CHRIST’S DISCIPLINE OF WITHDRAWAL
Jesus gave his disciples specific instructions for dealing with a Christian who sins against a brother (Matthew -17). His lesson shows how a small personal offense can escalate into a deep public sin. If the sinner is unwilling to repent after three sincere overtures from the offended brother, other witnesses, and finally, “the church,” intense magnification of the sin occurs. In this instance, Jesus tells us we must let the sinner be to us “like a heathen and a tax collector” (verse 17).
The modem church has almost disavowed this part of Jesus’ divine plan. Not many elders will even consider it. Few sermons mention it. As a result Christians in the pew have no clue about it.
But Jesus’ words are clear and understandable. They form a series of imperative commands. Obedience to these commands, in this circumstance, is compulsory for everyone who would be his disciple. Harshness or lack of love was not in Jesus’ mind or on his lips. His dual concerns were the restoration of the sinner and the protection of innocent Christians from the leavening influence of sin. He wanted his disciples to know that withdrawal of fellowship within the local congregation is the tool of last resort in pursuing these noble spiritual goals.
The Comforter led the apostles into explicit affirmation of Jesus’ discipline of withdrawal. Paul admonished the Thessalonians to “note,” “withdraw” from and refuse to “keep company” with “busybodies” in the church (II Thessalonians 3).
He instructed the Roman church to “note” and “avoid” false teachers in the larger brotherhood who were causing “divisions and offenses” (Romans ).
When he knew that a “sexually immoral” brother was being harbored in the Corinthian church, he commanded them to “put away from yourselves the evil person” (I Corinthians ).
Peter instructs us to “beware” of men who “twist” the Scripture “to their own destruction” (II Peter 3:16f). John warns that receiving or greeting a false teacher is the same as sharing “in his evil deeds” (II John 10).
Lovingly administered, Christ’s discipline of withdrawal and marking powerfully moves sinners toward true repentance. It simultaneously shields innocent disciples who are tempted to imitate hardened sinners.
We cannot know until judgment day how many souls have been lost because of our refusal to heed these plain words of our Lord and his apostles. Facing God with hands stained by the spiritual blood of these lost souls is indeed a daunting prospect.