Each of my four articles on disfellowshipping discusses one side of the procedure of the handling of judicial cases showing that each side is a total failure as far as God’s word is concerned. After Witnesses are disfellowshipped, the Governing Body has placed strong burdens on the shoulders of the disfellowshipped ones — they are shunned by all Witnesses, including friends and family. This is the final or ultimate failure that has been introduced by the Governing Body.
The purpose of shunning is to exert pressure on the disfellowshipped person, so he realizes that he has to repent so he can apply for reinstatement, and by this again be a part of God’s people. Why is this the ultimate failure? Because this strong measure is not based on any text in the Bible but is a human commandment that was invented by the leaders of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the year 1952.
Losing all his or her contact network, including family and friends, instantly, is a terrible experience. It is a cruel and inhuman way of treating other humans. And often, this treatment pushes the disfellowshipped person away from Jehovah and causes bitterness instead of leading the person back to Jehovah.
According to Paul’s words in Romans 4:2, it is not pressure but God’s graciousness and goodness that causes repentance.
THE HISTORY OF DISFELLOWSHIPPING
The first time the Watchtower literature discusses disfellowshipping is in The Watchtower of May 15. 1944, pages 151-155. At the beginning of the article, we read:
Is there anything in the Bible as to disfellowshiping brethren and as to a congregation’s taking a vote to have this done?
The situation described in Matthew 18:15-17 is discussed. If the wrongdoer did not listen to the witnesses, Jesus’ advice is: “Speak to the congregation”. Before 1944, this had been understood to mean that the issue would be present to the whole congregation, and the members of the congregation would vote and decide what was right. This had caused many problems, and the article says that the words of Jesus mean, “telling it to those charged with the care of the congregation and representing it in special service capacities”. So, the special servants in the congregations should serve as judges. But the Watchtower literature did not give any detailed description as to how these special servants should act.
The Watchtower of March 1, 1946, pages 75, 76, speaks about immorality that will not be tolerated in the congregation. But there is no discussion as to how unclean practices will be kept out of the congregation. The Watchtower of April 15. 1947, pages 123, 124, discusses the man in Corinth who was disfellowshipped and later reinstated. But no instruction regarding disfellowshipping was given. The first long discussion of disfellowshipping occurred in The Watchtower of March 1. 1952. The procedure of collecting evidence and not only rumors is discussed. And regarding who will make the decision, we read: “The servants certainly should be mature brothers and be willing to take the full responsibility in making their decision.” (Page 139) The article also introduced shunning.
THE INTRODUCTION OF SHUNNING
The article discusses how a disfellowshipped person should be treated, and we read on page 140.
At 1 Corinthians 5:11 (NW) Paul told the Christian congregation: But now I am writing you to 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.” No communion at all with these persons that are disfellowshiped or put out of the congregation. Why? Because this congregation of God must remain clean, undefiled, preserved for pure worship of the Most High. Consequently when that action of disfellowshiping is taken it really removes a person. He is out. Therefore all the congregation, all those who have dedicated their lives to God, should abide by the recommendation or the resolution on the part of the servants. They must support them.
I assume that the Witnesses who read this article in The Watchtower of March 1. 1952 had no problem with the interpretation that “quit mixing company with” means “no communion at all” because this seems to be a logical interpretation. The article discussed more details of the treatment of disfellowshipped persons on page 141:
14 Now meetings that are open to the public he can attend as long as he behaves himself and acts orderly. If that individual comes into a public meeting, say, a public lecture in a public auditorium, or Kingdom Hall, or city park, or a Watchtower study or a service meeting, it is public, the doors are open, and he may be admitted. If he comes into that meeting and sits down, as long as he is orderly, minds his business, we have nothing to say to him. Those who are acquainted with the situation in the congregation should never say “Hello” or “Good-by” to him. He is not welcome in our midst, we avoid him. If this one should be sitting in the Watchtowerstudy and raise his hand, the chairman should never recognize him or allow him to make a comment. He is not one of us. He is not a recognized member in God’s congregation. Those who are informed and know the individual certainly should avoid him, have nothing to say to him. He has no privileges of service in the congregation whatsoever. He could go over to the book counter and get literature at the regular public rates, but the company should never give him books or magazines at company rates, because he is not one of us. What we would do for the public, for those in the Devil’s organization, we may do for that one. (141)
The instructions as to how to treat a disfellowshipped person that were given in this article are still valid, 72 years later.
THE MISINTERPRETATION OF 1 CORINTHIANS 5:11
The crucial point in this passage is the meaning of the Greek noun synanamignymi, that New World Translation renders as “quit mixing company with.” The Greek Lexicon of Louw and Nida defines the word in the following way: “to associate with one another, normally involving spacial proximity and/or joint activity, and usually implying some kind of reciprocal relation or involvement.” But this definition does not tell us exactly how Christians should treat disfellowshipped persons.
The Greek noun occurs only three times in the Christian Greek Scriptures, but one of the other two occurrences can throw light on what Christians ought to do. I will compare 1 Corinthians 5:9, 11 (above) and 2 Thessalonians 3:14 (below):
9 In my letter I wrote you to stop keeping company (synanamignymi) with sexually immoral people…
11 But now I am writing you to stop keeping company (synanamignymi) with anyone called a brother who is sexually immoral or a greedy person or an idolater or a reviler or a drunkard or an extortioner, not even eating with such a man.
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.
The study note to 2 Thessalonians 3:14 indicates that the Governing Body tries to show there is a difference in the use of the Greek noun synanamignymi in 1 Corinthians 5:9, 11 and in 2 Thessalonians 3:14. The study note says:
and stop associating with him: A person who was “walking disorderly” in the congregation was not guilty of practicing a grave sin for which he could be disfellowshipped. (2Th 3:11) Still, he was persisting in a course that could reflect badly on the congregation and that could influence other Christians. Paul thus counsels Christians to “stop associating” with him, that is, to avoid socializing with him. This action might help the disorderly one to realize that he needed to conform to Bible principles. Fellow Christians would not completely avoid the person, for Paul advises them to “continue admonishing him as a brother.”—See 21 study note on 2Th 3:15.
The comment is rather strange because it does not tell the reader what the text says. It is true that 3:11 says that some in the congregation “are walking disorderly…not working at all.” But Paul does not apply the word synanamignymi to these, as the study note says. Paul speaks about a hypothetical situation: “But if anyone is not obedient to our word through this letter.” This may or may not be a grave sin, depending on what they denied in the letter. Paul says, for example, in 2 Timothy 2:18 that Hymenaeus and Philetus “have deviated from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already occurred.” They were disfellowshipped. So, if some members of the Thessalonian congregation denied another basic Christian truth, they could be disfellowshipped as well.
But even if some members of the congregation who contradicted Paul did not be disfellowshipped, the noun synanamignymi would be applied to them. And the comment in The Watchtower of April 15, 1985, page 31 is interesting:
Paul said, “Stop associating with” the marked one “that he may become ashamed.” Brothers would not completely shun him, for Paul advised them to “continue admonishing him as a brother.” Yet by their limiting social fellowship with him, they might lead him to become ashamed and perhaps awaken him to the need to conform to Bible principles.
This observation regarding one who was marked is correct. When the other members of the congregation could admonish a brother who had been marked, they would greet him and speak with him. But at the same time, they “would stop associating” with him, which means that they would not share a meal with him or inviting him to a social gathering. It is absolutely clear that synanamignymi in 2 Thessalonians 2:14 does not mean that he had to be shunned. And when synanamignymi in this text does not have the meaning “shun,” there is no reason to claim that the same noun in 1 Corinthians 5:11 has the meaning “shun.” This is a human commandment that the leaders of Jehovah’s witnesses invented in the year 1952, and it has led to much suffering among tens of thousands of disfellowshipped Witnesses.
|The fact that synanamignymi in 2 Thessalonians 3:14 does not have the meaning “shun,” shows that the same word in 1 Corinthians 5:11 does not have the meaning “shun.” Thus, the shunning of disfellowshipped persons was invented by those who were the leaders of Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1952, and shunning has no basis in the Bible whatsoever.|
. A detailed study of 1 Corinthians 5:11 is found in my article, “Stop keeping company with 1 Corinthians 5:11” in the Category, “Shunning not based on the Bible.”
THE WORDS OF 2 Corinthians 2:6 SUGGEST THAT THE CHRISTIANS CAN GREET AND SPEAK WITH DISFELLOWSHIPPED PERSONS
There is no lexical or contextual reason why a disfellowshipped person cannot be treated in the same way as a person who is not obedient to Paul’s word, as this is mentioned in 2 Thessalonians 3:14, 15. This means that the members of the congregation can greet and speak with a disfellowshipped person while they are admonishing him to repent. One reference to this is 2 Corinthians 2:5-7:
5 Now if anyone has caused sadness, he has saddened, not me, but all of you to an extent—not to be too harsh in what I say. 6 This rebuke given by the majority is sufficient for such a man; 7 now you should instead kindly forgive and comfort him, so that he may not be overwhelmed by excessive sadness.
The study note for the word “rebuke” in verse 6 in the online NWT13 says:
rebuke: Or “punishment.” In his first inspired letter to the Corinthians, Paul directed that a man who had unrepentantly practiced sexual immorality be removed from the congregation. (1Co 5:1, 7, 11-13) That discipline had good effects. The congregation was protected from a corrupting influence, and the sinner sincerely repented. The man performed works befitting repentance, so Paul now indicates that “the rebuke given by the majority [was] sufficient” and that the man be welcomed back by the congregation. This is consistent with the ways of Jehovah, who disciplines his people “to the proper degree.”—Jer 30:11.
The explanation of the study note is correct. But it fails to show what the word “rebuke” refers to and who those are who made the rebuke. Below I will look at some of the details.
The Greek noun that is translated as “rebuke” is epitimia, and it occurs only in 2 Corinthians 2:6. This means that we cannot construe the meaning of the word on the basis of the context. NWT13 has the rendering “rebuke,” but study note has the alternative “punishment.” However, there are several reasons why the rendering “punishment” is not fitting. What was the punishment that the man received? According to 1 Corinthians 5:5, the man “was handed over to Satan,” i.e., he was disfellowshipped. This was something that all the members of the congregation who were saddened by his action stood behind. But not all the congregation members but only a great number of them were behind the epitimia that led the sinner to repentance. This indicates that epitimia was not the disfellowshipping of the man and that “rebuke” is a better rendering than “punishment.”
The verb epitimaō corresponds to the noun epitimia, and according to Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich the meaning of the verb is “rebuke, reprove, censure also speak seriously, warn, in order to prevent an action or bring one to an end…punish.” However, the corresponding verb epitimaō occurs 29 times and, therefore, it is easier to define. In none of the 29 occurrences, is the sense “punishment.” But in all examples, the meaning “rebuke” is the natural rendering. I give the following three examples, Matthew 16:22 (above), Matthew 19:13 (middle), and 2 Timothy 4:2 (below):
22At this Peter took him aside and commenced rebuking (epitimaō) him, saying: “Be kind to yourself, Lord; you will not have this [destiny] at all.”
13 Then young children were brought to him, for him to put his hands upon them and offer prayer; but the disciples reprimanded (epitimaō) them.
In all three examples, the epitimaō has the meaning “rebuke” and not “punishment.” Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 4:2 are close to the use of epitimia in 2 Corinthians 2.6. Timothy should “reprimand/rebuke” other Christians with all long-suffering and teaching.
There are also other important words in 2 Corinthians 6:2, namely, “the majority.” According to the present procedure invented by the Governing Body, “the punishment” would be that no member of the congregation in Corinth spoke with the man or greeted him. If he attended a meeting and spoke to someone, they would turn their back on him and not answer him.
However, the words “the majority” speak against this. The Greek adjective polus (“much; many”) is masculine plural, genitive, comparative. The English parsing of the adjective is positive: much; comparative: “more”; superlative “most.” It is not easy to translate the Greek comparative form of polus into English. The rendering “the majority” is inaccurate because this would be the literal rendering of the superlative form (“most”). The rendering “many” would be a literal rendering of the positive form. The rendering “the more” would be a literal rendering of the comparative form but would not be good modern English. I, therefore, suggest the rendering, “The rebuke given by a great number is sufficient for such a man.”
The important point in verses 5 and 6 is the contrast between “all” and “a great number” (“the more”). All of the congregation members were saddened by the actions of the man, but only a great number of them rebuked him. If the rebuke was shunning, it was required that all members of the congregation would participate in this action. But only a great number (“the more”) participated in the rebuke. This corroborates the view that the rebuke was that the great number asked the man to change his course. In order to do that, the “great number” had to greet the man and speak to the man
The Greek verb that is used in 2 Thessalonians 3:15 with the purpose of causing the man to repent is noutheteō, and the same lexicon defines this verb as “admonish, warn, instruct.” The verbs epitimaō and noutheteō have both different meanings and similar meanings. But both verbs can be used to try to cause a sinner to repent. So, there are good reasons to believe that the use of the noun epitimia in 2 Corinthians 2:6 shows that the members of a Christian congregation could greet and speak with disfellowshipped members while they were rebuking him and admonishing him to repent, exactly in the same way that the Thessalonians according to 2 Thessalonians 3:15 could greet and speak with a person who was marked in order to cause him to repent.
|The words of 2 Corinthians 2:6 that a great number of the members of the congregation in Corinth rebuked the man who was disfellowshipped show that Christians can greet and speak with disfellowshipped persons while they rebuke or admonish them.|
THE MISINTERPRETATI0N OF 2 John 7-11
We have seen that 1 Corinthians 5:11 cannot be used as evidence that disfellowshipped persons should be shunned, and the same is true with 2 John 7-11:
7 For many deceivers have gone forth into the world, persons not confessing Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist.
8 Look out for yourselves, that YOU do not lose the things we have worked to produce, but that YOU may obtain a full reward. 9 Everyone that pushes ahead and does not remain in the teaching of the Christ does not have God. He that does remain in this teaching is the one that has both the Father and the Son. 10 If anyone comes to YOU and does not bring this teaching, never receive him into YOUR homes or say a greeting to him. 11 For he that says a greeting to him is a sharer in his wicked works.
Since the first article discussing disfellowshipping in detail in The Watchtower of June 1. 1952, 2 John 7-11 have been applied to disfellowshipping. The Watchtower of June 1. 1970, pages 351, 352, says:
The disfellowshiped one may have become apostate, teaching unscriptural doctrines. Or by his immoral way of life he may, in effect, be teaching that one can be a Christian and, at the same time, an adulterer or fornicator. This obviously is not remaining in the righteous teachings of Jesus. Concerning such ones who at one time were Christian brothers or sisters John writes: “Everyone that pushes ahead and does not remain in the teaching of the Christ does not have God. He that does remain in this teaching is the one that has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, never receive him into your homes or say a greeting to him.”—2 John 9, 10.
This is a clearly wrong statement. The persons who are mentioned by John deny “Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh.” John says that such a person is “the deceiver and the antichrist.” These persons had never been Christian brothers and sisters. John may have had in mind the view of some Gnostics regarding Jesus Christ. The view was that the heavenly being Christ temporarily entered into and took the body of the man Jesus. When Jesus was fastened to the pole, Christ left Jesus. So, it was Jesus who suffered but not Christ.
The Watchtower of August 1. 1974, page 465, points out that John 7-11 does not refer to disfellowshipped Christians. We read:
Note that in 2 John verse 7, the apostle John says that “many deceivers have gone forth into the world, persons not confessing Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh. This is the deceiver and the antichrist.” Then John gives the warning to be on guard and not to receive such ones into one’s home, for these are active propagandists of false teachings, deceitful advocates of wrong conduct. They should be given no foothold from which to make further infiltration. One should not even greet them, so as to avoid being a sharer in their wicked works
If such a deceiver or antichrist wanted to enter the home of a Christian in order to spread his viewpoints, it would be correct to deny him entrance. The verb “to greet” (khairō) has the meaning “to enjoy a state of happiness and peace,” and the word was used to welcome a guest. A deceiver or an antichrist should not be welcomed!
The letter does not speak about disfellowshipping at all, but it speaks about active propagandists. And the word khairō was only used to greet a guest who would come to one’s home. Therefore, the word cannot be used to show that Christians shall not greet disfellowshipped persons they meet by saying “Hi” or “Hello.”
The Watchtower of August 1. 1974, page 465, says:
Do the apostle’s words here necessarily apply to all persons who are put out of the congregation for wrongdoing?…Are, then, all who have been disfellowshipped like the persons described in John’s second letter?At the time that they had to be disfellowshipped they were apparently following a course like such ones or at least manifesting a similar sentiment. As the publication Organization for Kingdom-preaching and Disciple-making says on page 172: “Any baptized person who deliberately pursues a course of immoral conduct is actually rejecting the teachings of the Bible, just as much so as one who teaches others contrary to what the Scriptures say about the identity of God, the provision of the ransom, the resurrection, and so forth. (Compare Titus 3:10, 11; 2 Timothy 2:16-19.)”
The important word in the quotation is like. The author does not say that John 9-11 refers to disfellowshipped persons, which clearly is not true. But the author asks if all disfellowshipped persons are like those who are mentioned in verses 7-11? The answer is that at the time they were disfellowshipped, they were like the deceivers and antichrists. But at some later time, the situation may have changed, and the disfellowshipped persons are no longer like the antichrists.
According to the quotation above, 2 John 7-11 does refer to disfellowshipped persons. But because disfellowshipped persons are like the antichrists after their disfellowshipping, the text can be applied to disfellowshipped persons. This means that when the Watchtower literature applies 2 John 7-11 as evidence that Witnesses must not say a greeting to disfellowshipped persons or invite them into their homes, the readers are misled.
In spite of the correct statement in The Watchtower of August 1, 1974, that John 7-11 does not relate to disfellowshipped persons but to those who were antichrists, The Watchtower of September ’15, 1981, page 24, again applies 2 John 11 to disfellowshipped persons.
All faithful Christians need to take to heart the serious truth that God inspired John to write: “He that says a greeting to [an expelled sinner who is promoting an erroneous teaching or carrying on ungodly conduct] is a sharer in his wicked works.”—2 John 11.
Also, in The Watchtower of April 15. 1988, page 27, is 2 John 7-11 wrongly applied to disfellowshipped persons. There are only three references to 2 John 10, 11 in the Watchtower literature after 1988. Insight of the Scriptures (2015) I, page 200 has a misleading application:
The united body of true Christians, though composed of small groups, congregations, or physically isolated individuals, constitutes an “association of brothers,” or a brotherhood, designated by the Greek expression a·del·phoʹtes. (1Pe 2:17; 5:9) To remain a part of that brotherhood, true Christians avoid all association with any from their midst who become promoters of false, divisive teachings. (Ro 16:17, 18) The Christian apostle John directed fellow believers never to accept such a false teacher into their homes or to greet him, which would give him an opening for presenting his twisted, corrupt doctrine. Greeting such a person would have indicated a measure of approval and made one a sharer in “his wicked works.” (2Jo 10, 11)
Romans 16:17, 18 refers to members of the Christian congregation who “create divisions and causes for stumbling contrary to the teaching that you have learned.” And Paul admonished the Christians in Rome to “keep your eye on those.” After referring to these who were associated with the Christian congregation, the author of the article misleads his readers. He says that Christians should never accept “such a false teacher” into their homes or greet them. And then he refers to 2 John 10, 11. The only way to understand this is that the author says that those false teachers who are mentioned in 2 John are disfellowshipped Christians. This is a false claim, and the reader is misled.
The members of the Governing Body know that those who should not be invited into the homes or be greeted are not disfellowshipped Christians. This is seen in an on-line article discussing the subject, “What is the coming of Christ.” Here we find the correct identification of the false teachers:
Misconception; The words of 2 John 7 show that Jesus will come in the flesh.
Fact: The Bible verse states: “Many deceivers have gone out into the world, those not acknowledging Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh.”
In the apostle John’s day, some denied that Jesus had come to this earth as a man. They were called Gnostics. Second John 7 was written to refute their false claim.
The members of the Governing Body previously have applied 2 John 7-11 to disfellowshipped persons. Already in 1974, The Watchtower showed that this application was wrong. However, both in 1981 and 1988, The Watchtower again applied the verses to disfellowshipped persons, and Insight, that was published in 2015, also applied 2 John 7-11 to disfellowshipped Christians. But the mentioned on-line article from 2023 correctly identified the false teachers and antichrists as the Gnostics.
|The conclusion is that no passage in the Christian Greek Scriptures says that Christians shall not invite disfellowshipped persons into their homes, that they shall not greet them, and that they shall not speak to them. These are cruel and inhuman human commandments that destroy the personal life and the family life of disfellowshipped persons.|
. https://www.jw.org/en/bible-teachings/questions/jesus-coming/. (Seen 10.12.2023)
. https://www.jw.org/en/bible-teachings/questions/jesus-coming/. (Seen 10.12.2023)
THE REASON WHY SHUNNING DISFELLOWSHIPPED PERSONS IS SUCH A FAILURE
The basic reason why people who believe in the Bible reject the shunning of disfellowshipped persons, is that shunning is a human commandment that was invented by the leaders of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the year 1952.
Another basic reason is that Jehovah is not exerting pressure on humans in order to cause them to worship him. Any pressure on humans is against the personality of Jehovah. And Paul said in Romans 2:4 that it is God’ graciousness (goodness) “that leads you to repentance.”
WHAT ARE THE MOTIVES BEHIND TRUE REPENTANCE?
The Congregation in Corinth had to disfellowship a member who practiced immoral sexual intercourse. The man was later reinstated, and Paul commended the actions of the members of the congregation. In this connection, he outlined the difference between right and wrong motives behind repentance. We read in 2 Corinthians 7:9-11:
8 Hence even if I saddened YOU by my letter, I do not regret it. Even if I did at first regret it, (I see that that letter saddened YOU, though but for a little while,) 9 now I rejoice, not because YOU were just saddened, but because YOU were saddened into repenting; for YOU were saddened in a godly way, that YOU might suffer no damage in anything due to us. 10 For sadness in a godly way makes for repentance to salvation that is not to be regretted; but the sadness of the world produces death. 11 For, look! this very thing, YOUR being saddened in a godly way, what a great earnestness it produced in YOU, yes, clearing of yourselves, yes, indignation, yes, fear, yes, longing, yes, zeal, yes, righting of the wrong! In every respect YOU demonstrated yourselves to be chaste in this matter.
The Watchtower of July 15, 1972, pages 438, 439, had interesting comments about the motives behind repentance:
WORLDLY SADNESS OR GODLY SADNESS?
Clearly there should be sadness, remorse and regret felt by any Christian who sins. And yet these feelings of themselves are not a sure measure of the genuineness of repentance. The question is: Why does the wrongdoer feel such sadness, remorse and regret? What motivates these feelings?
The apostle shows the importance of determining this when he writes: “For sadness in a godly way makes for repentance to salvation that is not to be regretted; but the sadness of the world produces death.” (2 Cor. 7:10) So it is a life-or-death matter that our motive be the right one. Worldly sadness does not stem from faith and love of God and righteousness. It is born of regret due to failure, disappointment, material or social loss, the prospect of undergoing punishment or shame. Worldly sadness mourns the unpleasant consequences wrongdoing brings. But it does not mourn over the unrighteousness itself, or the reproach it brings on God.—Compare Jeremiah 6:13-15, 22-26.
WHAT MOTIVATES TRUE REPENTANCE
The sadness accompanying true repentance has a very different motivation than worldly sadness. There is a heartfelt wanting to come back into God’s favor, motivated by a love for him that comes from knowing him and his splendid qualities and righteous purposes…
But repentance (Gr. me·taʹnoi·a) also involves a ‘change of mind’ or ‘change of will.’ To be genuine, it must include a positive rejection of the bad course as repugnant, something hated. (Ps. 97:10; Rom. 12:9) This is paralleled by a love of righteousness that causes the repentant Christian to determine firmly to hold to a righteous course thenceforth. Without both this hatred of bad and love of righteousness there would be no real force to our repentance, no following through with what the apostle Paul called “works that befit repentance.” (Acts 26:20)
HOW WILL SHUNNING INFLUENCE THE MOTIVES OF THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN DISFELLOWSHIPPED?
I will now look at shunning from the point of view of the different kinds of sadness.
The excellent definition above outlines the following differences:
Sadness in a godly way: “There is a heartfelt wanting to come back into God’s favor, motivated by a love for him that comes from knowing him and his splendid qualities and righteous purposes.
Sadness of the world: Worldly sadness does not stem from faith and love of God and righteousness. It is born of regret due to failure, disappointment, material or social loss, the prospect of undergoing punishment or shame. Worldly sadness mourns the unpleasant consequences wrongdoing brings. But it does not mourn over the unrighteousness itself, or the reproach it brings on God.
If you try to be honest, how would you think that shunning would influence the motives of a disfellowshipped person, either to show sadness of the world or sadness in a godly way? The disfellowshipped person lost his whole network of contacts, including family and friends overnight. This is an extremely difficult situation that those who have not experienced it hardly can imagine. This leads directly to the sadness of the world, because he naturally feels “disappointment, social loss, and the prospect of undergoing punishment or shame.” And the judicial committees often treat the one who will be disfellowshipped in a hard and relentless way. What the person has lost and the way he has been treated does not lead him to “a heartfelt wanting to come back to God’s favor, motivated by love for Jehovah”.
But what about the instruction by Paul in 2 Thessalonians 3:14, 15? If a brother was not obedient to Paul’s words in his letter, the members of the congregation should not “associate with him” (have social contact with him). But they should not “consider him as an enemy, but continue admonishing as a brother.”
I will illustrate the difference between the treatment of this brother and the shunning of a disfellowshipped person in the following way:
A Witness has a young son who is not easy to bring up because he has many strange ideas, and often he does things that are wrong in his father’s eyes. Each time the son does something wrong, the father is scolding him, and he restricts one of his privileges each time. Another Witness also has a son who is not easy to bring up because he has many strange ideas, and often he does things that are wrong in his father’s eyes. Each time the son does something wrong, the father is sad, but he does not want to punish the son. Instead, he is reasoning with the son saying that he himself has been a child and has done many wrong things himself. He tries to teach his son why right actions are good and wrong actions are bad. At the same time, he spends much time with his son and tries to become a friend with his son.
Which son do you think is brought up in “the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah?” The answer is obvious. I remember one example from a family whose members were friends with my family. The family had a small girl, and every time she did something that was not completely right, the mother said: “You know that Jehovah does not like this.” One time after such an admonition the small girl became upset and said; “Jehovah, he does not like anything!” The mother realized her wrong approach, and from now on she used to say: “You have done something good, and Jehovah is glad.”
Shunning is something negative, and it does not appeal to positive motives. But “admonishing a brother” is something positive, and it can appeal to positive motives. And from a biblical point of view, shunning should be completely discarded. It has no basis in any text in the Bible. And it is a cruel and inhuman way to treat other humans. Because the members of the congregation in Thessalonica should be admonishing a brother with whom they should not associate with (synanamignymi), the brothers in Corinth should also be “admonishing a brother” who had been disfellowshipped and whom they should not associate with” (synanamignymi). The right way of admonishing a brother could lead him to see “the graciousness of Jehovah that could lead him to repentance.” But shunning the brother would in most cases have a negative result.
Because I have been an elder for 56 years, and in 10 of these years I visited congregations all over Norway discussing the situations in each of these congregations. I have also been a teacher in organizational matters, including disfellowshipping procedures, for all elders in Norway in the 1970s. I therefore have firsthand experience in how disfellowshipping and shunning influence different persons. Moreover, the instruction was that the elders in a congregation should visit a disfellowshipped person one time each year in order to see if we could give him some advice as to how he could return to the congregation. Because of this background, I know the motives and viewpoints of many disfellowshipped persons.
WHY DO 60% OF THE DISFELLOWSHIPPED ONES NEVER BECOME REINSTATED?
In The Watchtower of August 1. 1974, page 466, there is a statistic of the numbers of persons who have been disfellowshipped and who have been reinstated:
Thus, in the United States (where there are now more than half a million Christian witnesses of Jehovah), during the ten-year period from 1963 to 1973, 36,671 persons had to be disfellowshiped for various kinds of serious wrongdoing. Yet, in that same period 14,508 persons were reinstated, accepted back into the congregations owing to their sincere repentance. This is nearly 40 percent of the total. Certainly we on earth should rejoice with Jehovah and his heavenly family over this fact.—Luke 15:7.
The number of those who were reinstated in Norway in the mentioned period of 10 years could also be about 40% of those who were disfellowshipped. But why did so many as 60% not return to their congregations? I do not hesitate to say that the shunning of these people is the most important reason why so many do not want to return to Jehovah. They simply did not feel the love of Jehovah, only his anger.
If someone in my congregation became weak spiritually speaking, the first question I would ask would be about the personal study of that brother or sister. It is necessary for each one of us to study God’s word regularly in order to keep our faith living. My experience is that in most cases when someone becomes spiritually weak, the cause is lack of supply of spiritual food. Indicating the importance of this, is the procedure that we may start a Bible study with a weak one in our congregation to help him build up his faith. But this is not a possibility when one is disfellowshipped and shunned.
Losing all your family and friends instantly is a very hard experience. In such a situation a person may feel anger, or guilt, or hopelessness, and in that situation, very few have the power to sit down and study the Bible. Moreover, they are also cut off from the Bible study in the congregation. Very few disfellowshipped persons will for a long time not have the power of attending meetings when you sit there and are treated as if you do not exist.
Lack of supply of spiritual food will gradually reduce the faith the person had and his or her knowledge of the Bible. This leads to a situation where the spirituality of the disfellowshipped one is gone and he or she no longer has any wish to return to Jehovah and to the congregation. Instead, he or she will fill the life with different things that can lead to happiness. Shunning leads to loss of spiritual food and loss of spiritual food leads to spiritual indifference.
In my article, “Jehovah’s way of treating those who have committed serious sins,” I argue that the members of the judicial committee should follow the pattern in James 5:14-20. One of the measures of help for the Christian who is weak is “greasing [him] with oil in the name of Jehovah.” This probably refers to comforting him or her with written words from Jehovah. But today this is forbidden. One example is seen in the Shepherd book, chapter 12, 17.1:
Unnecessary Association With Disfellowshipped or Disassociated individuals: Willful, continued, unnecessary association with disfellowshipped or disassociated nonrelatives despite repeated counsel would warrant judicial action. Mat. 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 book, page 241. lf 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. (bold script and italics in the original)
A member of the congregation who continues to associate with a disfellowshipped or disassociated person will be disfellowshipped. The punishment for association with disfellowshipped or disassociated relatives is a little more lenient. But spiritual association, which means discussing the Bible is forbidden and leads to disfellowshipping. It is quite ironic that the thing that really could help the disfellowshipped one — discussing the Bible — is forbidden.
I have some comments on the words “unnecessary association.” In Norway, members of the Scandinavian branch office have misled Norwegian authorities by writing that each Witness has the freedom to decide how much association he or she will have with a disfellowshipped or disassociated person. I call this “a lie” because the members of the branch office know that this is not true. The law is that Witnesses must have absolutely no contact with disfellowshipped or disassociated persons, except in unavoidable situations, such as meeting each other at a business conference.
It has also been claimed that the word “unnecessary” in “unnecessary association” in connection with relatives has a broad interpretation. This is not true, as we read in The Watchtower of June 1, 1970, pages 351, 352:
Again, the disfellowshiping does not dissolve the flesh-and-blood ties, but, in this situation, contact, if it were necessary at all, would be much more rare than between persons living in the same home. Yet, there might be some absolutely necessary family matters requiring communication, such as legalities over a will or property. But the disfellowshiped relative should be made to appreciate that his status has changed, that he is no longer welcome in the home nor is he a preferred companion. (italics in the original.
The law is the same in connection with association with disfellowshipped relatives and non-relatives — absolutely no association. But the punishment for violating the law is more lenient in connection with association with relatives than in connection with association with non-relatives.
My experience is that the lack of possibility of admonishing the disfellowshipped one to return to Jehovah and to help him or her with Bible study is the basic reason why most of the mentioned 60% do not return to Jehovah and their congregations.
So shunning is a scourge rather than a blessing. And don’t come here and say that even though shunning may cause great problems, the disfellowshipped ones have the responsibility because they have violated God’s laws. The truth is that 37 of the 48 disfellowshipping offenses are human commandments invented by the members of the Governing Body, and the way the judicial committees treat those who have violated the human commandments or God’s laws represents a direct contradiction of God’’s personality and the Holy Scriptures
My assessment is that more than 90% of those who have been disfellowshipped should not have been disfellowshipped if the principles of the Bible had been followed. To return to Jehovah after disfellowshipping and shunning can be compared to pulling yourself up by your hair. No one is there to help you, and no one is admonishing you to return to Jehovah.
As a contrast, I refer to the words of Paul in 2 Thessalonians 3:15. If the disfellowshipped one had been “admonished as a brother,” which is the way Christians should treat those with whom they should not socialize (synanamignymi), it would have been much easier for the disfellowshipped one to return to Jehovah.
WHY DO 40% OF THE DISFELLOWSHIPPED ONES BECOME REINSTATED?
Why did so many as 40% return to their congregations? Again, there can be different reasons.
The most noble reason is that a brother or sister loves Jehovah, and he or she wants to be a part of his people. The brother or sister did something wrong, or he or she violated one of the 37 human commandments, and now he or she regrets this and asks to be reinstated. Included in these may be someone who violated God’s law when he or she was young, and who later have realized the importance of serving Jehovah.
Another reason may be that the elders say that they cannot find “works that befit repentance.” Therefore, they disfellowship the sister or brother, saying that if he or she attends meetings regularly for a few months, he or she can be reinstated. So, these are reinstated after some months, often less than a year. And because they have the hope that the shunning of them soon will cease, it is easier for them to bear the negative effects of the shunning. I do not have any statistics. But on the basis of what I have seen during my 57 years as an elder, I think that a great part of the 40% who are reinstated are such persons who have been promised a quick reinstatement.
My experience is that the motive for many of those who are reinstated is that they want to be able to meet with their family members and with their friends. And the only way this can happen is by being reinstated. It is not wrong to want to have contact with family and friends But if this is the only motive, it can be criticized because true repentance is made because of love for Jehovah. We can see this lack of a good motive when a brother or sister is reinstated, and after a short time, he or she stops attending meetings and stops preaching the good news, or if he or she plays a limited role in the meetings and the preaching, compared to what he or she did before the disfellowshipping.
I would like to stress that it is nothing wrong in having a strong desire to meet with family members and friends again. And if the other desire is to worship Jehovah because all his laws and principles are excellent, the brother or sister shows “sadness in a godly way.” This is seen in the way the brother or sister functions in the congregation when his or her actions evidently have Jehovah’s blessing.
My experience is that the following motives are behind the wish to be reinstated:
- A great part of the disfellowshipped ones have been promised a quick reinstation, and their motive is to get rid of the bad effects of shunning and again be a part of the congregation.
- A great part of the disfellowshipped ones want contact with family and friends, and that is their motive to apply for reinstation.
- A great part of the disfellowshipped ones love Jehovah, and their motive to ask for reinstation is to be able to worship Jehovah together with their brothers and sisters.
Now I will discuss two groups of disfellowshipped persons where the extreme rules of the Governing Body have strong negative effects; they even may be life-threatening.
SITUATIONS WHERE CHRISTIANS HAVE BEEN HOOKED
Paul distinguishes between violations of God’s laws that are planned and not planned. We read in Galatians 6:1, 2:
1Brothers, even though a man takes some false step before he is aware of it (prolambanō), YOU who have spiritual qualifications try to readjust such a man in a spirit of mildness, as you each keep an eye on yourself, for fear you also may be tempted. 2 Go on carrying the burdens of one another, and thus fulfill the law of the Christ.
The Greek verb prolambanō in its passive form has the meaning, “be taken unexpectedly; be overtaken; be taken by surprise.” (Mounce) A brother or sister who did not plan a false step but in a way was overtaken by the action will not be disfellowshipped. But there are two such situations where a false step is taken before a brother or sister is aware of it, which can lead to disfellowshipping, and the consequence of shunning in these situations can be catastrophic.
THE USE OF HARD DRUGS
No one plans to be addicted to hard drugs. But it may happen that young Witness may be given a drug by a classmate. And in a moment of thoughtlessness, he may take the drug, and then take another drug, and suddenly he or she is hooked. Is this wickedness? Absolutely not. The body of the user of hard drugs develops the addiction of the drug without the consent of the drug user. The addiction to hard drugs is extremely strong, as we see in the quotation below.
When people become addicted to heroin, they crave the drug so strongly that, even when they know what consequences they face as a result of their heroin use, they are unable to stay away from the drug. This makes relapse to heroin use incredibly likely after detox. Often, those struggling with heroin addiction experience multiple episodes of relapse on their road to recovery.
What will the elders do when a member of their congregation becomes addicted to hard drugs? Because persons who are taking hard drugs become intoxicated, the Governing Body says that this is a disfellowshipping offense just as intoxication by alcohol. This is logical reasoning, and it means that a person who is addicted to hard drugs and who will not stop or cannot stop taking hard drugs must be disfellowshipped.
THE MISUSE OF ALCOHOL
What is the reason why some persons can consume massive amounts of alcohol over many years without becoming alcoholics, while others who consume comparatively less alcohol become addicted to it? A part of the answer lies in the genes of the persons because some persons are predisposed to alcoholism, as the quotation below shows.
Genetics and Addiction: Is Alcoholism Hereditary or Genetic?
Addiction is a chronic disease of the brain, affecting the reward and motivation centers, and for decades, scientists have argued about the genetic and hereditary components of addiction.
Alcohol use disorder, the medical term for alcoholism and alcohol abuse, has been linked to some specific genes. Having a close relative, such as a parent or sibling, who struggles with alcohol use disorder increases the chances that a person will also struggle with the same addiction.
While genetics and heredity are closely linked – because parents pass their genes down to their children, so children inherit the genes –from a medical perspective, there are some differences when discussing genetic versus hereditary diseases. A person with a genetic disease has an abnormality in their genome; an individual with a hereditary disease has received a genetic mutation from their parents’ DNA. When scientists debate whether alcohol use disorder is hereditary or genetic, they debate whether the condition stems from a larger set of genes that are passed down or the disease stems from mutations in some genes.
Alcoholism is a serious problem in the United States. One estimate suggests that as many as 18 million adults in the country struggle with alcohol use disorder; that is one in 12 individuals. Around 100,000 people die every year because of alcoholism, including deaths due to cirrhosis and other organ damage. Chronic heavy drinking also increases the risk of kidney disease, diabetes, and several cancers.
Genetics are 50 percent of the underlying reason for alcohol use disorder. If a person is predisposed to metabolize alcohol in such a way that the pleasurable effects are more prominent than feeling nauseous, overheating, or experiencing mood swings, the person may be more likely to develop alcohol use disorder.
A 2008 study conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reviewed much of the research on alcohol use disorder and a possible genetic contribution. The study concluded that genetic factors account for 40-60 percent of the variance among people who struggle with alcohol use disorder. Since then, some specific genes that contribute to alcohol use disorder have been found, and they correlate with the development of the reward centers in the brain.
The phenotypic expression of genes is complex, however. For example, a person may have one parent with blue eyes and one parent with brown eyes, so they have genes for both eye colors, but only one eye color will be expressed. Strong genes are the exception to the rule, and a gene responsible for the movement of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in synapses between neurons appears to be a strong gene associated with a higher risk of alcoholism. It is still unknown how, precisely, this genetic sequence can ultimately influence the outcome for a person.
The conclusions in this quotation do not represent an excuse for persons who become alcoholics or abusers of alcohol. But they show why some people become addicted and others are not addicted. But in any case, a brother or sister who are practicing intoxication and will not stop, must be disfellowshipped.
REMOVING THE REGIME OF SHUNNING — ADMONISHING DISFELLOWSHIPPED BROTHERS AND SISTERS
The importance of getting rid of shunning, so Christians can be “carrying the burdens of one another,” as Paul says in Galatians 6:2, is particularly important in connection with users of hard drugs. No one can deny that both persons who have become alcoholics and those who use hard drugs have been hooked. They took a false step before they were aware of it, as Paul says in Galatians 6:1. This is not an excuse for those who use hard drugs and for those who misuse alcohol. But it is an explanation.
I have shown that the shunning of disfellowshipped persons removes everything from them. And in most cases, this leads to indifference and a lack of interest in returning to Jehova and to their congregations. I used the illustration that because a disfellowshipped person is deprived of everything, in order to come back he must be pulling himself up by the hair. This can be applied generally to disfellowshipping and shunning. But the situation for those who use hard drugs is much more severe and extremely difficult.
What is the basic problem in such situations? As the quotation under the heading “The use of hard drugs” shows: “They crave the drug so strongly that, even when they know what consequences they face as a result of their heroin use, they are unable to stay away from the drug.” This means that it is extremely difficult for a user of hard drugs to stop this use — the drug user is thrown out in the dark, and no one is allowed to help him or her.
What kind of assistance can help a user of hard drugs? I have seen several such cases, including one where I was directly involved. First of all, the drug user needs the help of close family and close friends, who know him and love him. And, on the bumpy way of quitting the addiction, his family and friends must always be willing to make a hard effort to give help, also if there are relapses. They must show long-suffering, which is patience as long as there is hope.
The drug user also needs a good doctor, who can follow him all the time, prescribe medicine for him, and give him good advice in the different phases along the way. One medicine that is particularly important is methadone. This medicine does not make the patient intoxicated. But it fills the same receptors in the brain that heroin fills. In the USA, there are around 100,000 previous addicts of hard drugs that use methadone, and they live almost a normal life.
In 1973, the Governing Body decided that Jehovah’s Witnesses who used methadone would be disfellowshipped, and this law lasted for 40 years until 2013.
. See my article «Methadone and disfellowshipping» in the category «Reversed view of disfellowshipping offenses».
Because of this law, a great number of brothers who wanted to quit their habit were not able to do so, and some of them died. So, the members of the Governing Body have a clear responsibility for those who were not able to quit their habit and for those who died. When I was helping a bother in our congregation, the law against methadone was still valid. But all the elders in my congregation objected to this law. Some family members invested some money, so the brother could travel to a rehabilitation center in another country, and he managed to conquer his addiction. However, some months later he died, and the situation suggested that if he had been able to use methadone, he may not have died.
The addiction to alcohol is not so strong as the addiction to hard drugs. Many persons in our country who are not Christians have managed to quit their addiction to alcohol. And Christians can do the same. But the shunning of such brothers works against their decision to quit because they have no one to help them. So, as in the case of the user of hard drugs, family and friends will be of great help, and they will not give in to the alcoholic even though there are relapses.
I have now discussed the two situations where brothers and sisters take a false step before they are aware of it, but still are disfellowshipped. However, the help of family and friends is very important in every case where a brother or sister is disfellowshipped. Because of the effects of the shunning, many disfellowshipped brothers and sisters are bowed down with troubles, and they are depressed. Receiving help from family and friends and members of the congregation would have helped them to see the possibility of returning to Jehovah. But this is forbidden because of the human commandments of the Governing Body.
|A brother or sister who is abusing hard drugs will not be able to conquer his or her addiction without continuous help from family and friends. The Governing Body has forbidden this help.
A brother or sister who abuses alcohol, will have great difficulties in quitting his or her addiction without help from family and friends. The Governing Body has forbidden this help.
Famy and friends as well as members of the congregation can admonish and encourage brothers and sisters who have been disfellowshipped, so they can turn back to Jehovah. The Governing Body has forbidden this help.
Instead of helping the disfellowshipped ones, the Governing Body demands that all the Witnesses must shun those who have been disfellowshipped. In a great number of cases, those who have been disfellowshipped have lost their faith and spirituality, and they have been bowed down and have become depressed. They have, in reality, been thrown into total darkness — and any form for help from family and friends has been forbidden by the Governing Body
. If a man in Israel had an ox that gored, and this ox killed a man, the owner could have bloodguilt on the basis of “criminal negligence.” The Watchtower of September 15. 2006, page 30, showed that bloodguilt by criminal negligence could also occur today. See my article “Mansalughter” in the Category, “The eleven disfellowshipping offenses.” I do not hesitate to say that the law against methadone, which is not based on the Bible, represents criminal negligence on the part of the members of the Governing Body. This law has prevented a great number of Witnesses who are hard drug addicts to quit their habit. And the result has been that several have died. Because of this, the members of the Governing Body may have bloodguilt.
Of the most appealing attributes of Jehovah are his love for the human family and his undeserved kindness. In connection with the regime of disfellowshipping, the members of the Governing Body have turned Jehovah’s attributes upside down, claiming that disfellowshipping a brother or sister and shunning him or her, is an expression of Jehovah’s love.
In my five articles on disfellowshipping, I have demonstrated that this is wrong. Most of the disfellowshipping procedures that are introduced by the Governing Body simply are human commandments, or rather inhuman commandments, that violate Bible principles. So, disfellowshipping is not an expression of Jehovah’s love. But it is an expression of the extreme viewpoints of the members of the Governing Body as to how Jehovah’s congregations can be kept clean.
It is also disheartening to see how the members of the Governing Body are mistreating the Holy Scriptures. There is no passage in the Bible showing that disfellowshipped persons should be shunned. But the members of the Governing Body have used passages in the Bible to support shunning. I cannot believe that they consciously mislead their readers. So, the only reason for the mistreatment of Bible passages that I can see, is that the members of the Governing Body do not know better because they do not know the original Bible languages.
In any case, shunning is a cruel and inhuman way of treating human beings regardless of whether these human beings have violated God’s laws or not. I will conclude by again pointing to the words of Paul in Romans 2:4. It is not pressure or punishment that causes a person to return to Jehovah. But it is God’s “graciousness that leads you to repentance.”