The Watchtower Society always says "WE ARE NOT A CULT!"Preparing For Child Custody Cases Booklet (published by the Watchtower Society):
Many try to portray the beliefs and practices of Jehovah's Witnesses as dogmatic and restrictive. When answering questions about your religious beliefs and practices, emphasize the fact that you have formed your beliefs and adopted your practices after much study and reflection your religion is not simply a matter of rules which have been imposed by the elders. You want to emphasize the fact that you are a thinking, well-balanced, and reasonable individual who is competent to act as a parent. Avoid any response which gives the impression that you are unwilling or unable to provide for your child's best interests because of your religious beliefs.
Well, how do you define cult?
The Watchtower, June 15, 1957 Issue, Page 370:
Respond to the directions of the organization as you would the voice of God
The Watchtower, September 15, 2002 Issue, Pages 16-18:
Rather than being critical, let us maintain a spiritually healthy view of the information received through personal study and congregation meetings.
The Watchtower, October 1, 2002 Issue, Page 16:
Strong faith, in turn, fortifies us to obey Jehovah, even when his requirements seem to go contrary to human reasoning.
The Watchtower, October 1, 1967 Issue, Page 590:
....[Jehovah's Witnesses] must recognize and accept this appointment of the "faithful and discreet slave" and be submissive to it.
The Watchtower, January 1, 1942 Issue, Page 5:
God uses The Watchtower to communicate to his people: it does not consist of men's opinions
The Watchtower, May 1, 1957 Issue, Page 274:
We must recognize not only Jehovah God as our Father but his organization as our Mother.
Showing respect for Jehovah's organization really resolves itself down to our attitude toward God's visible channel and the trust that we place in our proved, faithful brothers. If we have become thoroughly convinced that this is Jehovah's organization, that he is guiding and directing his people, then we shall not be unsettled by anything that happens.
We will not 'forsake our mother's teaching' by immediately beginning to criticize and find fault....
....gratefully and willingly show our respect for Jehovah's organization, for she is our mother and the beloved wife of our heavenly Father....
The Watchtower, June 1, 1982 Issue, Page 20:
At times, some bring to the attention of the "slave" class various doctrinal or organizational matters that they feel ought to be revised. Certainly, suggestions for improvement are proper, as are inquiries for clarification.
The proper spirit after offering suggestions is to be content to leave the matter to the prayerful consideration of the mature brothers directing the work in Jehovah's organization. But if those making the suggestions are not content with that and continue to dispute the subject in the congregations with a view to getting others to support them, what then? That would create divisions, and could subvert the faith of some. So Paul counsels: "Keep your eye on those who cause divisions and occasions for stumbling contrary to the teaching that you have learned, and avoid them." Paul also counseled Titus to "reprove those who contradict," adding: "It is necessary to shut the mouths of these, as these very men keep on subverting entire households by teaching things they ought not.... For this very cause keep on reproving them with severity." -Romans 16:17, 18; Titus 1:9-13.
The Watchtower, August 1, 1967 Issue, Pages 469-470:
It is true that some points are difficult to grasp at first, but instead of complaining or arguing about them.... it may be better to leave it alone for a while, waiting further clarification....
....we must avoid complaining even about small things....
The Watchtower, February 1, 1952 Issue, Pages 79-80:
If we do not see a point at first we should keep trying to grasp it, rather than opposing and rejecting it and presumptuously taking the position that we are more likely to be right than the discreet slave.
We should meekly go along with the Lord's theocratic organization and wait for further clarification....
Qualified to be Ministers Book (Published in 1955), Page 156:
If we have love for Jehovah and for the organization of his people we shall not be suspicious, but shall, as the Bible says, 'Believe all things,' all the things that the Watchtower brings out, in as much as it has been faithful in giving us knowledge of God's purposes....
The Watchtower, June 1, 1955 Issue, Page 333:
....today the power of appointment of all servants in congregations rightfully rests with the governing body of the "faithful and discreet slave" class, which is under the direct supervision of Christ Jesus at the temple.
The Watchtower, June 1, 1956 Issue, Page 345:
Newcomers must learn to fall in line with the principles and policies of the New World society and act in harmony with them. Sometimes it becomes rather difficult for some of our new associates to make the change. They are prone to be a little rebellious or unruly. But to become genuinely a part of the New World society it is Imperative that proper respect for theocratic arrangement and order be shown. A humble, obedient mental attitude is required.
The Watchtower, November 1, 1956 Issue, Page 666:
Who controls the organization, who directs it? Who is at the head? A man? A group of men? A clergy class? A pope? A hierarchy? A council? No, none of these. How is that possible? In any organization is it not necessary that there be a directing head or policy-making part that controls or guides the organization? Yes. Is the living God, Jehovah, the Director of the theocratic Christian organization? Yes!
The Watchtower, October 1, 1967 Issue, Page 587:
....the Bible cannot be properly understood without Jehovah's visible organization in mind.
The Watchtower, June 1, 1985 Issue, Page 20:
Although walking with confidence in Jehovah's leadership may not be easy at times...To turn away from Jehovah and his organization, to spurn the direction of the 'faithful and discreet slave,' and to rely simply on personal Bible reading and interpretation is to become like a solitary tree in a parched land.
The Watchtower, January 15, 1983 Issue, Page 22:
Avoid Independent Thinking
Avoid.... questioning the counsel that is provided by God's visible organization.
How is such independent thinking manifested? A common way is by questioning the counsel that is provided by God's visible organization.
The Watchtower, January 15, 1983 Issue, Page 27:
....some who point out that the organization has had to make some adjustments before, and so they argue: "This shows that we have to make up our own mind on what to believe." This is independent thinking. Why is it so dangerous?
Fight against independent thinking.
The Watchtower, March 15, 1986 Issue, Page 17:
Beware of those who try to put forward their own contrary opinions.
The Watchtower, July 1, 1994 Issue, Pages 12-13:
As loyal servants of Jehovah, why would we even want to peek at the propaganda put out by rejecters of Jehovah's table....
The Watchtower, August 1, 1960 Issue, Page 474:
Jehovah's witnesses, though international, are 'one heart and soul,' of the 'same mind' and the 'same line of though.'
The Watchtower, June 1, 1967 Issue, Page 338:
....in Jehovah's organization it is not necessary to spend a lot of time and energy in research, for there are brothers in the organization who are assigned to that very thing....
The Watchtower, August 1, 1972 Issue, Page 458:
....the Watchtower study conductor, who presides over this meeting, has an important responsibility. This study enables all to be united in the same line of thought.
The Watchtower, August 1, 1980 Issue, Page 19:
Thus, the one who doubts to the point of becoming an apostate sets himself up as a judge. He thinks he knows better than his fellow Christians, better also than the 'faithful and discreet slave,' through whom he has learned the best part, if not all that he knows about Jehovah God and his purposes.
The Watchtower, March 15, 1986 Issue, Page 12:
Do you wisely destroy apostate material?
Why is reading apostate publications similar to reading pornographic literature?
The Watchtower, February 1, 1987 Issue, Page 19:
First of all, there is the matter of being obedient and ready to respond to encouragement. When direction and encouragement come from the proper source, it is only right that we should respond readily.
We also remember that one feature of 'the wisdom from above' is being 'ready to obey.' (James 3:17) These are qualities that all Christians are encouraged to put on. Due to background and upbringing, some may be more given to independent thinking and self-will than others. Perhaps this is an area where we need to discipline ourselves and 'make our mind over' so that we can perceive more clearly what the 'will of God' is. Romans 12:2.
The Watchtower, September 15, 1989 Issue, Page 23:
"In the world, there is a tendency to reject leadership. As one lecturer said: ;'The rising education level has improved the talent pool such that followers have become so critical that they are almost impossible to lead.' But a spirit of independent thinking does not prevail in God's organization, and we have sound reasons for confidence in the men taking the lead among us."
The Watchtower, July 15, 1974 Issue, Page 442:
...do you know how to hate? These very strong words are an expression of godly hate, and you too must have this quality to be pleasing to God. Hate causes a feeling of disgust to well up inside you. You loathe, abhor, despise the object of your hatred
[...] [The disfellowshipped Jehovah's Witnesses are to be hated] in the sense of avoiding them as we would poison or a poisonous snake.
The Watchtower, August 1, 1980 Issue, Page 19:
Thus, the one who doubts to the point of becoming an apostate sets himself up as a judge. He thinks he knows better than his fellow Christians, better also than the 'faithful and discreet slave,' through whom he has learned the best part, if not all that he knows about Jehovah God and his purposes.
The Watchtower September 15th 1981 Issue, Pages 20-31:
Disfellowshiping—How to View It
“O Jehovah, . . . who will reside in your holy mountain? He who is walking faultlessly and practicing righteousness.”—Ps. 15:1, 2.
JEHOVAH is righteous and holy. Though he is merciful and understanding with imperfect humans, he expects those worshiping him to reflect his holiness by trying to uphold his righteous standards.—Ps. 103:8-14; Num. 15:40.
2 An Israelite who deliberately violated God’s commands, such as those against apostasy, adultery or murder, was to be cut off, put to death. (Num. 15:30,31; 35:31; Deut. 13:1-5; Lev. 20:10) This firmness in upholding God’s reasonable and just standards was good for all Israelites, for it helped to maintain the congregation’s purity. And it served to deter anyone from spreading corruption among the people who had God’s name on them.
3 In the first century C.E. the Jews under Roman rule did not have the authority to administer the death penalty. (John 18:28-31) But a Jew guilty of violating the Law could be expelled from the synagogue. An effect of this severe punishment was that other Jews would shun or avoid the expelled person. It is said that others would not even have commercial transactions with him beyond selling him the necessities of life.—John 9:22; 12:42; 16:2.
4 After the Christian congregation was formed, it replaced the Jewish nation in having God’s name upon it. (Matt. 21:43; Acts 15:14) Accordingly, Christians could rightly be expected to uphold Jehovah’s righteousness. The apostle Peter wrote: “In accord with the Holy One who called you, do you also become holy yourselves in all your conduct, because it is written: ‘You must be holy, because I am holy.’” (1 Pet. 1:14-16) Jehovah loves his people and wants to protect the purity of the Christian congregation. So he outlined a provision to reject or expel a person who persists in a course that dishonors God and endangers the congregation.
5 The apostle Paul advised: “As for a man that promotes a sect, reject him after a first and a second admonition; knowing that such a man has been turned out of the way and is sinning, he being self-condemned.” (Titus 3:10, 11) Yes, spiritual elders, such as Titus was, first try lovingly to help a wrongdoer. If he will not respond to their help and persists in a course of “sinning,” they have authority to convoke a committee of elders to “judge the members of [the] fellowship.” (1 Cor. 5:12, Today’s English Version) Love for God and for the purity of his people requires that those in the “fellowship,” the congregation, reject that man.
6 In the first century some of such wrongdoers arose. Hymenaeus and Alexander were of that sort, men who had “experienced shipwreck concerning their faith.” Paul said: “I have handed them over to Satan that they may be taught by discipline not to blaspheme.” (1 Tim. 1:19, 20) Expelling those two men was a severe chastisement, or discipline, a punishment that might teach them not to blaspheme the holy and living God. (Compare Luke 23:16, where the basic Greek word often rendered “discipline” is used.) It was proper that these blasphemers be turned over to the authority of Satan, cast into the darkness of the world under Satan’s influence.—2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 4:17-19; 1 John 5:19; compare Acts 26:18.
HOW TO TREAT EXPELLED ONES
7 Some questions, however, may arise about how we should treat a former member who has been expelled. Thankfully, God has provided in his Word answers and directions that we can be sure are perfect, righteous and just.—Jer. 17:10; Deut. 32:4.
8 At one point a man in the Corinthian congregation was practicing immorality and evidently was unrepentant. Paul wrote that this man ‘should be taken away from their midst,’ for he was like a little leaven that could ferment, or corrupt, a whole mass. (1 Cor. 5:1, 2, 6) But, was he, when once expelled, to be treated as if he were just an average person of the world whom the Christians might meet in their neighborhood or daily life? Note what Paul said.
9 “I wrote you to quit mixing in company with fornicators, not meaning entirely with the fornicators of this world or the greedy persons and extortioners or idolaters. Otherwise, you would actually have to get out of the world.” (1 Cor. 5:9, 10) In these words Paul realistically acknowledged that most persons whom we contact in our daily affairs have never known or followed God’s way. They may be fornicators, extortioners or idolaters, so they are not persons whom Christians choose as regular, close associates. Still, we live on this planet among mankind and may have to be around such persons and speak to them on the job, at school, in the neighborhood.
10 In the next verse Paul contrasts this situation with how Christians should conduct themselves toward one who had been a Christian “brother” but who was expelled from the congregation because of wrongdoing: “But now I am writing you to quit mixing in company [“not associate,” TEV] 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.”—1 Cor. 5:11.
11 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. Peter commented on how such former Christians differ from an average “man on the street.” The apostle said: “If, after having escaped from the defilements of the world by an accurate knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they get involved again with these very things and are overcome, the final conditions have become worse for them than the first. . . . The saying of the true proverb has happened to them: ‘The dog has returned to his vomit, and the sow that was bathed to rolling in the mire.’”—2 Pet. 2:20-22; 1 Cor. 6:11.
12 Yes, 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 at 1 Corinthians 5:11, 13. This is consistent with Jesus’ advice that such a person be considered in the same way as “a man of the nations” was viewed by the Jews of that time. For some time after the apostles died, those professing Christianity evidently followed the Biblical procedure. But how many churches today comply with God’s clear directions in this regard?
THOSE WHO DISASSOCIATE THEMSELVES
13 A Christian might grow spiritually weak, perhaps because of not studying God’s Word regularly, having personal problems or experiencing persecution. (1 Cor. 11:30; Rom. 14:1) Such a one might cease to attend Christian meetings. What is to be done? Recall that the apostles abandoned Jesus on the night of his arrest. Yet Christ had urged Peter, “When once you have returned, strengthen your brothers [who also abandoned Jesus].” (Luke 22:32) Hence, out of love Christian elders and others might visit and help the one who has grown weak and inactive. (1 Thess. 5:14; Rom. 15:1; Heb. 12:12, 13) It is another matter, though, when a person repudiates his being a Christian and disassociates himself.
14 One who has been a true Christian might renounce the way of the truth, stating that he no longer considers himself to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses or wants to be known as one. When this rare event occurs, the person is renouncing his standing as a Christian, deliberately disassociating himself from the congregation. The apostle John wrote: “They went out from us, but they were not of our sort; for if they had been of our sort, they would have remained with us.”—1 John 2:19.
15 Or, a person might renounce his place in the Christian congregation by his actions, such as by becoming part of an organization whose objective is contrary to the Bible, and, hence, is under judgment by Jehovah God. (Compare Revelation 19:17-21; Isaiah 2:4.) So if one who was a Christian chose to join those who are disapproved of God, it would be fitting for the congregation to acknowledge by a brief announcement that he had disassociated himself and is no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
16 Persons who make themselves “not of our sort” by deliberately rejecting the faith and beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses should appropriately be viewed and treated as are those who have been disfellowshiped for wrongdoing.
COOPERATING WITH THE CONGREGATION
17 Though Christians enjoy spiritual fellowship when they discuss or study the Bible with their brothers or interested persons, they would not want to have such fellowship with an expelled sinner (or one who has renounced the faith and beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses, disassociating himself). The expelled person has been ‘rejected,’ being “self-condemned” because of “sinning,” and those in the congregation both accept God’s judgment and uphold it. Disfellowshiping, however, implies more than ceasing to have spiritual fellowship.—Titus 3:10, 11.
18 Paul wrote: “Quit mixing in company . . . , not even eating with such a man.” (1 Cor. 5:11) A meal is a time of relaxation and socializing. Hence, the Bible here rules out social fellowship, too, such as joining an expelled person in a picnic or party, ball game, trip to the beach or theater, or sitting down to a meal with him. (The special problems involving a relative who has been disfellowshiped are considered in the following article.)
19 Sometimes a Christian might feel under considerable pressure to ignore this Bible advice. His own emotions may create the pressure, or it may be brought to bear on him by acquaintances. For instance, one brother was pressured to officiate at the marriage of two disfellowshiped persons. Could that service be rationalized as a mere kindness? One could feel that way. But why were his services wanted, rather than those of the town mayor or other state marrying agent? Was it not because of his standing as a minister of God and his ability to offer marriage counsel from God’s Word? To give in to such pressure would involve him in fellowshiping with the couple, persons who had been expelled from the congregation for their ungodly way.—1 Cor. 5:13.
20 Other problems arise in connection with business or employment. What if you were employed by a man who now was expelled by the congregation, or you employed a person to whom that happened? What then? If you were contractually or financially obliged to continue the business relationship for the present, you certainly would now have a different attitude toward the disfellowshiped individual. Discussion of business matters with him or contact on the job might be necessary, but spiritual discussions and social fellowship would be things of the past. In that way you could demonstrate your obedience to God and have a protective barrier for yourself. Also, this might impress on him how much his sin has cost him in various ways.—2 Cor. 6:14, 17.
SPEAK WITH A DISFELLOWSHIPED OR DISASSOCIATED PERSON?
21 Would upholding God’s righteousness and his disfellowshiping arrangement mean that a Christian should not speak at all with an expelled person, not even saying “Hello”? Some have wondered about that, in view of Jesus’ advice to love our enemies and not ‘greet our brothers only.’—Matt. 5:43-47.
22 Actually, in his wisdom God did not try to cover every possible situation. What we need is to get the sense of what Jehovah says about treatment of a disfellowshiped person, for then we can strive to uphold His view. Through the apostle John, God explains:
“Everyone that pushes ahead and does not remain in the teaching of the Christ does not have God. . . . 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.”—2 John 9-11.
23 The apostle who gave that wise warning was close to Jesus and knew well what Christ had said about greeting others. He also knew that the common greeting of that time was “Peace.” 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?
24 ‘But what if he seems to be repentant and needs encouragement?’ someone might wonder. There is a provision for handling such situations. The overseers in the congregation serve as spiritual shepherds and protectors of the flock. (Heb. 13:17; 1 Pet. 5:2) If a disfellowshiped or disassociated person inquires, or gives evidence of wanting to come back into God’s favor, the elders can speak to him. They will kindly explain what he needs to do and might give him some appropriate admonition. They can deal with him on the basis of facts about his past sin and his attitude. Others in the congregation lack such information. So if someone felt that the disfellowshiped or disassociated person ‘is repentant,’ might that be a judgment based on impression rather than accurate information? If the overseers were convinced that the person was repentant and was producing the fruits of repentance, he would be reinstated into the congregation. After that occurs, the rest of the congregation can warmly welcome him at the meetings, display forgiveness, comfort him and confirm their love for him, as Paul urged the Corinthians to do with the man reinstated at Corinth.—2 Cor. 2:5-8.
NOT SHARING IN WICKED WORKS
25 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.”—2 John 11.
26 Many of Christendom’s commentators take exception to 2 John 11. They claim that it is ‘unchristian counsel, contrary to the spirit of our Lord,’ or that it encourages intolerance. Yet such sentiments emanate from religious organizations that do not apply God’s command to “remove the wicked man from among yourselves,” that seldom if ever expel even notorious wrongdoers from their churches. (1 Cor. 5:13) Their “tolerance” is unscriptural, unchristian.—Matt. 7:21-23; 25:24-30; John 8:44.
27 But it is not wrong to be loyal to the righteous and just God of the Bible. He tells us that he will accept ‘in his holy mountain’ only those who walk faultlessly, practice righteousness and speak truth. (Ps. 15:1-5) If, though, a Christian were to throw in his lot with a wrongdoer who has been rejected by God and disfellowshiped, or has disassociated himself, that would be as much as saying ‘I do not want a place in God’s holy mountain either.’ If the elders saw him heading in that direction by regularly keeping company with a disfellowshiped person, they would lovingly and patiently try to help him to regain God’s view. (Matt. 18:18; Gal. 6:1) They would admonish him and, if necessary, ‘reprove him with severity.’ They want to help him remain ‘in God’s holy mountain.’ But if he will not cease to fellowship with the expelled person, he thus has made himself ‘a sharer (supporting or participating) in the wicked works’ and must be removed from the congregation, expelled.—Titus 1:13; Jude 22, 23; compare Numbers 16:26.
LOYAL TO GOD’S VIEW
28 Loyalty to Jehovah God and his provisions is a source of happiness, for all his ways are righteous, just and good. This is true, too, concerning his provision to disfellowship unrepentant wrongdoers. As we cooperate with that arrangement, we can trust in David’s words: “Take knowledge that Jehovah will certainly distinguish his loyal one.” (Ps. 4:3) Yes, God sets apart, honors and guides those who are loyal to him and his ways. Among the many blessings we receive from such loyalty is the joy of being among those whom God approves and accepts ‘in his holy mountain.’—Ps. 84:10, 11.
If a Relative Is Disfellowshiped . . .
AFTER Adam had been alone for some time, God said: “It is not good for the man to continue by himself.” Then He created Eve and instituted human marriage. (Gen. 2:18, 21, 22) Thereafter, earth’s population was to grow. So each person would come to have many relatives. Even if some family members, such as children, did not live nearby they could be visited and pleasant times shared.—Gen. 1:28; Job 1:1-5.
2 God had purposed that families should be united in true worship, so religious beliefs would not create any divisions. But incidents occurred in which religion became a family issue. One of these was when Korah, Dathan and Abiram rebelled. Jehovah confirmed that he was dealing through Moses and Aaron, not through these religious rebels. Then Moses told the people to get away from the rebels’ tents. What would the children and households of Korah, Dathan and Abiram do? Would they put loyalty to family ahead of loyalty to Jehovah and his congregation? Most of those closely related to the rebels put family before God. Jehovah executed these relatives along with the rebels.—Num. 16:16-33.
3 However, some of Korah’s sons remained loyal to God and His people. They were not executed along with the rest of Korah’s household and the families of Dathan and Abiram. (Num. 26:9-11) In fact, descendants of these surviving Korahites were later blessed with special service at the temple and mentioned with honor in the Bible.—2 Chron. 20:14-19; Ps. 42, 44-49, 84, 85, 87.
4 A similar decision between loyalty to family and loyalty to God was faced when an Israelite became an apostate. Would his family, moved by human emotion or blood ties, try to shield him from being cut off? Or would even his brother, son or daughter realize that loyalty to God and the congregation was the right and wise course? (See Deuteronomy 13:6-11.) In the Christian arrangement today a sinner is not cut off by execution, but Christians may face tests because of a relative’s being disciplined.
RELATIVES MAY CAUSE PROBLEMS
5 Family connections and affection can be very strong. This is natural and is in accord with God’s arrangement. (John 16:21) But these strong ties can also bring a difficult test on Christians. Jesus explained that one effect of a person’s becoming a Christian would be that relatives might oppose. Jesus said: “I came to put, not peace, but a sword. For I came to cause division, with a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a young wife against her mother-in-law. Indeed, a man’s enemies will be persons of his own household. He that has greater affection for father or mother than for me is not worthy of me.”—Matt. 10:34-38.
6 Christians do not want such enmity to exist. And there is no reason why relatives should oppose or hate them for having become clean, moral, honest servants of God. Yet true Christians realize that they cannot put family before God. In the long run, what is in everyone’s best interest is for Christians to continue faithful to God. In time they may be able to influence their relatives to walk on the way leading to salvation.—Rom. 9:1-3; 1 Cor. 7:12-16.
7 Relatives may also cause problems for true Christians in another way. This may develop when a relative is disfellowshiped. As discussed in the preceding articles, if a person in the congregation unrepentantly practices gross sin, God requires that he be disfellowshiped. (1 Cor. 5:11-13) The conduct of the wrongdoer has changed his relationship with Jehovah and therefore with family members who are Jehovah’s Witnesses. God is not to blame for these results, because his standards are righteous and just. (Job 34:10, 12) Nor does the fault rest with the faithful Christian relatives. It is the disfellowshiped person who has made problems for himself and for his relatives, as did Korah, Dathan and Abiram.
8 We need to examine two distinct situations. The first is where a Christian lives in the same household with a disfellowshiped or disassociated family member. The second is where such a relative is not in the immediate family circle.
IN THE IMMEDIATE FAMILY CIRCLE
9 A person might become a Christian without others in that one’s family circle accepting the faith. For instance, a wife might be serving Jehovah, but her husband not. Despite that, she is still “one flesh” with her husband and is obliged to love and respect him. (Gen. 2:24; 1 Pet. 3:1-6) Or she might be married to a man who was a dedicated Christian but was later expelled from the congregation. Yet that would not end their marital ties; only death or a Scriptural divorce would do that.—1 Cor. 7:39; Matt. 19:9.
10 Similarly, if a relative, such as a parent, son or daughter, is disfellowshiped or has disassociated himself, blood and family ties remain. Does that mean, then, that in the family circle everything remains the same when one member is disfellowshiped? Definitely not.
11 A disfellowshiped person has been spiritually cut off from the congregation; the former spiritual ties have been completely severed. This is true even with respect to his relatives, including those within his immediate family circle. Thus, family members—while acknowledging family ties—will no longer have any spiritual fellowship with him.—1 Sam. 28:6; Prov. 15:8, 9.
12 That will mean changes in the spiritual fellowship that may have existed in the home. For example, if the husband is disfellowshiped, his wife and children will not be comfortable with him conducting a family Bible study or leading in Bible reading and prayer. If he wants to say a prayer, such as at mealtime, he has a right to do so in his own home. But they can silently offer their own prayers to God. (Prov. 28:9; Ps. 119:145, 146) What if a disfellowshiped person in the home wants to be present when the family reads the Bible together or has a Bible study? The others might let him be present to listen if he will not try to teach them or share his religious ideas.
13 If a minor child is disfellowshiped, the parents will still care for his physical needs and provide moral training and discipline. They would not conduct a Bible study directly with the child, with him participating. Yet this does not mean that he would not be required to sit in on the family study. And they might direct attention to parts of the Bible or Christian publications that contain counsel he needs. (Prov. 1:8-19; 6:20-22; 29:17; Eph. 6:4) They can have him accompany them to and sit with them at Christian meetings, hoping that he will take to heart Biblical counsel.
14 But what if a close relative, such as a son or a parent who does not live in the home, is disfellowshiped and subsequently wants to move back there? The family could decide what to do depending on the situation.
15 For example, a disfellowshiped parent may be sick or no longer able to care for himself financially or physically. The Christian children have a Scriptural and moral obligation to assist. (1 Tim. 5:8) Perhaps it seems necessary to bring the parent into the home, temporarily or permanently. Or it may appear advisable to arrange for care where there is medical personnel but where the parent would have to be visited. What is done may depend on factors such as the parent’s true needs, his attitude and the regard the head of the household has for the spiritual welfare of the household.
16 This could be true also with regard to a child who had left home but is now disfellowshiped or disassociated. Sometimes Christian parents have accepted back into the home for a time a disfellowshiped child who has become physically or emotionally ill. But in each case the parents can weigh the individual circumstances. Has a disfellowshiped son lived on his own, and is he now unable to do so? Or does he want to move back primarily because it would be an easier life? What about his morals and attitude? Will he bring “leaven” into the home?—Gal. 5:9.
17 In Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, the father ran to meet and then accepted his returning son. The father, seeing the lad’s pitiful condition, responded with natural parental concern. We can note, though, that the son did not bring home harlots or come with a disposition to continue his sinful life in his father’s home. No, he expressed heartfelt repentance and evidently was determined to return to living a clean life.—Luke 15:11-32.
DISFELLOWSHIPED RELATIVES NOT LIVING AT HOME
18 The second situation that we need to consider is that involving a disfellowshiped or disassociated relative who is not in the immediate family circle or living at one’s home. Such a person is still related by blood or marriage, and so there may be some limited need to care for necessary family matters. Nonetheless, it is not as if he were living in the same home where contact and conversation could not be avoided. We should keep clearly in mind the Bible’s inspired direction: “Quit mixing in company with anyone called a brother that is a fornicator or a greedy person . . . , not even eating with such a man.”—1 Cor. 5:11.
19 Consequently, Christians related to such a disfellowshiped person living outside the home should strive to avoid needless association, even keeping business dealings to a minimum. The reasonableness of this course becomes apparent from reports of what has occurred where relatives have taken the mistaken view, ‘Though he is disfellowshiped, we are related and so can treat him the same as before.’ From one area comes this:
“One person who was disfellowshiped was related to about one third of the congregation. All of his relations continued to associate with him.”
And a highly respected Christian elder writes:
“In our area some disfellowshiped ones with large families have been met, as they enter the lobby of the Kingdom Hall, with a fanfare of backslapping and handshaking (even though the disfellowshiped one was known by them to be still living immorally). I feel a deep concern that those who have been disfellowshiped need to see that their course is hated by Jehovah and by his people and that they should feel a real need to become genuinely repentant. What will help these disfellowshiped ones to change when they are continually greeted by all in their large families who know of their practices?”
20 There must have been congregations in the first century where many were related. But when someone was disfellowshiped, were all the relatives to carry on as normal as long as they did not discuss Scriptural matters with the disfellowshiped person? No. Otherwise the congregation would not really be applying the command: “Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.”—1 Cor. 5:13.
21 Great care needs to be exercised that a person’s situation as a disfellowshiped sinner is neither overlooked nor minimized. As the sons of Korah well demonstrated, our chief loyalty must be to Jehovah and his theocratic arrangement. We can be sure that when we uphold his standards and prefer association with his organized people, rather than with wrongdoers, we will have his protection and blessing.—Ps. 84:10-12.
SOCIAL GATHERINGS AND DISFELLOWSHIPED RELATIVES
22 Normally, relatives are often together at meals, picnics, family reunions or other social gatherings. But when someone has unrepentantly pursued sin and has had to be disfellowshiped, he may cause difficulties for his Christian relatives in regard to such gatherings. While they realize that they are still related to him, they do not want to ignore Paul’s advice that faithful Christians should “quit mixing in company” with an expelled sinner.
23 There is no point in looking for some rule as to family members being at gatherings where a disfellowshiped relative might be present. This would be something for those concerned to resolve, in keeping with Paul’s counsel. (1 Cor. 5:11) And yet it should be appreciated that if a disfellowshiped person is going to be at a gathering to which nonrelative Witnesses are invited, that may well affect what others do. For example, a Christian couple might be getting married at a Kingdom Hall. If a disfellowshiped relative comes to the Kingdom Hall for the wedding, obviously he could not be in the bridal party there or “give away” the bride. What, though, if there is a wedding feast or reception? This can be a happy social occasion, as it was in Cana when Jesus attended. (John 2:1, 2) But will the disfellowshiped relative be allowed to come or even be invited? If he was going to attend, many Christians, relatives or not, might conclude that they should not be there, to eat and associate with him, in view of Paul’s directions at 1 Corinthians 5:11.
24 Thus, sometimes Christians may not feel able to have a disfellowshiped or disassociated relative present for a gathering that normally would include family members. Still, the Christians can enjoy the association of the loyal members of the congregation, having in mind Jesus’ words: “Whoever does the will of God, this one is my brother and sister and mother.”—Mark 3:35.
25 The fact is that when a Christian gives himself over to sin and has to be disfellowshiped, he forfeits much: his approved standing with God; membership in the happy congregation of Christians; sweet fellowship with the brothers, including much of the association he had with Christian relatives. (1 Pet. 2:17) The pain he has caused may even survive him.
26 Should he die while disfellowshiped, arrangements for his funeral may be a problem. His Christian relatives may like to have had a talk at the Kingdom Hall, if that is the local custom. But that would not be fitting for a person expelled from the congregation. If he had been giving evidence of repentance and wanting God’s forgiveness, such as by ceasing to practice sin and by attending Christian meetings, some brother’s conscience might allow him to give a Bible talk at the funeral home or grave site. Such Biblical comments about the condition of the dead provide a witness to unbelievers or comfort to the relatives. However, if the disfellowshiped person had still been advocating false teachings or ungodly conduct, even such a talk would not be appropriate.—2 John 9-11.
LESSONS FOR ALL OF US
27 All of us need to appreciate that it is Jehovah’s judgment that counts. (Prov. 29:26) That is true as to hateful practices, for the Bible shows that these are things that God detests. (Prov. 6:16-19) But it is also true as to his judgment of individuals. Jehovah’s Word plainly says that “unrighteous persons,” those carrying on the “works of the flesh,” will not inherit his kingdom. (1 Cor. 6:9, 10; Gal. 5:19-21) Such persons have no place in heaven, nor will they fit in the earthly realm of the Kingdom. Accordingly, anyone who wants to remain in the clean congregation of God today must meet His standards. God simply will not permit “leaven” to remain as a corrupting influence among his holy people.—1 Cor. 5:6-13.
28 Naturally, if a close relative is disfellowshiped, human emotions can pose a major test for us. Sentiment and family ties are particularly strong between parents and their children, and they are also powerful when a marriage mate is disfellowshiped. Still, we must recognize that, in the final analysis, we will not benefit anyone or please God if we allow emotion to lead us into ignoring His wise counsel and guidance. We need to display our complete confidence in the perfect righteousness of God’s ways, including his provision to disfellowship unrepentant wrongdoers. If we remain loyal to God and to the congregation, the wrongdoer may in time take a lesson from that, repent and be reinstated in the congregation. Yet, whether that occurs or not, we can draw comfort and strength from what David said late in life:
“All [God’s] judicial decisions are in front of me; . . . And let Jehovah repay me according to my righteousness, according to my cleanness in front of his eyes. With someone loyal you will act in loyalty; with the faultless, mighty one you will deal faultlessly; with the one keeping clean you will show yourself clean . . . And the humble people you will save.”—2 Sam. 22:23-28.
The Watchtower, January 1, 1983 Issue, Pages 30-31:
Questions From Readers
· How can we assist those in our congregation who have a disfellowshipped relative?
It is fine when elders and others give warm and loving consideration to Christians who are in this situation, for by showing kindness and understanding they can help to counteract the emotional and spiritual strain the situation may produce. Yet Christians having a disfellowshipped relative, and those who want to help, need to have a clear and proper view of disfellowshipping.
God’s Word directs the congregation to expel those who unrepentantly practice sin. (1 Corinthians 5:11-13) This protects the congregation in general from contamination and upholds its good name. But on a personal basis loyal Christians in the family, and others wanting to help them, need protection too. We can appreciate why by considering what a person’s being disfellowshipped reveals about his heart condition. Note the following two situations in connection with disfellowshipping:
First, when a person has committed a serious sin for which he might lose God’s favor and be disfellowshipped, a committee of spiritual elders meets with him. He may already have realized the wrongness of his course, repented in his heart and begun to produce “works that befit repentance.” (Acts 26:20) When that is so, the elders will reprove him with God’s Word, will offer Biblical advice on ‘making straight paths for his feet’ and will pray with him and for him. Since he is repentant, he need not be expelled or viewed as disfellowshipped by his family or others.—1 Timothy 5:20; Hebrews 12:13; James 5:14-16.
Second, it may be that when the committee meets with the sinner, he has not yet repented. During the meeting the elders may be able to touch his heart, bringing home to him the gravity of his sin. (Compare 2 Samuel 12:1-13.) Of course, since he has not up till then produced any ‘fruit that befits repentance,’ the elders should exercise real caution to make sure that he is not merely sorry or ashamed over being found out. (Luke 3:8) Being concerned about the congregation, they should be absolutely convinced that he is now truly repentant and ready to “turn to God by doing works that befit repentance.” (Acts 26:20) If they are convinced that he is repentant, he may remain in the congregation and be helped by the elders, his family and others.
What is the point of mentioning these two aspects? It is to illustrate that if someone is disfellowshipped, he must at the time have had a truly bad heart and/or been determined to pursue a God-dishonoring course. Peter said that the condition of such a person is worse than before he became a Christian; he is like ‘a sow that was bathed but has gone back to rolling in the mire.’ (2 Peter 2:20-22) This should help Christian relatives and others to have God’s view of a disfellowshipped person.
But human emotions and attachments can have a powerful effect, making it difficult for people to act in accord with the disfellowshipping decree if a relative is involved. (Compare Numbers 16:16-33.) For example, a faithful Christian wife realizes that her husband’s being disfellowshipped means that the spiritual ties that formerly existed have been severed. He has, by his conduct and its results, broken a spiritual bond between himself and true Christians. His wife will continue to show love and respect for him as husband and family head, even as do wives whose husbands never were believers. (1 Peter 3:1, 2) But it will not be possible to have spiritual fellowship with him, sharing in Bible discussions and prayer with him as she once did. (Proverbs 28:9) She certainly will feel this loss.
Another sort of loss may be felt by loyal Christian grandparents whose children have been disfellowshipped. They may have been accustomed to visiting regularly with their children, giving them occasion to enjoy their grandchildren. Now the parents are disfellowshipped because of rejecting Jehovah’s standards and ways. So things are not the same in the family. Of course, the grandparents have to determine if some necessary family matters require limited contact with the disfellowshipped children. And they might sometimes have the grandchildren visit them. How sad, though, that by their unchristian course the children interfere with the normal pleasure that such grandparents enjoyed!
These examples show why fellow Christians should be alert to the special need that may exist when someone in the congregation has had a close relative disfellowshipped. The apostle Paul urged Christians to “speak consolingly to the depressed souls,” which might well describe the loyal Christian family member. (1 Thessalonians 5:14) Nor should we limit our comforting, encouraging words to a single expression when the disfellowshipping occurs. The need for upbuilding may extend for a long while. In a sense, it may grow as the faithful one is for a long period of time deprived of spiritual fellowshipping with the family member. Of course, it is not necessary for us to keep mentioning disfellowshipping in conversation. We just need to go out of our way to be warm, genuinely interested and, above all, spiritual.—Proverbs 15:23; Ecclesiastes 12:10.
Much good can also be accomplished by providing Christian association. Sometimes a Christian whose mate has been disfellowshipped feels isolated. As mentioned above, the expelled mate has proved that he is not the sort of person that we want to be around. And we need to be careful not to get involved in fellowshipping with him just because we want to visit or help the Christian mate. So maybe a visit can be made when the disfellowshipped one is known to be out of the house.
We need to help our brothers and sisters who have disfellowshipped relatives to see the truthfulness of the inspired words: “There exists a friend sticking closer than a [fleshly] brother,” or other fleshly relative. (Proverbs 18:24) We may not be able to undo all the hurt or make up for all the loss that the disfellowshipped person has caused his Christian relatives. Yet, by being aware of the special needs such Christians have “we may be able to comfort those in any sort of tribulation,” including this one. And lovingly we can strengthen those who have this special need.—2 Corinthians 1:3, 4; Hebrews 12:12, 13.
The Watchtower, April 15, 1984 Issue, Page 15:
In Bible times, there usually was a “friend of the bridegroom” and female companions of the bride. (John 3:29; Psalm 45:14) This is also often the case at Kingdom Hall weddings. Reasonableness, though, is needed as to how many such participants there are, as well as how they dress and act. It would be unfitting to have in the wedding party people who are disfellowshipped or whose scandalous life-style grossly conflicts with Bible principles. (2 Corinthians 6:14-16)
The Watchtower, December 15, 1984 Issue, Page 19:
We have been forewarned that there will be apostates and people who just like to have their ears tickled. Counsel such as at 2 John 9-11, 1 Corinthians 5:11-13 and 2 Timothy 3:5 allows no room for associating with those who turn away from the truth. Nor do we purchase or read their writings.
Such ones willfully abandoning the Christian congregation thereby become part of the "antichrist." (1 John 2:18, 19)
A person who had willfully and formally disassociated himself from the congregation would have matched that description.
The Watchtower, March 15, 1986 Issue, Page 12:
Now, what will you do if you are confronted with apostate teaching - subtle reasonings - claiming that what you believe as one of Jehovah's Witnesses is not the truth? For example, what will you do if you receive a letter or some literature, open it and see right away that it is from an apostate? Will curiosity cause you to read it, just to see what he has to say? You may even reason: "It won't affect me; I'm too strong in the truth. And, besides, if we have the truth, we have nothing to fear. The truth will stand the test." In thinking this way, some have fed their minds upon apostate reasoning and have fallen prey to serious questioning and doubt.
Do you wisely destroy apostate material?
Why is reading apostate publications similar to reading pornographic literature?
Beware of those who try to put forward their own contrary opinions.
Therefore, resolve in your heart that you will never even touch the poison that apostates want you to sip."
The Watchtower, April 1, 1986 Issue, Pages 30-31:
Questions From Readers
· Why have Jehovah’s Witnesses disfellowshipped (excommunicated) for apostasy some who still profess belief in God, the Bible, and Jesus Christ?
Those who voice such an objection point out that many religious organizations claiming to be Christian allow dissident views. Even some clergymen disagree with basic teachings of their church, yet they remain in good standing. In nearly all the denominations of Christendom, there are modernists and fundamentalists who greatly disagree with one another as to the inspiration of the Scriptures.
However, such examples provide no grounds for our doing the same. Why not? Many of such denominations allow widely divergent views among the clergy and the laity because they feel they cannot be certain as to just what is Bible truth. They are like the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day who were unable to speak as persons having authority, which is how Jesus taught. (Matthew 7:29) Moreover, to the extent that religionists believe in interfaith, they are obligated not to take divergent beliefs too seriously.
But taking such a view of matters has no basis in the Scriptures. Jesus did not make common cause with any of the sects of Judaism. Jews of those sects professed to believe in the God of creation and in the Hebrew Scriptures, particularly the Law of Moses. Still, Jesus told his disciples to “watch out . . . for the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” (Matthew 16:11, 12; 23:15) Note also how strongly the apostle Paul stated matters: “Even if we or an angel out of heaven were to declare to you as good news something beyond what we declared to you as good news, let him be accursed.” Paul then repeated that statement for emphasis.—Galatians 1:8, 9.
Teaching dissident or divergent views is not compatible with true Christianity, as Paul makes clear at 1 Corinthians 1:10: “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” (New International Version) At Ephesians 4:3-6 he further stated that Christians should be “earnestly endeavoring to observe the oneness of the spirit in the uniting bond of peace. One body there is, and one spirit, even as you were called in the one hope to which you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all persons.”
Was this unity to be achieved and maintained by each one’s independently searching the Scriptures, coming to his own conclusions, and then teaching these? Not at all! Through Jesus Christ, Jehovah God provided for this purpose “some as apostles, . . . some as evangelizers, some as shepherds and teachers . . . until we all attain to the oneness in the faith and in the accurate knowledge of the Son of God, to a full-grown man.” Yes, with the help of such ministers, congregational unity—oneness in teaching and activity—could be and would be possible.—Ephesians 4:11-13.
Obviously, a basis for approved fellowship with Jehovah’s Witnesses cannot rest merely on a belief in God, in the Bible, in Jesus Christ, and so forth. The Roman Catholic pope, as well as the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, professes such beliefs, yet their church memberships are exclusive of each other. Likewise, simply professing to have such beliefs would not authorize one to be known as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Approved association with Jehovah’s Witnesses requires accepting the entire range of the true teachings of the Bible, including those Scriptural beliefs that are unique to Jehovah’s Witnesses. What do such beliefs include?
That the great issue before humankind is the rightfulness of Jehovah’s sovereignty, which is why he has allowed wickedness so long. (Ezekiel 25:17) That Jesus Christ had a prehuman existence and is subordinate to his heavenly Father. (John 14:28) That there is a “faithful and discreet slave” upon earth today ‘entrusted with all of Jesus’ earthly interests,’ which slave is associated with the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses. (Matthew 24:45-47) That 1914 marked the end of the Gentile Times and the establishment of the Kingdom of God in the heavens, as well as the time for Christ’s foretold presence. (Luke 21:7-24; Revelation 11:15–12:10) That only 144,000 Christians will receive the heavenly reward. (Revelation 14:1, 3) That Armageddon, referring to the battle of the great day of God the Almighty, is near. (Revelation 16:14, 16; 19:11-21) That it will be followed by Christ’s Millennial Reign, which will restore an earth-wide paradise. That the first to enjoy it will be the present “great crowd” of Jesus’ “other sheep.”—John 10:16; Revelation 7:9-17; 21:3, 4.
Do we have Scriptural precedent for taking such a strict position? Indeed we do! Paul wrote about some in his day: “Their word will spread like gangrene. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of that number. These very men have deviated from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already occurred; and they are subverting the faith of some.” (2 Timothy 2:17, 18; see also Matthew 18:6.) There is nothing to indicate that these men did not believe in God, in the Bible, in Jesus’ sacrifice. Yet, on this one basic point, what they were teaching as to the time of the resurrection, Paul rightly branded them as apostates, with whom faithful Christians would not fellowship.
Similarly, the apostle John termed as antichrists those who did not believe that Jesus had come in the flesh. They may well have believed in God, in the Hebrew Scriptures, in Jesus as God’s Son, and so on. But on this point, that Jesus had actually come in the flesh, they disagreed and thus were termed “antichrist.” John goes on to say regarding those holding such variant views: “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.”—2 John 7, 10, 11.
Following such Scriptural patterns, if a Christian (who claims belief in God, the Bible, and Jesus) unrepentantly promotes false teachings, it may be necessary for him to be expelled from the congregation. (See Titus 3:10, 11.) Of course, if a person just has doubts or is uninformed on a point, qualified ministers will lovingly assist him. This accords with the counsel: “Continue showing mercy to some that have doubts; save them by snatching them out of the fire.” (Jude 22, 23) Hence, the true Christian congregation cannot rightly be accused of being harshly dogmatic, but it does highly value and work toward the unity encouraged in God’s Word.
The Watchtower, April 15, 1988 Issue, Pages 26-31:
Discipline That Can Yield Peaceable Fruit
“No discipline seems for the present to be joyous, but grievous; yet afterward to those who have been trained by it it yields peaceable fruit, namely, righteousness.”—HEBREWS 12:11.
THINK back to your childhood days. Can you recall your parents disciplining you? Most of us can. The apostle Paul used that as an illustration when commenting on discipline from God, as we read at Hebrews 12:9-11.
2 God’s fatherly discipline, which can affect our spiritual lives, can take many forms. One is his arrangement to exclude from the Christian congregation a person who no longer wants to live by God’s standards, or who refuses to do so. A person who is thus strongly chastised or disciplined may repent and turn around. In the process, the congregation of loyal ones are also disciplined in that they learn the importance of conforming to God’s high standards.—1 Timothy 1:20.
3 ‘But,’ someone may ask, ‘is it not harsh to expel and then refuse to talk with the expelled person?’ Such a view surfaced in a recent court case involving a woman who was raised by parents who were Jehovah’s Witnesses. Her parents had been disfellowshipped. She was not, but she voluntarily disassociated herself by writing a letter withdrawing from the congregation. Accordingly, the congregation was simply informed that she was no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. She moved away, but years later she returned and found that local Witnesses would not converse with her. So she took the matter to court. What was the outcome, and how might this affect you? In order to understand the matter properly, let us see what the Bible says about the related subject of disfellowshipping.
Why This Firm Stand?
4 Most true Christians loyally support God and his righteous laws. (1 Thessalonians 1:2-7; Hebrews 6:10) Occasionally, though, a person deviates from the path of truth. For example, despite help from Christian elders, he may unrepentantly violate God’s laws. Or he may reject the faith by teaching false doctrine or by disassociating himself from the congregation. Then what should be done? Such things occurred even while the apostles were alive; hence, let us see what they wrote about this.
5 When a man in Corinth was unrepentantly immoral, Paul told the congregation: “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.” (1 Corinthians 5:11-13) The same was to occur with apostates, such as Hymenaeus: “As for a man that promotes a sect, reject him after a first and a second admonition; knowing that such a man has been turned out of the way and is sinning.” (Titus 3:10, 11; 1 Timothy 1:19, 20) Such shunning would be appropriate, too, for anyone who rejects the congregation: “They went out from us, but they were not of our sort; for if they had been of our sort, they would have remained with us. But they went out that it might be shown up that not all are of our sort.”—1 John 2:18, 19.
6 Hopefully, such a one will repent so that he can be accepted back. (Acts 3:19) But meanwhile, may Christians have limited fellowship with him, or is strict avoidance necessary? If so, why?
Cut Off Thoroughly?
7 Christians do not hold themselves aloof from people. We have normal contacts with neighbors, workmates, schoolmates, and others, and witness to them even if some are ‘fornicators, greedy persons, extortioners, or idolaters.’ Paul wrote that we cannot avoid them completely, ‘otherwise we would have to get out of the world.’ He directed that it was to be different, though, with “a brother” who lived like that: “Quit mixing in company with anyone called a brother that [has returned to such ways], not even eating with such a man.”—1 Corinthians 5:9-11; Mark 2:13-17.
8 In the apostle John’s writings, we find similar counsel that emphasizes how thoroughly Christians are to avoid such ones: “Everyone that pushes ahead and does not remain in the teaching of the Christ does not have God . . . 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 [Greek, khai´ro] to him is a sharer in his wicked works.”—2 John 9-11.
9 Why is such a firm stand appropriate even today? Well, reflect on the severe cutting off mandated in God’s Law to Israel. In various serious matters, willful violators were executed. (Leviticus 20:10; Numbers 15:30, 31) When that happened, others, even relatives, could no longer speak with the dead lawbreaker. (Leviticus 19:1-4; Deuteronomy 13:1-5; 17:1-7) Though loyal Israelites back then were normal humans with emotions like ours, they knew that God is just and loving and that his Law protected their moral and spiritual cleanness. So they could accept that his arrangement to cut off wrongdoers was fundamentally a good and right thing.—Job 34:10-12.
10 We can be just as sure that God’s arrangement that Christians refuse to fellowship with someone who has been expelled for unrepentant sin is a wise protection for us. “Clear away the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, according as you are free from ferment.” (1 Corinthians 5:7) By also avoiding persons who have deliberately disassociated themselves, Christians are protected from possible critical, unappreciative, or even apostate views.—Hebrews 12:15, 16.
What About Relatives?
11 God certainly realizes that carrying out his righteous laws about cutting off wrongdoers often involves and affects relatives. As mentioned above, when an Israelite wrongdoer was executed, no more family association was possible. In fact, if a son was a drunkard and a glutton, his parents were to bring him before the judges, and if he was unrepentant, the parents were to share in the just executing of him, ‘to clear away what is bad from the midst of Israel.’ (Deuteronomy 21:18-21) You can appreciate that this would not have been easy for them. Imagine, too, how the wrongdoer’s brothers, sisters, or grandparents felt. Yet, their putting loyalty to their righteous God before family affection could be lifesaving for them.
12 Recall the case of Korah, a leader in rebellion against God’s leadership through Moses. In his perfect justice, Jehovah saw that Korah had to die. But all loyal ones were advised: “Turn aside, please, from before the tents of these wicked men and do not touch anything that belongs to them, that you may not be swept away in all their sin.” Relatives who would not accept God’s warning died with the rebels. But some of Korah’s relatives wisely chose to be loyal to Jehovah, which saved their lives and led to future blessings.—Numbers 16:16-33; 26:9-11; 2 Chronicles 20:19.
13 Cutting off from the Christian congregation does not involve immediate death, so family ties continue. Thus, a man who is disfellowshipped or who disassociates himself may still live at home with his Christian wife and faithful children. Respect for God’s judgments and the congregation’s action will move the wife and children to recognize that by his course, he altered the spiritual bond that existed between them. Yet, since his being disfellowshipped does not end their blood ties or marriage relationship, normal family affections and dealings can continue.
14 The situation is different if the disfellowshipped or disassociated one is a relative living outside the immediate family circle and home. It might be possible to have almost no contact at all with the relative. Even if there were some family matters requiring contact, this certainly would be kept to a minimum, in line with the divine principle: “Quit mixing in company with anyone called a brother that is a fornicator or a greedy person [or guilty of another gross sin], . . . not even eating with such a man.”—1 Corinthians 5:11.
15 Understandably, this may be difficult because of emotions and family ties, such as grandparents’ love for their grandchildren. Yet, this is a test of loyalty to God, as stated by the sister quoted on page 26. Anyone who is feeling the sadness and pain that the disfellowshipped relative has thus caused may find comfort and be encouraged by the example set by some of Korah’s relatives.—Psalm 84:10-12.
The Court Decision
16 You may want to know the outcome of the court case involving a woman who was upset because former acquaintances would not converse with her after she chose to reject the faith, disassociating herself from the congregation.
17 Before the case went to trial, a federal district court summarily granted judgment against her. That judgment was based on the concept that courts do not get involved in church disciplinary matters. She then appealed. The unanimous judgment of the federal court of appeals was based on broader grounds of First Amendment (of the U.S. Constitution) rights: “Because the practice of shunning is a part of the faith of the Jehovah’s Witness, we find that the ‘free exercise’ provision of the United States Constitution . . . precludes [her] from prevailing. The defendants have a constitutionally protected privilege to engage in the practice of shunning. Accordingly, we affirm” the earlier judgment of the district court.
18 The court opinion continued: “Shunning is a practice engaged in by Jehovah’s Witnesses pursuant to their interpretation of canonical text, and we are not free to reinterpret that text . . . The defendants are entitled to the free exercise of their religious beliefs . . . Courts generally do not scrutinize closely the relationship among members (or former members) of a church. Churches are afforded great latitude when they impose discipline on members or former members. We agree with [former U.S. Supreme Court] Justice Jackson’s view that ‘[r]eligious activities which concern only members of the faith are and ought to be free—as nearly absolutely free as anything can be.’ . . . The members of the Church [she] decided to abandon have concluded that they no longer want to associate with her. We hold that they are free to make that choice.”
19 The court of appeals acknowledged that even if the woman felt distress because former acquaintances chose not to converse with her, “permitting her to recover for intangible or emotional injuries would unconstitutionally restrict the Jehovah’s Witnesses free exercise of religion . . . The constitutional guarantee of the free exercise of religion requires that society tolerate the type of harms suffered by [her] as a price well worth paying to safeguard the right of religious difference that all citizens enjoy.” This decision has, in a sense, received even more weight since it was handed down. How so? The woman later petitioned the highest court in the land to hear the case and possibly overturn the decision against her. But in November 1987, the United States Supreme Court refused to do so.
20 Hence, this important case determined that a disfellowshipped or disassociated person cannot recover damages from Jehovah’s Witnesses in a court of law for being shunned. Since the congregation was responding to the perfect directions that all of us can read in God’s Word and applying it, the person is feeling a loss brought on by his or her own actions.
21 Some outsiders, upon hearing about disfellowshipping, are inclined to sympathize with a wrongdoer who can no longer converse with members of the Christian congregation. But is not such sympathy misplaced? Consider the potential benefit that the wrongdoer and others may receive.
22 For example, on page 26 we noted Lynette’s comment about her choice ‘to cut herself off completely from all association’ with her disfellowshipped sister Margaret. She and her Christian relatives ‘believed that Jehovah’s way is best.’ And it is!
23 Lynette’s sister later told her: ‘If you had viewed the disfellowshipping lightly, I know that I would not have taken steps toward reinstatement as soon as I did. Being totally cut off from loved ones and from close contact with the congregation created a strong desire to repent. I realized just how wrong my course was and how serious it was to turn my back on Jehovah.’
24 In another case, Laurie’s parents were disfellowshipped. Yet she says: ‘My association with them never stopped but increased. As time went on, I became more and more inactive. I got to the point of not even attending meetings.’ Then she read material in The Watchtower of September 1 and 15, 1981, that stressed the counsel of 1 Corinthians 5:11-13 and 2 John 9-11. “It was as if a light bulb were turned on in me,” she writes. ‘I knew I would have to make some changes. I now better understand the meaning of Matthew 10:34-36. My decision was not an easy one for my family to swallow, for my son, five, is the only boy, and they love him dearly.’ It is hoped that losing such association will touch the parents’ hearts, as it did Margaret’s. Still, the discipline involved helped Laurie: ‘I am back out in the field ministry. My marriage and family are stronger because of my change, and so am I.’
25 Or consider the feelings of one who was disfellowshipped and later reinstated. Sandi wrote: ‘I would like to thank you for the very helpful and instructive articles [mentioned above] on reproof and disfellowshipping. I am happy that Jehovah loves his people enough to see that his organization is kept clean. What may seem harsh to outsiders is both necessary and really a loving thing to do. I am grateful that our heavenly Father is a loving and forgiving God.’
26 So our God who requires that an unrepentant wrongdoer be expelled from the congregation also lovingly shows that a sinner can be reinstated in the congregation if he repents and turns around. (A disassociated person can similarly request to become part of the congregation again.) Thereafter he can be comforted by Christians who will confirm their love for him. (2 Corinthians 2:5-11; 7:8-13) Truly, it is just as Paul wrote: “No discipline seems for the present to be joyous, but grievous; yet afterward to those who have been trained by it it yields peaceable fruit, namely, righteousness.”—Hebrews 12:11.
Pay Attention To Yourselves and To All the Flock (Confidential Elders-Only Rule Book) (Published in 1991), Page 103:
Disfellowshipped and disassociated ones are shunned by those who wish to have a good relationship with Jehovah.
Basic Scriptural counsel on the proper view of those who have been expelled from the congregation is set out in the apostle Paul's words at 1 Corinthians 5:11- 13.
John counsels against speaking to or associating with a disfellowshipped or disassociated person so as not to be "a sharer in his wicked works." (2 John 11)