as well as other food items, such as fish or cheese, might have been used, especially if the occasion was deemed special. In any case, the Christian supper wouldn’t be considered an appealing ‘banquet’, except perhaps by the poorest among the community.

    The second part of the Christian meeting was the Symposium. In 1 Corinthians chapters 12-14, the apostle Paul discusses what takes place during the Symposium. Debates could take place with unbelievers who accidentally entered into the gathering of the Christian community. These gatherings were usually full of activities and were joyful ocasions for those who participated in the fellowship. (1 Thessalonians 1:11-25) Usually, the meeting would involve a ritual form of introductury and/or fairwell greeting, the “holy kiss”. Paul mentions this in 1 Thessalonians 1:26 and Romans 16:16 and 1 Corinthians 16:20 and 2 Corinthians 13:12. The apostle Peter also mentions this Christian greeting in the form of a kiss. – 1 Peter 5:14

    In the second century, the order of the meetings changed, mostly for practical reasons: Whereas in the early days the Lord’s supper took place first, and then the Symposium, later the non-baptized were not allowed to take part in the Lord’s supper. Therefore, the Symposium would take place first, and it was opened to everyone, allowing the non-members to leave when it was over. Only then the faithful baptized members of the congregation would stay for the celebration of the communal meal.

    Early Christian writings, such as the Apostolic Traditions, allow us to conclude that the non-baptized were not allowed to partake in the “holy kiss” nor in the Eucharistia. The “holy kiss”, originally an expression of Christian love and fellowship, later became a liturgical act in the gatherings of the early Christian communities. Again, A. Alikin notes that the context in which Paul spoke about the “holy kiss” indicates that it was “connected with the exhortation to greet all members of the community or with the conveyance of greetings from the community from which Paul is writing. The exchange of the kiss seems to have been conceived, therefore, as part of the exchange of greetings between Christians in general: greetings were exchanged between Christians who were geographically separated; kisses were between Christians gathered at one place. (...) The phrase “kiss of love” (1 Peter 5:14) clearly indicates the meaning of the rite: it is an expression of mutual love among Christians. Just like Paul, the author of 1 Peter gives no explanation of the recommendation to kiss each other; he clearly supposes his audience knows this ritual act as well as its meaning. In the Christian communities where the holy kiss was practised, it was regarded as a manifestation of deep sympathy and a rite of inclusion.” (The bold is mine)

    I would like to underline these two important points: “Sharing a meal” and “greeting with a holy kiss” were reserved only for the faithful baptized members of the congregation. Unbelievers and non-iniciated should not be allowed to partake in these features of the Christian gatherings, for they weren’t in union with Christ. They weren’t members of the Christian fellowship. Also, to “receive someone in the household” isn’t a reference to a mere social interaction – it is a reference to the weekly Christian gatherings where the Lord’s supper was to be shared by the faithful members of the congregation.

    With the above in mind, let us now focus on examining the two problematic passages.

    Paul wrote to the brethren in Corinth:

    “When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin. But I wasn't talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or are greedy, or cheat people, or worship idols. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that. I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don't even eat with such people. It isn't my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning. God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, "You must remove the evil person from among you." – 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 NLT

    The context shows that Paul was dealing with a known case of scandalous fornication that was being tolerated in the congregation. Paul ordered that “you are not to associate with …” such person. The Greek word used here for ‘associate with’ is synanamignumi [Strong’s 4874], which means literally “to mix up together” or “to keep company with”. It has the added meaning of “to mix together to influence” or “to associate intimately with”. Nothing in this expression suggests that this person should never be spoken to. Rather, the idea is that such person should not be regarded as a close friend, someone a Christian would socialize with to the point of such association became an undesirable influence upon the faithful Christian.

    The call to ‘remove the evil person from among you’ might suggest that such unrepentant wrongdoers should be avoided once they have been ‘removed’, or disfellowshipped, excommunicated and banned from the congregation. However, a closer look reveals when such restriction in fellowship should take place: “you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people. Don't even eat with such people”… Paul already said that it wasn’t possible to avoid association with unbelievers who indulged in wrongful conduct. This advice is specifically aimed at those who claim to be believers, brothers and sisters in the congregation, who indulge in wrongful conduct in the same way that unbelievers do. They are the ones whose close association with should be avoided. These needed be “removed” – either by being denied the full benefits of close fellowship within the realm of congregation’s worship and social activities of the brethren, or, perhaps ultimately banned from association with the congregation.

    The reference to ”don’t even eat with these people” brings us to mind the Christian sharing in the Eucharistia, the Lord’s supper. These unrepentant Christians had to be “removed” from the Eucharistia, as they weren’t any longer deemed worthy of being in unity with the Lord. They were excluded from the congregational fellowship, and, as per Jesus’ own instructions: “let him be like an unbeliever” (Matthew 18:17). Even unbelievers were allowed to attend Christian meetings (1 Corinthians 14:24), although they were only allowed to take part in the Symposium part of the gathering. Apparently, Paul was advocating that unrepentant sinners should be barred from any participation in the Christian gatherings, be it the Lord’s Supper or the Symposium. Their very presence wasn’t acceptable, unlike the presence of unbelievers. Therefore, the exhortation to stop “associating with” unrepentant sinners who called themselves brothers meant to stop considering them as brethren in Christ, and exclude them from Christian fellowship in the context of the gatherings. There is no indication whatsoever that such restriction would apply to other social interactions outside the congregation affairs.

    This agrees with the advice given by Paul in another letter to a different congregation:

    “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us… Take special note of anyone who does not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, [Greek: sunanamignumi] in order that they may feel ashamed. Yet do not regard them as an enemy, but warn them as you would a fellow believer. “ - 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14, 15.

    The wrongdoer Christian would still be spoken to and greeted and reasonable encouragement could be given to him, but only outside the Christian meetings, since the faithful ones should not associate with them. It would be a contradiction to command the brethren to “not associate” with a sinner, and within the same sentence exhorting to them to “warn them [the sinners] as you would a fellow believer”. The only plausible way to do this would be to bar association with those in the Christian gatherings, while at the same time, social interaction – albeit perhaps limited – would be entirely possible outside the congregational context, and even spiritual matters could, and should, be considered with those who were driven out of the congregation for disciplinary reasons.

    The unrepentant sinner would not be regarded anymore as a “fellow believer”, but he would still be communicating with his former brethren, and would still be counted as a potential “lost sheep” who could be recovered to the fellowship. He would be made feel “ashamed” for being left aside, or denied fellowship in the congregational worship and social activities. And nothing is said about denying full fellowship once the wrongdoing is abandoned, which suggests that such disciplinary action would end once the wrongdoer repented and readjusted his conduct. Paul concluded that these are methods which I as Christ's minister and apostle follow in the discharge of my office”…”I think I am giving you counsel from God's Spirit when I say this”.– 1 Corinthians 4:17; 7:40.

    Therefore, 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 doesn’t describe a generalized shunning practice; it simply describes how an unrepentant sinner should be “removed” from all congregational activity, namely, the communal Christian gatherings.

    What about 2 John 1:10, 11 ?

    “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take them into your house or welcome them. Anyone who welcomes them shares in their wicked work.” – 2 John 1:10, 11 – NIV

    The context (verse 1:7) shows that John was talking about the antichrists. Who are they? They are “deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh … Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.”

    Contrary to popular superstitions, the “antichrist” isn’t Satan, not a demon, nor a specific individual. Any person who teaches that Jesus Christ wasn’t the Son of God coming in the flesh is an antichrist, that is, someone who opposes Christ. These can be:

    · People who teach that Jesus Christ is but a fictional character.

    · People who teach that the historical Jesus Christ was just a wise man, but not the very Son of God.

    · People who pretend to be Jesus Christ.

    · People who pretend to replace Jesus Christ.

    · People who attempt to fight against the teachings of Christ.

    · People who teach that the Son of God never really existed as a material man, but was a spirit in the material world, and his sufferings and death were just a theatrical play, as Christ only appeared to have been killed. In the first century, this was an associated with the Gnostics, especially those who embraced the heretical doctrines of docetism. It was probably with these in mind that John wrote about the “antichrists”.

    The problem with the docetic [from a root meaning “illusionism”] doctrine that denied Jesus Christ’s humanity was that it rendered the resurrection of Jesus Christ unnecessary and unreal, a fake. Since the resurrection of Christ was key to the entire doctrinal building of Christianity, to deny the resurrection of Christ was to deny the entire Christianity. The writings of Paul and John often address this doctrinal issue, which seems to indicate that it was spreading among the congregations. - 1 Corinthians 15:12-14; 2 Timothy 2:18; 1 Thessalonians 4:13, 14; 1 John 4:1-3; 5:5, 10

    Verse 11 reads in Greek: “ho legõn gar autõ chairain koinõnei tois ergois autou tois ponerois”, which literally means: “the [one] telling indeed to him to rejoice partakes in the works of him evil”. The crux in here is the meaning ascribed to chairain [Strong’s 5463]. The possible meanings are: farewell! be glad! God speed! Rejoice! hail! Incidentally, there is another term used in the NT for greetings and salutations in the Greek language: aspasmos [Strong’s 783 – see 1 Corinthians 16:21]; but undoubtly chairain was the most usual form of greeting. The Holman Bible Diccionary notes: “Paul transformed the customary greeting charein into an opportunity for sharing the faith, substituting “grace [charis] to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”. Therefore, the greeting customarily exchanged between Christians was a form of blessing, an expression of shared faith. It was more than a customary polite greeting.

    With the above in mind, it’s easier to understand what the apostle John meant by “anyone who welcomes [or: greets] them shares in their wicked work”. The point was that, as Christians, they could not be uttering a greeting of blessing and shared faith with an antichrist, for that would be a form of sanction towards its teachings. It would be like saying: “God bless your anti-christian teachings”. Now, if a Christian would as much as greet an antichrist in such manner, he would be expressing fellowship towards that person, wishing him success in his false ministry, rejoicing with him in the propagation of a false gospel. This would equal ‘partaking on his wicked work’.

    The antichrist promoters of docetism would parasitically preach and teach their own version of Christianity within the congregations that gathered in the homes of other Christians. Their ministry was extremely subversive to the orthodox, apostolic teaching about the Christ. Therefore, it was necessary to give strong advice to the brethren against welcoming such teachers at the congregational gatherings, or give any sanction – albeit tacit – to their teachings. They were not to be “greeted” also in the sense that they should not receive the ritual “holy kiss” of Christian fellowship because they were actually denying Christ. This would disqualify them to be considered “Christians”, therefore, they should not be greeted and welcomed as if they were in communion with the Christian congregation.

    Therefore, when John wrote “do not take them into your house or welcome them”, he meant to say “do not socialize or in any other way sanction these men when they approach you with the intent of teaching you false doctrine during your meetings”. The words of John do not warrant shunning people, rather, shunning false teachings, by not allowing them any opportunity to expound their false teachings, thus tacitly sanctioning their ministry. Naturally, in order to reduce their influence, this would require that the level of socializing even outside the congregation should be reduced, as Christian fellowship would be suspended, but it wasn’t required to treat these people as if they were “good as dead”. That would be unchristian, for even John wrote that “since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11) True, those who become antichrists are rejecting their sonship towards God, and by extension, they do not consider themselves brothers and sisters anymore with their former Christian fellows who acknowledge their sonship towards God. But that doesn’t authorize a Christian to hate them as people, to wish their doom, only reject what their ideas stand for, knowing where they originate from.

    John’s admonishing strictly applies to “antichrists”, which attempt to deliberately indoctrinate a Christian in their anti-Christian doctrines. Consequently, this does not apply to those who are under reproach from the congregation, or have been disfellowshipped for sins such as immoral conduct, et al. or have decided to leave the congregation because they’ve lost their faith or disagree with the leadership or decide to embrace a different Christian church. Strictly speaking, John’s instructions only apply when someone from within the congregation (or a former Christian) attempts to approach a Christian to teach him anti-Christian doctrine. Any such attempts during a Christian gathering should be entirely shunned; it was therefore mandatory to withdraw Christian fellowship with such individual and bar such person from attending these gatherings. Outside the congregation, however, this would be a matter of personal decision. Each one should carefully weight the pros and cons of keeping close friendship or socializing with such person in order to avert spiritual danger. Yet, this evaluation wouldn’t prevent a polite greeting, or religiously neutral conversation strictly about other matters of daily life, attempting to recover that person to the Christian faith, or even assisting such person when in need, in the spirit of Christian mercy. “Mercy triumphs over judgment”, James wrote. – James 2:13


  • EdenOne


    Part 9 - Conclusion


    Although any Christian church has the right to terminate fellowship with an unrepentant member, and therefore, disfellowship a member as a disciplinary act, such is an extreme measure that should be used sparingly. Certainly, no man has enough authority nowadays to make additions to the Bible as to what sins are subject to disfelowshipping action. For example, although smoking is a filthy habit that deserves rebuke, there aren’t enough bible grounds to disfellowship someone for smoking. The Bible teaches us:

    “Every word of God proves true. He is a shield to all who come to him for protection. Do not add to his words, or he may rebuke you and expose you as a liar.” – Proverbs 30:6 NLT

    When someone, under whatever pretext, even the claim of divine [theocratic] authority, goes ‘beyond what is written’, he is attempting to do the unthinkable: He’s trying to instruct the Lord. But, as Paul asked, “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” (1 Corinthians 2:16) Those who have the audacity to ‘instruct the Lord’ in reality are ‘running ahead of the teaching of Christ’, and risk becoming antichrist themselves in doing so. (2 John 1:9) Therefore, any Christian church, and in this particular, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, would do well to not go beyond what is written to require what God has not required or to prohibit what God has not prohibited.

    When Paul and John wrote their admonishments to their Christian brethren, they were giving their opinion and instructing their methods as experienced ministers in the discharge of their offices as apostles. They were thoroughly convinced that their wisdom could be trusted, and they had God’s spirit. (1 Corinthians 4:17; 7:12, 25, 40; 2 Peter 3:15) No one nowadays can make a verifiable claim to possess equal authority as that of the apostles who interacted directly with Jesus Christ. Therefore, no one has the authority to modify or reverse what was written by the apostles or taught by Jesus, unless Jesus himself would unequivocally change his teachings.

    Therefore, when we are faced with demands that go against the teachings of Christ and the practice of the apostles, our Christian conscience should heed to the words of Peter and John:

    “We must obey God rather than men” – Acts 5:29

    Shunning – avoiding any contact, ignoring, treating with silence, regarding as ‘dead’ those who have been disfellowshipped from the congregation – is a practice unbecoming of a Christian. It causes intense psychological pain to those who are shunned, but also causes unfair and unnecessary psychological pain to those who are compelled to shun them, causing the perpetrators to become victims as well. Shunning breaks family apart, separate children from their parents, socially isolate individuals from their loved ones, and causes severe depression. Generalized shunning of ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses is morally and biblically wrong. It’s in contradiction with Christian love, and is nothing more than a thought-control totalitarian tactic that’s a typical feature of a cult.

    The threat of disfellowshipping and consequent shunning impending over those who disregard the commandment to shun disfellowshiped ones isn’t compatible with the Christian freedom that we advocate. If the “truth shall set you free”, then this unloving practice that castrates the freedom of those inside the congregation cannot be part of the Christian truth, for no one is truly free with a gun pointed at his head. (John 8:32) In most severe cases, it has known to be a decisive factor in some cases of suicide among ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses, transforming its instigators and perpetrators as sharers in a social murder that reaped the life of a fellow human being. No individual Christian should wish to carry such guilt in its conscience; likewise no Christian organization should be guilty before God of promoting unchristian practices. – Hebrews 13:18



    This concludes my article. It's actually 9 chapters (on the website there used to be a brief introduction that would be irrelevant here, and I mistakenly counted it as a chapter). I hope this might be useful if you're doing some reading and research on the topic of shunning.


Share this