JULIAN remembers how he felt when he listened to the announcement that his son was no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. “My whole world seemed to come to an end,” he says. “He was my oldest child, and we were very close; we did lots of things together.” Julian explains that his son had always behaved well, but then he changed and began doing bad things. Julian’s wife cried again and again, and he did not know how to comfort her. Julian says, “We kept asking ourselves if we had somehow failed as parents.”
What reasons does the Bible give for disfellowshipping someone? And since it causes so much pain, why can we say that disfellowshipping is an act of love?
WHY A PERSON MAY BE DISFELLOWSHIPPED
If one of Jehovah’s Witnesses who is baptized commits a serious sin and does not repent, he will be disfellowshipped.
Jehovah does not expect us to be perfect, but he does expect his servants to obey his laws and to remain holy. For example, Jehovah commands his servants to avoid serious sins such as sexual immorality, idolatry, stealing, extortion, murder, and spiritism.
What Jehovah expects of us is reasonable and is a protection for us. For example, we all want to live among peaceful, decent, and honest people, and that is what we experience among our spiritual brothers and sisters. Why are they this way? Because they dedicated themselves to Jehovah and promised to live by what he says in the Bible.
But what if a baptized Christian commits a serious sin because of human weakness? This happened to some of Jehovah’s servants in the past, but Jehovah did not reject them completely. For example, even though King David committed adultery and murder, the prophet Nathan told David that Jehovah had forgiven his sin.
Why did Jehovah forgive David? Because Jehovah could see that David was truly repentant. (Psalm 32:1-5) Today, too, someone who sinned will be forgiven if he is truly repentant and stops doing what is bad. (Acts 3:19; 26:20) If the elders on a judicial committee do not discern that the person is truly repentant, then he must be disfellowshipped.
If someone in your family or a close friend has been disfellowshipped, you may find it hard to accept that decision and may feel that it is too harsh. However, Jehovah’s Word clearly shows us that disfellowshipping is an act of love.
THE BENEFITS OF DISFELLOWSHIPPING
Jesus said that “wisdom is proved righteous by its results.” (Matthew 11:19, footnote) Let us consider three reasons why it is a wise decision to disfellowship a person if he does not repent.
Disfellowshipping protects Jehovah’s name from dishonor. What we do will bring either honor or dishonor to Jehovah because, as his Witnesses, we bear his name. (Isaiah 43:10) Just as a son’s conduct can honor or dishonor his parents, the conduct of Jehovah’s servants can honor or dishonor Jehovah. In Ezekiel’s time, people of the nations linked the Jews with Jehovah’s name. (Ezekiel 36:19-23) Similarly today, people link Jehovah’s Witnesses with Jehovah’s name. So if we obey Jehovah’s laws, we will bring honor to him.
The apostle Peter counseled Christians: “As obedient children, stop being molded by the desires you formerly had in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, become holy yourselves in all your conduct, for it is written: ‘You must be holy, because I am holy.’” (1 Peter 1:14-16) For example, if we practiced sexual immorality, we would dishonor God’s name. But when we keep our conduct clean, we honor Jehovah.
If one of Jehovah’s Witnesses practices what is bad, people who know him will probably become aware of what he is doing. So when they learn that he is no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, they will realize that Jehovah’s people obey what the Bible says and keep the congregation clean. For example, a man came to a meeting in Switzerland and said that he wanted to become a member of the congregation. His sister had been disfellowshipped for immorality and now he wanted to join an organization that “does not tolerate bad conduct.”
Disfellowshipping keeps the Christian congregation clean. The apostle Paul warned the Corinthians of the danger of letting an unrepentant sinner stay in the congregation. He compared the bad influence of these sinners to that of leaven that causes a batch of dough to rise. Paul said: “A little leaven ferments the whole batch of dough.” Then he counseled them: “Remove the wicked person from among yourselves.”
That “wicked person” practiced sexual immorality without any shame. Some in his congregation had even begun to excuse his bad conduct. (1 Corinthians 5:1, 2) This was dangerous because other Christians could have been affected by the immoral lifestyle that was common in Corinth. Similarly today, if the congregation ignores serious sin, some could begin to view Jehovah’s standards as unimportant. (Ecclesiastes 8:11) Just as “rocks hidden below water” can cause shipwreck, unrepentant sinners can destroy the faith of others in the congregation.
Disfellowshipping may help the sinner realize he is wrong. Jesus used an illustration of a young man who left his father’s home and spent all his inheritance living an immoral life. The young man eventually realized that life away from his father’s home had no meaning. So he repented and decided to go back to his family. The father was very happy when he saw that his son had changed his attitude, and he welcomed him home. (Luke 15:11-24) This illustration helps us understand how Jehovah feels when someone repents. He says: “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that someone wicked changes his way and keeps living.”
The Christian congregation is our spiritual family. When someone is disfellowshipped, he is no longer a part of that family. After experiencing the results of his bad conduct, he may realize his mistake and remember how much happier he was when he had a good relationship with Jehovah and the congregation. This may encourage him to come back to his spiritual family.
To help a disfellowshipped person come back to the congregation, we need to show him love by being firm. For example, imagine two hikers waiting to be rescued on a cold winter day. Because it is so cold, one hiker gets very tired and wants to sleep. But if he falls asleep in the snow, he will die. To help him stay awake, his friend slaps him in the face. Even though this hurts, it could save his life. David expressed a similar idea when he said: “Should the righteous one strike me, it would be an act of loyal love.” (Psalm 141:5) David recognized that even though discipline was painful, it would help him.
Just like that slap, disfellowshipping is often what a person needs to come back to Jehovah. Julian’s son, mentioned at the beginning of this article, changed his life and returned to the congregation ten years after he was disfellowshipped. Now he is an elder. He admits: “Being disfellowshipped brought me face-to-face with the consequences of my lifestyle. I needed that sort of discipline.”
HOW CAN WE SHOW THAT WE LOVE DISFELLOWSHIPPED ONES
It is a tragedy when someone is disfellowshipped. But it does not mean that he can never come back to Jehovah. It is important that all of us allow the discipline to work. How can we do that?
Elders always try to imitate Jehovah’s love, especially when they have to tell someone that he is no longer one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. They kindly and clearly explain what he needs to do to come back to Jehovah and be a part of the congregation again. If someone who has been disfellowshipped shows that he wants to come back to the congregation, the elders may visit him from time to time to remind him of what he can do to come back to Jehovah. *
Family members show love for the congregation and the disfellowshipped person when they support the decision made by the elders. Julian explains, “He was still my son, but his lifestyle had put up a barrier between us.”
All in the congregation show true love to the disfellowshipped person by supporting the discipline that Jehovah has given him through the elders. This means that they should not spend time with him or even talk to him. (1 Corinthians 5:11; 2 John 10, 11) Also, the congregation should give extra love and support to the family of the disfellowshipped one. This is a very difficult time for the family. We should never make them feel that they have also been excluded from the congregation.
“Disfellowshipping is an arrangement that we need, one that helps us live according to Jehovah’s standards,” Julian concludes. “In the long run, despite the pain, it brings good results. Had I been tolerant of my son’s bad conduct, he would never have recovered.”
^ par. 24 See The Watchtower, April 15, 1991, pages 21-23.