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As Christians we are duty-bound to accept all doctrinal statements in scripture. We may not add or remove parts we don’t like! Yet, this is what so many Believers in the world do every day – they literally invent reasons to shun other believers.

I don’t bother with unbelievers too much, simply because most have nothing in common with me… And I DO shun those who are openly wicked. But, what about shunning fellow believers?

A TV programme on the Amish (also see BTM Article A-336) illustrates the difference between Spirit-led conscience and Amish tradition was made stark. Younger people spoke of their evident sadness at being shunned by their former community and family. Some for driving trucks, or for owning a radio. As my doctoral thesis was about casting people out of fellowship this interested me, so I thought a gentle reminder about what constitutes reasons to be cast out or shunned was apt.

Shunning itself should not be a separate action, but a part of a formal act of casting out from membership. It is a sad fact that many who cast out others tend to hold grudges or become vindictive, both of which have no place in God’s disciplinary statements. (In this short paper I only wish to introduce readers to the concept. Thus, no biblical references are given; these are contained in my book, ‘The Left Boot of Fellowship’, which is based on my doctoral thesis. What I am saying is solid scriptural doctrine - not my own opinion).

The hurt felt by a young Amish man was seen on his face and in his sighs. He was attending a different Christian group so had not gone wild! And it appeared that those who shunned him from his old life did not wish to hurt the lad and did not seem to bear a grudge – though this is prevalent in UK and other Western churches, who have no real regard for actual biblical teaching on shunning.

Over the years I have been taught a great deal by God. My earlier brashness (and ignorance) was slowly replaced by tolerance of fellow believers, even if they do wrong. The reason is that I am not different. Sin is sin and no sin is ‘bigger’ or ‘smaller’ in ordinary terms. That means we are all subject to the same discommendation by God if we sin. None of us is totally free from sin and never will be on this earth. So, we should all respect each other as God’s children.

I have been involved in many counselling sessions with Christians who have done wrong. Responses range from unbelief and disregard, to realising their sin and removing it. Their refusal to submit to God is made plain by their continuing trouble and sin. Those who listen and obey God do so willingly, knowing it is necessary before God can use them again and accept them back into fellowship. In such an atmosphere, people respect each other’s salvation and act accordingly, as brothers and sisters in the Lord, helping and not hindering. Sadly, those with ulterior motives (anger, spite, etc.) will SAY they act in godly fashion when they shun people, but their actions and attitude deny it.

It is very clear in scripture (also see O-003) that casting out of fellowship is NOT a personal thing, but is based entirely on God’s will and holiness. Shunning means to avoid those who have been cast out… but not spitefully. The sin or sins warranting casting out are considered. The pastor speaks privately with the one in danger of fouling his own faith, in the hope he or she will see reason and repent. If this is not forthcoming, a second visit is necessary, this time with other elders or respected mature Christians. The person is told that if there is a third time, it will be to cast them out of fellowship. The few who visited will then wait. If the sins are not made public, then privacy is required. But, if the sin or sins are openly known in public everything should be done publicly if the first visit is unheeded.

If cast out, everyone should then shun the person. Timothy 2:16 gives an indication of the type of things requiring casting out and shunning: “profane and vain babblings” because both tend to become “more godless”. That is, we must avoid those whose words and deeds are unhallowed, common, ungodly; they usually speak and act in trite ways. They argue or speak commonly, roughly, and what they say is useless (the basic meaning of ‘vain’). Personally, I have no time for such useless speech and do not listen. This is what ALL Christians should do, whether with fellow Believers or unbelievers. It is also why believers should not spend their time with unbelievers, whose thoughts, speech and acts are usually contrary to holiness and worth.

The main point to adhere to is that before casting someone out of fellowship, they must have committed foul sins, usually openly. Having a radio, or driving a truck is not one of those reasons! There must be a real distraction from holiness.

Shunning does NOT mean total silence or nastiness. It means that we can speak civilly to those cast out (though few will want to be civil after being disciplined), greet them in courteous manner (“Good morning”, etc. ) and generally pray for their repentance. But, we cannot take part in any deeper discourse or meeting. This, then, provides the disciplined person a slim bridge they can use to get back to normality… after repenting and then proving their change. If the person thus disciplined is a believer we have no business to cut them off totally. The only exception is when a former member of a church completely disavows Christ or speaks ill of God in public. Then, there can be no real contact at all… but such would be rare.

There is much to consider in this short paper, but very necessary to maintain GOD’S way for the churches and NOT our own idea of discipline. It is very easy to turn our back on others, but not so easy to work things out as per scripture.

© April 2021

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Bible Theology Ministries - PO Box 415, Swansea, SA5 8YH
United Kingdom