How should we 'mark'?

The writer is a member of the Church of God Twin Cities, Hopkins, Minn. He has attended the Church of God since 1986.

By Bryn Hendrickson

BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn.-Over the course of several months I read, with great interest, The Journal's series of articles on the nature of God. I was quite content to read and study what others had written: content, that is, until I read Eric Snow's comments in the March 31 issue of The Journal ("Heresy of 'Arianism' Calls for Drastic Step").

However, I am not writing to deal with any arguments he might have made regarding the nature of God. Instead, I am writing in response to his call for the disfellowshipment of Gary Fakhoury.

I find it troubling that Mr. Snow would call for a Pharisaical approach to dealing with a doctrinal issue. Lest you think I am using hyperbole in regards to his approach, read the story in John 9:13-34 of a blind man Jesus healed. Read about the fear the man's parents felt at the thought of being put out of the synagogue by the Pharisees (verse 22). Then read of the courage the man had and how he was cast out by the Pharisees (verse 34) for daring to profess that Jesus had healed him.

The apostle John also deals with this issue in an epistle. In the first eight verses of 3 John, the apostle goes into great detail praising Gaius for his great service of the brethren, but in verses 9-11 we read of another man from the same area who had a different approach.

Notice what Diotrephes was doing. He was putting people "out of the church" (verse 10). Does it seem as if John were happy about this practice? Notice that he tells Gaius, "Do not imitate what is evil."

Hence, from the context, it appears John defines putting people out of the church as evil.

I wonder where John could have gotten the idea that casting people out of the church was not God's way?

Parable of the tares

Consider Jesus' parable of the tares. The land owner advised his servants to allow both the wheat and the tares-a kind of weed that looked similar to wheat-to grow together until the harvest, "lest while you are gathering up the tares, you may root up the wheat with them" (Matthew 13:24-30).

Do you understand what is said here? Jesus acknowledged there would be "troublemakers" in the church, but He taught that you don't root them out. He knew that if this were to be permitted some wheat would get pulled up at the same time.

Also, one person's troublemaker is another person's hero. Let's remember that to the religious leaders of the day John the Baptist, the apostles and even Jesus Himself were considered troublemakers.

It is also important to keep in mind the words of Paul to the Romans: "Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand" (Romans 14:4)

It seems clear that putting people out of the church is not a good thing in the eyes of Jesus Christ, but for the sake of argument let's look at a few other scriptures usually used to justify the practice of disfellowshipping.

The first scripture most people turn to on the subject is Romans 16:17: "Now I beseech ye, brethren, mark them who cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned, and avoid them" (King James Version).

Romans 16:17

Here are few things to keep in mind in this passage.

First, the Greek word translated here in the KJV as "mark" is skopeo, which means to look at, behold, watch or contemplate. Nearly all translations, other than the KJV, render the verse similar to the way it is translated in the New American Standard Bible version: "Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them."

This reference to "marking" someone simply means to "take note of" or "be aware of" someone acting as Paul describes.

The second point to note is that Paul says, "Now I urge you, brethren . . ."

This may shock some Journal readers, but the book of Romans is not a pastoral epistle. It was written to "all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints" (Romans 1:7). Hence whatever actions Paul recommends in this passage are directed to the brethren, not exclusively to the elders.

The last point regarding this passage in Romans is that the prescription by Paul says nothing of putting people out of a congregation. He simply says to turn away from them, or, as the KJV puts it, avoid them.

In other words, Paul tells the brethren how to react to such a person in their group, not that they should get rid of him. In fact, how could the brethren keep an eye on the people they were supposed keep an eye on if they had been put out? After all, as the old saying goes, out of sight out of mind.

2 Thessalonians 3:6-7

The next pertinent passage is 2 Thessalonians 3:6-7, where Paul writes:

"Now we command you brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the traditions which he received of us. For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us; for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you" (KJV).

Notice this letter is again addressed to the brethren. Thessalonians is also not a pastoral epistle, and notice that Paul does not tell the brethren to put out or disfellowship a disorderly person. Rather, it was up to the brethren to withdraw from the rowdy one.

That being said, I want to look a little closer at what Paul means when he refers to one "walking disorderly." However, I think it is also important to clarify what was the real issue Paul was writing about. We can do this simply by quoting this same passage, and a bit more, from the New American Standard Bible.

"Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep aloof from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you . . . but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you, that you might follow our example.

"For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone will not work, neither let him eat. For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all, but acting like busybodies. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread.

"But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary of doing good. And if anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that man and do not associate with him, so that he may be put to shame. And yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother" (2 Thessalonians 3:6-15).

As you can see, we get quite a different understanding of this passage from this translation.

If we read it carefully, we can see these words were written in response to people in the church who were lazy: people who were not working and who were taking advantage of the goodness of the church.

Paul is telling the brethren simply to withdraw from these people who really need to get out and get a job.

However, Paul did not want the brethren to grow discouraged about doing good, which is why he also tells them not to be weary in well-doing. While the brethren were to, as Paul says, shame these people into getting a job, he is also careful to point out that the church was not to regard him as an enemy, but as a brother.

As we can see, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-7 provides no justification for putting people out of a fellowship.

1 Corinthians 5

One might ask if ever a time comes when someone must tell someone not to return to a fellowship. Yes, but let's take careful note of the requisite conditions.

We all know of the case from 1 Corinthians when Paul himself said of a man who was openly committing adultery with his father's wife:

"I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus," said Paul (1 Corinthians 5:5). He tells "the church of God which is at Corinth" (1 Corinthians 1:2) to "remove the wicked man from among yourselves" (1 Corinthians 5:13). Please keep a couple of things in mind:

  • Paul goes to great lengths in the whole fifth chapter building the case for why the congregation (again, this is not a pastoral epistle) was to put a wicked person out.
  • We see an obvious difference between dealing with someone who has committed a sin common to man and quite another dealing with a person whose transgression brings shame on the entire church.

After all, if committing sin was grounds for permanent dismissal by the church, it wouldn't be long before no one was attending church.

1 Timothy 1:19-20

Paul also uses the phrase "delivering one up to Satan" in his first letter to Timothy. Since some use this passage to uphold supposed ministerial authority to disfellowship, let's look at this passage to see if any such authority is to be found here.

"This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have delivered over to Satan, so that they may be taught not to blaspheme" (1 Timothy 1:19-20).

We must take careful note of this passage, keeping in mind that Paul is encouraging Timothy to remain resolute and not give up on the faith as some had who had rejected the faith and suffered spiritual shipwreck.

Paul says he had delivered such people over to Satan, but I want you to think about what Paul is saying here. Is Paul saying that he has cut them off from the church or salvation?

Remember it was Paul himself who asked: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . . Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:35, 37-39).

It seems clear that what Paul is expressing to Timothy is a hopelessness toward people he knew who had simply given up. Paul knew that he had no authority to separate someone from Jesus. Perhaps what Paul is getting at is this: When someone is far enough gone, sometimes we just have to let him go. Give him up to Satan for the destruction of the flesh.

This may seem harsh, but Paul knew about the resurrection of the just (the first resurrection) and of the unjust (the second resurrection).

Congregational action

In extreme cases should a member be told not to come back to services?

Yes, but they are extreme, and they are always a matter of exceptional, sinful behavior, not a matter of a difference of beliefs. I must stress that such a decision must be made and enforced by the whole congregation, not an elite clerical caste.

We should also note that such congregational action can do nothing to separate one from God.

If we carefully study what the Worldwide Church of God and most of its offshoots, such as the United Church of God, teach regarding the doctrine of disfellowshipment, we will find that it is in fact excommunication.

Historically, the intent of excommunication was to instill fear in the hearts of anyone who opposed the teachings of the Catholic Church.

Since one had to be a part of the "one true church" to be saved, many people bowed in fear. Mr. Snow's call for Mr. Fakhoury's disfellowshipment is just such a fear tactic.

It is terribly disturbing that some still believe that, to uphold their idea of order in the church, such fear tactics need to be employed. But let's all remember God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

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