Withdrawing from the Disorderly
The subject of withdrawing from the disorderly is not a popular one among brethren. I personally have been a member of congregations where withdrawing from erring brethren was practiced sporadically, if at all. However, if any congregation of the Lords people expects to be accepted of God, we must diligently know and practice Gods Word. When Paul wrote Gods instructions: ...withdraw yourselves from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the traditions that you received from us..." (2 Thessalonians 3:6), this was not an advisement or suggestion, but a commandment; the same apostle wrote: ...if any man thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him take knowledge of the fact that the things that I write to you, they are the commandment of the Lord... (1 Corinthians 14:37). If individual Christians or the church (the body of Christ) fail to keep the commandments of God, we do not know God (1 John 2:3) and ...will be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power..." (2 Thessalonians 1:8). However, even among brethren who do understand what God expects on this instruction from His word, there seems to be profound disagreement about how to actually carry out these instructions. While God does allow some judgment to be exercised, most of this subject and its application is quite clear, when we allow the Word of God to define itself. It is the purpose of this article to examine, from the scriptures, and from the scriptures only, what God has to say about how we are to withdraw from the disorderly.
Apathy About Sin
Probably the chief reason that a lackadaisical attitude exists among brethren concerning withdrawal from the disorderly is because of our misunderstanding and lack of hatred of sin. It is amazing to me that brethren can hear sermon after sermon and Bible study after Bible study about the dangers and consequences of sin and yet seem to think that there are some sins that outweigh others. In the Old Testament, the prophet Ezekiel declared, ...the soul that sins, it shall die... (Ezekiel 18:20). In the New Testament, we are reminded that sin results when we are drawn away by our own lust and enticed, ...and lust, when it is conceived, brings forth sin, and sin, when it is finished, brings forth death... (James 1:15). How many sins and which sins bring forth death? Evidently, some brethren think that certain sins bring forth death, while others are just not that serious. Make no mistake, my brethren, we only have to commit one sin, one time to be guilty of breaking the law of God: ...for whoever keeps the whole law, and yet offends in one point, he is guilty of all... (James 2:10). Most brethren can quickly recognize the gravity of such sins as fornication or murder, but what about the sin of forsaking the assembling of the saints? We are told not to forsake the assembling (Hebrews 10:25)! Do we expect that a brother, who forsakes just one service, when he is able and available to attend, is any less guilty than a one-time fornicator or murderer? This is the very subject that James deals with in the above verse in James, chapter two! The one who forsakes the assembling of the saints, with just one offense, is just as guilty as the murderer or fornicator who offends just one time.
Who is Disorderly?
The scripture is very succinct and direct about whom the disorderly are. A partial list would include the following:
I understand that other elements could be added to the list, but the above elements will give us a fairly comprehensive view of who God says is disorderly.
The Weak Versus The Disorderly
It is a temptation to categorize brethren who are disorderly as weak. What does the scripture say? We are warned: ...watch and pray lest you enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak... (Matthew 26:41). But is this an excuse for sin? God forbid! We are also instructed: ...lift up the hands that hang down, and the feeble knees; and make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it be healed... (Hebrews 12: 12-13). We are to let our weak parts be healed; in other words, repent. What of the weak brother? Does God, by example, define him and give us direction on how to deal with him? In Galatians 6: 1: ...If a man is overtaken in a trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in the spirit of gentleness, looking to yourselves, lest you also are tempted... The context of this passage seems to indicate that this brother is trying to do what is right, but is overtaken (succumbed to weakness) in a trespass; he evidently is not in open rebellion to the word of God, as is also indicated by the method of restoration: gentleness. Apollos, in Acts 18, could be converted by being taught the way of the Lord more perfectly. He was trying to do what was right, but was untaught. As well, the entire context of Romans 14 is dealing with receiving one who is weak in the faith, but not to doubtful disputations. The items dealt with in Romans 14 are items that the weak brother may or may not be able to practice, according to conscience, but one conclusion can be drawn: this weak brother was not in sin, since ...God has received him... (Romans 14: 3)! He was simply weak because of conscience.
What then of the disorderly brother? One passage that is quoted in reference to the disorderly is 1 Thessalonians 5: 14: ...Now we exhort you brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, support the weak, be patient toward all... We are indeed instructed to uphold the weak, but who are the weak? Can someone who is in open rebellion to the word of God be categorized as weak? God forbid! If someone can be categorized as weak that fits Gods definition of the disorderly, then, inserting that definition, we would have to conclude that Paul was teaching in 2 Thessalonians 5: 14 that we are to uphold the disorderly! In fact Paul would have contradicted his own (and since he was inspired, God would have contradicted Himself) instructions in 2 Thessalonians 3: 6! What then of the teaching of patience toward all in 2 Thessalonians 5: 14? We are indeed taught to be patient toward all, but does not God define where that patience ends? In the case of private sins, such as the kind the Lord Jesus deals with in Matthew 18: 15-17, the brother is approached individually, then by two or three witnesses, then by the church, and if, after those events have been followed, no repentance occurs, then the brother is to be withdrawn from. In the case of public sin, such as forsaking the assembly, after the sin has been established (i.e. the brother in question is indeed able and available to be there) and proper teaching and warning has occurred (...warn the unruly... 2 Thessalonians 5: 14), then, after those events have occurred, the brother must be ...delivered up to Satan... (1 Corinthians 5: 5).
For the purpose of illustration, I would like to use the sin that many, if not most congregations are refusing to withdraw from brethren for practicing: forsaking the assembling of the saints. Suppose that there is a brother in a congregation that is weak in his attendance, he occasionally will miss because of a bad decision (i.e. allowing a friend who is visiting to deter him from attending services) or because he overslept, but when he is admonished, he quickly confesses his wrong and repents; in other words, restored. This brother can be properly defined as needing to be upheld because he can and will be restored; he is trying to do what is right and thus, godly patience can be extended to him. However, consider another brother, who has not darkened the doors of the church building in a month because he simply does not want or see the need to be there, has been contacted and warned by most, if not all the church members and yet will not repent. Can this brother, by any examination of the scriptures, be categorized as weak? God forbid! Paul said: ...withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly... (2 Thessalonians 3: 6). The aforementioned brother who will not repent is not weak, but is walking disorderly! Can godly patience then be extended toward him? How could we possibly justify extending patience toward this rebellious brother using the doctrine of Christ?
Time to Repent
How quickly does God expect us to repent of our sins? In John 8: 11 when the Lord told the woman caught in adultery to ...go your way and sin no more... when was she to start ...sinning no more...: the next day, next week, perhaps even the next month? What about Simon the sorcerer in Acts 8: 22, when Peter told him to ...repent of this therefore your wickedness and pray God, if perhaps the sin of your heart may be forgiven you... Was the understanding that these individuals were to repent immediately? Indeed it was. Do we dare think that an erring brother should not be warned similarly? However, many brethren seem to have the attitude that we ought to delay even warning this erring brother, once the sin has been established. God expects all of us to repent immediately of our sins!
What are the consequences of delaying action toward the disorderly?
Some brethren remark that the matter of withdrawing from the disorderly is a difficult one, but how much more difficult is this subject than the Bible teaching on divorce or any other subject? When Gods Word is preached ...in season and out of season... (2 Timothy 4:2) and we ...reprove, rebuke, and exhort with all longsuffering and teaching... (2 Timothy 4:2), then we will recognize how plain this subject is and how forthright we are to be in obeying it. However, we must beware brethren: ...but be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves... (James 1: 22). To my fellow servants in Christ Jesus our Lord, I echo the words of our brother and apostle John: ...I have no greater joy than to hear of my children walking in truth... (3 John 4). May the peace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.