Question:

I have been studying the issue of fellowship within the family. In other words, I have family who are erring brethren and walk not as God has commanded. In accordance with I Corinthians 5 and other verses which say "not even to eat," are there guidelines or principles for us to follow? I want to be consistent with my dealings. I believe I Corinthians 5 is discussing family members in one local church.

One may go to the extreme and avoid all contact and, therefore, not "admonish one as a brother." I know this falls around some gray area, maybe personal decision is the best policy? Can one "admonish one as a brother" and still fulfill God's commands on "marking and avoid" or "not even to eat"? I do believe that when we begin to make exceptions, can we not make more exceptions?

Can we attend a birthday or reunion of a member of our family who is NOT one in error and associate with those there that are erring brethren? What about a funeral? Do we avoid it because they will be there?

One more thing, when my wife and I were married neither of us were Christians but were scripturally authorized to marry. If, after learning what I have concerning the responsibilities of a Christian and I planned to marry for the first time, I would not invite those who I knew to be erring brethren. Even if they were not disciplined by the local congregation, I would not invite them as I have seen others do.

I am aware of those who disagree with me, but I believe Matthew 10:32-33 mean something. When God said your family members will be your enemies, He knew what He was talking about!


Answer:

The difficulty is arising because one command is being played off of another. For example, when a spouse is withdrawn from by the church, which takes precedence? The command to not eat with a withdrawn from brother (I Corinthians 5:11) or the obligation of a partner to his spouse (Ephesians 5:28, 33)? The fact is that one command does not annul another command. This is the point Jesus made to the Pharisees. "He answered and said to them, "Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying, 'Honor your father and your mother'; and, 'He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.' But you say, 'Whoever says to his father or mother, "Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God" -- 'then he need not honor his father or mother.' Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: 'These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me'" (Matthew 15:3-8).

Another case is when the Jews played the command allowing snacking from a nearby field against the Sabbath law of doing no work. "At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, "Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!" But He said to them, "Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple. But if you had known what this means, 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the guiltless" (Matthew 12:1-7). Jesus' point is that the work of the priest was work, but God made it an exception to the Sabbath laws by stating that sacrifices had to be made on the Sabbath. Hence, because God allowed plucking a few grains while passing by a field, in God's eyes that action did not constitute work. Just as Jesus points out later that rescuing a trapped animal isn't work either, even though it is done on the Sabbath day (Matthew 12:11-12).

People have multiple ties to one another. Our fellowship within the church is just one of many. There is the spouse, the parent, the child, the employer, the employee, the government, and many others. When a person sins and refuses to repent, the church withdraws its fellowship with that person, but other ties might keep a person interacting with the withdrawn from person. These previous commitments must be honored.

So, if you are invited to a family gathering, go because of the person being honored or remembered. If someone who is withdrawn from happens to be there, be polite as you would to any non-Christian. It might serve as an opportunity to mention that the person is missed and that the church would like them to leave their sin and return. But even here, I would keep the interaction to a minimum. If there are multiple tables, I'm not going to pick the one the withdrawn from sits down at. But he might chose my table. In which, I will take it that he wants to further discuss returning to God. (If not, he probably will shortly move.)

When sponsoring a gathering, I am not going to invite a withdrawn from person. But I might have to go to a work function where my withdrawn from boss or co-worker will also be present.

Basically, when a person is withdrawn from, all the special interactions that comes with being a Christian and sharing a common life and goal ends. What remains is just the dull and dreary interactions I have with the lost in the world. I'm polite, but the relationship no longer has the special comradery The person who places sin above God is just not someone I want to hang around with and have fun.

Therefore, there are no exceptions, there is an acknowledgement that withdrawal doesn't sever all ties.