WITHDRAWING FROM THE WITHDRAWN
By Wayne S. Walker
[Editor’s note: In the October, 1976, issue of Torch magazine, edited by James P. Needham, there were two articles on the subject of whether a church can withdraw from those who claim to have already “withdrawn” from it by ceasing to attend services altogether. Jeff Kingry affirmed that a church can and should do so, whereas editor Needham argued against the practice. In the November, 1976, issue, Ron Halbrook wrote a letter, saying, “I am glad that Jeff and you have provided us a discussion of the question whether delinquent members should be publicly disciplined, under want circumstances, with reference to what passages, etc. I appreciate both of you working on this question and providing the readers both sides. Such two-way discussions continue to be a strong point about Torch.” As Ron continued, he seemed to take issue with some things which Needham had written.
Brother Needham replied, “First, I want to explain the circumstances of the articles by Jeffery Kingry and me last month. Jeff’s article had been in my file for some time. When I was making up the October issue, I came across it and decided to print it. Since I have been thinking along these lines, I thought I would make a contribution to the study. It was not really a planned exchange between my good friend, Jeff, and me.” He then went on to respond to some of the points which Ron had made. This subject and the different views expressed on it evidently brought forth a small outpouring of letters to Needham and led to further discussion.
In the July, 1977, issue, Ralph Williams of Humble, TX, wrote a letter, appearing to disagree with Needham’s position, in which he said, “I know you expressed a very strong conviction on page 5, paragraph 3 of Torch, 3/77, that ‘among you’ refers only to the assemblies,” and then proceeded to give evidence to the contrary. Morris Norman of Akron, OH, but in the process of moving to Birmingham, AL, wrote basically agreeing with Needham and concluding, “You may mark and/or withdraw from an erring brother that refuses to repent. If has already withdrawn himself from the local church, all we can do is mark him as an unfaithful brother, unworthy of fellowship with faithful brethren, but I contend that we cannot withdraw from him as a collective.” This was also Needham’s fundamental contention. That same issue also contained a letter from me, of which brother Needham said, “Now, what has been said clarifies the following comment from another good friend who has made a keen analysis of the matter.”]
As for the problem of “withdrawing from those who won’t attend,” I wonder if some of our differences aren’t the result of two different views of what withdrawal is. My own conclusion about what to do in such cases is: after all attempts have been made to restore one who has quit attending, to make a public announcement that one can no longer be considered a member because of his failure to respond. At least in my own experience, most of these people still have, and even want, their “name on the roll.
If this is one’s definition of withdrawal in such instances, then I agree with him. [Note: Brother Needham answered, “I don’t, because what is here described is not withdrawal, but marking, or making an announcement. That is not withdrawal in the sense of 1 Cor. 5, and 2 Thess. 3, jpn.” This is certainly the crux of the matter, and it makes me wonder what’s the difference. If we withdraw from a fornicator or false teacher, we cannot have regular social relations with him as if he were still a faithful brother, but if one simply stops attending and we mark him as unfaithful, can we still have regular social relations with him as if he were a faithful brother because we cannot withdraw from him?] However, if his idea of withdrawal is different and would exclude what I have mentioned above, then it is a different matter.
One thing that bothers me is the statement that “such would drive them further away.” If they have quit attending, I wonder, how much further could they be driven? I am sure you are aware that this same statement has been used to discourage any kind of corrective discipline also. Such a public announcement may not do any visible good—but then it might, and probably has in some cases. Even withdrawal from drunkards or adulterers may not do any “visible” good in restoring the guilty in all cases. And remember, I said after all other means of restoration had been tried.
—taken from Torch; July, 1977 (Vol. XII, No. 7), p. 14