This article has been reposted because December is “Church Purity Month.” You can now follow Church Purity Month on Facebook.
Most of us have friends. Probably everyone who reads this blog has at least several people with whom they like to socialize on a regular basis. God created human beings with a passion for interacting with other people. We do this because we have a desire to be loved, and this also gives us an opportunity to demonstrate love in return. The Bible teaches that true Christians need to be diligent in genuinely sharing their love with those around them (Mark 12:31).
But there are some times when it is wrong for us to socialize with others. The Bible directs true Christians to refrain from interacting with other so-called Christians who are consistently living sinful lifestyles. The Apostle Paul wrote the following command to the church at Corinth: “But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother who is sexually immoral, covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person.” (I Corinthians 5:11)
The significance of this passage is quite clear. It means what it says: true Christians are to shun other professing Christians who are clearly disobeying God’s commands. The passage gives us a specific list of the kinds of Christians that we are not to socialize with. They include those who cheat on their spouses, those who are characterized by a greedy lifestyle, those who participate in other religions (while claiming to be saved Christians), those who regularly launch ruthless verbal attacks on others, those who are often drunk, and those who use whatever leverage they have to squeeze money or property out of other people. We are to have no contact with these people in a social setting. Even eating a meal with them at the same table is forbidden.
This principle needs to be enacted on the sinful Christian by the local body of believers where he attends church. Obviously the elders and pastors are to play an important role in discipline, (I Timothy 3:4-5), but individual churchgoers need to be involved as well (Matthew 18:15-17). Ultimately, the entire congregation needs to be made aware of and take part in the discipline. All individuals who go to the church need to respect the collective decision to discipline the culprit. None of them should be allowed to break ranks and defy the church if the church has properly followed the Biblical guidelines in disciplining the one who is sinning. Likewise, all true Christians who do not attend this church must also respect the decision! Christians who go to another church should also break off fellowship with this sinning Christian, even if they belong to different denominations. There is one universal church, the body of Christ, and every true Christian is a member of this church, regardless of the denomination they belong to. Therefore the sinning Christian should not be accepted into fellowship of any other church until he has repented of his original sin and the discipline enacted by his initial church has been removed. Also, individual Christians from other denominations or churches should not invite him over to lunch or even watch football with him. He is to be treated as an outsider by every true Christian he comes in contact with.
Unfortunately, this principle is barely ever followed today. Local churches regularly ignore the disciplinary actions of other churches, and the results are catastrophic. Men who cheat on their wives and refuse to repent are put out of one church, only to start attending another church across the street. The second church is usually glad to have the active adulterer, especially if he is a good tither. But this practice is wrong. A sinning Christian should not be able to buy his way into a church! Churches should not be engaging in this sort of ruthless competition with each other for “customers” after the manner of for-profit corporations. Members of competing churches need to remember that they are brothers and sisters in Christ, and they ought to work with one another in situations involving discipline of church members. Pastors who really care about the souls of sinning Christians will help enforce Bible-based discipline enacted by other pastors. Individual churches need to show teamwork in caring for professing Christians who have strayed into sin. The methods commanded by the Apostle Paul may seem harsh, but their goal is for the repentance and reconciliation of the wayward Christian. There is always a chance that they will be successful if they are strictly enforced (II Corinthians 2:6-9).
Before I close, I want to clearly state that this kind of action should only be carried out on professing Christians. The Bible does not command us to break off contact with sinning unbelievers. After all, how are we to preach the gospel to those who need it most if we are not allowed to associate with them? Therefore, the Apostle Paul clearly says that we are not required to shun unbelievers who are sexually immoral, idolaters, or drunkards. These people have never claimed to have accepted Christ in the first place, and do not claim to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, since they are on the outside, they cannot be disciplined in same way that someone claiming to be a spiritual brother is disciplined (I Corinthians 5:9-10,12-13).
Matthew 18:15-17 “Moreover, if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.”