Disfellowshipping: How do Christians deal with Unrepentant Sinners?

As the Bible lays out laws and ways of life that Christians must abide by, it is only natural that at times some Christians may stray from the path of righteousness and choose to willingly engage in sinful or immoral conduct. Such sins which can evoke being disfellowshipped if unrepentant are as listed from the scriptures:

  • Sexual immorality (Fornication, Adultery, Rape, Homosexuality, Child Molestation, Bestiality)
  • Drunkenness (Abuse of alcohol or other substances which impair the mind)
  • Stealing
  • Abuse (violent conduct, malicious treatment of others, bullying, etc)
  • Exploitational Greed (taking from others, refusing to share with others in need when capable)
  • Extortion (dishonest business practices, malicious blackmailing, etc)
  • Habitual Lying
  • Murder
  • Idolatry (Placing people or objects above God, or making use of physical objects for worship, i.e; crosses, statues, pictures, etc)
  • Engaging in false (non-Christian) religion & false religious practices
  • Spiritism (magic, witchcraft, fortune telling, contacting the “dead”, etc).

When this happens, the Bible gives us instructions on how to deal with such people in the Congregation:

  • Matthew 18:15-17: “Moreover, if your brother commits a sin against you, go and reveal his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brotherBut if he does not listen, take along with you one or two more, so that on the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter may be established. If he does not listen to them, speak to the congregation. If he does not listen even to the congregation, let him be to you just as a man of the nations and as a tax collector.”
  • 1 Corinthians 5:6-13: “Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven ferments the whole batch of dough? Clear away the old leaven so that you may be a new batch, inasmuch as you are free from ferment. For, indeed, Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed.  So, then, let us keep the festival, not with old leaven, nor with leaven of badness and wickedness, but with unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. In my letter I wrote you to stop keeping company with sexually immoral people, not meaning entirely with the sexually immoral people of this world or the greedy people or extortioners or idolaters. Otherwise, you would actually have to get out of the world. But now I am writing you to stop keeping company with anyone called a brother who is sexually immoral or a greedy person or an idolater or a reviler or a drunkard or an extortioner, not even eating with such a man. For what do I have to do with judging those outside? Do you not judge those inside, while God judges those outside? Remove the wicked person from among yourselves“.
  • 2 Thessalonians 3:6,11-12, 14-15: “Now we are giving you instructions, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to withdraw from every brother who is walking disorderly and not according to the tradition that you received from us. For we hear that some are walking disorderly among you, not working at all, but meddling with what does not concern them. To such people we give the order and exhortation in the Lord Jesus Christ that they should work quietly and eat food they themselves earn. But if anyone is not obedient to our word through this letter, take note of this one and stop associating with him, so that he may become ashamed. And yet do not consider him an enemy, but continue admonishing him as a brother“.
  • Jude 1:21-22: “Also, continue showing mercy to some who have doubts; save them by snatching them out of the fire. But continue showing mercy to others, doing so with fear, while you hate even the garment that has been stained by the flesh”.
  • Hebrews 10:26-27, 30-31: “For if we practice sin willfully after having received the accurate knowledge of the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice for sins left, but there is a certain fearful expectation of judgment and a burning indignation that is going to consume those in opposition. For we know the One who said: “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again: “Yehovah will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God”.

As we can see, we are told to stop associating, not with unbelievers, but with Christians who are wickedly living in unrepentant sin. Some churches call this “excommunication”, or “disfellowshipping”.

As imperfect humans, we are all of course liable to have fault in our character, fall to sin and make mistakes. However, those who are sorry and repent of their sins will always be forgiven, even if they consistently fall to sin on part of their weakness (Romans 7:15-20), such sin not being “intentional” or “wicked in heart”.

As stated in Matthew 18, when witnessing a brother committing or living in sin, we are encouraged to speak with them in private first to see if we can move them to repentance, doing so with another brother at our side if our own encouragement and persuasion alone is not enough. Finally, if they still insist on a sinful course, we are told to have the “congregation”, likely the Elder Men, that is the Overseers and Servants of the congregation along with other Christian witnesses, openly speak with the sinner in a communal manner (Galatians 6:1, Nehemiah 8:1-3, Deuteronomy 16:18-19). If they repent of their sins, then Jesus states we have “gained our brother”.

However, upon their purposeful insistence to live in sin and refuse repentance after those three stages, Jesus tells us to “treat them as a man of the nations and as a tax collector”, in other words, as a non-Christian, an unbeliever. The detail of what this means is expanded upon in 1 Corinthians 5 and 2 Thessalonians 3, where we are told an unrepentant sinner will corrupt the Congregation, and thus the Congregation should cease having association or company with the sinner, that time should not be spent with them.

This means that we should not be seeking to actively spend time socialising, playing games, dining, going to movies or even having Biblical discourse (with exception to admonishment to encourage repentance) with the unrepentant sinner, as such would be us being “unevenly yoked” as described by Paul in regards unbelievers at 2 Corinthians 6:14. Avoidance of association serves to, as Paul states; remind the individual of their unrepentant state in order to move them to repentance, whilst also protecting Christians from their potentially corrupting influence, in that members of the Congregation do not begin adopting their ways, characteristics or engage with them in their sinful conduct themselves (1 Corinthians 15:33, Proverbs 13:20).

Likewise to not being associated with the unrepentant sinner on an individual level, the unrepentant sinner also would not be permitted to associate with the Congregation on a spiritual level, thus they would not have teaching positions, share in evangelism (preaching), nor could they partake of the Lord’s Evening Meal in good conscience (1 Corinthians 11:29), until repenting of their sin and changing their wilful course. 

Yet, in contrast, though we are told to cease having associations with them, 2 Thessalonians 3:15 aptly makes the point that they should not be seen as an “enemy” and not to confuse our “disassociation” with “shunning”, but that they should continue to be “admonished”, to be encouraged to seek righteousness.

Thus, we can deduce that though a Christian does not “associate” with the sinner, they may still greet, take note and even converse with an unrepentant sinner, just as Jesus sat with sinners and tax collectors (of whom were “unbelievers, men of the nations” of which Jesus compared the sinner to), but they should not continually spend time with them in activities.

We must bare in mind that if we were to completely shun a sinner and treat them as an enemy, an outcast, then we could not lovingly “admonish them” or do good by them, of which Jesus and the Apostles command all Christians to do. Complete shunning, outcasting, or any other form of evoked hatred, aggression or extreme alienation, would be a treatment worse than what we apply to “tax collectors and people of the nations”.

  • If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Do not even tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even Gentiles do the same?”Matthew 5:46-47

Of course, when a brother does repent before God, and ceases his sinful lifestyle, the matter is over, and no further action need be taken.

Disfellowshipping is an intervention, it is not an interrogational trial or something that is designed to “punish” Christians, rather it is something that is only done when a brother is “actively” and “openly” living in unrepentant wickedness. It is not to be applied to someone who may “struggle with sin”, but is in continual repentance over, neither is it to be applied to those who merely fall into doubt of faith or lack of belief in God. As stated in Jude 1:22-23, when a fellow Christian begins to have doubts in the faith, or leaves the Congregation merely because of lack of genuine belief, this is not to be classified as sin, but they are to be encouraged with mercy, to be admonished, not outcasted or seen as a wicked person.

In some churches or denominations, the congregation may practice “confessionals”, that is that Christians are taught that “to be forgiven by God they must confess their sins to an Elder, pastor or priest”, but the Bible does not teach this. Forgiveness is between man and God through Jesus alone. Only when it becomes overtly apparent that a Christian is being unrepentant through their attitude should then action be taken upon that brother or sister.

In some churches, Christians may even become disfellowshipped for their so called “hidden sins” that they did not “openly confess to before others” at the time, even though they have long since repented of them. In essence, such Elders of these churches reason: “even though you are repentant now, because you didn’t confess to us at the time and hid your wilful sins from the Congregation to get away with them, we have to disfellowship you now to make up for it”… This is not the purpose of disfellowshipping and is in fact extremely unbiblical, if not even sinful on part of the Congregation’s Elders.

The purpose of judicial action and disfellowshipping is an intervention to try and encourage repentance “in the moment of sin”, but if a brother or sister has already since repented, but are then disfellowshipped just because they “didn’t confess the sin previously”, then the disfellowshipping is being unjustly carried out and is a condemnation of the innocent. Such an act is “repaying eye for an eye”, or “taking vengeance” which is God’s not ours (Romans 12:19). Jesus commands us to forgive freely, not to “keep tally of sins”. (Colossians 3:13, 1 Corinthians 13:5, Luke 11:4, Matthew 5:38).

What these Elders are practising when disfellowshipping someone for a secret sin they have since repented of, is “forgiving with a price”. Yehovah says when we repent, He blots out our sin from the record as if it never happened (Isaiah 43:25), so to disfellowship a repentant Christian because they “didn’t repent or confess in the past” would mean that an Elder is not following Yehovah, because they are not “blotting out his repented sin”. Instead, they are saying “forgiveness is attained through paying a price of confession, works and punishments” as opposed to free repentance through faith in the Anointed Saviour Jesus alone (Ephesians 2:8-9).

  • “Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of MosesActs 13:38-39.

Forced confessionals and the disfellowshipping of repentant Christians on the basis of their “previously hidden sins” takes away the sacrifice of Jesus and reverts back to the Old Law Covenant where sinners had to approach the priest to confess and make a sacrifice on the altar (Leviticus 4:1-5:13; 6:24-30), but that law was nailed on the torture tree with Jesus’ death (Colossians 2:14). Thus, “confessional” based forgiveness (that is, confession before men), and punishing Christians for sins they committed previously but have since repented of before God, spits in the face of the Father, his Son Jesus and his sacrifice.

  • “If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. – Matthew 12:7

Even if a Christian did try to hide their sins on purpose from the Congregation in order to not be disfellowshipped whilst living a life of wilful wickedness prior to their repentance, it is not any man’s place to judge, punish, repay or condemn them for this. Again, that is ‘not’ the purpose of disfellowshipping. Once a brother or sister has repented before God of their ill deeds, even if such were previously hidden to avoid public consequence, that is the end of matters.

In the end, Yehovah by means of his Anointed Son Jesus will be the one to judge all for things both open and hidden, not men (Matthew 7:1, Hebrews 10:26-31, 1 Corinthians 4:2-5, Ecclesiastes 12:14). Therefore, we all do well to keep in mind the true meaning of free forgiveness, and apply the law of disfellowshipping in an appropriate manner, and not as a means of scorn. Disfellowshipping is a means to encourage Christians to repentant before God and cease their willingly sinful lifestyle whilst protecting faithful ones from their potentially bad influence, it is not a means of payment or punishment for sin, of which is to be carried out by the Anointed Son King Jesus alone.

Published by Proselytiser of Jah

Christian Restorationist

2 thoughts on “Disfellowshipping: How do Christians deal with Unrepentant Sinners?

    1. Hi Phillip, thanks for the comment.

      By saying you don’t believe this is the way it’s practiced, do you mean you disagree with my interpretation on how disfellowshipping works? Or do you mean you agree with me but Christians today are not doing it as they should?


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