REMOVING SOMEONE FROM THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE CHURCH
To stop a saint from coming to the Lord’s table should not be done unless it is a case related to immorality, to idol worship, or to the heresy concerning the Lord’s Person. Suppose a person does not believe that the Lord is the Son of God. Neither does he believe that Jesus is God. We should not allow such a person to come to the Lord’s table. One may ask why we do not excommunicate an immoral person and only stop him from coming to the Lord’s table. We must realize that the matter of so-called excommunication involves families and people’s name in society. To remove someone from the fellowship of the church is a great matter, so we should not do this too quickly but, rather, carefully. Also, we want to give people a time for repentance.
For example, there may be a case in a locality of a person who commits fornication. It is not wise to immediately cut this one off from the fellowship of the church. They should, however, be told to stop coming to the Lord’s table because of their immorality. We should also warn them to repent and to clear up the matter so that we can cover the matter in love to rescue the involved persons and families. On the one hand, we would not let them come to the Lord’s table. On the other hand, we would cover them which means to protect them. We protect them by giving them a chance to repent and clear up the situation. Eventually, if they would still continue to live in that sin and if there were no indication or sign that they would leave that sin and repent to give up their immorality, this would force the church to cut off the fellowship with them.
Again, to remove a person from the fellowship of the church should not be carried out in a fast way. We must consider the possible damages which can be done by doing something of this nature in a fast and careless way. We saw things in the past that happened outside of us in other Christian groups. This kind of thing caused the breaking up of families and even suicide in some cases. We have to be careful about these things. Even the law does not give the liberty to the church pastor to expose people’s sin in this way because they must take care of their family.
For example, if a young wife were to commit fornication with another man and if this were exposed and made known to her husband and relatives, this would cause a great turmoil. To deal with this matter needs much wisdom. As long as a person expresses repentance and you cannot say he has not really repented, you must take him. If he goes back to the same sin after you have taken him, you must stop him again. Then after a certain time, he may come back to express his repentance and you must take him again. After a while, however, he may go back to his old sin and you must stop him again. We must consider all this and not do anything hastily.
We always must practice anything that concerns the church life in love. We receive people in love. Even if we put out people when it is necessary, we do this also in love. For example, we may not be sure whether a certain new one among us is saved or not. We have to keep the divine principle that only the saved ones can join the church and participate in the Lord’s table. Here is a person, however, whom we cannot say is definitely saved. It is hard to say, either, that he is not saved. In a case like this, we must practice the principle in love. If we do not have the assurance that he is not saved, we should not reject him. We must say, “Lord, I am not too clear. According to Your loving heart, I do not have the boldness to reject this one. Lord, I take him under Your love. If I am wrong, Your blood cleanses me. Have mercy upon this person.” According to our experiences in the past, most of these cases are positive and the Lord honors this. If we are so clear that a person is not saved, we should deliberately yet nicely tell him that he had better wait to partake of the Lord’s table. We would still encourage him to come to the meetings and to listen to the truth to hear the gospel. We should tell him to wait, yet we should still encourage him to keep coming.
If you do not have the assurance and clarity that the removing of someone from the fellowship will not damage any party, do not carry it out in an exposing way. This is also in love. This does not mean that we overlook these immoralities. Rather, we are wholly for the Lord and we want to keep the church free from any immorality. We also want to keep the Lord’s table from being contaminated with any immoral person. To practice this, however, we must consider people’s humanity and their involvement in society. There are husbands, children, wives, parents, relatives, and in-laws to consider. This is why we must be so careful.
Of course, if a person is not really immoral, we should not put him out. Once we put him out, this putting out may put a mark upon him that he really is immoral. Then the society will believe him to be an immoral person. This is something quite serious. Sometimes a person may rebel against the church and sue the church because you damaged his name. Do not think this could not happen. We must be careful even to protect the church legally.
We must carry out everything we do in love. To love is always right. However, if you put out people to keep your position and rank as an elder, this is altogether not in love. You are just putting out people as a cloak of protecting your position and your rank. This is wrong. We must practice the church life according to justice in love. This is exactly what the Lord does. Do not think that to require a public repentance is so right because any sin is contagious. It is always better to cover sin. This does not mean that the church is immoral, unclean, or unholy in covering sinful things.
(Elders' Training, Book 04: Other Crucial Matters Concerning the Practice of the Lord's Recovery, Chapter 6, by Witness Lee)