Chapter 12 Part 2

Christian Organization

When Leaders Fail, Should We Follow?

God is perfect, but humans are not; as a result, because humans are involved, even the Christian organization will have occasional issues. For example: in the first century some Jewish Christians began to promote social separation within the congregation because they felt Gentile Christians were impure. Left unchecked, this would have divided Christianity into Jewish and non-Jewish sects. Peter was a highly respected leading apostle, yet he weakly went along with this division. When Paul saw that "they were not walking in step with the truth of the good news," he did not reason, ‘Peter is one of the Twelve Apostles, and these others causing division just came from James, who is also a pillar in the Governing Body. Therefore they must be right, no matter what I think.’ No, he spoke out, publicly censuring Peter before them all. To his credit, Peter did not then turn and condemn Paul as impudent and presumptuous, using the authority of his position to put Paul "in his place"; rather, he listened and accepted the correction. —Galatians 2:11-14.

Although Paul had a strong personality, he too listened and accepted advice. At Galatians 2:1-10 he tells of visiting Jerusalem, where he "presented to them the good news that I am preaching among the nations." From the way this passage reads he apparently was looking for their blessing on the work he had already undertaken by divine inspiration. And they gave it (vs 9), along with a little bit of advice (vs 10), which he humbly accepted.

On another occasion, this august body of mature men gave Paul advice that was clearly mistaken. This is how it happened: Paul decided to return to Jerusalem. On his way there, God warned him that prison bonds lay ahead. Friends urged him not to go, but he was determined. When he arrived, the governing body confronted him. There were disturbing rumors going around, they said, that he was teaching apostasy, telling Jewish Christians not to keep the Law of Moses! The local Jewish converts were all still "zealous for the Law," and such ideas would be very distressing to them. Paul was in serious trouble! To solve the problem, they "suggested" he go to the Temple and take part in a certain ceremony according to Jewish custom. By this he could prove that the rumors were false, that he was still "walking orderly, keeping the Law."

There was one small problem with this plan. The rumors were in fact true! How did Paul handle this? He could have replied indignantly, "Have you not read my letters to the congregations in Galatia and Rome? I have been teaching quite clearly that all Christians, particularly Jews, are freed from keeping the Law. If you would read them, you would see that this is the Lord's leading!"* Instead, he kept silent. He did not try to correct them. They were trying to maintain a delicate peace with the Jewish community, which regarded Christianity as an apostate sect. Even though he knew their advice would not accomplish what they intended, he did as they asked. What happened? It provoked a mob uproar and came very close to getting Paul killed. He then spent several years in prison because of it. The governing body did not mean for any of that to happen. They were no doubt very surprised and dismayed by what came of it. (The entire account spans Acts 20-28, but key verses are 20:22-24, 21:4, 10-14, 17-36; 22:22-24; 23:11; 24:5, 6, 14-18, 23, 27; 25:8-12; 26:30-27:1; 28:16, 17, 23, 30, 31.)

Why did Paul submit to them? Why did he not argue his case? Were not the things he taught about the Law inspired of God? Could he not defend his position eloquently? Yes. But first, we should say that the observance they asked of him was not a sin in itself; the Law was after all from God, "holy and righteous and good." Paul himself had once said "To the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain Jews; to those under Law I became as under Law, although I am not under Law, that I might gain those under Law." So going along to get along has its place, within limits, at the right time. No doubt that is what the governing body was trying to do. —Romans 7:12, 1 Corinthians 9:20, 21.

But the main reason why he complied is that he saw that this would be the way the divine warnings would come true. With those warnings, the Lord had let Paul know not to argue with them over this issue. Despite Paul’s clear inspired letters, the governing body had not responded to the Lord’s leading on this, clinging instead to familiar tradition in an effort to avoid persecution. They were reluctant to see the divisive effect it was having between Jewish and Gentile Christians. Jesus did not want Paul to argue with them; they needed experience as a teacher, as words had not been sufficient. The failure of their advice would correct the governing body more effectively than anything Paul could say. It would also send Paul into new territory, giving witness before Caesar and other rulers. So, even though he could see there was a growing need for them to revise their position on this matter, Paul cooperated.

But Paul did not always submit meekly to "superiors"; the incident with Peter proved that. So we should not take this to establish as a rule "always do what you're told, no matter what!" or "close your eyes and trust that your leaders are always right."

As in the first century, the members of the governing body today are men capable of errors in judgment or of reluctance to respond to a need for change. Like Paul, we recognise and cooperate with the organization that Jehovah has given us, even if we discern imperfection in its leadership. We are not required to regard these overseers as gods or clergymen, and no elder should call for such subservience.* We are all brothers, as Christ said. But if we do see something amiss, we must find a way to be respectful when we speak up. We do as Paul exhorts at Hebrews 13:17: “Be obedient to those who are taking the lead among you and be submissive, for they are keeping watch over your souls as those who will render an account; that they may do this with joy and not with sighing, for this would be damaging to you.”

If an order is clearly from God, we should always comply, even if it puts our life at risk, because we trust His superior wisdom and are sure of his love. If an instruction cannot be traced directly or clearly to scripture, then it should at least be compatible with godly principles. So we should still be humble and cooperative, even if we do not fully understand the reason for it, and even if it involves some inconvenience or risk. We seek, not our selfish advantage, but what is upbuilding to all. —see Proverbs 3:5-7; 1 Corinthians 10:23, 24, 31-33.

But, if after conscientious research and study we come to the reluctant conclusion that a directive or doctrine is flawed when measured by scripture, we have to see God as the ultimate authority. We belong to Him, not to men. His appointed representatives are at heart good men and usually represent Him well, and we do not demand they be perfect to merit our respect. True loyalty will help to us see past imperfections and keep the whole in view. We should not rise up in righteous indignation and try to correct matters single-handedly; leave that to God. On the other hand, loyalty does not require us to say nothing at all. He may be watching us to see what we will do. Indeed, he will act in time, if no one else does, but he would be disappointed if we were indifferent or blind to an improper situation. Humility moves us to first think, "who am I to raise an objection, ask any question, or make any comment or suggestion?" So we may rightly be "slow to speak." Nevertheless, there is a time to speak, and not only a time to keep quiet. —study Ecclesiastes 3:7; James 1:19, 20 and 5:19, 20; 1 Corinthians 3:4-9, 21-23; Romans 3:4, Isaiah 59:14-16.

If we think a certain interpretation of scripture is incorrect, but do not have a clear idea of a better explanation, we would avoid making an issue of it, causing consternation among those inclined to regard the leadership as infallible. The "faithful slave" has never claimed infallibility, but some in the congregation feel that way anyway, and are alarmed if they discover that you have any doubt about anything. The 'slave' has proven trustworthy, and part of earning our trust is that they have humbly admitted to doctrinal errors made in the past, and made adjustments. As they say, "the light gets brighter as the day nears." (Proverbs 4:18) So it is not heresy to allow that more improvement is still possible, that "present truth" (the term used for the current published understanding) may not be utterly error-free.

When we speak, we must be guided by Paul’s words at 1 Timothy 2:8: "I desire that in every place the men carry on prayer, lifting up loyal hands, apart from wrath and debates." If the issue must be discussed, the first step is prayer. Search diligently for God’s will; let Him speak first. Then communicate in an orderly and respectful manner. There should not be an angry debate. Christians must be an example to the world that there are better ways to solve differences than by war.

A loyal one would never try to divide the congregation by building up a following of rebels. (This does happen; see Acts 20:29, 30, Titus 3:9, 10, and 2 Peter 2:1.) It is of course reasonable, in addition to researching the scriptures on our own, to confer with others to see if our reasoning is unsound; we would do this not to win them to our view, but to seek possible correction for ourself. Humble ones remember Proverbs 18:17: "The one who presents his case first seems righteous [that is, may be quite convinced he is right, and sounds convincing] until the other party comes in and cross-examines him." —see also Proverbs 27:17 and Romans 12:3-5.

If someone comes to us with their doubts and ideas, the first thing to do is to review the policy or doctrine that is being questioned; perhaps the person simply does not understand it correctly, as intended. We should not, however, just quote them page and line number of the instruction book, trying to shame or intimidate them into compliance, to "put them in their place." We never want to be like Christendom's clergy! Suppressing doubts by intimidation is not helpful, and above all we want to help. If we cannot answer their questions and assuage their doubts with clear reason and scripture, perhaps we can refer them to someone more knowledgeable than we are, or encourage them to let it rest for now, if that is a fair option. There are some good questions that simply cannot be fully answered at present.*

God has always revealed better understanding progressively, as we are ready, as shown by John 16:12. We should be ready to respond to his nudge when it is time to step forward, and not buck against it because we are comfortable where we are. That nudge may come from a humble source that we might dismiss if we are proud. But remember, God works through the meek, not the self-confident. —compare 1 Corinthians 1:26-29.

One who feels his question or suggestion ought not rest should feel free to put it in writing, as clearly, briefly and thoroughly as he can, and send it up beyond the local elders for consideration. The local elders might be helpful in ensuring that the letter is reasonable in tone and not difficult to understand, but they should not dictate it nor obstruct it. Anyone so writing should be mindful that not even the most humble Christian is eager to be proven wrong or have his cherished belief system questioned. So be respectful, anticipate being misunderstood, be thorough, and be patient.

Keeping the Congregation Clean

Jehovah was very clear in his Law to Israel: He insisted first of all that they keep their worship to him pure. They could not add in the worship of any other gods (first and second of the Ten Commandments), and any other wrongdoing, such as stealing, lying and immorality, would contaminate their standing with him and render their worship unacceptable. Anyone who deliberately tried to introduce such things was to be dealt with severely. Most of the prophetic books are strong warnings from God about the impending harsh consequences of their disrespect of his Law, and the nation was eventually conquered and subjugated for that reason. Jehovah has not changed: the Christian congregation must likewise act to remain clean and faithful to what is righteous and true. —1 Peter 1:14-16.

Just as Satan urged Eve to "better" herself apart from her Creator, Satan has his world designed to urge us all to be self-centered and independent. He wants us to chafe at the submission that God’s Kingdom involves. If we listen to him, we will begin to see God’s authority as oppressively restrictive. We will be drawn to desire what offends God, and we will stop nurturing our love for what is good. Or we may be "led astray by various and strange teachings" that are of no benefit for pleasing God. —Heb 13:9; see also Colossians 2.8, 2 Timothy 4:3, 4, 1 Timothy 1:3-7, Hebrews 13:9.

Serving God is in fact true freedom— but he does not permit wild partying and loose conduct, or divisions and deceitfulness (Galatians 5:19-21). Those who veer toward such things are admonished first (1 Thessalonians 5:12-14), then corrected severely if necessary (Titus 1:5-13; note there who is appointed to do this reproving), but as a last resort, they must be expelled (Titus 3:10, 11). Also called "disfellowshipping," it means all casual and friendly social discourse is removed. They may continue to attend public meetings of the congregation, as long as they sit quietly and listen, but until they turn back from their bad course, they will be denied friendly interaction.

A procedure Jesus gave for handling serious problems between Christians helps us to understand this. He said: “If your brother commits a sin, go and reveal his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” Most issues need go no further. But if the offender refuses to listen? Jesus continued: “But 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.” What did he mean by that? —Matthew 18:15-17.

First, in this context, "commits a sin" means a significant offense that the two of you could amicably settle privately, such as an unpaid debt or a breach of promise. If the sin is not against you personally, then you cannot settle it "between you and him alone." In that case, you might still go to your brother, if you feel safe doing so, not to cover the matter over, but to urge him to take it to those who can get it straightened out. If your relationship to him (or her) does not make that advisable, you should report it directly to those who have authority to help. They would then take the next two steps.

Second, the matter must be well established. This is not about a mere difference of viewpoint. "Two or three witnesses"—not your relatives or buddies who will side with you no matter what, but mature Christians who can see the matter impartially—who can testify that this is serious and needs to be solved. It may be that these "witnesses" could discern that your complaint is unfounded, and the matter is resolved in a way you didn't expect. You will be happy to "gain your brother" either way.

Third, if that step isn't effective, then "speak to the congregation." That does not mean broadcast it to the whole assembly. "The congregation" here means the elders, the shepherds who are responsible for the health of the congregation. In ancient Israel, taking a matter before the people meant taking it to the judges who sat for this purpose in the square just inside each city's main gate. Stubbornness before that court could end very badly. In Israel, it often meant death. But for us Jesus said, “let him be to you just as a man of the nations and as a tax collector.”

The congregation cannot execute or imprison wrongdoers like a government can; instead, stubborn sinners are just expelled, excluded from fellowship, as one no longer fit to be an associate. A "man of the nations" means a person who does not know the true God. But not just a stranger, who might be shown hospitality, but "a tax collector."

The disciples who heard Jesus say this understood what he meant. At the time, people from other nations could take an interest in Judaism and convert, and were then allowed to worship at the temple, albeit in their own separate courtyard apart from the Jews. But unconverted Gentiles were regarded with disgust, as ones whose very touch would render one unclean before God. Pious Jews would not eat near them nor allow them into their home, nor enter their houses. Even more despised was the fellow Jew who hired on as a tax collector for the hated Roman occupiers of their sacred land.

But was Jesus really telling us to be like the Jews he condemned as hardhearted bigots? Did he not teach us to love even our enemies? Did he himself not break bread with tax collectors? The arrogant Jewish leaders despised the common people as "accursed", as 'people of the dirt,' and Jesus strongly condemned them for their hateful attitude. Surely he cannot have meant we should be like that! —John 7:49, Matthew 9:10-13.

In contrast, God’s Law for Israel required them to treat foreigners with dignity, (Leviticus 19:33, 34, 24:22, Deuteronomy 1:16, 17) provided they respected the Law and did not introduce idolatry (Exodus 12:49, Leviticus 17:8, 9, 18:23-26, Numbers 15:29, 30, Deuteronomy 31:12). Any who flouted the Law were to suffer the same penalty as an Israelite. But in Jesus’ day, the Jews were no longer in control of their land and had to endure seeing whatever ungodliness the foreigners chose to indulge in, so their anger and disgust was understandable.

Those who stubbornly turn away from God’s merciful correction today make themselves like those foreigners. For the present, they have proven to be persons not to be trusted, not to be befriended. We do not lose hope that in time they may wake up, as the prodigal son of the parable did (Luke 15:1-3, 11-23). We would gladly welcome them back if they did come home with the prodigal's repentant attitude. But until then, socializing with such a one is both unsafe and disloyal, because they have proven resistant to kind spiritual counsel. When Jesus ate with tax collectors, he was offering them the first shepherding back to God that they had ever received. He did not tell them "God loves you just the way you are!" Those who responded abandoned their wrongdoing. —Luke 19:2-10. See also James 4:4, Proverbs 29:1.

Outsiders may feel that no one deserves to be treated that way. But think: Do you naïvely keep trusting a liar? How do you feel about a "friend" who steals from you? Or of a co-worker who lies about you, causing you to lose your job? What regard do you have for the repeat drunk driver who put your wife in the hospital? How would you treat anyone who molested your daughter? Would it be any different if it was your neighbor's daughter instead? or if it was your father who was robbed, your brother who lost his job due to slander? Would you seek out the perpetrator's friendship or invite them over for dinner? Would it be right to be neutral or indifferent, as if such behavior were not serious? —See Psalms 101:3-7.

Paul helps us to understand this. He says, “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. . . . Do you not know that unrighteous people will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be misled. Those who are sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, men who submit to homosexual acts, men who practice homosexuality, thieves, greedy people, drunkards, revilers, and extortioners will not inherit God’s Kingdom.” —1 Corinthians 5:9-13; 6:9, 10.

As you can see, there is a distinction between the ungodly outsider who has never known the way of God and the one "called a brother" who turns back to the world. Neither is good association, (see 1 Peter 4:3-5) but the former Christian is worse. Our dealings with both are guarded, but much more so with the one who has more clearly proven his persistent weakness, unreliability and infidelity.

Not all who leave the way of life defend their behavior. They may have just become inattentive and drifted into the traps of Satan. How does the congregation deal with them? At Matthew 18:12-14 Jesus said: “What do you think? If a man has 100 sheep and one of them strays, will he not leave the 99 on the mountains and set out on a search for the one that is straying? And if he finds it, I certainly tell you, he rejoices more over it than over the 99 that have not strayed. Likewise, it is not a desirable thing to my Father who is in heaven for even one of these little ones to perish.” When someone strays from the path of life into a course of wrongdoing, the congregation should notice, search him out and help him to recover. On the other hand, if we find we are repeatedly having to hunt him down and rescue him out of the ravine, we cannot be blind to the fact that he is not responding to the corrective admonition. He is not taking the problem seriously. 2 Corinthians 7:10, 11 tells us how to properly respond to needed correction. This is what the shepherds want to see. But if the "lost sheep" waves off his rescuers, preferring the wild pastures, the congregation has to accept his freedom to choose, and he has to accept our obligation to disapprove and declare his removal from our association.

On the other hand, some who have been put out are so hardened in pride that they begin an angry campaign to destroy with vicious slander those who so "humiliated" them. They may try to turn the congregation to following them (2 Peter 2:1-3). Because they are disruptive, such ones will be refused attendance at the meetings. They may then try to contact faithful ones elsewhere to agitate for their ungodly cause. Nowadays they go on the internet to poison the minds of anyone who will listen to them. Very little of what they say has any truth to it, but that does not deter them.

Such subversion may have begun some time before they were expelled, with sly comments and complaints in casual settings. Those who are loyal to the Kingdom should know and understand scriptural truth well enough that they can identify such deviation and not give it an audience. —Proverbs 13.20, 1 Corinthians 15.12 and 32-34, Colossians 2:6-8, Titus 3:9

At Romans 16:17-19 we are warned: “Keep your eye on those who create divisions and causes for stumbling contrary to the teaching that you have learned, and avoid them. For men of that sort are slaves, not of our Lord Christ, but of their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattering speech they seduce the hearts of unsuspecting ones. Your obedience has come to the notice of all, and so I rejoice over you. But I want you to be wise as to what is good, but innocent as to what is evil.” Those who advocate deviation from the truth are called "apostates", which means "those who stand away from". At 2 John 8-11 we read: “Look out for yourselves, that you do not lose the things we have worked to produce. . . everyone that pushes ahead (that is, does not remain in the teaching of the Christ) does not have God. . . If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your homes or say a greeting to him. For whoever welcomes* him is a sharer in his wicked works.” This particularly applies to one who is looking for ways to sow doubt or dissension, to draw off disciples after himself, or to defend his error. We would not receive him to hear his message; we would not warmly greet him. We would give him no encouragement in his mission at all. In Bible times the usual greeting was "May you have peace." We could not in good conscience wish that for an apostate.

Like Satan with Eve, apostates are often devious. Earnest Christians try to be fair-minded, to hear troubled people out, and they take advantage of that. We may imagine that we can turn them around if only we could reason with them, an impression they may cultivate. But bear in mind that that should have already been tried, at length, by competent and caring mature shepherds before they had to be expelled. Unless proven otherwise, we should loyally respect those older men as fair judges.* (see Deuteronomy 16.18-20.)

There is also no need for us to study in detail their accusations, claims and reasonings, thinking we might be able to counter them point-by-point. Quite often the accusations involve people and situations we do not know and cannot judge on the basis of their words alone. Nor do their accusations rightly reflect on who we are personally as Christians. "Wisdom is proved righteous by its works," Jesus replied when he was falsely accused. He knew who he was, and proved it by his life course. By following him conscientiously, we can say the same. If someone else has misbehaved and ignited an angry mess, there are better ways to sort it out and solve it than trying to start a war. Those who choose that are no longer following Christ. —Matthew 11:19; see also Proverbs 26:17.

How far does disfellowshipping go? Do we close our heart and hate the person? No. Jesus tells us to "love" even our enemies. If we see an ex-Christian in immediate need, such as struggling with a heavy load, or broken down by the roadside, we are not obliged to suppress human compassion and "go by on the other side," like the Pharisee in the parable of the good Samaritan. In such a case we would decide what to do the same as if he were a stranger of ill repute: we would likely help, unless we judged it too hazardous at that time. In this regard we can apply the principle of Exodus 23:4, 5: “If you come upon your enemy’s bull or his donkey going astray, you must return it to him. Should you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen under its load, you must not ignore him and leave. You are to help him release his animal.” Such compassion should not, however, be taken as an offer of friendship, leading to casual socializing. The estranging issue is still unresolved.

What about those who are closely related? If the estranged one is young enough to still be living with his faithful parents, these obviously never lose the responsibility to instruct and guide their offspring while in their care, although their recent lack of success in that regard should move them to reexamine their instructional methods. (Perhaps advice from other spiritually mature parents could help them get better results.) If it is one or even both of the parents that has turned aside to ungodliness, what should faithful minor children do? Both parents retain their parental authority, and faithful Christian minors must respect that, although they will have to filter out and reject any counsel that would cause them to disobey God. They may be too young to do this well, so wise spiritual counselors—the faithful parent first—should assist them as possible. They should reach out in earnest prayer to Jehovah as their steadfast Father. He will watch over such "fatherless children." —see Exodus 22:22-24, Psalms 27:10 and 10:13, 14, 17, 18 and 68:5.

What if an adult offender has been our close friend, even literally our brother? We may feel we know him well and surely could help him. One has to ask, though, how did things turn out as they have already? Was his failing a complete surprise? If so, were we really that close? If we saw it coming, why were we not more help in preventing the waywardness? Are we really now qualified to help? Yes, we could later be instrumental in his recovery, but not independently of the congregation’s oversight. We may be tempted to think our friend has been misjudged and is actually innocent, but in such matters the guilt itself is usually soundly established: by incontrovertible evidence, by confession, or by two or more trustworthy witnesses; often all of the above. The mature men who do this judging are not eager to be harsh. They look for and really want to see remorse and a serious effort to turn away from the wrong. (Hebrews 12:11-13) If we think our friend was remorseful but they failed to see it, then there should still be remorse to see; all that is necessary now is to make it so obvious that it cannot be denied. If our friend deserved his condemnation but we are offended that others involved seemed to be treated more leniently, is that really our business? “Each one will stand before the judgment seat of God . . . each of us will render an account for himself to God.” “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says Jehovah.” In other words, your friend does not need to be looking enviously at what another person gets or not, but where he himself stands, and what he can do about it. If any mistakes were made, trust God to sort it out. Give Him time. —Romans 14:12, 12:19, Galatians 6:4.

If our life's partner, our husband or our wife, abandons the way of life, this hurts almost as if he or she has died. As his/her oath-partner, your authority to work for his/her good is not cut off by congregational action. The joyful spiritual fellowship you seemed to have before (we assume you did, anyway—you should have had) is no more, but you can still exert a positive influence, or at least try. (compare 1 Peter 3:1-4.) This includes verbal communication, provided the errant one is receptive, not trying to persuade you to their warped thinking. If they attempt that, the admonition of John's 2nd letter applies, as far as spiritual matters are concerned. Any stubborn wrongdoing or selfish attitude cannot help but cool off every aspect of the relationship, but hopefully it is not so severe as to require separation.*

If your mate has not only been unfaithful to God but to you as well, by committing adultery, what a double betrayal that is! His/her infidelity permits you to choose to be free of him/her, to divorce. Should you? Does loyalty to God require that? Not always. If they declare that continuing with them constitutes approval of their sin, they give you no choice but to leave. Or if staying obligates you to be a direct supporter of continued disloyalty, you cannot rightly choose to be so complicit. You should not forgive what God clearly refuses to forgive*; you cannot act as if all were well.* But there can be circumstances where staying, in hope of a positive outcome, is an acceptable choice. If the adultery is not continued, you may hope to help your mate recover his/her spiritual sense. You may still care, and love "hopes all things, endures all things." (Actually love is not infinite; even God’s love has limits [see Hebrews 8:9], so do not feel guilty if you have to quit trying.) Trying to work it out is not forgiveness yet, it is forbearance, extending some opportunity to wake up. Jehovah does this for many he has not forgiven, so you can choose to also. In the case of an innocent wife, if he still supports the children's welfare (and does not endanger them) staying could be better than seeking other living arrangements.

Returning to Jehovah

What if an ex-Christian starts to come to congregation meetings, quietly paying attention? The elders would speak with him to determine his motives. If he professes repentance and there is credible evidence that he is abandoning his bad way (as did the prodigal son of the parable) the elders would encourage him and arrange for due spiritual assistance, with awareness of his history, of course. They would not say, in effect, “You got yourself into this fix, so we will stand off and see how long it takes you to get yourself out of it.” In the parable, the son is immediately and enthusiastically welcomed back. He was not bringing his bad lifestyle home with him, a bottle in one hand and a prostitute on the other. His sorrow and humility were plain, and his father was quick to accept it.

But in our time, decades of experience teaches us that restoring fellowship should be done cautiously. We may be eager, but if full welcome is given too quickly, too easily, it is too often taken for granted and soon thrown away again. So there will necessarily be an interval of time, determined by each case, for the wrongdoer to re-establish his standing, to prove his earnest desire to keep walking the path of life. How is the returning wrongdoer to be treated during this time? The elders, who are aware of his attitude and efforts, can informally make known his degree of progress. If you hear nothing, assume that they remain cautious.

The rest of the congregation are probably thrilled (depending on his history*) to see the once-expelled wrongdoer trying to return, but they must be wary even while they are hopeful. They cannot immediately offer him the warm fellowship he had before, but once his good motive and earnest effort becomes clearly evident, it would be merciless, unloving and cold to totally ignore him. Loyalty does not require us to rudely turn our face away, pointedly making him feel unwanted. He is not the menacing apostate that John warned us about. Some kindness would be shown even to a known criminal, if he came with reform in mind, so a clearly repentant ex-associate, although not quite yet reinstated, could be given limited acknowledgement, such as eye contact, even a nod of recognition. The returning one, if genuinely humble, would not try to engage in conversation yet. At this stage there would be no chit-chat or socializing, no hugs and handshakes. As for his spiritual struggle, that is the responsibility of the elders, so others would not take that on. If there remains anyone to whom restitution should be offered, the elders would not leave it up to the victim to seek it, but would mediate that contact. Unless the issues involved are difficult, or the profession of repentance is suspect, this probationary period should not be extremely long, not a full year, not even many months. The point is, approve the effort, acknowledge the human, while assuring that the discipline is effective. Do not celebrate until the return is complete. That milestone will be formally announced.

A similar reinstatement path would be used with a person who drifts away from association, then gets involved in serious wrongdoing, but hides from the shepherds that seek to help him, so they never discover what he has done. Then, after being away for a long time, he wakes up spiritually and decides to repentantly return. This is the exact route the prodigal son took in Jesus' parable. The elders would meet with him to determine his path, into sin and back, just as they would with a person who had sinned while still in the congregation. If they find he is continuing to commit serious sin, he would be given spiritual help if responsive to it, but he would have to be informed that he would be returning without fellowship until he put wrongdoing behind him. This should be rare, since it was he that initiated the return, and he should know to disengage from a wicked lifestyle first, as the prodigal did. But even if he has already put serious wrongdoing behind him, it is prudent to be cautious, the more so if there remain lesser but problematic attitudes and habits. The congregation may be notified that, although welcome, he is not yet suitable for free and casual socializing. The scripture applied here is the principle of 2 Thessalonians 3:14, 15. This verse is intended for those who have issues that have not yet risen to the level of requiring expulsion, but still need discipline. It is for that gray area between “all in” and “fully out,” and therefore reasonably can be applied to persons who are returning from serious wrongdoing, whether they had been formally expelled or not.

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Gal 2:11-14
However, when Cephas [Peter] came to Antioch, I resisted him face-to-face, because he was clearly in the wrong. For before certain men from James arrived, he used to eat with people of the nations; but when they arrived, he stopped doing this and separated himself, fearing those of the circumcised class. The rest of the Jews also joined him in putting on this pretense, so that even Barnabas was led along with them in their pretense. But when I saw that they were not walking in step with the truth of the good news, I said to Cephas before them all: “If you, though you are a Jew, live as the nations do and not as Jews do, how can you compel people of the nations to live according to Jewish practice?”

Galatians 2:1-10
Then after 14 years I again went up to Jerusalem with Barnabas, also taking Titus along with me. I went up as a result of a revelation, and I presented to them the good news that I am preaching among the nations. This was done privately, however, before the men who were highly regarded, to make sure that I was not running or had not run in vain. Nevertheless, not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, although he was a Greek. But that matter came up because of the false brothers* brought in quietly, who slipped in to spy on the freedom we enjoy in union with Christ Jesus, so that they might completely enslave us; we did not yield in submission to them, no, not for a moment, so that the truth of the good news might continue with you. But regarding those who seemed to be important**—whatever they were makes no difference to me, for God does not go by a man's outward appearance—those highly regarded men imparted nothing new to me. On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the good news for those who are uncircumcised, just as Peter had been for those who are circumcised— for the one who empowered Peter for an apostleship to those who are circumcised also empowered me for those who are of the nations— and when they recognized the undeserved kindness that was given me, James and Cephas and John, the ones who seemed to be pillars, gave Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, so that we should go to the nations but they to those who are circumcised. They asked only that we keep the poor in mind, and this I have also earnestly endeavored to do.

*this refers to those who insisted vehemently that circumcision was required for salvation, a persistent issue Paul fought as contrary to salvation by Christ alone.
**that is, in leadership positions in Jerusalem; the central governing body and those close around them.

Galatians 2:15-3:3
We who are Jews by birth, and not sinners from the nations, recognize that a man is declared righteous, not by works of law, but only through faith in Jesus Christ. So we have put our faith in Christ Jesus, so that we may be declared righteous by faith in Christ and not by works of law, for no one will be declared righteous by works of law. Now if we have also been found sinners while seeking to be declared righteous by means of Christ, is Christ then sin’s minister? Certainly not! If the very things that I once tore down I build up again, I demonstrate that I am a transgressor. For through law I died toward law, so that I might become alive toward God. I am nailed to the execution stake along with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who is living in union with me. Indeed, the life that I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and handed himself over for me. I do not reject the undeserved kindness of God, for if righteousness is through law, Christ actually died for nothing.
3 O senseless Galatians! Who has brought you under this evil influence, you who had Jesus Christ openly portrayed before you as nailed to the execution stake? This one thing I want to ask you: Did you receive the spirit through works of law or because of faith in what you heard? Are you so senseless? After starting on a spiritual course, are you finishing on a fleshly course?

But now that you have come to know God or, rather, have come to be known by God, how is it that you are turning back again to the weak and beggarly elementary things and want to slave for them over again? You are scrupulously observing days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.

Romans 3:29-31
is he the God of the Jews only? Is he not also the God of people of the nations? Yes, also of people of the nations. Since God is one, he will declare circumcised people righteous as a result of faith and uncircumcised people righteous by means of their faith. Do we, then, abolish law by means of our faith? Not at all! On the contrary, we uphold law.
Do not owe anything to anyone except to love one another; for whoever loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law. For the law code, “You must not commit adultery, you must not murder, you must not steal, you must not covet,” and whatever other commandment there is, is summed up in this saying: “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does not work evil to one’s neighbor; therefore, love is the law’s fulfillment.

Acts 20-28, key verses:
20:22-24 look! bound in the spirit, I am traveling to Jerusalem, although not knowing what will happen to me there, except that from city to city the holy spirit repeatedly bears witness to me, saying that imprisonment and tribulations are waiting for me. Nevertheless, I do not consider my own life of any importance to me, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to bear thorough witness to the good news of the undeserved kindness of God.

21:4, 10-14, 17-36 We searched for and found the disciples and remained there for seven days. But through the spirit they repeatedly told Paul not to set foot in Jerusalem. . . . 10 But after we had stayed there for quite a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And he came to us and took Paul’s belt and tied his own feet and hands and said: “Thus says the holy spirit, ‘The man to whom this belt belongs will be bound like this by the Jews in Jerusalem, and they will give him into the hands of people of the nations.’” Now when we heard this, both we and those who were there began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered: “What are you doing by weeping and trying to weaken my resolve? Rest assured, I am ready not only to be bound but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” When he would not be dissuaded, we stopped objecting and said: “Let the will of Jehovah take place.”
17 When we got to Jerusalem, the brothers welcomed us gladly. But on the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. And he greeted them and began giving a detailed account of the things God did among the nations through his ministry. After hearing this, they began to glorify God, but they said to him: “You see, brother, how many thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and they are all zealous for the Law. But they have heard it rumored about you that you have been teaching all the Jews among the nations an apostasy from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or to follow the customary practices. What, then, is to be done about it? They are certainly going to hear that you have arrived. So do what we tell you: We have four men who have put themselves under a vow. Take these men with you and cleanse yourself ceremonially together with them and take care of their expenses, so that they may have their heads shaved. Then everyone will know that there is nothing to the rumors they were told about you, but that you are walking orderly and you are also keeping the Law. As for the believers from among the nations, we have sent them our decision in writing that they should keep away from what is sacrificed to idols as well as from blood, from what is strangled, and from sexual immorality.” Then Paul took the men the next day and cleansed himself ceremonially along with them, and he went into the temple to give notice of when the days for the ceremonial cleansing would be completed and the offering should be presented for each one of them. Now when the seven days were about to end, the Jews from Asia, on seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd, and they seized him, shouting: “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people and our Law and this place. And what is more, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with him, and they assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple. The whole city was in an uproar, and the people came running together and seized Paul and dragged him outside the temple, and immediately the doors were closed. While they were trying to kill him, word reached the commander of the army unit that all Jerusalem was in confusion; and he immediately took soldiers and army officers and ran down to them. When they caught sight of the military commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. Then the military commander came near and took him into custody and ordered that he be bound with two chains; then he inquired who he was and what he had done. But some in the crowd began shouting out one thing, and others something else. So being unable himself to learn anything for certain because of the disturbance, he commanded him to be brought to the soldiers’ quarters. But when he reached the stairs, he had to be carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the crowd, for a crowd of the people kept following, crying out: “Do away with him!”

22:22-24 Now they kept listening to him down to this word. Then they raised their voices, saying: “Take such a man away from the earth, for he is not fit to live!” Because they were crying out, throwing their outer garments about, and tossing dust into the air, the military commander ordered Paul to be brought into the soldiers’ quarters and said that he should be interrogated under scourging, so that he could learn exactly why they were shouting against Paul this way.

23:11 But the following night the Lord stood by him and said: “Take courage! For just as you have been giving a thorough witness about me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness in Rome.”

24:5, 6, 14-18, 23, 27 [Tertullus accuses Paul before the governor:] “For we have found this man to be a pest, stirring up seditions among all the Jews throughout the inhabited earth, and he is a spearhead of the sect of the Nazarenes. He also tried to profane the temple, so we seized him.” 14 [Paul replies:] “I do admit this to you, that according to the way that they call a sect, in this manner I am rendering sacred service to the God of my forefathers, as I believe all the things set forth in the Law and written in the Prophets. And I have hope toward God, which hope these men also look forward to, that there is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous. Because of this I always strive to maintain a clear conscience before God and men. Now after quite a number of years, I arrived to bring gifts of mercy to my nation and to make offerings. While I was caring for these matters, they found me ceremonially cleansed in the temple, but not with a crowd or causing a disturbance. But there were some Jews from the province of Asia . . . ” 23 [Governor Felix decides:] he gave orders to the army officer that the man be kept under arrest but given some freedom, and that his people be allowed to attend to his needs. . . . 27 But when two years had elapsed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus; and because Felix desired to gain favor with the Jews, he left Paul in custody.

25:8-12 But Paul said in defense [now before Governor Festus]: “Neither against the Law of the Jews nor against the temple nor against Caesar have I committed any sin.” Festus, desiring to gain favor with the Jews, said in reply to Paul: “Do you wish to go up to Jerusalem and be judged before me there concerning these things?” But Paul said: “I am standing before the judgment seat of Caesar, where I ought to be judged. I have done no wrong to the Jews, of which you are also becoming well-aware. If I am really a wrongdoer and have committed anything deserving of death, I do not beg off from dying; but if there is no substance to the accusations these men have made against me, no man has the right to hand me over to them as a favor. I appeal to Caesar!” Then Festus, after speaking with the assembly of counselors, replied: “To Caesar you have appealed; to Caesar you will go.”

26:30-27:1 Then the king rose and so did the governor and Bernice and the men seated with them. But as they were leaving, they began saying to one another: “This man is doing nothing deserving of death or prison bonds.” Agrippa then said to Festus: “This man could have been released if he had not appealed to Caesar.” 27 Now as it was decided for us to sail away to Italy, they handed Paul and some other prisoners over to an army officer named Julius, of the unit of Augustus.

28:16, 17, 23, 30, 31 When finally we entered Rome, Paul was permitted to stay by himself with the soldier guarding him. However, three days later he called together the principal men of the Jews. When they had assembled, he said to them: “Men, brothers, although I had done nothing contrary to the people or the customs of our forefathers, I was handed over as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. . . .” 23 They now arranged for a day to meet with him, and they came in even greater numbers to him in his lodging place. And from morning to evening, he explained the matter to them by bearing thorough witness concerning the Kingdom of God, to persuade them about Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets. 30 So he remained there for an entire two years in his own rented house, and he would kindly receive all those who came to him, preaching the Kingdom of God to them and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with the greatest freeness of speech, without hindrance.

Rom 7:12
So the Law in itself is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.

1 Cor 9:20, 21
To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to gain Jews; to those under law I became as under law, though I myself am not under law, in order to gain those under law. To those without law I became as without law, although I am not without law toward God but under law toward Christ, in order to gain those without law.

Heb 13:7
Remember those who are taking the lead among you, who have spoken the word of God to you, and as you contemplate how their conduct turns out, imitate their faith.

John 10.1-14
“Most truly I say to you, the one who does not enter into the sheepfold through the door but climbs in by another way, that one is a thief and a plunderer. But the one who enters through the door is the shepherd of the sheep. The doorkeeper opens to this one, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought all his own out, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they know his voice. They will by no means follow a stranger but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus spoke this comparison to them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So Jesus said again: “Most truly I say to you, I am the door for the sheep. All those who have come in place of me are thieves and plunderers; but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the door; whoever enters through me will be saved, and that one will go in and out and find pasturage. The thief does not come unless it is to steal and slay and destroy. I have come that they may have life and have it in abundance. I am the fine shepherd; the fine shepherd surrenders his life in behalf of the sheep. The hired man, who is not a shepherd and to whom the sheep do not belong, sees the wolf coming and abandons the sheep and flees— and the wolf snatches them and scatters them— because he is a hired man and does not care for the sheep. I am the fine shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me.”

John 10:24-27
Then the Jews surrounded him and began to say to him: “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them: “I told you, and yet you do not believe. The works that I am doing in my Father’s name, these bear witness about me. But you do not believe, because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”

Romans 14, excerpts:
5 One person judges one day as above another; another judges one day the same as all others; let each one be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day observes it to Jehovah. . . 7 Not one of us, in fact, lives with regard to himself only, and no one dies with regard to himself only. For if we live, we live to Jehovah, and if we die, we die to Jehovah. So both if we live and if we die, we belong to Jehovah. . . 10 But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you also look down on your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God . . . 12 So, then, each of us will render an account for himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another any longer, but rather be determined not to put a stumbling block or obstacle before a brother. . . 17 For the kingdom of God does not mean eating and drinking, but means righteousness and peace and joy with holy spirit. For he who slaves for Christ in this way is acceptable to God and has approval with men. So, then, let us pursue the things making for peace and the things that build one another up. . . 22 The faith that you have, have it within yourself before God. Happy is the man who does not judge himself by what he approves.

Prov 3:5-7
Trust in Jehovah with all your heart and do not rely on your own understanding. In all your ways take notice of him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not become wise in your own eyes. Fear Jehovah and turn away from bad.

1 Cor 10:23, 24, 31-33
All things are lawful*, but not all things are advantageous. All things are lawful; but not all things build up. Let each one keep seeking, not his own advantage, but that of the other person. . . 31 Therefore, whether you are eating or drinking or doing anything else, do all things for God’s glory. Keep from becoming causes for stumbling to Jews as well as Greeks and to the congregation of God, just as I am trying to please all people in all things, not seeking my own advantage but that of the many, so that they may be saved.

*within the context of his discussion, of course! (food and drink that some thought God forbade; he is saying such rules are no longer binding, but we should consider other's feelings anyway, even though this may inconvenience us somewhat. Obviously, there are reasonable limits on this. You cannot really please everyone, but it is kind to be mindful of trying.)

Ecclesiastes 3:7
A time to be silent, and a time to speak.

James 1:19, 20
Know this, my beloved brothers: Everyone must be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger, for man's anger does not bring about God's righteousness.

Jas 5:19, 20
My brothers, if anyone among you is misled from the truth and another turns him back, know that whoever turns a sinner back from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

1 Cor 3:4-9, 21-23
For when one says: "I belong to Paul," but another says: "I to Apollos," are you not acting like mere men? What, then, is Apollos? Yes, what is Paul? Ministers through whom you became believers, just as the Lord granted each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God makes [the seed] grow; so, the one who plants is not anything, nor is the one who waters, but God, who makes it grow, is. Now the one who plants and the one who waters are one, but each person will receive his own reward according to his own work. For we are God’s fellow workers. You people are God’s field under cultivation, God’s building. . . 21 So, let no one boast in men; for all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things now here or things to come, all things belong to you; you in turn belong to Christ; Christ, in turn, belongs to God.

Rom 3:4
Let God be found true, even if every man be found a liar, just as it is written: “That you might be proved righteous in your words and might win when you are being judged.”

Isaiah 59:14-16
Justice is driven back, and righteousness stands far off. For truth has stumbled in the public square, and what is upright is unable to enter. The truth has vanished, and anyone who turns away from badness is plundered. Jehovah saw this and was displeased, for there was no justice. He saw that there was no man, and he was astonished that no one interceded. So his own arm brought about salvation, and his own righteousness supported him.

Acts 20:29, 30
I know that after my going away oppressive wolves will enter in among you and will not treat the flock with tenderness, and from among you yourselves men will rise and speak twisted things to draw away the disciples after themselves.

Titus 3:9, 10
But have nothing to do with foolish questionings and genealogies and disputes and fights over the Law, for they are unprofitable and futile. As for a man who promotes a sect, reject him after a first and a second admonition.

2 Peter 2:1
There also came to be false prophets among the people, as there will also be false teachers among you. These will quietly bring in destructive sects and they will even disown the owner who bought them, bringing speedy destruction upon themselves.

Proverbs 27:17
As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens his friend.

Romans 12:3-5
For through the undeserved kindness given to me I tell everyone there among you not to think more of himself than it is necessary to think; but to think so as to have a sound mind, each one as God has given to him a measure of faith. For just as we have in one body many members, but the members do not all have the same function, so we, although many, are one body in union with Christ, but individually we are members belonging to one another.

1 Cor 3:21-23
So let no one boast in men; for all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things now here or things to come, all things belong to you; in turn you belong to Christ; Christ, in turn, belongs to God.
Now, brothers, these things I have applied to myself and Apollos for your good, that through us you may learn the rule: "Do not go beyond the things that are written," so that you may not be puffed up with pride, favoring one against the other.

John 16:12
(Jesus said to his disciples:) “I still have many things to say to you, but you are not able to bear them now.”

1 Corinthians 1:26-29
For you see his calling of you, brothers, that there are not many wise in a fleshly way, not many powerful, not many of noble birth, but God chose the foolish things of the world to put the wise men to shame; and God chose the weak things of the world to put the strong things to shame; and God chose the insignificant things of the world and the things looked down on, the things that are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, so that no one might boast in the sight of God.

1 Peter 1:14-16
As obedient children, stop being molded by the desires you formerly had in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, become holy yourselves in all your conduct, for it is written: “You must be holy, because I am holy.”

Colossians 2:8
Watch out that no one takes you captive with the philosophy and empty deception of human traditions, according to the elementary things of the world and not according to Christ.

2 Tim 4:3, 4
For there will be a period of time when they will not put up with the healthful teaching, but, according to their own desires, they will surround themselves with teachers to tickle their ears. They will turn their ears away from the truth, and give their attention to false stories.

1 Tim 1:3-7
Just as I encouraged you to stay in Ephesus when I was about to go to Macedonia, so I do now, in order for you to command certain ones not to teach different doctrine, nor to pay attention to false stories and to genealogies. Such things end up in nothing useful but merely give rise to speculations rather than providing anything from God in connection with faith. Really, the objective of this instruction is to have love out of a clean heart and out of a good conscience and out of faith without hypocrisy. By deviating from these things, some have been turned aside to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of law, but they do not understand either the things they are saying or the things they insist on so strongly.

Hebrews 13:9
Do not be led astray by various and strange teachings, for it is better for the heart to be strengthened by undeserved kindness than by foods, which do not benefit those occupied with them. [It seems some were advocating odd dietary ideas.]

Gal 5:19-21
Now the works of the flesh are plainly seen, and they are sexual immorality, disgusting filthiness, brazen conduct, idolatry, spiritism, hostility, discord, jealousy, outbursts of anger, arguments, divisions, sects, envy, drunkenness, wild partying, and things like these. I am forewarning you about these things, the same way I already warned you, that those who carry on such things will not inherit God’s Kingdom.

1 Thess 5:12-14
Now we request you, brothers, to have regard for those who are working hard among you and presiding over you in the Lord and admonishing you, and to give them extraordinary consideration in love because of their work. Be peaceable with one another. On the other hand, we urge you, brothers, to warn the disorderly, speak consolingly to those who are depressed, support the weak, be patient toward all.

Titus 1:5-13
I left you in Crete so that you would correct the things that were defective and make appointments of elders in city after city, as I instructed you: if there is any man free from accusation, a husband of one wife, having believing children who are not accused of debauchery or rebelliousness. For as God’s steward, an overseer must be free from accusation, not stubborn and independent, not quick-tempered, not a drunkard, not a bully, not greedy for dishonest gain, but hospitable, a lover of goodness, discreet and clear-thinking, righteous, loyal, self-controlled, holding firmly to the faithful word in his teaching, so that he may be able both to encourage by the teaching that is wholesome and to reprove those who contradict. For there are many disorderly men, profitless talkers, and deceivers, especially those who adhere to the circumcision. It is necessary to prevent them from speaking, because these very men keep on subverting entire households by teaching things they should not, for the sake of dishonest gain. A certain one of them, their own prophet, said: “Cretans are always liars, injurious wild beasts, idle gluttons.” This witness is true. For that reason, keep on severely reproving them, so that they may become healthy in the faith.

Titus 3:10-11
As for a man that promotes a sect, reject him after a first and a second admonition; knowing that such a man has deviated from the way and is sinning and is self-condemned.

2 Peter 2:1-3
However, there also came to be false prophets among the people, as there will also be false teachers among you. These will quietly bring in destructive sects and will even disown the owner who bought them, bringing speedy destruction upon themselves. Furthermore, many will follow their shameful behavior, and because of them the way of the truth will be spoken of abusively. Also, desiring what you have, they will exploit you with deceptive words. But as for them, the judgment from long ago is not moving slowly, and their destruction is not sleeping.

Prov 13:20
The one walking with the wise will become wise, but the one who has dealings with the [morally] stupid will fare badly.

1 Corinthians 15:12 Now if it is being preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how is it that some among you say there is no resurrection of the dead?
(Some apostates were influenced by one ‘school’ of Greek philosophy, the Epicureans, who said ‘this life is all there is, so make the most of it.’ This was, of course, directly at odds with Christian teaching, yet some were drawn into it. After all, “just have fun now!” is appealing to immature selfish minds.)

1 Corinthians 15:32-34 If I have fought like a man with wild beasts at Ephesus, of what good is it to me? If the dead are not to be raised up, “let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we are to die.” Do not be misled! Bad associations spoil useful habits! Come to your senses [sober up, wake up] to righteousness, and do not be sinning, for some have no knowledge of God. I am speaking to move you to shame.

Colossians 2:6-8 Therefore, just as you have accepted Christ Jesus the Lord, go on walking in union with him, being rooted and built up in him and being stabilized in the faith, just as you were taught, and be overflowing with thanksgiving. Watch out that no one takes you captive with the philosophy and empty deception of human traditions, according to the elementary things of the world, and not according to Christ.

Titus 3:9 But have nothing to do with foolish arguments and genealogies and disputes and fights over the Law, for they are unprofitable and futile.

Deuteronomy 16:18-20
You should appoint judges and officers for each tribe in all the cities that Jehovah your God is giving you, and they must judge the people with righteous judgment. You must not pervert justice, show partiality, or accept a bribe, for the bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and distorts the words of the righteous. Justice—justice you should pursue, so that you may keep living and fully take possession of the land that Jehovah your God is giving you.

Matt 11:19
The Son of man did come eating and drinking, still people say, “Look! He is a gluttonous man given to drinking wine, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” All the same, wisdom is proved righteous by its works.

Proverbs 26:17
Like someone grabbing hold of a dog's ears, is the one passing by who becomes furious about a quarrel that is not his.

(In other words, don't let yourself be drawn into a controversy where you haven't heard all the evidence, and don't even know the people involved. You may get mauled. Of course, you can defend someone who is being attacked; but in the case of apostates, taking their side would be helping the attacker. You can almost always tell who is wrong by seeing who is attacking.)

2 Cor 7:10, 11
Sadness in a godly way makes for repentance leading to salvation, leaving no regret; but the sadness of the world produces death. For see what a great earnestness your being saddened in a godly way produced in you, yes, clearing of yourselves, yes, indignation, yes, fear, yes, yearning, yes, zeal, yes, righting of the wrong!

(Worldly sadness means being sorry you got caught and didn't get away with it. Godly sadness means being torn inside at the damage you have done to God's pleasure in you, and to his reputation, and to the honor of his people, and any other ways your behavior hurt others.)

John 7:49
The Pharisees answered: . . . “This crowd who do not know the Law are accursed people.”
(The arrogantly pious wealthy and learned Jews used the term 'am ha·arets' ["people of the land"] as a pejorative, somewhat analogous to the modern American term "redneck" or "hillbilly", for fellow Jews they regarded as beneath them.)

Matthew 9:10-13
Later as he was dining in the house, look! many tax collectors and sinners came and began dining with Jesus and his disciples. But on seeing this, the Pharisees said to his disciples: “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Hearing them, he said: “Healthy people do not need a physician, but those who are ill do. Go, then, and learn what this means: ‘I want mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came to call, not righteous people, but sinners.”

Leviticus 19:33, 34
If a foreigner resides with you in your land, you must not mistreat him. The foreigner who lives alongside you in the land should become to you like a native among you; and you must love him as yourself, for you were foreign residents in the land of Egypt. I am Jehovah your God.

Leviticus 24:22
One judicial decision will apply for you, for the foreigner the same as for the native, because I am Jehovah your God.

Deuteronomy 1:16, 17
At that time I instructed your judges, “When you hear a case between your brothers, you are to judge with righteousness between a man and his brother or a foreign resident. You must not be partial in judgment. You should hear the small one the same as the great one. You must not become intimidated by men, for the judgment belongs to God; and if a case is too difficult for you, you should present it to me, and I will hear it.”

Exodus 12:49
One law will apply for the native and for the foreigner who is residing among you.

Leviticus 17:8, 9
Any man of the house of Israel or any foreigner who is living among you who offers up a burnt offering or a sacrifice and does not bring it to the entrance of the tent of meeting to offer it to Jehovah must be cut off from his people. (=executed.)

Leviticus 18:23-26
A man must not have sexual intercourse with an animal to become unclean by it; nor should a woman offer herself to an animal to have intercourse with it. It is a violation of what is natural. Do not make yourselves unclean by any of these things, for it is by all these things that the nations that I am driving out from before you have made themselves unclean. Therefore, the land is unclean, and I will bring punishment on it for its error, and the land will vomit its inhabitants out. But you yourselves must keep my statutes and my judicial decisions, and you must not do any of these detestable things, whether a native or a foreigner who is residing among you.

Numbers 15:29-30
As for the native-born among the Israelites and the foreigner who is living among you, there should be one law for you in the matter of doing something unintentionally. But the person who does something deliberately, whether he is native-born or a foreign resident, is blaspheming Jehovah and must be cut off from among his people. (=executed.)

Deuteronomy 31:12
Gather the people together, the men, the women, the children, and your foreign resident who is within your cities, in order that they may listen and learn about and fear Jehovah your God and take care to carry out all the words of this Law.

Luke 19:2-10
Now a man named Zacchaeus was there; he was a chief tax collector, and he was rich. Well, he was trying to see who this Jesus was, but he could not see because of the crowd, since he was short. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see him, for he was about to pass that way. Now when Jesus got to the place, he looked up and said to him: “Zacchaeus, hurry and get down, for today I must stay in your house.” With that he hurried down and joyfully welcomed him as a guest. When they saw this, they were all muttering: “He went as a guest to the house of a man who is a sinner.” But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord: “Look! The half of my belongings, Lord, I am giving to the poor, and whatever I extorted from anyone, I am restoring four times over.” At this Jesus said to him: “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

Luke 15:1-3, 11-23
Now all the tax collectors and the sinners kept gathering around him to hear him. And both the Pharisees and the scribes kept muttering: “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Then he told them this illustration, . . . 11 “A man had two sons. And the younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that should come to me.’ So he divided his belongings between them. A few days later, the younger son gathered all his things together and traveled to a distant country and there squandered his property by living a debauched life. When he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred throughout that country, and he fell into need. He even went and attached himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to herd swine. And he longed to be filled with the carob pods that the swine were eating, but no one would give him anything. When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have more than enough bread, while I am dying here from hunger! I will get up and travel to my father and say to him: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Make me as one of your hired men.”’ So he got up and went to his father. While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him and was moved with pity, and he ran and embraced him and tenderly kissed him. Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy of being called your son.’ But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quick! bring out a robe, the best one, and clothe him with it, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. Also bring the fattened calf, slaughter it, and let us eat and celebrate.’”

James 4:4
Do you not know that the friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wants to be a friend of the world is making himself an enemy of God.

Proverbs 29:1
A man who remains stubborn despite repeated reproof will be broken suddenly and with no recovery.

1 Peter 4:3-5
For the time that has passed by is enough for you to have done the will of the nations, when you carried on in acts of loose conduct, unrestrained passion, overdrinking, wild parties, drinking competitions, and lawless idolatries. They are puzzled because you do not continue running with them in the same decadent course of debauchery, so they speak abusively of you. But these people will render an account to the one who is ready to judge those living and those dead.

Psalms 101:3-7
I will not set anything worthless before my eyes.
I hate the deeds of those who deviate from what is right; I will have nothing to do with them.
A crooked heart is far from me; I will not accept what is bad.
Anyone slandering his neighbor in secret, I will silence.
Anyone with haughty eyes and an arrogant heart, I will not tolerate.
I will look to the faithful ones of the earth, so that they may dwell with me.
The one walking in blamelessness will minister to me.
No deceitful person will dwell in my house, and no liar will stand in my presence.

Ezekiel 33:14-16
When I say to the wicked one: “You will surely die,” and he turns away from his sin and does what is just and righteous, and the wicked one returns what was taken in pledge and pays back what was taken by robbery, and he walks in the statutes of life by not doing what is wrong, he will surely keep living. He will not die. None of the sins he committed will be held against him. As he continues doing what is just and righteous, he will surely keep living.

Exodus 22:22-24
You must not afflict any widow or fatherless child. If you afflict him at all, so that he cries out to me, I shall unfailingly hear his outcry; and my anger will blaze, and I will surely kill you with the sword, and your wives must become widows and your children fatherless.

Psalm 27:10
Even if my own father and my own mother were to abandon me,
Jehovah himself would take me in.

Psalms 10:13, 14, 17, 18
Why has the wicked one disrespected God?
He says in his heart: “You will not hold me accountable.”
But you do see the trouble and distress. You see it and take matters in hand.
To you the unfortunate victim turns; You are the helper for the fatherless child.
17 You will hear the request of the meek, O Jehovah.
You will make their hearts firm and pay close attention to them.
You will render justice to the fatherless and to those who are crushed,
So that mortal man of the earth may no longer make them afraid.

Psalm 68:5
A father of the fatherless and
a protective judge for widows
Is God in his holy dwelling.

Heb 12:11-13
True, no discipline seems for the present to be joyous, but painful; yet afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore strengthen the hands that hang down and the feeble knees, and keep making straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather may be healed.

Galatians 6:4
Let each one examine his own actions, and then he will have cause for joy over himself alone, rather than in comparison with the other person.

John 3:16-21, 36
For God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life. For God did not send his Son into the world for him to judge the world, but for the world to be saved through him. Anyone who exercises faith in him is not to be judged. The one who does not exercise faith has been judged already, because he has not exercised faith in the name of the only-begotten Son of God. Now this is the basis for judgment, that the light has come into the world but men have loved the darkness rather than the light, for their works were wicked. For whoever practices vile things hates the light and does not come to the light, so that his works may not be reproved. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that his works may be seen as having been done in harmony with God. . . 36 The one who exercises faith in the Son has everlasting life; anyone who disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him.

In other words, God's forgiveness is conditional on our responding to his mercy through his Son. God requires us to forgive those who sin against us, just as He forgives us; he does not require that we do so more liberally than He does. He is forbearing, patient, even toward the unrepentant, that is, he gives them time to realize where they are and what they should do, and we should do so as well; but that is not the same as forgiving them.

1 Pet 3:1-4
In the same way, you wives, be in subjection to your husbands, so that if any are not obedient to the word, they may be won without a word through the conduct of their wives, because of having been eyewitnesses of your chaste conduct together with deep respect. Do not let your adornment be external— the braiding of hair and the wearing of gold ornaments or fine clothing— but let it be the secret person of the heart in the incorruptible adornment of the quiet and mild spirit, which is of great value in the eyes of God.

Although the verse speaks to the faithful wife, a faithful husband with an unbelieving or wayward wife can apply the same principle of being a good example in moving her to reconsider the error of her ways. Unfortunately, he may have contributed to the original problem by failing to be a loving husband, so this could call for a serious reexamination of his own faults. The same can be said of a wife, if she by neglecting the relationship has contributed to her husband's fall.
And of course, Paul was not forbidding a wife from trying to have attractive hair and clothing, just to remember those things are superficial and cannot make up for deficiency within oneself. In the same way a handsome well dressed man can be a rat.

Hebrews 8:9
“. . . They did not remain in my covenant, so I stopped caring for them,” says Jehovah.

2 Thessalonians 3:14, 15
If anyone is not obedient to our word through this letter, keep this one marked, stop associating with him, that he may become ashamed. And yet do not be considering him as an enemy, but continue admonishing him as a brother.

In context, this was about persons who were lazy moochers, but it reasonably applies to many bad habits and attitudes that put the good name of the congregation in a poor light. For example, entertainment (such as questionable games and violent movies) or grooming (such as extreme hairstyle or revealing clothing) or attitude (such as habitually complaining and criticizing)— things incompatible with Christian values of decency, kindness, modesty, and so on. Such deviation requires counsel; if persistent, it calls for marking and shaming. And if it is flaunted, advocated, or becomes slanderous, it can end in removal of fellowship.

Review for Chapter 12 part 2

Why did Peter have to be corrected?

Why did the governing body give Paul flawed advice?

Why did Paul accept it?

How do elders differ from clergymen?

When leaders fail, should we follow?

Why are apostates not to be greeted?

How must unrepentant wrongdoers be disciplined?

How may repentant ex-Christians be shown mercy?

Restore Scripture View

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His letter to the Galatians had been written about six years earlier, that to the Romans perhaps two years earlier. At Galatians 2:15-3:3 and 4:9-11 he strongly denounces those who clung to the Law as a requirement for salvation. In Romans, see 3:31 (the context is another strong argument on this same subject) and 13:8-10. Of course, Paul did not mean that Christ abolished all law; rather, he taught that Christ ended the covenant that bound the Jews to the specific code of Law agreed to at the mountain in Sinai.

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Jehovah's Witnesses are not "Watchtower zombies" as some opposers accuse, although admittedly you can find some who take the easy way and let others do all the thinking for them. (That is actually a very common human failing.) But loyalty does not require us to check our brains at the door; true Christianity is not a cult. The Bible likens the congregation to a flock of sheep, but the analogy should not be taken too far. We should be like sheep in being mild-mannered and cooperative, but not to the extent of trusting men blindly. It is false religion that demands that of its flocks. Shepherds with Christ's spirit respect the congregation's love of God, so if the ‘sheep’ are showing distress, they listen and humbly reconsider the lead they are giving, rather than demand the sheep must never question them. (Heb 13:7, John 10.1-14) Of course, no matter how excellent the leadership, there will at times be rebels, as shown by Eden and by Judas. (see also John 10:24-27.)

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Some misapply Paul's comment “Do not go beyond the things that are written” (1 Corinthians 4:6) as meaning, "if it's in writing, it must not be questioned, and nothing at all can ever be added to it." That is not what Paul meant. Paul himself wrote many things after saying that, that added to and modified Christian understanding; if his comment were enforced as a strict rule, his later writings would have had to be rejected. He meant that nothing should be improperly added, anything that violates clearly inspired truth. The context of the comment was the development of partisan divisions in the Corinthian congregation, some following one person and others following another. (1 Corinthians 3:21-23) Anyone advocating such sectarianism would be "going beyond what is written," that is, God's clear desire that they be "united in the same mind and in the same line of thought." (1 Corinthians 1:10) Of course it should go without saying that a church united in error still does not please God. So unity is not more important than truth! But in advocating for truth, we should never try to draw off followers after ourselves. Were the core organization thoroughly corrupt, then breakaway would be our only conscientious choice, as happened in the Protestant Reformation. They tried internal reform of the Catholic Church, but resistance was fierce and violent, so they had to form independent congregations. Their reforms were incomplete improvements, but they did apparently serve God's interests, laying the foundations of free societies in which true Christianity can work. But Jehovah's organization today is not at all like the Catholic Church, and such extreme measures are unnecessary.

The original Greek text said "saying for him to be rejoicing." The customary greeting in those days was "May you have peace." ("Shalom") This differs from a typical modern greeting in Western society, which may be nothing more than an acknowledgement of a person's presence. The point is, we should remember this person is an enemy desiring to subvert us and not give them any reason to think we would accept them as a friend or tolerate their viewpoint as worthy of respect.

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Yes, there are rare times the older men judge improperly, but there is an appeal process available; an earnest innocent one would use it rather than fly into a rage at the congregation. And if even that appeal were to return an unfair judgment, then the matter would go to a yet higher Court. Do we sit on that jury? If we feel unjustly condemned, the best we can do is petition that Judge to act. If a wrongly convicted one leaves the matter in His hands, he will find himself no greater Defender. When Jesus was misjudged, he "did not insult in return," nor threaten those who unjustly condemned him, but "he entrusted himself to the One who judges righteously." He is our example. —1 Peter 2:23.

Please note that no one should be branded an apostate for having a quietly held difference of viewpoint over minor matters, things not fundamental to Christian faithfulness. Although unity and cooperation are important, the Christian congregation is not a totalitarian state or a cult that crushes individuality. In Romans 14, Paul was discussing differences of opinion about food and special days, but the principle applies in other areas, within reason.

If indeed your mate is set on subverting your faith, you may find it necessary to put some distance between you. This may cool their ardor for that cause; if so, you may be able to resume marital cohabitation. "Love hopes all things," and you may yet love your spiritually wayward mate. But love is not weak, it does not "rejoice over wickedness," that is, give it (the wickedness itself) any respect. (Quotes are from 1 Cor 13:6, 7.)

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If the wrongdoer left a path of destruction behind, such as by stealing or defrauding, those so wronged can rightly expect some reasonably strong effort at restitution as proof of repentance. The elders must not ignore victims in judging genuineness of repentance. God does not require us to undo all the damage we have done before He forgives us; that much is often impossible. Even so, anyone who seeks to have the mind of Christ cannot fail to reach out to comfort those who are injured, and even the more so if they in fact had inflicted that injury! Anything less would be proof that that one does not know God. Such efforts at repair of damage done, in fact, should precede any appeal for restoration of fellowship. —see Ezekiel 33:14-16.

Although you cannot read the mind of God, you certainly can read what he says he will forgive and the conditions he requires for it: see John 3:16-21, 36.

Returning to the marital bed is understood to be acceptance of the marriage continuing in force before God. But if you know your mate has continued to bed others, you would then be saying you accept sharing your bed with them. A Christian cannot knowingly do that. The principle of 1 Corinthians 6:15-20 applies:
"Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I, then, take the members of the Christ away and join them to a prostitute? By no means! Do you not know that anyone who is joined to a prostitute is one body with her? For 'the two,' says he, 'will be one flesh.' But whoever is joined to the Lord is one with him in spirit. Flee from sexual immorality! Every other sin that a man may commit is outside his body, but whoever practices sexual immorality is sinning against his own body. Do you not know that your body is the temple of the holy spirit within you, which you have from God? Also, you do not belong to yourselves, for you were bought with a price. By all means, glorify God in your body."
See also Hebrews 13:4: "Let marriage be honorable among all, and let the marriage bed be without defilement, for God will judge sexually immoral people and adulterers." To be a willing partner in a marriage bed defiled by continued infidelity is not acceptable to God. Even if you cannot move out, you would not honor the infidelity by ignoring it.

If you have extended hopeful trust by resuming sexual relations and then find that they have betrayed you again, do you have to go all the way through another judicial procedure before the congregation to prove their return to sin? If they are no longer part of the congregation, no. If you cannot extend any more patience, especially if you believe this behavior will go on, you can submit a sworn statement, bolstered with evidence if you can, and be free to leave again. As an honest Christian, you should do this only with substantial cause, not on suspicion alone. But you do not need proof that would convince a hardened skeptic either.

In some countries leaving can be perilous; some societies approve of a man murdering his wife if she defies him in any way. So taking a stand may require extraordinary courage and faith, which Jehovah will surely support.

These are principles you have to weigh for yourself. The congregation is not authorized to tell you to stay or to leave, although it has to act thereafter on what it believes is right. It will assume you are conscientious unless sound evidence proves otherwise.