Sunday, September 15, 2013

Withdrawing Fellowship: 2 Thessalonians 3:6 in Context

"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 tradition which he received of us." —2 Thess. 3:6, KJV

Having been in multiple assemblies where this verse has been taken out of its context and used to "withdraw fellowship" for violating some aspect of "pattern worship," I feel a responsibility to warn those who support preachers and elders who misunderstand and misapply this verse.

I think we have, for far too long, allowed a misunderstanding of Biblical "authority" to substitute for the truth. The following is an 1976 article from Restoration Review by Leroy Garrett and comes across to me as very reasonable. I do not agree with every application Garrett makes.

He writes:

"The apostle Paul was having an odd kind of problem with the believers in Thessalonica. In one manner of speaking they were over converted. So wrapped up were they in the expectation of an early return of Jesus from the heavens that they no longer bothered with the “business as usual” kind of existence. Since the Lord was due to come just any moment, so they presumed, they had quit their jobs and ceased all work. After all, if God is going to ring down the curtain and bring an end to it all, why bother to cultivate the crops, report to your foreman on Monday morning, or enroll the kids in school?"

"Had Jesus come all that soon there would have been no problem. But as he tarried the weeds continued to grow, work around the house piled up, and stomachs began to growl with hunger. While they were waiting (and surely it could not be much longer!) it was convenient for them to live off other believers, whose conversion had not led them to such a radical change in day-to-day living. They, too, believed in the Lord’s coming, but they continued to stack up the firewood, cultivate their crops, and report for work as usual...."

"Such a problem is intensified if people are inclined toward indolence anyway, as most of us probably are. I’m always looking for good excuses to escape some of my inevitable tasks! Some of the Thessalonians had this problem, and what is a better excuse than the world’s sudden demise? Why chop wood if nobody will be around to cram it into the cook stove? Why bother with preparing meals since we will at any moment be caught up in the air? In the meantime, if there is a delay tactic on the Lord’s part, we can always drop in on the Smiths and have a meal with them, and while we are there we can borrow a leg of lamb, just in case the Lord keeps postponing the big event. That the situation was something like this at Thessalonica is evident from what Paul writes to them in the first letter, which apparently did not have the effect he intended."

"Williams renders 1 Thess. 4:11 this way: “Try hard to live quietly, and mind your own business, and work with your hands, as we told you.” The Jerusalem Bible puts it: “Make a point of living quietly, attending to your own business and earning your living, just as we told you to.” The first letter is filled with teaching about the second coming, with at least one reference to it in each chapter. In both letters the point is made that, while Jesus will indeed come again, they are not to be so disturbed about it as to make normal living difficult or impossible. “Let no one mislead you,” he urges, and goes on to assure them that certain things must take place before the Lord comes, such as the great rebellion and the appearance of the man of sin. And so in 1 Thess. 5:14 he includes in his list of admonitions: "We urge you to warn the idle.'"

"But Paul goes even further. Not only does he warn against idleness and indolence, whether they use the second coming as a reason or not, but he even demands that "If a man will not work, he shall not eat" (2 Thess. 3:10). He tells them that he himself was an example for them in this regard, for while in their midst he took no one’s food without paying his part, even though he had the right to expect them to provide his necessities (verses 7-8)."

"Now we have the context for this terribly abused passage before us. In 2 Thess. 3:6 he is talking about these people who will not work and who go around sponging off other people. This violates his own example as well as his instructions. The King James rendering, “withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly” is improved upon in other versions, though this version is clear enough when the entire paragraph is studied. In v. 8 the apostle tells them that he did not “behave disorderly” in that he worked and was chargeable to no one."

Verse 1 identifies the disorderly as those who "work not at all, but are busy bodies.'"

Other versions make verse 6 even clearer. Phillips has it:

“Don't associate with the brother whose life is undisciplined.” and the Revised Standard puts it: “keep away from any brother who is living in idleness.”

The New English: “Hold aloof from every Christian brother who falls into idle habits,” while

Williams gives it as: "Avoid any brother who is living a lazy life.'"

"The apostle is obviously dealing with a very special problem. Using the coming of Christ as a reason, some of them no doubt sincerely, a number had turned to a life of idleness and indolence, which not only made for an imposition upon others who were poor to start with, but which also violated the principles and example that Paul had set before them. Some strong measure had to be applied. So he is telling the faithful to avoid or hold aloof those who refuse to work and bear their own load. When they come around, don’t let them impose on you, don’t feed them. Put a hoe or an ax in their hand and let them work for what they eat. This is what he is telling them."

"That this has no reference to any kind of formal withdrawing of fellowship is evident by the context. Paul did not want these people run off. He wanted them to get on the stick and get to work. His final word on the subject is in 2 Thess. 3:14-15 where he says, “If anyone refuses to obey our orders in this letter, note that man; have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed of himself; but do not consider him an enemy; warn him as a brother.” The brother who would not heed the apostle’s urgings was to be kept at bay. They were not to associate with him nor in any way encourage his prodigality, including turning him away from the door at mealtime. This might lead the brother to shame and get him back in line."

"Paul never really touches upon the subject of excluding such ones from the fellowship of the congregation, as he does, for instance, in the case of the fornicator at Corinth. Such idle ones might well have shown up in the assemblies at Thessalonica, for, after all, they were suppose to be standing by, waiting for Jesus to come. The apostle does not deal with this part of the problem, except to tell the faithful to “warn him as a brother.” So they kept on treating them as brothers. I can hear one of them say to such an erring one, “Andy, I’ll be up early plowing in the morning and I surely could use some help. When the day is over, we’ll have a sack of food ready for you to take to your family.” Or Mary might invite Ruth over for a quilting or a cooking spree, after which the spoils would be divided. But they would avoid them or hold them aloof insofar as they sought to impose their idle ways upon others."

"So, the passage isn’t really all that involved, is it? It emerges in Paul’s writings only because of this sticky problem in that small, persecuted, poverty-stricken congregation in Thessalonica. Paul could never have dreamed that his words, “Withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly” would someday be used as a proof text for “withdrawing fellowship” from those who veer from this or that doctrinal position...."

"It is common for our bulls of excommunication, those letters of “disfellowship” that make the rounds, to begin with a quotation of this passage. “In view of the apostle’s injunction to withdraw fellowship from all those who walk disorderly we do hereby...” may well be the language. Somebody, sometimes an entire congregation, gets the ax, and 2 Thess. 3:6 is the proof text. Any person who breaks rank with what might well be called “Church of Christism” is said to be walking disorderly and comes under the indictment of 2 Thess. 3:6..."

"We have seen that Paul really never said anything about “walking disorderly” to start with, but something like living in idleness. But even if we take that term and apply it to some behavior in the scriptures, which would surely be disorderly, if anything would, it does not necessarily bear any such penalty as we seek to impose upon 2 Thess. 3:6. Take Gal. 6:7 where Paul refers to a brother being “overtaken in a trespass,” which is surely disorderly conduct. But there is no reference to withdrawing from him, but of restoring him in a spirit of gentleness. There was a great deal at Corinth that was disorderly. such as taking each other to court and having assemblies that were confusing and unedifying, but the apostle did not relate this to withdrawing of fellowship."

"We all walk disorderly in one way or another, just as we are all wrong or “brothers in error” in one way or another. It is a matter of intention and the condition of the heart as to how serious these errors are. What really counts is our faithfulness to Jesus. If we lift him up in our lives, yielding ourselves to his example and to the scriptures the best we know how, then our feebleness, our disorderly moments in act and thought, our errors of judgment and behavior will be covered by his love and grace. If this is not the way of it, then we may as well call the whole thing off, for all our works, even those “done in righteousness,” are for naught. It is only by his mercy that we are saved, not by orderliness of doctrine and practice."

All bold emphasis mine, sp.

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