The book for elders “Shepherd The Flock Of God” says that willful continued, unnecessary association with disfellowshipped or dissociated persons will lead to disfellowshipping. The basic problem with this law is that a correct understanding of the Greek text shows that association with disfellowshipped or disassociated ones is not forbidden in the Christian Greek Scriptures. Christians can greet and speak with disfellowshipped persons. But they should not fraternize and socialize with these persons. This means that shunning disfellowshipped persons has no basis in the Bible.
The Watchtower of August 1, 1974, contains two mostly balanced articles on disfellowshipping, and these confirm that the important point is not fraternizing with disfellowshipped persons. One of the articles also indirectly shows that Christians can say a greeting to disfellowshipped ones.
Association with disfellowshipped relatives living in the same household must, of course, occur. But spiritual association should not continue, according to the Governing Body. But “unnecessary association” with disfellowshipped relatives living outside the household, means no association except in special situations, is the view. But this creates one basic problem. The mentioned article in The Watchtower of 1974 says that parents, grandparents, and children if they are disfellowshipped, have a natural right to visit blood relatives and offspring. This is, of course, correct. But the present Governing Body does not accept that.
Unfortunately, the balanced view of The Watchtower of August 1, 1974, has not been accepted by the Governing Body. And two articles in The Watchtower of September 15, 1981, evidently were written to contradict the basic conclusions of the 1974 Watchtower articles.
There are two situations that can lead to disfellowshipping when relatives are visited, and these are analyzed. It is forbidden to have “spiritual association” with a disfellowshipped relative. But I show that there are many situations where this is necessary in order to uphold the spirit and purpose of disfellowshipping. It is also forbidden to criticize the disfellowshipping decision. The problem here is that 3t of the 48 disfellowshipping offenses mentioned in the Watchtower literature are made up and invented by the Governing Body and have no basis in the Bible.
But contrary to the justice of the Bible, if we point this truth out, we ourselves will be disfellowshipped. In effect, the Governing Body has taken a page from the legal system of secular governments by sealing judicial cases and slapping a gag-order on all Jehovah’s Witnesses prohibiting them from questioning or criticizing any disfellowshipping decision. While this may be a convenient loophole in dictatorial regimes, forbidding Christians from asking reasonable questions or pointing out discrepancies, under threat of being disfellowshipped, is a human commandment not sanctioned by the Bible.
The book for elders, “Shepherd The Flock Of God”, 12.17 (1) says:
Unnecessary Association With Disfellowshipped or Disassociated Individuals: Willful, continued, unnecessary association with disfellowshipped or disassociated nonrelatives despite repeated counsel would warrant judicial action. —Matt.18:17b; 1 Cor. 5:11,13; 2 John 10. 11: lvs pp. 39-40.
If a member of the congregation is known to have unnecessary association with disfellowshipped or disassociated relatives who are not in the household, elders should use the Scriptures to counsel and reason with him. Review with him information from the Remain in God’s Love book, page 241. If it is clear that a Christian is violating the spirit of the disfellowshipping decree in this regard and does not respond to counsel, he would not qualify for congregation privileges, which require one to be exemplary. He would not be dealt with judicially unless there is persistent spiritual association or he persists in openly criticizing the disfellowshipping decision.
There are several statements in the quotation above that do not accord with a correct understanding of the Greek text of the Bible. First, no passage in the Bible tells Christians to shun a disfellowshipping person. We are told not to fraternize or socialize with disfellowshipped ones but, greeting them and speaking with them are not forbidden. Second, relatives not living in the household have a natural right to associate with disfellowshipped relatives. The Scriptures that elders will use to counsel those who associate with disfellowshipped ones will be misleading because they are taken out of context and so do not, in fact, prohibit such association.
“ASSOCIATING” BUT NOT “FRATERNIZING” WITH
Paul speaks about the disfellowshipping of wicked persons in 1 Corinthians chapters 5 and 6, and he says in 5:11 that we should “stop keeping company” with disfellowshipped persons, and “not even eating” with them.’ On my website, there are three detailed studies under the category “Shunning not based on the Bible.” One study delves into the actual meaning of the apostle Paul’s words at 1 Corinthians 5:11; one study presents the contextual understanding of Matthew 18:15-17, and the other study is a detailed examination of 2 John 7-11.
The conclusion is that the practice of shunning disfellowshipped persons contradicts the Bible. That Christians should not greet and speak with disfellowshipped ones and treat them as if they do not exist was made up and invented by the author of an article in The Watchtower of 1952. The article does not refer to any passages in the Bible as evidence for shunning. As a matter of fact, no article during the 70 years since shunning was introduced has made a detailed analysis of Bible passages to prove that shunning is a Bible-based practice. At most, scriptures are referred to without any explanation, as we see at the end of the first paragraph in the quotation above from the Shepherd book.
I will mention just a few points from my detailed study on 1 Corinthians 5:11. The Greek word translated “keep company” is synanamignymi. Does this word indicate that we should shun disfellowshipped persons? The answer is No. A clear scripture showing that Christians can greet and speak with disfellowshipped persons is 2 Thessalonians 3:14, 15 (NWT13).
14 But if anyone is not obedient to our word through this letter, keep this one marked and stop associating (synanamignymi) with him, so that he may become ashamed. 15 And yet do not consider him an enemy, but continue admonishing him as a brother.
This is the only place in the Christian Greek Scriptures where synanamignymi is used apart from 1 Corinthians 5:9, 11, where the word is applied to disfellowshipped persons. The word synanamignymi is a very simple word that only refers to “mixing together” in some form. The Watchtower of March 1, 1952, implicitly claims that the connotative force of synanamignymi means that Christians are not to be “mixing together” with disfellowshipped ones, to the point of ‘not greeting’ and ‘not speaking with’ them. However, if that were the case, this must also be the force of the same word in 2 Thessalonians 3:14 relating to marked individuals. But this is impossible, as I will show below.
The words of verse 15 show explicitly that “not to speak with” and “not to greet” cannot be part of the semantic meaning of synanamignymi in verse 14. The text says that we should admonish as a brother the same individual with whom we should not have any fellowship. When we approach this marked brother, the first thing we will do is to say a greeting to him. After that, we will admonish him, and that also requires that we speak with him. So, there is absolutely no doubt that the scriptural injunction to stop “associating with” (synanamignymi) in this text does not include the ideas of ‘not speaking with’ and ‘not greeting’ marked individuals. Therefore, the same must also be the case regarding the same Greek word in 1 Corinthians 5 regarding disfellowshipped ones.
The wicked person who was disfellowshipped according to 1 Corinthians 5:1-5, 13 was reinstated in the congregation. (2 Corinthians 2:1-8) Verses 5-7 show that congregation members can greet and speak with persons who have been disfellowshipped. Verse six shows that a great number of the congregation members rebuked the disfellowshipped person, and to do that, they had to greet him and speak with him. So the situations in connection with the two uses of the word synanamignymi (“mix together”) are quite similar. According to 2 Thessalonians chapter 3, the members of the congregation should “continue admonishing” the person, and according to 2 Corinthians chapter 2, the congregation members should rebuke the person.
. A detailed study of verses 2:5-7 is found in the article “The members of the Governing Body are twisting the thoughts of God,” in the category “The Governing Body.”
The conclusion is that the use of the same Greek word in the expression “stop keeping company with,” at 1 Corinthians 5:11, indicates that we must also greet and speak with disfellowshipped persons and that shunning such ones has no basis in the Bible.
THE BALANCED VIEW OF DISFELLOWSHIPPED PERSONS IN THE WATCHTOWER OF 1974
The Watchtower of August 1, 1974, has two articles dealing with disfellowshipping that suggest a more balanced view on disfellowshipped persons than had been the case earlier. These articles have several good points that were not carried forward. Page 464 says:
Thus, Jesus’ own example protects us against adopting the extreme view of certain rabbinical writers in this matter of dealing with persons as “a man of the nations and as a tax collector.” We see, too, a close similarity between the treatment accorded these and the treatment set forth in the apostle Paul’s instructions regarding those disfellowshiped from the Christian congregation, namely, not “mixing in company” with such ones nor “even eating” with them. (1 Cor. 5:11) Clearly, treating an unrepentant sinner as “a man of the nations and as a tax collector” means there should be no fraternizing with such a one. But, as Jesus’ example shows, this does not require our treating such a one as an enemy or refusing to show common courtesy and consideration. Nor does it rule out the giving of help to those who want to correct a wrong course and gain or regain God’s favor.
The author draws the same conclusion that I have pointed out above. Christians should not be fraternizing with a disfellowshipped person. But they should treat him or her with common courtesy and consideration. These words can hardly conform with the view that we do not greet or speak with a disfellowshipped person, and that we treat him or her as if he or she does not exist, as is the present view and practice. The balanced view of the author of the article is seen in his words on page 465:
The Christian certainly would not want to wish peace to the man who was a deceiver and an antichrist. There is, however, nothing to show that Jews with a balanced and Scriptural viewpoint would refuse to greet a “man of the nations” or a tax collector. Jesus’ counsel about greetings, in connection with his exhortation to imitate God in his undeserved kindness toward “wicked people and good,” would seem to rule against such a rigid stand.—Matt. 5:45-48
The view was and is that the words of Matthew 18:17 about treating a person as a tax collector or as a man of the nations can be applied to disfellowshipped persons. The words of the article that there is ‘no evidence that Jews with a balanced view would refuse to greet a man of the nations or a tax collector can only be interpreted in one way: There is no biblical reason why Christians should not greet a disfellowshipped person. The words of Jesus in Matthew 5:45-48 support the view of the article.
43 “You heard that it was said: ‘You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 However, I say to you: Continue to love your enemies and to pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may prove yourselves sons of your Father who is in the heavens, since he makes his sun rise on both the wicked and the good and makes it rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those loving you, what reward do you have? Are not also the tax collectors doing the same thing? 47 And if you greet your brothers only, what extraordinary thing are you doing? Are not also the people of the nations doing the same thing? 48 You must accordingly be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
But the conclusion in the article about greetings based on the words of Jesus apparently was not accepted by the Governing Body. But the shunning of disfellowshipped persons, to the point of not greeting them, has continued without letup for 70 years.
The conclusion reached in those 1974 Watchtower articles that it is scriptural to greet and speak with disfellowshipped ones is clear, but it was not carried forward or implemented. This may indicate that the person who wrote the article, and perhaps others as well, wanted to change the Governing Body’s extreme view of disfellowshipped persons. But this attempt was apparently quickly squelched, and so the extreme view continued. This may also explain the extreme view regarding relatives of disfellowshipped persons that I will discuss below.
THE BALANCED VIEW OF DISFELLOWSHIPPED PERSONS IN THE WATCHTOWER OF 1974 WAS REJECTED
The quotation from the Shepherd book shows a differentiation between persons who are not related to a disfellowshipped person and those who are related. This is something that is not based on the Bible but is a rule made by the Governing Body. The audacity in making such a rule shows that the members of the Governing Body function as a government for Jehovah’s Witnesses, and that they believe they have the right to make binding rules for others even when these are not based on the Bible. In contrast with the Shepherd book, The Watchtower of August 1, 1974, page 471 says:
As to disfellowshiped family members (not minor sons or daughters) living outside the home, each family must decide to what extent they will have association with such ones. This is not something that the congregational elders can decide for them. What the elders are concerned with is that “leaven” is not reintroduced into the congregation through spiritual fellowshipping with those who had to be removed as such “leaven.” Thus, if a disfellowshipped parent goes to visit a son or daughter or to see grandchildren and is allowed to enter the Christian home, this is not the concern of the elders. Such a one has a natural right to visit his blood relatives and his offspring. Similarly, when sons or daughters render honor to a parent, though disfellowshiped, by calling to see how such a one’s physical health is or what needs he or she may have, this act in itself is not a spiritual fellowshiping.
When we compare the words quoted above with the words of the Shepherd book (the first quotation in this discussion), we see that the authors of the Shepherd book do not accept that a parent or a grandparent “has a natural right to visit his blood relatives and his offspring,” as it was expressed in The Watchtower of August 1, 1974. Today, a Witness can even be disfellowshipped for visiting his or her relatives.
The book for elders, “Pay Attention to Yourselves and to all the Flock” (1991), pages 102, 103, says:
Disfellowshipped and disassociated ones are shunned by those who wish to have a good relationship with Jehovah…Normally, a close relative would not be disfellowshipped for associating with a disfellowshipped person unless there is spiritual association or an effort made to justify or excuse the wrongful course.
The book for elders, “Shepherd the Flock of God,” 2010, page 60, describes brazen conduct that can lead to disfellowshipping in the following way:
Willful, continued, unnecessary association with disfellowshipped nonrelatives despite repeated counsel.—Matt. 18:17b; 1 Cor. 5:11, 13; 2 John 10,11; w81 9/15 pp. 25-26.
The Watchtower of September 15, 1981, pages 22 and 29, refers to 1 Corinthians 5:11 and says:
Thus “disfellowshiping” is what Jehovah’s Witnesses appropriately call the expelling and subsequent shunning of such an unrepentant wrongdoer…
Consequently, Christians related to such a disfellowshiped person living outside the home should strive to avoid needless association, even keeping business dealings to a minimum…While they realize that they are still related to him, they do not want to ignore Paul’s advice that faithful Christians should “quit mixing in company” with an expelled sinner.
I will now compare the last three quotations. The Pay Attention book of 1991 shows that disfellowshipping for association with a disfellowshipped person rarely should occur. But forming a spiritual relationship or attempting to justify the actions of the disfellowshipped persons may lead to disfellowshipping. The Shepherd book of 2010 does not differentiate between spiritual association and other association, but it states that unnecessary association with a disfellowshipped person can be viewed as “brazen conduct” which is a disfellowshipping offense. The Watchtower of September 15, 1981, is referred to. It shows that even relatives not being a part of the household must be shunned. Several words used in the articles of this magazine indicate that that author had The Watchtower of August 1, 1974, in mind and wanted to show that its basic conclusions were wrong.
The Shepherd book of 2019 (20.17 (1) returns to the view of 1991 and says:
He would not be dealt with judicially unless there is persistent spiritual association or he persists in openly criticizing the disfellowshipping decision.
I will now discuss the meaning of this unbiblical law.
ANALYZING THE LAW AGAINST ASSOCIATION WITH DISFELLOWSHIPPED RELATIVES
In connection with associating with disfellowshipped relatives, two requirements must be met for it to fall within the parameters of becoming a disfellowshipping offense, 1) persistent spiritual association, and 2) openly criticizing the disfellowshipping decision. Let us look at these two points in the light of the Bible.
The nature of “spiritual association”
What does “spiritual association” mean? The meaning must be to discuss the Bible and religious matters with another person. The first Christian congregations had bodies of elders who took the lead, and I fully accept that the body of elders in each congregation takes the lead in the organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses today. This means that in connection with important organizational issues the members of the congregations must accept the leadership of the elders and should not take the matter in their own hands. One situation where the elders must act is when a person in the congregation is permeated with serious wrongdoing that is mentioned in the Bible as a disfellowshipping offense. The elders must disfellowship this person.
The congregation member who would be marked because he or she was not obedient to Paul’s words and whom the congregation members should stop associating with (synanamignymi), should also be admonished (2 Thessalonians 3:14, 15). One way to do that would be to discuss both the Hebrew scriptures and the available Christian scriptures with him. This would imply spiritual association. When Paul discussed disfellowshipping in 1 Corinthians chapters 5 and 6, he used the Greek word synanamignymi to show that the members of the congregation should stop associating with wicked members of the congregation. This is the same Greek word Paul used in connection with marked ones that congregation members are to “stop associating with” and yet continue to admonish. Therefore, the question can appropriately be asked: When someone rightly is disfellowshipped, would it be correct to admonish him to repent?
From 1952 and until 1974, disfellowshipped persons were shunned by everyone, including the congregation servants, and from 1972, the elders followed suit. But after The Watchtower articles of August 1, 1974, there was differentiation between the disfellowshipped ones who were in opposition to Jehovah’s Witnesses and so behaved like antichrists, and those who were not opposed. The arrangement was introduced that two elders should visit those who were not in opposition once a year to admonish them to consider returning to the congregation. This arrangement was terminated a few years ago.
Because the elders generally are more experienced than other congregation members, it was natural that they should be the ones who visited the disfellowshipped persons. But what about relatives? The Watchtower of September 1, 1974, said that parents, grandparents, and children have a natural right to visit blood relatives. And on this background, the question of spiritual association will arise? We must remember that the spirit of the injunction to ‘stop associating’ with a disfellowshipped person is the same as in the case of a marked person who did not accept Paul’s words, namely, that he “may become ashamed” and repent. (2 Thessalonians 3:14). The same is true with the words in 2 Corinthians 2:5. a great number of congregation members rebuked the disfellowshipped man, and that was one reason why he repented and was reinstated. And, of course, by rebuking the man the congregation members had a spiritual relationship with him.
How can this spirit be violated? If we behave in a way that gives the disfellowshipped person the impression that we accept what he did or that he need not repent and change his course, we violate this spirit. There is no distinction in the Christian Greek Scriptures between physical and spiritual association in connection with disfellowshipped ones. Thus, the very concept of “spiritual association” as if it can be isolated from the natural physical association within a family is a manmade distinction that was invented by the Governing Body. Therefore, we will not necessarily violate the spirit behind disfellowshipping by having a spiritual encounter with a disfellowshipped person.
Please consider the following situation. A person could not accept two particular doctrines that were presented in The Watchtower. No elder wanted to discuss this biblical issue with him. He spoke with others about his views, and when he would not stop talking about it, he was disfellowshipped because he “caused divisions” in the congregation. (I show in the study “Causing divisions” in the category “Apostasy” that causing divisions is not a disfellowshipping offense, according to the Bible.)
His son, who had lived in another country, moved back to his hometown, and he visited his disfellowshipped father. He asked about the reason for the disfellowshipping and so his father told him. His father asked his son about his opinion, and the son discussed some biblical passages with his father. The father said that he wanted to return to Jehovah’s organization, but he could not do that because of the aforementioned doctrinal questions he had that remained unresolved. The son suggested that he visit his father several times and that they made an in-depth investigation and discussions, from the Bible, of the doctrines that were troubling him.
We cannot avoid the conclusion that the son in this situation had “persistent spiritual association” with his disfellowshipped father. Two elders became aware of the situation and warned the son to stop having spiritual associations with his father. But the son refused to stop. So he was also disfellowshipped. Did the son violate the spirit of disfellowshipping? Absolutely not! He told his father that he did not agree with his father’s view of the doctrines in question. But he realized that his father was open for correction from the Bible. And therefore, he continued to have Bible discussions with him. There are many other situations where spiritual encounters with a disfellowshipped relative could help the relative, and this in keeping with the spirit of disfellowshipping.
Criticizing the disfellowshipping decision
The other circumstance in which “unnecessary” association with a disfellowshipped family member could result in a Witness being disfellowshipped is if he or she persisted “in openly criticizing the disfellowshipping decision.” There are two issues that need to be discussed in this connection. We must trust that the elders who make up the judicial committee and disfellowship someone do the best they can. The elders in the organization have not received systematic training in handling judicial cases during the last 30 years, and therefore, most of them are not competent to be a part of a judicial committee.
But what should we do if we know with certainty that a brother has been disfellowshipped because of false evidence? We can present the evidence we have to the elders. If they do not want to consider the evidence, we can speak with the circuit overseer. And if he does not listen, we can contact the Service Department at the branch office. But is that all we can do?
Romans 12:18 says: “If possible, as far as it depends on you, be peaceable with all men.” On the one hand, we do not want to create divisions and unrest in the congregation. On the other hand, we cannot fail to speak up if we know that something clearly is wrong and a brother or sister is treated in a bad way. One characteristic of a person who will “be a guest in his [Jehovah’s] tent” is written in Psalm 15:4: “He does not go back on his promise, even when it is bad for him.” When we dedicated ourselves to Jehovah, we promised to always stand up for the truth. So even if we will be disfellowshipped or create divisions in the congregation, we must always fight for the truth.
There are also particular situations where we have the right to speak up and question a disfellowshipping decision. As I show in detail in chapters 5 and 6 in my book, My Beloved Religion — And The Governing Body, 37 of the disfellowshipping offenses that are listed are made-up by the Governing Body and have no basis in the Bible. If we truly believe that only the Bible is the authority, we have the right to say that a particular “disfellowshipping offense” that is not based on the Bible is false, and to use this in a judicial case is to violate the Word of God.
For example, “Strong circumstantial evidence of sexual immorality” (The Shepherd book 12:7) can be used to disfellowship a Witness. But this is a clear and blatant violation of the Bible’s requirement that two eyewitnesses to any wrongdoing is absolutely necessary to judge a person guilty. This situation is crystal clear and utterly indefensible, and Bible-believing Christians cannot simply close their eyes to something that is falsehood. All 11 disfellowshipping actions under the umbrella terms “Gross uncleanness.” “Uncleanness with greediness.” and “Brazen conduct,” are inventions of the Governing Body, and to use these as disfellowshipping offenses is a clear violation of the Bible.
In these cases, the peace of the congregation ‘does not depend on me’ (Romans 12:18). When I see that Witnesses are being wrongly disfellowshipped, year after year, because of all these human commandments, I have to speak up. James 3:17 puts what is pure above peace. And if I put peace above truth, which is pure, and I close my eyes to what is unrighteous, I am, then, living a lie. In reality, the law in the Shepherd book against persisting “in openly criticizing the disfellowshipping decision” is a manmade gag rule put in place to silence critics. Indeed, if we point out the true nature of any of the 37 disfellowshipping offenses that were invented by the Governing Body, we ourselves will be disfellowshipped.
The very commandment that we have been discussing about the necessity of avoiding unnecessary association with disfellowshipped persons is based on a lie. The lie is that disfellowshipped persons must be shunned, not greeting them and not speaking with them.
The Watchtower of August 1, 1974, presented a mostly balanced view of disfellowshipped persons with a softening of the shunning custom. But this was never carried out or implemented, and The Watchtower of September 15, 1981, evidently was written to counterman the correct view set forth in 1974: Disfellowshipped persons should be treated with “courtesy and consideration” (1974, page 464). At the same time, we must indicate to them, by not fraternizing or socializing with them, that they must repent and change their course.
Fathers, grandfathers, and children have a natural right to visit their disfellowshipped relatives (1974, page 471). And while they must stress the need for the disfellowshipped person to repent and change, they have the right to have “spiritual association” with their disfellowshipped relatives, especially if that can help the relative to repent and come back to Jehovah.