What is "not" disFellowship?
Let’s get into the topic at hand. Mostly this whole discussion about “disFellowship” may come off to some like describing the carburetion schematic of a 1958 Ferrari—to an Italian farmer in 858 AD. :) As in, “Huh? What in the world are you talking about?!” The word “carburetion” (mixing oxygen and a vaporous fossil fuel, in proper ratio, with intention of igniting a controlled explosion to fire cylinders in a combustion engine) would mean nothing to a person living hundreds of years before such a concept could make any sense.
“Carburetion” just doesn’t MEAN anything in the experience of an Italian farmer in 858. It’s not his world, and the concepts are unfamiliar and impractical to him. Nevertheless, the guiding “principles” and “truths” that make internal combustion possible and powerful, no matter how “unfamiliar” to him, were ALREADY TRUE in his day. He just couldn’t comprehend what he had never seen. Now that the world has learned of the truths of physics and chemistry that had always been there, a primary school student is now capable of understanding and applying the principles. Combustion and carburetion WOULD have worked in 858 had someone been there to explain and demonstrate the reality of the laws. The principles of physics and chemistry were no less TRUE just because no one that farmer knew had ever seen them at work.
That farmer… he also believed the earth was FLAT. So, was the earth flat then because no one thought differently? Was the earth flat just because he was sure that it was? I mean, ALL of the “wonderful, loving people” around him were SURE the earth was flat. Did that make the earth flat? Perhaps GOD knew the earth was “round” long before 858 AD—even if that farmer and all of his friends, and family, and ancestors were certain otherwise? Did you know that people were called nasty names if anyone dared to question what “the majority” wanted to believe?
In 1548 everyone believed “the sun revolves around the earth.” By February 17, 1600 the religious world of that day was murdering people who taught that the earth revolves around the sun. As foolish as that sounds to today’s primary school students, the character and pride within religious men who are obsessed with protecting what they deem to be “their turf” is no different today. Human flesh has not changed—only the “topics” it hates, or doesn’t yet understand, have changed.
Perhaps “our experiences” are not the limit of what God has said on a topic? So, we’ll need to work our way into the topic of “disFellowship” by first discussing what a church is meant to be, and what Fellowship truly is meant to be, from the only perspective that matters: the perspective of the Father and the Son. Can I repeat that particular point? The ONLY perspective that matters about Fellowship…is the perspective of the Father and Son! Their Fellowship with One another—and the Fellowship They have Ordained for us with Them, and with one another (John 17:5-24)—that is all that matters to us. Nothing less than THEIR Perspective will ever be acceptable to those who love Him with all of their heart, soul, mind and strength.
So what do the Scriptures say, and what did God’s People do in those days when men who knew Jesus well and were Trained by Him were leading and teaching the church? What is “disFellowship” anyway?
For starters, this may not be obvious, but “Disfellowship” is NOT the same as roman catholic “excommunication.” Excommunication is sometimes practiced in the institutional religious world. It is rare that an institution, whether small or large, living room or edifice, would have the courage to even “excommunicate” a “member.” In so doing, they are keenly aware they are risking political adversity, violent attacks, falling attendance, and disappearing donations associated with trouble this “member” and his friends may start. Of course, since a religious institution (as opposed to a church built on daily Together-Life) is totally dependent upon nickels and noses, this “rocking the boat” by dealing with sin is “too much to ask,” no matter what Jesus says. Why would you “fire a customer” if your “business model” is to “grow” attendance, in order to grow donations and fame?
However, in extreme cases sometimes “excommunication” and censoring will take place “for the good of the organization.” Instances may include when a member propagates “heresies.” “Heresies” are usually defined privately as those things which threaten the structure and hierarchy. At times, “excommunication” may also be utilized when embarrassing moral or criminal violations threaten to create media or public relations issues. Whether the ousted member is a scapegoat or a true threat, sometimes, though rarely, the “sacrament” of “excommunication” will be invoked by “attendance-based churches.”
The problem is… there is no such thing as “excommunication” in the Bible. That’s a problem if you’re part of an organization that engages in excommunication, however rarely. Of course it’s an even bigger problem if you’re part of an organization that never takes responsibility to care about dealing with sin.
What WOULD be the excuse for a religious organization to even exist—if it is not their primary objective to help people overcome the sins that ruin their relationship with God, their spouses, their children, and others? Surely, we must care deeply about those things that trash people’s lives with God, and their marriages, and their families—and be practical and useful in helping them be Overcomers. But “excommunication” isn’t a Biblical idea, or practice. In reality, excommunication is both cruel and impotent. It is legalistic, unfruitful, judgmental, and elitist. And, if one is trying to please God, it is also useless.