The subject of “withdrawal” is of huge importance within the Stanton churches, because it is so grossly misunderstood, taught, and practiced. In its current form, it is unscriptural, unloving, and unjust, and the fear and dread it brings to those under its threat can silence even the most honest of questions.
Some of you reading this have been “withdrawn from” (an unscriptural term, how Stanton uses it) and others have spouses, mothers, fathers, or siblings who have been, thereby creating an intricate web of rules you or they have to live by.
Others of you have remained silent about your dissent from official church teachings due to the threat of withdrawal, and the dysfunction it would create in your relationships with your spouse or children. My hope is this study will cause you to dig into these verses and learn the truth of what the Bible really teaches about it, not just the doctrines and commandments of men.
1 John 4:18 – There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. ESV
Stanton’s rules surrounding withdrawal are completely arbitrary, no different than when the Pharisees legislated rules for their followers on subjects like how far someone could travel on the Sabbath, or whether one should tithe their spice rack (yeah, really). It may sound funny, but there is a real human cost to relationships between spouses and children here, and for nothing better than “teaching for doctrines, the commandments of men.” It’s wrong, friends. These unscriptural practices are destroying family relationships, causing children to unfairly have to pick sides.
- Withdrawal is a verb, not a noun
- Fellowship isn’t ours to “withdraw”
- Bible words for Bible things
- “Delivering unto Satan” means expulsion
- To withdraw means “to distance oneself from”
- Heresy and schism
- “Withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly”
- “From such withdraw thyself”
- “From such turn away”
- “Mark them which cause divisions”
- “Deliver such an one unto Satan” and “Put away from among yourselves that wicked person”
- “Whom I have delivered unto Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme”
- “A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject”
I. Overview of “withdrawal” as church discipline
Withdrawal is a verb, not a noun
verb. It is not a noun, meaning it is not a state that someone is in. It is an action on the part of
the one doing the withdrawing. It is impossible to “withdraw” or
continue “withdrawing” for years or decades from someone who has
already “withdrawn” themselves from a group.
purging the church of wicked people (fornicators, idolaters, etc.) or
withholding something an errant brother wants (brotherly camaraderie) in order
to encourage him to change his ways. If someone no longer wants to be part of the
congregation, both reasons for “withdrawing” are gone. You don’t
discipline adult kids who leave the home and want to do their own thing. You
discipline and set the rules of the house for the ones who still want to be
part of the family, and therefore have a reason to respond to your discipline.
Fellowship isn’t ours to “withdraw”
and social interaction, but this is not how the Bible uses the term. Fellowship
is synonymous with brother-ship; a brother is a “fellow” disciple,
and the “ship” suffix means “state of.” This means that
fellowship is a state of “brothership” or brotherhood—a relationship
the Lord alone puts us into. Thus to disfellowship someone or withdraw
fellowship from him is something God alone can do. We can neither make someone
a brother nor declare him not our brother.
Bible words for Bible things
reference to church discipline: withdrawal,
disfellowship, excommunicate, shun. If we are to speak as the Bible speaks,
be silent where it’s silent, and use Bible words in Bible ways, then we
shouldn’t use these words to describe church discipline practices.
miscategorization of a bunch of verses that contain similar instructions but in
much different contexts. When they are mistakenly considered parallel passages
with 1 Corinthians 5, we end up with bad conclusions where real lives are
affected for generations.
apply it the same way in every verse (since some verses are talking about
immersion in water, others a figurative baptism by fire, and still others, the
baptism of the Holy Spirit) we cannot take the use of the word
“withdraw” as indicating a disciplinary state of
“disfellowship.” If we could, then we could say that the Jewish
rulers “disfellowshipped” the Sanhedrin: “So they ordered them
to withdraw from the Sanhedrin.”
(Acts 4:15) This is silly, of course. You have to look at the context and
understand the circumstances he’s addressing.
“Delivering unto Satan” means expulsion
New Testament. The most detailed one is in 1 Corinthians 5, and Paul calls it
“delivering unto Satan,” where the grossly immoral person is to be
completely expelled from the assembly. Note that the word “withdraw”
is not used here at all. When Paul writes to “purge out therefore
the old leaven” and “put away from among yourselves that wicked
person,” there should be no question about what is intended. The idea is
for that person to be completely excluded from all gatherings of the church
until he has changed his immoral ways, not meekly sit on a back bench until he
demonstrates enough remorse to church leaders.
1 Timothy 1:19-20, where Paul uses a phrase similar to the one he used in 1
Corinthians 5 (delivering unto Satan). He again did not choose to use the word
“withdrawal.” Paul used his apostolic authority to expel Hymenaeus and Alexander,
apparently for their blasphemous departure from the faith.
To withdraw means “to distance oneself from”
the word “withdraw” to simply mean “removing oneself” from
certain kinds of people. These verses are talking about avoiding social
interaction, but there are no detailed rules for how to carry it out. We are
all supposed to just exercise good judgment about the kinds of people we hang
teaching to stay away from (and don’t be an enabler to) brothers who refuse to
work, and who get their sustenance by leaching meals off of other Christians.
This is not the same as what Paul refers to as “delivering unto
Satan” in 1 Corinthians 5.
those who dote about “questions and strifes of words.” Again, there
is no instruction here to expel them or “deliver them unto Satan.” We
are simply to avoid the kind of people whose goal is to produce factional
parallel to “from such with withdraw thyself,” yet no one feels that
unthankful people should be “withdrawn from.” This shows that
“withdrawal” has been completely misunderstood as church discipline,
when it is really an action to be taken by individuals. We’re simply to avoid
such people—don’t be influenced by them—don’t make a habit of being around
kinds of people, in this case, those who cause divisions. The idea Paul is
trying to convey is again not a formal disciplinary measure, but an avoidance
of people who are divisive. People who seek to separate one group of Christians
from another are constantly seeking alliances and making political factions out
of groups of Christians. We are to avoid associating ourselves with this kind
Heresy and schism
instructions in Titus 3:9-11 – “A man that is an heretick after the first
and second admonition reject.” When we properly understand the word
“heretic” as meaning a divisive person, it is clear that we are to
remove ourselves far from schismatic people so that we don’t contribute to
their influence on the body of Christ. To give them social standing in the
church just lends them credibility.
by the congregation and continuing to show up at the assembly with rules like
not talking, not eating with others, not taking the Lord’s supper, etc. At
best, those are human-contrived rules which are “doctrines and commandments
of men.” At worst, they are a twisting of various scriptures out of the
context of what the original authors meant by them.
II. Detailed scripture studies of misused verses
“Withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly”
taken out of context. In fact, it is most often used to “withdraw
fellowship” from people for the wrong reasons, and rarely used to justify
dissociating from someone for the correct reasons given by Paul when he wrote
Thessalonians 3:6 – Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus
Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly,
and not after the tradition which he received of us.
“not after the tradition which he received of us,” in verse 6, we
should take the time to understand what those traditions were that the
Thessalonian Christians received from Paul. Fortunately, he explains in verses
Thessalonians 3:7-9 – For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for
we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you; Neither did we eat any man’s
bread for nought; but wrought with labour and travail night and day, that we
might not be chargeable to any of you: Not because we have not power, but to make
ourselves an ensample unto you to follow us.
away from someone who is lazy and refuses to work for their own food. In fact,
he defines precisely what he means by “walking disorderly:”
Thessalonians 3:10-11 – For even when we were with you, this we commanded you,
that if any would not work, neither should he eat. For we hear that there are
some which walk among you disorderly, working not at all, but are
who refuses to work, but is constantly begging food from the brethren. Don’t
invite them for dinner and enable their laziness. Don’t bring the busybody into
your house to tell you all his or her latest gossip. To these people, he gives
Thessalonians 3:12 – Now them that are such we command and exhort by our
Lord Jesus Christ, that with quietness they work, and eat their own bread.
with such people, telling them not to be discouraged from doing good just
because some people abuse their generosity.
Thessalonians 3:13 – But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing.
what to do with the person who refuses to work and insists on living off of the
bread of other brothers in Christ:
Thessalonians 3:14-15 – And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note
that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him
not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.
- This brother remains in “brothership”
or “fellowship” and is to be treated as such.
- The tradition the church received of Paul is
very clearly defined in verses 7 and 8 as working for a living rather than
relying on the generosity of the saints.
- “Walking disorderly” is also clearly
defined in verse 11 as “working not all.”
- The path to follow, according to verse 12, is to
command and exhort these people to work and to eat their own bread with
- Those who still refuse to obey the instruction
to work for their own living are to be noted and excluded from social settings
for the purpose of shaming and admonishing them.
- There is nothing here about not talking to them,
or not eating with them at the same table, or in the same room, etc. We are
just to obey the spirit of this instruction; in order to shame and admonish
them, we are to avoid making them feel a part of the congregation’s social
circle. A social get together implies acceptance and usually includes food, and
that would just be another occasion for a lazy person to get a meal without
feeling admonished and without having to work for it. In other words, don’t be an enabler.
- There is nothing here about a formal
“withdrawal meeting” or “delivering unto Satan” when the
whole church is gathered together. The instruction is merely to avoid these
people socially in order to discourage their bad behavior. If the person’s
behavior changes from Sunday to Monday, and on Monday, he lands a job, there is
no meeting of the church required before a brother could invite him over for
“From such withdraw thyself”
that we ought to “withdraw fellowship” from certain people.
Timothy 6:5 – …perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of
the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.
Timothy to stay away from these types of people, not ordering him to
excommunicate or deliver such a person to Satan, so to speak. This is a
personal exhortation from Paul to Timothy.
beginning of the chapter:
Timothy 6:1-2 – Let as many servants as
are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honour, that the name
of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed. And they that have believing
masters, let them not despise them, because they are brethren; but rather do
them service, because they are faithful and beloved, partakers of the benefit.
These things teach and exhort.
their Christian employers and masters. There was apparently some “class
envy” going on. But Paul instructs Timothy that servants should not
despise their masters, but serve them all the more because they are brethren
and fellow heirs of the benefit of salvation. Then he warns against those who
might continue to teach that slaves should rise up against their masters:
Timothy 6:3-5 – If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words,
even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according
to godliness; He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and
strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings,
Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth,
supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.
felt justified in despising their Christian masters. But Paul says they were
engaging in strifes over words, railings, evil surmising, and perverse
disputing. He further says that these people supposed that “gain is
godliness,” and urged Timothy not to get caught up with such people. That
is what I think he means by “from such withdraw thyself.” He’s
instructing Timothy, as a man of God, not to get involved in taking sides with
the factional infighting of Christian against Christian, which invariably led
to envy, strife, railings, evil surmising, etc.
deceitfulness of riches and those who follow after it in the rest of the
- As with Paul’s letter to the Thessalonian
church, there is no law given here about formal church discipline, or a
“state of withdrawal.”
- Paul is simply telling Timothy to stay away from
people who insist that gain is godliness. There are people today, many of whom
are in the inner cities, who preach class hatred for poor Christians against
their “rich” employers. Those are precisely the people Paul is
telling Timothy to stay away from.
“From such turn away”
Bible’s teaching on “disfellowship.” Yet clearly, “from such turn
away” is equivalent to “from such withdraw thyself.” So in
whatever way Timothy was to withdraw himself from those other people, he was
also to avoid these types of people:
2 Timothy 3:2-5 – For men shall be lovers of their own selves,
covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful,
unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent,
fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers
of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying
the power thereof: from such turn away.
characters (particularly those who call themselves believers) should be the
individual, natural response of a faithful believer. There is nothing implying
that all people fitting the above character traits are to be formally expelled
and “delivered unto Satan,” although a number of these character traits could
easily rise to the level of such action.
Christians. Is Paul teaching us to cast out such person, or to simply avoid enabling
and learning their unthankful ways? Avoiding clearly could not have meant “excommunicating”
in Paul’s mind.
(particularly sexually immoral pleasure) could easily find himself “cast out”
of the assembly, considering Paul’s strong instructions to the believers in
Corinth and his example in dealing with Hymenaeus.
“Mark them which cause divisions”
those who are out to cause divisions and lead people away from the teachings of
Jesus Christ and avoid them.
16:17 – Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and
offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.
person he is writing about:
16:18 – For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own
belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.
out to serve Jesus Christ, but their own appetites for glory, power, etc. There
is nothing in this passage that indicates a congregational “trial” of any sort.
When Christians cross paths with brothers who are divisive or egotistical, we
are to simply make note of them and avoid them. In other words, don’t give them
an audience. This is what the Spring Valley church should have done to Merie.
Instead, they gave her a seat of prominence, and the rest is history.
“Deliver such an one unto Satan” and “Put away from among yourselves that wicked person”
out” of a wicked person from among the group. It is clearly an act of “church
discipline” done for the purpose of purging sin and reproving the sinner to
bring about shame and repentance.
Corinthians 5 – It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you,
and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one
should have his father’s wife. 2 And ye are puffed up, and have not rather
mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you. 3
For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as
though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, 4 In the
name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit,
with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, 5 To deliver such an one unto Satan
for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of
the Lord Jesus.
6 Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven
leaveneth the whole lump? 7 Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be
a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed
for us: 8 Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with
the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity
9 I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: 10
Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or
extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. 11
But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called
a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a
drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. 12 For what have I
to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are
within? 13 But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among
yourselves that wicked person.
that simply tell us to avoid certain kinds of unsavory characters. This is not
an avoidance of social interaction, but a complete expulsion from the group.
“Put away from among yourselves that wicked person” is a pretty
strong statement and does not imply that someone continues to come to the
assembly and quietly sits in the back row. That is nothing more than a
tradition of men.
intentions on the part of a sinner who calls himself a Christian. Jesus ate
with publicans, and adulteresses in the hope of reaching them with his message
of forgiveness and repentance. This is clearly a different situation with
someone who professed Christianity but flagrantly lived opposite to its ideals.
“Whom I have delivered unto Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme”
“rejected faith and a good conscience,” resulting in blasphemy.
Timothy 1:19-20 – Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put
away concerning faith have made shipwreck: Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander;
whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme.
apparently was teaching that the resurrection was already past, “overthrowing
the faith of some.”
Timothy 2:16-18 – But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will
increase unto more ungodliness. And their word will eat as doth a canker: of
whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; Who concerning the truth have erred, saying that
the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some.
being “delivered unto Satan,” and that example is where a fornicator
was to be put out of the congregation, we can infer that this must be what Paul
meant by the phrase.
“A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject”
3:9-11 – But avoid foolish questions, and genealogies, and contentions, and
strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and vain. A man that is an
heretick after the first and second admonition reject; Knowing that he that is
such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.
“heretic” in the King James translation (like the word
“Easter” in Acts 12:4) makes Paul’s meaning less clear; but it is not
impossible to figure out, given the context. In verse 9, Paul is clearly
advising Titus to reject divisive
people who engage in unprofitable, foolish strivings and contentions about the
law. The subject he is addressing is contentiousness about opinions (being
schismatic), not having or teaching an incorrect opinion about them (being
Titus 3:10 is clearly “a schismatic person.” This is borne out by the
following verses, where the words heresy and sect (which is a schism or
faction) are all translated from the same Greek word: Acts 5:17; Acts 15:5;
Acts 24:5,14; Acts 26:5; Acts 28:22; 1 Corinthians 11:19; Galatians 5:20; Titus
of the Titus passage:
3:9-11 – 9 but shun foolish questionings, and genealogies, and strifes, and
fightings about law; for they are unprofitable and vain. 10 A factious man
after a first and second admonition refuse; 11 knowing that such a one is
perverted, and sinneth, being self-condemned. (ASV)
fellowship” from people who have an incorrect opinion, Paul is telling
Titus something a lot simpler: to have nothing to do with people who have a
factious attitude. There are those in the church who are out to splinter it
into fragments, and Titus was to stay away from such people.
Biblically, the truth is that Spring Valley was itself the faction, and its leaders were the factious brethren that the rest of the congregations at the time rightly decided to ignore. Whatever moral authority Merie and other leaders thought they had, even if some of their concerns were valid, was sacrificed when they decided to create a faction out of God’s people.