”My dear child, don't shrug off God's discipline, but don't be crushed by it either. It's the child he loves that he disciplines; the child he embraces, he also corrects. God is educating you; that's why you must never drop out. He's treating you as dear children. This trouble you're in isn't punishment; it's training, the normal experience of children. Only irresponsible parents leave children to fend for themselves. Would you prefer an irresponsible God? We respect our own parents for training and not spoiling us, so why not embrace God's training so we can truly live? While we were children, our parents did what seemed best to them. But God is doing what is best for us, training us to live God's holy best. At the time, discipline isn't much fun. It always feels like it's going against the grain. Later, of course, it pays off handsomely, for it's the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God." —Hebrews 12:7-11; MSG
What is involved in being disfellowshipped? Is it for the purpose of disciplining or punishing the guilty individual? As we shall see there is a difference. Concerning disfellowshipping, the Watchtower of 1991, April 15, pages 15-16, under the heading “Will You Imitate God’s Mercy?” says,
What is involved in disfellowshipping? We find an object lesson in the way a problem was handled in the first century. A Christian in Corinth engaged in immorality with his father’s wife and did not repent, so Paul directed that he be expelled from that congregation. This had to be done to protect the cleanness of God’s people, for “a little leaven ferments the whole lump.” Expelling him would prevent his wickedness from dishonoring both God and His people. The severe discipline of being disfellowshipped might also shock him to his senses and instill in him and the congregation due fear of God. —1 Corinthians 5:1-13; compare Deuteronomy 17:2, 12, 13
Here we have an example of a wicked person being expelled from the Corinthian congregation. Was it for the purpose of "severe discipline" that the man was put out and handed "over to Satan" as Paul directed the congregation to do? (1 Cor. 5:5)
What is discipline as used in the scriptures? According to an article in the Watchtower on this question, under the heading "Appreciating the Purpose of Discipline”, it said:
WHAT comes to mind when you hear the word “discipline”? One dictionary defines discipline as “the practice of making people obey rules or standards of behavior, and punishing them when they do not.” Although this is by no means the only accepted definition, many people today ascribe a similarly negative connotation to anything that has to do with discipline.
Yes, “In the Scriptures, divine discipline is described as an expression of God’s love.” That is why the apostle Paul wrote, “YOU have entirely forgotten the exhortation which addresses YOU as sons: ‘My son, do not belittle [the] discipline from Jehovah, neither give out when you are corrected by him; for whom Jehovah loves he disciplines; in fact, he scourges every one whom he receives as a son.’” —Hebrews 12:5,6
Paul develops this thought further on how Jehovah’s discipline is an expression of his love for us.
The Bible, however, presents discipline in a different light. “The discipline of Jehovah, O my son, do not reject,” wrote wise King Solomon. (Proverbs 3:11) These words refer, not to discipline in general, but to “the discipline of Jehovah,” that is, discipline based on God’s lofty principles. Only such discipline is spiritually productive and beneficial—even desirable. In contrast, discipline that is based on human thinking that is in conflict with Jehovah’s lofty principles is often abusive and hurtful. That explains why many have a negative attitude toward discipline.
Why are we urged to accept Jehovah’s discipline? In the Scriptures, divine discipline is described as an expression of God’s love for his human creatures. Thus, Solomon went on to say: “The one whom Jehovah loves he reproves, even as a father does a son in whom he finds pleasure.” —Proverbs 3:12” (w03 10/1 p. 20 Appreciating the Purpose of Discipline) (bold mine)
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” —Hebrews 12:7-11, New International Version
The scripture says, “whom Jehovah loves he disciplines.” You will never read, “whom Jehovah loves he punishes.” Discipline and punishment are not the same. Love is the motivation behind discipline. It is given with the intent to teach, help correct and readjust the action and thinking of an erring person. On the other hand, punishment is given for the need to satisfy justice. (Exodus 34:7; Psalms 37:28) For example, when Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden it was not for discipline, with the goal of helping them correct their wrong action, because of God’s love for them. Rather they were expelled as punishment for their rebellious course against his clearly stated law. For the same reason Cain, after having murdered his brother Abel, was banished as punishment. A wanderer and a fugitive he would be, “banished from [his] land and from [God’s] presence.” He complained that his punishment was too great for him to bear. (Genesis 4:11-14) Likewise with the ouster out of heaven of Satan and his angels. Concerning this we are told,
Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world--he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.” —Revelation 12:7-9, English Standard Version
Why was Satan and his angels cast out of heaven? Because “there was no longer any place for them in heaven.” That is why Adam and Eve were ousted from the Garden of Eden. There was no longer a place for those rebels in it, and there is no longer any place within God’s household for those who, like Satan and his demons, Adam and Eve, and Cain, are willful unrepentant wrongdoers. They are not cast out because of Jehovah’s love for them but rather it is their punishment, an expression of God’s justice upon them. It is true, those who are expelled, or disfellowshipped today from the congregation can repent and return, as was the case with the immoral man in Corinth, but that should not be the intention, the reason behind expelling anyone. No one should ever be ousted from the Christian congregation for discipline reason, as if Jehovah disfellowships those whom he loves. (2 Corinthians 2:5-11)
How to Help The Weak Among Us
Many among us have been traveling the narrow and cramped road leading to life for many years. (Matt. 7:14) And it hasn’t been an easy journey for anyone as we all have our own peculiar burdens to content with. We all have our struggles against the desires of the flesh to some degree, and we must remember that none of us are yet perfect. (Psalms 130:3) Along this road many new ones are joining us, and they all come from different backgrounds and bring with them their own burdensome luggage. Should we not be assisting one another, encouraging and helping each other to carry each others load, especially when we see some stumble into wrongdoing, or are distracted into following a different road? That is what Jehovah expects us to do!
Brothers and sisters, what if someone is caught in a sin? Then you who are guided by the Spirit should correct that person. Do it in a gentle way. But be careful. You could be tempted too. Carry each other’s heavy loads. If you do, you will give the law of Christ its full meaning.” —Galatians 6:1,2; New International Reader’s Version
Elders need to follow Christ’s example in showing love. Jesus commanded all of us to love one another and elders should qualify to take the lead in this. (John 13:34,35) For some who have never been loved, to love does not come easy and many don’t know how. How do we become patient and kind, not envy others when things go well for them, not boast or look for our own interests, not become easily angered nor keep records of wrongs? We need to protect and trust our brothers, not impute wrong motives in them, and always hope for the best when there is the need to persevere. That is what love includes, and we can learn to love. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7) We need to do that if we want to be Jesus’ disciples. How can we learn to love? By learning from our Creator. The Watchtower of July 1, 2003, page 4, “How to Develop Genuine Love” is helpful in telling us:
HOW does a human learn to love? By studying psychology? By reading self-help books? By watching romantic movies? Hardly. Humans learn to love in the first place by the example and training of their parents. Children will learn the meaning of love if, in an environment of warm affection, they see their parents feed and protect them, communicate with them, and take a deep personal interest in them. They also learn to love when their parents teach them to observe sound principles of right and wrong.
Qualified, loving elders, like parents, should provide “an environment of warm affection,” where they “feed and protect” (tend) the members of the congregation. (see John 21:15-17) Where they “communicate with them, and take a deep personal interest” in each and every person. Qualified elders “consistently act in the very best interests of others,” even “when loving discipline is involved.” In this way everyone in the congregation learns to love by being loved. Elders must remember that “love never fails.” They can never go wrong by dealing in a loving way with the flock in their care. (1 Cor. 13:8)
Elders should be eager to help erring members. If someone is “caught in a sin,” elders “who are guided by the Spirit” and have the scriptural qualifications to shepherd the flock of God, should “correct (or discipline) that person in a gentle way.” (1 Peter 5:2,3) They do this in the way caring parents might discipline their children. (1 Thessalonians 2:7) Parents understand that every child of theirs is unique in their emotional makeup and have different needs and problems. The discipline, or correction needed at times may therefore differ from child to child. The discipline given is for the purpose of readjusting the action and attitude of an erring child, and it is given because of the great love the parents have for their sons and daughters. Jehovah has set the example for parents in disciplining in love, even when the discipline, or correction, may be severe. But he never expels from his household those whom he loves. Disfellowshipping is for those who no longer let themselves be corrected, who have become independent and no longer have a place in God’s congregation.
The sheep belong to Jehovah and he expects the shepherds in their congregations to strengthen the sickened one, heal the ailing one, and to bandage the broken one. (Eze. 34:4) But we have a peculiar problem in many congregations. Few elders are scripturally qualified to be such. A brother who is made an elder because of his many hours in preaching, placing literature and regular meetings attendance (none of them scriptural qualifications) may be lacking in the scriptural requirement of showing love. Love, as required in the scriptures is part of holding “firmly to the faithful word as respects his art of teaching.” (NWT) Or as the New International Reader’s Version says:
The message as it has been taught can be trusted. He must hold firmly to it. Then he will be able to use true teaching to comfort others and build them up. He will be able to prove that people who oppose it are wrong. —Titus 1:9
Scripturally qualified elders will discern the difference between “loving discipline” and “just punishment.” Where such capable elders are lacking we find that many of God’s ailing sheep are simply disfellowshipped rather than helped and assisted, since such assistance would take time, love, understanding, and an art or ability to hold “firmly to the faithful word.” Congregations who have loving qualified elders are certainly blessed. But woe to the brothers where such ones are lacking.
Genuine love is more than just affection or sentiment. It consistently acts in the very best interests of others, even if they do not fully appreciate it at the time, which is often the case with children when loving discipline is involved. A perfect example of one who shows unselfish love is the Creator himself. The apostle Paul wrote: “My son, do not belittle the discipline from Jehovah, neither give out when you are corrected by him; for whom Jehovah loves he disciplines.”—Hebrews 12:5, 6
How Should One Who has Doubts be Treated?
Some people are more inquisitive then others. They need to know the hows and whys. I know, I was one such a student. I needed everything proved to me and did not rest until I understood what it was I was learning. After all, if I was going to teach others, did I not need to understand it myself first? What if a person has lingering doubts about certain teachings that cannot be proved by Scripture alone and thus becomes a matter of faith? Or what if in the course of time we come to understand that something we thought we understood no longer fits the facts? Should such a person be condemned as being not worthy of the benefits of the ransom, for the sake of unity? As discussed above, a loving, qualified elder would, in an environment of warm affection, do as Jude writes:
Also, continue showing mercy to some that have doubts; save [them] by snatching [them] out of the fire." —Jude 22,23
He would comfort and build up the individual, realizing that the doubt the person has is also causing him immense agony, perhaps sleepless nights. Some elders are known to have disfellowshipped those who have expressed doubts about certain teachings of ours. Matter of fact, it has become quite common. Can you imagine! Are they not afraid of their Master, or do they imagine he won't be coming for a long time yet? Jesus said in one of his most well known quotes:
For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only begotten (unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life. —John 3:16 (Amplified Bible)
How does Jehovah view shepherds who disfellowship the sheep whose only "sin" is to have doubts about certain teachings that cannot be substantiated by scripture, such as our interpretation of prophecies? Are they being disfellowshipped for either "loving discipline" or "just punishment"? Jehovah, in his great love, gave his only-begotten son in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life. (John 3:16) And yet unloving and unqualified elders disfellowship those who exercise faith but have doubts in some of man's teachings. Such elders should beware! Jehovah is taking note of their punitive actions in dealing harshly with his sheep:
Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock?. . . You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.
An elder ought to shepherd God’s sheep with love, in imitation of Jesus. He needs to strengthen the weak, heal the sick and bind up the injured. He should bring back the strays and search for the lost. Even if some among the brothers have developed a rebellious attitude the elders ought to imitate Jehovah’s example in dealing with them. This is what Examining the Scriptures Daily 2005, Thursday, October 27, says in connection with this, quoting Micah 6:3:
Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD : As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock, therefore, O shepherds, hear the word of the LORD : This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.” —Ezekiel 34:2-10; NIV.
Remember that in Micah’s time the Israelites are rebellious. Even so, Jehovah compassionately addresses them with the words, “O my people.” He pleads: “O my people, remember, please.” (Mic. 6:5) Rather than harshly accuse them, he tries to reach their heart by asking, “What have I done to you?” He even encourages them to “testify against” him. What an example God sets for all of us! He compassionately called even the rebellious people of Israel and Judah of Micah’s day “my people” and addressed them with the term “please.” Certainly, then, we should display compassion and kindness in our dealings with those who are a part of the congregation. Granted, some may not be easy to get along with, or they may be spiritually weak. If they love Jehovah, however, we want to help them and show them compassion. (Bold mine)
Elders must remember that the sheep belong to Jehovah, and that Jesus gave his life for them. If they deal with the sheep in a harsh way, as if God’s people were somehow accountable to them, as elders, Jehovah will most certainly hold them responsible for any harm that comes to them. (Ezekiel 34:4, 10; James 3:1) Has he not set the example for them?
Woe to the elders who oppress, or “beat” their fellow slaves. As Jesus clearly warned, those in responsible positions, who had been assigned the responsibility to feed his household, but ended up beating them instead, will be removed from their positions and lose out on their heavenly reward entirely, being “cut in two” (διχοτομήσει αυτόν; Luke 12:46, Kingdom Interlinear) as it says in the Greek. Those serving under them and who understood the will of the Lord, having been made aware of it, as in the quote above, but failed to carry it out due to misdirected loyalty, will suffer God’s punishment by being beaten with many strokes; while others, elders who had no clue what they were doing, not having any scriptural qualifications to begin with, and thus also failed to obey, will also be beaten, but with fewer strokes. (Luke 12:45-48) “This takes into account that it is righteous on God’s part to repay tribulation to those who make tribulation for you.” —2 Thessalonians 1:6.
Disfellowshippings That Have God's Approval
As already noted, Jehovah does not disfellowship anyone because he loves them. That rules out any disfellowshippings that are done for reasons of discipline. Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden of Eden because they no longer belonged in it. And Satan and his angels are cast out of heaven because they no longer belong there. It is not for reasons of love, with a view to readjusting such ones, but rather because of God’s justice that he takes such drastic action. Any who are expelled from the Christian congregation should be expelled because they no longer belong there, being unwilling to comply with God's righteous laws. Concerning such ones Paul's words to the congregation in Corinth applies, "Remove the wicked [man] from among yourselves." —1 Corinthians 5:13
What are scriptural reasons for expelling someone from the congregation? How should someone, who has been removed from among us, be viewed? Does God's Word have appropriate counsel? The 1988 Watchtower dealt with this point:
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.” (Bolds mine)
I do not believe that Jehovah would approve with the expelling of someone due to the person no longer wishing to be a member of the congregation. A person cannot be disfellowshipped for what he does not do, such as no longer attend meetings or share in the preaching work. When the apostle John wrote that some "went out from us" because "they were not of our sort" he simply noted that not all continue running the race with endurance, perhaps due to a lack of faith. (Luke 21:19; 2 Thes. 1:4,5; Heb. 10:36; 12:1;) No one can be expelled for lack of faith, or for giving up in "the race that is set before us," can they? That is not what John was telling us.
In Jesus' parable of the prodigal son, did the father expel or disfellowship his son for leaving his household? From the illustration, it would seem that the son who remained and worked for his father wished that he had. How unlike his attitude was in comparison to his compassionate father! Are our elders today imitating the example of the loving father or the self-righteous son? (Luke 15:11-32)
No longer wanting to be recognized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses is not a disfellowshipping offense scripturally. Of course, if the person returns to sinning without any remorse, then he should be dealt with at such time. And if the elders are unable to locate the person who was bathed but “goes back to wallowing in the mud,” then they need not concern themselves with him any longer as he has already removed himself from the congregation and they can leave his judgment in Jehovah’s hands. (2 Peter 2:21,22)
The article goes on to say:
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?
The article mentions apostates, ”everyone that pushes ahead and does not remain in the teaching of the Christ”, among those who are to be disfellowshipped and avoided. We should ask here: Who are the apostates? Are apostates not those who go beyond the things written, and make God’s word invalid by their own teachings and traditions? From Jehovah’s standpoint, was it not the religious leaders in Jesus’ day who were the apostates, although they accused the Christ of being such for exposing them? (Matthew 15:5-9, 12,13) Who today are the apostates? The ones who have pushed ahead and departed from Christ’s teachings or those who question unscriptural traditions? When our pharisaical leaders teach that we gain salvation by means of our dedication, are they remaining in the teaching of the Christ? (John 3:16) When they push ahead and explain Bible prophecies that are “made secret and sealed up” until the time of their fulfillment and try to interpret “the times or seasons which the Father has placed in his own jurisdiction,” something Jesus said “does not belong to [us],” who are the apostates, the ones doing the teaching or the ones questioning them? (Daniel 12:9; Acts 1:7)
When the time arrives for God to judge his household he will expose the real apostates. He will hold those accountable who dealt treacherously with his sheep, for they had expelled those who questioned, not God’s Word, but their authority to push ahead and teach their own apostate views and interpretations. Jehovah will expel, disfellowship such ones from his household for there will no longer be any place for them in it. (Matthew 24:50,51)
Disfellowshipping is an arrangement put in place by Jehovah, and he has set us the example by expelling Adam and Eve, their son Cain, Satan and his angels, and also removing wicked persons from among his people in the time of the Israelites. Expelling an unrepentant individual from our midst removes the person from God’s household, and as Cain complained, from God’s presence. (Genesis 4:14, NLT) There is no longer a place for such a person within that household and it protects the faithful members of the congregation. The result of such ousting may well be like that described in the book of Revelation when Satan and his angels are cast out of heaven.
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.
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.
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.
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)” —w88 4/15 pp. 26-28, Discipline That Can Yield Peaceable Fruit. (They unfortunately refer to disfellowshipping as “discipline”)
The accuser of our brothers has been hurled down, who accuses them day and night before our God! On this account be glad, you heavens and you who reside in them. —Revelation 12:10, 12