Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Quick Course on Shunning

What is “shunning”?
In conservative Mennonite practice, it is the exclusion of a member of the church due to sin. This would include eating with a member or conversing with them in some groups which have very strict interpretations of the passages involved. Biblically, this practice would be some form of separation, or lack of fellowship. Some of the biblical phrases associated with “shunning” or “excommunication” are: “Treat such a one as you would a tax collector or Gentile,” (Matt. 18:17) “do not associate with” (I Cor. 5:9), “do not eat with” (I Cor. 5:11), “drive out” (I Cor. 5:13),” have nothing to do with that one—do not treat him as an enemy but warn him as a brother” (II Thess. 3:14-15) or “do not allow such a one in your house.” (II John 9-11)

The general context
“Shunning” is the last step in a whole process that believers who are guided by the Spirit use in rebuking or correcting a believer who is involved in continual, unrepentant sin (Matt. 18: 15-17). “Shunning” should never be done to unbelievers, nor should the process even be begun by those who are unspiritual, or by those who are unrepentant of their own sins (Matt. 7:1-6; Gal. 6:1; I Cor. 5:12-13).

The Process of Judgment
1. Privately confront a believer in sin with gentleness. (Matt. 18:15-17; Gal. 6:1-2; Luke 17:2; James 5:19-20)

2. If the believer repents of his sin, then he is to be forgiven and the sin is wiped away. (Matt. 18:21-35; Luke 17:2-3)

3. If the believer in sin does not repent, speak to one or two other believers who are guided by the Spirit, and make sure the one confronting is doing so righteously. (Matt. 18:15-17; Gal. 6:1-2)

4. If the confronter is righteous in his judgment, then he or she takes the one or two believers along to confront the sinning believer, to witness either his or her repentance or lack of repentance. (Matt. 18:15-17)

5. If the sinning believer has not repented, the matter is to be brought to the church, who encourages the brother to repent.

6. If he still does not repent, then the sinning, unrepentant believer is to be treated as a “gentile and a tax-collector.” This is shunning—the final step in a process of confronting an unrepentant believer.

What does it mean to treat someone “as a gentile and a tax-collector”?
While Jesus treated those who were tax collectors and gentiles well, the typical Jewish pattern was to not eat with such a one, enter into their homes or to fellowship with them in any way. The rest of the NT seems to support the idea that when Jesus was speaking about treating the unrepentant as a tax-collector, it is to treat them as a normal Jew would treat such a one—not how Jesus did specifically.

Inside v. Outside
There is one thing we need to remember in this whole discussion: Biblically, there is a clear distinction made between those who are “inside” and those who are “outside” (See I Cor. 5:11-13). In Jesus’ day, he counted the religious Jews to be “inside” at that point, but that they would unpleasantly find themselves “outside” on the last day. While, on the other hand, those currently considered “outside” would in the end be “inside,” due to their repentance (See Matt. 21:23-43). But even though Jesus turned the definitions topsy-turvy, the distinction between those in the kingdom of God and those outside of it remained.

Even so, the church in the first century continued to understand that those inside the church were those who would inherit the kingdom of God. These are not “church attenders”, but “church fellowshipers” (so to speak). These fellowshipers are those who share in the church—do the work as well as reap the rewards of the church, those who participate in it. Those who are in the sidelines of the church aren’t necessarily among the fellowshipers (See James 2:2-7 and 5:1-6 for a description of the “rich” who seem to be attending the church and yet still not a part of it).

To eat with someone in the first century is to share some close association with them—a camaraderie. To “allow into the house” in II John probably means to invite them to attend (and possibly teach in) a church service. It is also possible that if a believer refuses to accept the church’s discipline or mandates, they will not receive the social services the church offers (I Tim. 5:11-14; II Thess. 3:10-11).

And those among the “fellowshipers” are those who continually repent of their sin. They may repent seven times in a day (Luke 17:3), but confess their sins, seeking to revoke them. Those who do not forsake their sin, especially when confronted by a loving brother or sister in the Lord, do not belong to be a part of the fellowship. To fellowship with God—to remain repentant before Him—is to share in the church; to not remain confessed, “walking in the light” is to not share in the Lord, and thus to not share in the church (I John 1:3-9).

And so it is necessary to cease fellowship with those who call themselves brothers—an “insider”—but are unrepentant in their sin, thus looking like an “outsider”.

So how far do we take this?
On the one hand, there needs to be a clear break with those who are unrepentant believers (or false teachers, such as in II John 9-11). There cannot be the fellowship/sharing as there would be for a normal believer. I believe that we can biblically support the following separations:
• No social help except that which is offered to anyone who walks in off the street.
• Not allowing participation in the Lord’s supper.
• No camaraderie or intense friendships.
• No inviting to fellowship meals or event specifically geared toward “believers only”.
• In severe cases, such as false teaching, not allowing to attend a service.
On the other hand, Paul says that a brother under discipline shouldn’t be treated as an enemy, but warned as a brother (II Thess. 3:14-15). I take this to mean that we shouldn’t treat such a one with hatred, but to remind them that this treatment is only temporary until their repentance. We ask, even plead for their repentance in order to save their souls from death (James 5:19-20).

And this is the other main point. Shunning is only temporary until repentance, which is the goal of the whole process. If we continue to separate from fellowship after repentance has taken place, then the Lord has some severe words to say to us (Matt. 6:14-15). The final step, we pray, in any process of discipline, is forgiveness and full acceptance of the believer back into the fellowship of God and the brethren.

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