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What Does the Bible Say About..Withdrawing?

I have a question regarding a very confusing situation. A friend of mine committed adultery. Now she is expecting a child (not her husbands). She and her husband are separated and he has also committed adultery with someone. All the parties involved are members of the Church (same congregation). Her husband and the lady he is seeing went before the congregation and publicly confessed their sins. At the same time my friend and the man she committed adultery with did the same. The brethren in the congregation (small congregation w/no elders) announced to the congregation that they were not to accept the confession of my friend unless she and the man agreed never to see each other or communicate with each other (they did not require that of her husband and the woman he was/still seeing). My friend asked about communication regarding the child. Their response was "No communication at all" and they also said he was not obligated to take care of the child because it was conceived in sin. According to them he had to cease all communication with her and the child in order for them to accept his confession and fellowship with the two of them again. They in turn issued letters to all area congregations and congregations in their home states requesting that no one fellowship with them or accept their confession. She is now confused and has stopped going to church. I tried to talk to her but she feels that no one will accept her back into the fold. Is this correct what this congregation is doing? Does the man have to cease all communications with her? If he takes care of his child and communicates with her regarding the child are the still in sin? They are no longer intimately involved with each other and they confessed that to the church. Please shed some light on this and help me to help my friend so that she can start attending services again and also help her to be able to talk with elders at another congregation. She is afraid to even try at this point.


First let me recommend an excellent article on this topic by David Padfield. It can be found at http://www.padfield.com/2000/fellowsh.html..

Next I must say that my answer is based solely on the information you gave me. I am answering based on seeing only one side of the issue. Further, any answer I may give is not intended to be binding on any congregation. As all congregations of the church are intended to be independent of all others I have no right to dictate policy, but only to present what the Bible says.

That said, it would appear that at least one thing that the congregation did violates the principle I just invoked. No congregation is bound by anything done by another congregation. Even in congregations with elders, those elders have no authority over other congregations. They are to shepherd the flock "among you" (1 Peter 5:1-2). They have no authority over anyone that is not of their congregation. We are to withdraw from any who walk disorderly among us (see below). A congregation that sends out letters to other congregations airing their own "dirty laundry" and asking others not to fellowship with an individual nor to accept their confession is wrong. They have no right to ask another congregation to do anything regarding fellowship with any individual. Nor do they have the right to ask others to follow their judgement on whether a confession of sin is to be accepted or not.

That leads to another point. Where in the Bible does it say we are allowed to determine for ourselves whether to accept the confession of a sinner? I find no such place. I find Jesus saying, "And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him." (Lk 17:4) He doesn't say, judge whether he is honest in his repentance and then consider whether or not to forgive. He says to forgive.

I also find nowhere in scripture authorizing anyone to determine who another person can associate with. As we shall see, the Bible addresses times when individuals may withdraw themselves from another, but even then it doesn't allow an individual to judge another by their associations. If the mother is no longer engaging in adultery with the man, who has the right to say she can not even talk to him?

Based on what you say, which is all I have, it appears that some in the congregation hold a triple standard. A husband who cheats on his wife is not held to the standard of a wife who cheats on her husband. Worse, a child that has not sinned at all is treated more harshly than the woman who cheated on her husband. Why does the child, if what you say is accurate, merit the greater punishment for someone else's sin? What happened to Ezekiel 18? Or are we now accepting the doctrine of "original sin?"

Now to the matter of withdrawing from or not having fellowship with someone. Paul clearly says that when a person walks disorderly by not working for a living or being a busybody, Christians are to withdraw from them (2 Thes 3:6, 11-15). Those that are greedy we are to withdraw from (1 Tim 6:5). He advises the Corinthians not to have company with or eat with anyone who is "a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner" (1 Cor 5:11). The stated purpose of such actions is not primarily punishment, but salvation-"that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus;" (1 Cor 5:5) and "that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother." (2 Thes 3:14-15) Paul even had to remind the Corinthian church that they were obligated to take such a one back as soon as he repented "lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow." (2 Cor 2:6-7) From what you say, one individual in this situation has been so swallowed up. Paul tells the Corinthians they are wrong in allowing that.

We are to withdraw from fornicators. But as soon as they repent they are no longer fornicators, and therefore not subject to being withdrawn from. "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God." (1 Cor 6:9-11) Note in verse 11 that he did not say "such ARE some of you." Once they were washed, sanctified, and justified they were no longer adulterers, etc. So to maintain a stance of withdrawal from one who has repented and confessed their sin is tantamount to saying that the one withdrawing has not sinned since their baptism.

If this congregation continues to treat such an individual in an unloving and seemingly unscriptural manner, recommend to her that she talk with the elders at another congregation. If they are reading the word of God, they clearly have no obligation to abide by any letter that her congregation sent about her. Their obligation appears to be to take her in unless and until she shows by her actions that she has not repented. Her home congregation, based on what you say, is not even affording her that opportunity. And if one eldership will not take her in, let her try another. If there are enough congregations in the area she will find one that is willing to abide by scripture, and will be blessed thereby. Better to worship with such a congregation than one that appears to disregard all that the Bible teaches about church discipline.