A QUESTION OF FELLOWSHIP
Where the Messianic Community
Begins & Ends
Q.: One of the passages that gives many Christians a lot of problems is in John's Second Epistle that talks about disfellowshipment:
Just how are Christians to interpret this passage?
"Anyone who does not stay with the teaching of Christ, but goes beyond it, does not have God. Whoever does stay with the teaching has both the Father and the Son. So then, if someone comes to you who does not bring this teaching, do not welcome him in your homes; do not even say, 'Peace be with you.' For anyone who wishes him peace becomes his partner in the evil things that he does" (2 John 1:9-11, GNB).
A.: I agree with you, this is a very difficult passage to understand for the modern Christian. And as perhaps you already know, it is used by one group to totally cut off former members of their group who no longer sustain their doctrines and practices. They totally ignore ex-members even if they are in their own homes, with terrible consequences for their family life.
The first thing we have to realise is that the letters of John were written at a specific time and in a specific context. The early Messianic Community (Church) was burdened by a constant influx of pagan ideas that sought to blend in with Christian/Messianic doctrine and practice, a problem that is particularøy accute in our own time. The specific problem which prompted John to write not only his three letters but his Gospel also was gnosticism. The main heresy of gnosticism is identified by John himself in his first letter. He writes:
"Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from Elohim (God), because many false nevi'im (prophets) have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognise the Ruach Elohim (Spirit of God): Every spirit that acknowledges that Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) has come in the flesh is from Elohim (God), but every spirit that does not acknowledge Yah'shua (Jesus) is not from Elohim (God). This is the spirit of the Anti-Messiah (Antichrist), which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world" (1 John 4:1-4, NIV; also 2 John 1:7-8).
Now even this passage you have got to be careful with for it too has been misinterpreted. It is not saying, as some Christians/Messianics maintain, that if you do not accept Yah'shua or Jesus you are going to hell. The issue here is whether or not you accept that Yah'shua (Jesus) came in the flesh. Now the Gnostics taught that Yah'shua (Jesus) was not a flesh-and-blood person but a phantom, or an illusion. They said that in effect Yah'shua (Jesus) was just a spiritual presence and His 'physical presence' was just a mirage. Moreover, they had once been true Christians/Messianics (at least the first Gnostics) who taught, like Messianic Evangelicals, that Yah'shua (Jesus) was as physical as you or I.
The central doctrine of the Christian/Messianic emunah (faith) is that Elohim (God) entered flesh as man in the form of Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ), died for our sins, and was physically resurrected. This is what the Gnostics denied -- they rejected the whole system of blood atonement but instead taught a totally different doctrine of salvation, namely that we are saved by our personal knowledge without any need for atoning blood.
This is the spirit of the antichrist -- a spirit which deliberately perverts the emet (truth) to make the atoning work of Christ of no significance. But be careful. If you ask a non-believer if he accepts the blood of Messiah and he says no, does that make him an antichrist? Well, in a way, yes it does, because that is the heart of Messiah -- indeed, anyone who rejects the message of Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) is a kind of "anti-christ" because he is 'against Christ.' But there is more than one way of being 'against Christ' -- there is the person who is passively against Him and the person who is actively waging war against Him. And between these two poles is a whole spectrum of 'anti-Christness'.
In the popular mind, and in particular the 'popular Christian mind', anything 'antichrist' is 'satan', 'demon', and the worst the human mind can think of. This is in part because of all the scare theology generated by certain fundamentalists who have tried to frighten people into heaven by painting the worst possible picture of hell they can.
Now there was a time when I wasn't a believer. I did not accept Christ/Messiah as my Saviour/Deliverer. To me the idea of someone spilling his blood to save me from my sins was utterly meaningless, even a little silly. But I was ignorant. I had never been taught the Besorah (Gospel) in a spirit in which I could spiritually respond with both mind and heart. Was I an 'antichrist'? In its simplest definition, yes, but in the sense that John talks about, certainly not. For in my heart I always believed Him for I believed all the principles of the Christian/Messianic emunah (faith). My 'antichristness' was, in truth, 'anti-churchness' because I was revolted by the spirit in the churches I was brought up in.
So we must be careful. I well remember when I was in Newcastle, England once hearing a so-called Christian reviling an atheist for his unbelief and threatening him with hell if he didn't repent. I shuddered inside and grieved that the love of Messiah was being so terribly abused. And unfortunately far too many people are confronted with this kind of so-called 'Christianity'. There was probably a case for calling this Christian an 'antichrist' for he manifested a singular lack of ahavah/agapé (selfless love). Oh, to be sure, he loved in his own way, but more out of zeal than out of ahavah (love). He was probably totally mixed up inside because of the twisted doctrine that he had been taught. It's a pity he hadn't grasped the overall message of the Johannine epistles which really do talk about the true spirit of ahavah (love).
So who is the apostle castigating in 2 John? Is it all unbelievers? No, in the light of both 1 John and 2 John, the class of person he is castigating is:
Such a person has denied the revelation of the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) -- he has denied what he absolutely knew, and thereby crucified Messiah (Christ) in his heart and put Him to open shame. Paul said:
- (1) The Christian/Messianic who knew, by the revelation of Elohim (God), that Yah'shua (Jesus) truly came in the flesh and died for our sins, who then
- (2) Denied this emet (truth), embraced the Gnostic doctrine and taught that the blood of Yah'shua (Jesus) does not save because there never was any blood, and that only knowledge is sufficient to bring us into right relationship with Elohim (God).
Such a person had lost his salvation and was truly bound for hell; and such a person was leading others to lose their salvation also.
"It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit), who have tasted the goodness of the Davar Elohim (Word of God) and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of Elohim (God) all over again and subjecting Him to public disgrace" (Heb.6:4-6, NIV).
Q.: So really this passage is only concerned with gnostics and others who deny the incarnation of Christ?
A.: Yes. And it's worth noting that there are many 'new gnostics' in the world today, specifically, the occultists who whilst accepting that Yah'shua (Jesus) was a human being in the flesh, deny that He was physically resurrected but is today just a 'spirit'. These self-same occultists deny the atonement but claim that anybody -- you and I included -- can find our own salvation without Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) as a mediator simply by realising our own internal 'christhood'. In short, they teach that we can all become just like Messiah (Christ) in this life by walking a parallel course. Needless to say most occultists deny the virgin birth or modify it in such a way as to not make Yah'shua's (Jesus') birth unique. This is a Hindu doctrine which is the core of the New Age Movement which has swept into the West and has largely supplemented Christianity as the dominant religion.
Q.: So if a born-again Christian departs from the faith and embraces a New Age doctrine of Christ, does that mean he has denied the Holy Spirit and lost his salvation for ever?
A.: You must be careful not to set yourself up as a judge as Elohim (God) is Judge. There are many people who call themselves 'born-again Christians'. But what is a 'born-again Christian'? Many who use that label are definitely not Christians in the true sense of the word. They may be theological Christians but not necessarily moral Christians.
Q.: What's the difference?
A.: There are many people who accept the doctrines of the Christian faith -- at least, the fundamental ones as stated, for example, in the Apostles' Creed -- but who do not have ahavah (love) in their heart. They are theological or mental converts but not spiritual converts inasmuch as their hearts have not been born anew in the ahavah (love) of Elohim (God). This, also, is the message of the epistles of John. I thank Yah we have these letters in the Bible for they add a dimension of the Besorah (Gospel) that would not otherwise be emphasised enough.
Q.: So, if I can summarise -- a person only becomes an antichrist if he comes to a sure knowledge that Yah'shua (Jesus) is the Christ, the Son of Elohim (God), born of the Virgin Mary, the incarnate Elohim (God), who died for our sins and was physically resurrected, and then turns around and deny that testimony.
A.: ...and then persecutes the work of Elohim (God). And these are the persons, who are spreading false doctrine to destroy other similar souls, whom Christians/Messianics are to disfellowship completely, as John says in his second letter. These are also called sons of perdition (2 Pet.3:7).
Q.: Does this mean that there are different degrees of fellowshipment?
A.: Both subconsciously and consciously that is always true for we all fellowship with people according to what we have, or don't have, in common with them, whether we like them or not, and so on. But this is the way of the carnal man. The believer, who has the new life in Messiah, should have a totally different approach to fellowship. Instead on fellowshipping on the basis of personal likes or dislikes, we are supposed to fellowship on the basis of the rules that Yahweh has laid down in His Davar (Word).
The basis of all true fellowship, in the Christian/Messianic sense, is ahavah (love). Like Christ, we are to love all men and women everywhere, irrespective of whether they are 'likeable' or not. This is one of the most difficult mitzvot (commandments) because some people are utterly revolting to us because of their evil deeds. Yet we are to see beyond the evil deeds -- the sins of people -- and into their true self, the spirit son or daughter of Elohim (God) that they truly are as created beings.
Q.: As Augustine taught?
A.: Right -- we are to love all sinners but hate all sin.
Q.: Could you explain what this love is; we've talked about it many times before but there always seems to be confusion as to what this 'love' is.
A.: Yes, we must. And first of all we must define love from Elohim's (God's) point-of-view and not man's. There are many well-meaning but misguided Christians/Messianics who talk of 'love' without really knowing what they are saying. To begin with, loving a person is accepting them as a fellow human-being and not as some product with a particular label on.
Q.: A product with a label?
A.: Yes. Everyone is a product of their circumstances and because of that we have a tendency to label them. She's a 'lesbian', he's a 'thief', she's a 'gossipper', he's an 'adulterer', and so on as though that's all these people ever did. The first thing we must mentally do is redefine people by looking at them as Messiah would. If we wanted to we could put demeaning labels on everyone. And if we were really fanatical we could cover each other with labels because we're all well endowed with faults, great and small.
Everyone is a son and daughter of Elohim (God) with a problem-set to be solved. We enter this life with lots of problems to solve. We are born with both gifts and limitations to teach us to overcome problems and be a blessing to others. We are here, usually under unfavourable circumstances (though we don't always see that they are) to learn how to become more selfless and loving.
We don't know everyone's background -- we don't even fully understand ourselves as we struggle to make sense of life. And we do things we both know to be wrong and don't know to be wrong. This discernment between right and wrong comes either through an inbuilt conscience (called the Light of Messiah) or through the Davar Elohim (Word of God - Bible). Our conscience is in flux -- it changes -- according to the way we respond to choices we make in life. If we make wrong choices and knowingly persist in them, then our conscience becomes dimmed and we can no longer tell between good and bad so well. A hardened criminal, because he has committed crime for so long, soon loses his conscience. His heart deceives him. Well did Yahweh say through Jeremiah that the heart is "desperately wicked" (Jer.17:9, AV)
Q.: If the conscience becomes distorted, how can it be restored?
A.: By the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit). Elohim (God) is constantly prodding us to change our wrong ways, leading us into situations where we are forced to make further choices. It may be the goodness and lovingness of someone else that causes us to reform -- we are ashamed for what we are and desire to have the happiness of that good person. It may be through a preacher who, because he is filled with the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) and the Davar Elohim (Word of God), brings us to repentance (1 Cor.1:21). Or it maybe through reading the Scriptures where the Davar Elohim (Word of God) confronts us and challenges us to change our ways through repentance.
Q.: So how, if our hearts are cold, do we find love?
A.: Well, why don't we let John tell us:
Yah'shua (Jesus) said Himself:
"And this is love: that we walk in obedience to His mitzvot (commandments). As you have heard from the beginning, His mitzvah (commandment) is that you walk in ahavah (love)" (2 John 1:6).
To be walking in the ahavah (unconditional love) of Elohim (God) is to obey His mitzvot (commandments) and this, as John says in his first letter, leads to many blessings such as assurance (1 John 4:13), to give but one example. You cannot know what love is unless you are walking in it. And you cannot walk in it unless you are obeying Yahweh's mitzvot (commandments).
"If you love me, keep My mitzvot (commandments)" (John 14:15, NKJB).
Q.: So love isn't simply being kind to people?
A.: To love someone is to do what is right. To love someone is to bring them to a fullness of simcha (joy) through the Besorah (Gospel) of Messiah. There is only one way to love in the fullest sense of the word. You can't love others by indulging them. Ahavah (love) is taking care of people's welfare by seeing what the long-term needs are. That means Christians/Messianic must be prophetic. They must be willing to dish out short-term pain so that long-term happiness can be obtained.
Let me explain what I mean. I recently had pneumonia. I was realy very ill and the doctor gave me an antibiotic that made me even sicker. I really came close to quitting the medicine because in the short-term I felt so bad. But I decided to exercise faith in the doctor and endured the hardship. In the end I got better, but if I had stopped taking the pills I would almost certainly still have pneumonia now.
The mitzvot (commandments) that Elohim (God) gives us are sometimes very unpallitable and our natural man rebells against them. As any alcoholic will tell you, stopping drinking alcohol is usually worse than the after-effects being drunk. The same with those on drugs. Breaking the hold of sin is usually painful and there are rarely pain-free short-cuts around our vices.
To obtain eternal chayim (life) and enjoy it you must work for it. That doesn't mean you have to earn your salvation from Yahweh by doing lots of good deeds. Salvation is free. But you have to work to receive that salvation -- you, your spirit-self, must fight with your lower, carnal self to take that salvation on board.
Now unfortunately not all Christian churches/Messianic assamblies do this. They have a perverse philosophy which denies the problem altogether and instead tries to mentally reprogram the believer into believing that the problem isn't there. It's a kind of brainwashing. This sort of philosophy denies that we must struggle to overcome. There's is a 'pie in the sky' doctrine which leads one to believe that Elohim (God) is some kind of sugar-daddy who showers blessings on people willy-nilly. But that's not the way Elohim (God) works. It isn't the Besorah (Gospel) at all. True love is obedience to the mitzvot (commandments).
Q.: Yet Elohim (God) breaks His fellowship with us when we sin, doesn't He?
A.: If you are in a state of depression, if you feel Elohim (God) is far away, it is because you have broken fellowship with Elohim (God). Sin cannot dwell in His presence. He has never countenanced deliberate rebellion. If you do not feel the presence of Elohim (God) then you have sinned against His mitzvot (commandments) in some way, unless you are under a special test. You will remember that the Father withdrew from Messiah on the Cross so that Yah'shua (Jesus) could bear the sins of the world unaided. Was that unloving? Was Yahweh cruel and uncaring to break fellowship with Yah'shua (Jesus) at such a critical moment? Yah'shua (Jesus) cried out with the anguish of His soul:
Does any Christian believe that what Yahweh did was wrong? I hope not!
"Eli (my God), Eli (my God), why hast Thou forsaken me?" (Matt.27:46, AV).
Our greatest periods of growth come when we are in opposition and alone. We can have opposition whether through deliberate disobedience or because it is a part of the divine plan. Often we don't know which is which until later.
Q.: So under what specific circumstances goes God 'disfellowship' us?
A.: When we know the emet (truth) and refuse to make teshuvah (repent). He won't tolerate deliberate rebellion. Mind you, He gives us thousands of chances, usually so that we can come to understanding. But when the ignorance is gone, we are without excuse. Would you accept that that is the loving thing to do?
Q.: I suppose it must be since the long term goal of happiness is the result.
A.: I agree with you. The Bible frequently talks of Elohim (God) chastising us for our own good, and to be thankful for that. Yah'shua (Jesus) was constantly rebuking people that per chance they might repent. But see what He does when a soul repents -- He forgives, and He forgives abundantly, because of the heart-love that He has.
Q.: What do you mean by 'heart-love'?
A.: Heart-love is the warmth -- the tender feelings we feel for others. Elohim (God) feels that for us all the time, even the worst sinners, even (and especially) when He is chastising them and putting them through difficult trials. I can tell you that His heart was breaking apart when He abandoned Yah'shua (Jesus) on the Cross -- His whole Being wished to bear Him up, but he could not circumvent the covenants that Yah'shua (Jesus) had entered into to take responsibility for the atonement. Likewise He cannot circumvent the covenants we make. We must learn to be true to them even when the going gets rough.
Q.: Like in a marriage covenant?
A.: Yes. Husbands and wives who truly love each other don't abandon their marriage every time a problem appears. They try to work it out. Likewise, if a child is driving you mad, you don't disavow your fatherhood or motherhood, do you? You may punish them -- and that will hurt you more than them, usually, if you have a tender heart! I hate punishing my children -- it breaks my heart sometimes because my heart-love wants to do the opposite. But my moral will tells me that the short-term discomfort is better for them if in the long term they learn to grow in grace. Spoiling a child for short-term peace only spells long-term problems for which they will not thank you later.
Q.: I'd like to steer this discussion around back to fellowshipment and disfellowshipment in the Body of Christ. When, and when do we not, disfellowship someone?
A.: You disfellowship someone if they are going to profit by the disfellowshipment in the same way that Elohim (God) 'disfellowships' us when we deliberately rebell against him. Let's take some specific examples given by the apostle Paul. He wrote to the Corinthians:
Q.: I think that pretty well sums it up...
A.: Yes, Paul is very clear. We are not to go judging those outside the Household of Faith but gently try to lead them to Christ.
"I wrote to you in my previous letter not to associate closely and habitually with unchaste (impure/sexually immoral) people; not meaning of course that you must altogether shun the immoral people of this world, or the greedy graspers and cheats and thieves or idolaters, since otherwise you would need to get out of the world and human society altogether! But now I write to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of Christian/Messianic brother, if he is known to be guilty of immorality or greed, or is an idolater -- that is, whose soul is devoted to any object that usurps the place of Elohim (God) -- or is a person with a foul tongue (railing, abusing, reviling, slandering), or is a drunkard, or a swindler or a robber. No, you must so much as eat with such a person. What business of mine is it and what right have I to judge outsiders? Is it not those inside the messianic community (church) upon whom you are to pass disciplinary judgment -- passing censuring sentence on them as the facts require? Elohim (God) alone sits in judgment on those who are outside. Drive out that wicked one from among you -- expell him from your assembly (church)" (1 Cor.5:9-13, Amplified Bible).
Q.: What is the 'Household of Faith'? Is it all Christian churches/Messianic assemblies?
A.: Everyone who claims to be a Christian/Messianic or follower of Christ/Messiah must expect to be judged by other believers if they are immoral. I can't, of course, go and excommunicate a thief from the Lutheran Church -- that's the responsibility of the Lutheran Church. But if I know there is a thief in the Lutheran Church, as a Christian/Messianic I have the moral responsbility to call that man to repentance either through his pastor or directly to him depending on the circumstances.
There are some who erroneously teach that we are not to "judge" others but just "love" them, whatever that means. Paul proves them wrong. To love them we must judge them not only for the sake of their own souls but for the sake of the Body of Messiah whom they will infect with their immorality.
To expell, excommunicate, or disfellowship means essentially the same thing. It means to have no communiocation with such a person unless that person wishes to repent. Even if Paul hadn't mentioned it to the Corinthians I hope such a proposition would have been spiritual common sense. If there is a man in the congregation who claims to be a Christian/Messianic who is harrassing married men's wives -- trying to commit adultery with them -- then he is disturbing the peace of that congregation. If my wife were being harrassed I would want that man disciplined quickly. Would you break bread with someone who was a child-molester in the assembly (church)? Yah forbid! How should you love such a person? Just let him carry on unabated? Put your arms around him and tell him you love him? Certainly not! That isn't ahavah (Covenant-love)! It's the opposite. Instead you should warn him in the power of the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) to desist or get out. If Yahweh has broken fellowship with such a person, should not also the Body of Messiah?
Now when a man or woman is disfellowshipped it should never be done out of spite, out of a sense of revenge or hatred. That is not Christian/Messianic disfellowshipment. To disfellowship someone with ahavah (love) is to tell them that they are loved as persons but what they are doing is revolting and unacceptable and that their immoral behaviour cannot be tolerated at the Table of Yahweh. They should be made to feel that they are welcome to return but only after they have acknowledged their sin and genuinely repented, making restitution where possible.
Q.: What about those who acknowedge their sin but can't seem to overcome however hard they try?
A.: That is a totally different situation because such a man is in a spirit of repentance -- he is willing to change but doesn't know how. Such a man can be administered to -- the congregation can pray for him and do all in their power to help him overcome. Such a person cannot be disfellowshipped. It is possible that in certain situations such a person may have to be isolated.
Q.: Can you give an example?
A.: Yes, what if someone suffers from compulsive sexual urges for the opposite (or even the same) sex? I knew a man who was a Christian who thought of every single woman as a potential sex object. Being around woman was bad for him (not to mention being very uncomfortable for the women). Such a person needs to be isolated from women and be ministered to by men, just as an alcoholic needs to be kept away from alcohol until he is cured.
Q.: What is the policy of NCAY towards disfellowshipped or excommunicated persons? How can such persons come back again?
A.: Every disfellowshipped or excommunicated person is given a contact person with whom they can talk to whenever they want to. It is usually the pastor of the congregation. There is always one door open in case of repentance, however slight. The Body of Messiah desires to win back lost souls -- it takes no pleasure in the victories won by Satan. We always pray for those who were once a part of us but who are no longer -- we never forget them because we know they are a part of our spiritual family and that Elohim (God) sent them to us. We feel a deep responsibility for them, like our own sons and daughters, or brothers and sisters.
Q.: Some people argue that disfellowshipment does more harm than good -- that it can create a root of bitterness in people and it would be better to keep them within the Body and there minister to them.
A.: Unfortunately churches/assemblies do wrongly excommunicate persons sometimes. I have experienced that and it is a most horrendous feeling. Indeed I often think that no one should administer the law of the assembly/church who has not been on the receiving end himself.
Q.: Were you bitter?
A.: The sense of injustice was strong -- there are many feelings involved, most potent of which is the sense of rejection. But if disfellowshipment is done in the proper fashion there shouldn't be a sense of rejection. In my case my former church never explained what it was that I had done wrong. It was a theological disagreement I had and I was willing to repent and accept the 'true doctrine' if it could be showed me from the Davar Elohim (Word of God). But the elders of that church never did because they couldn't. Such a church leadership does not deserve to stand.
Disfellowshipment should always be clearly explained so that the person experiencing disfellowshipment can learn and grow. Arbitrary and 'silent' (passive aggression-type) excommunication is, in my view, satanic because it prevents a person from growing and may even push him into the hands of the enemy. Fortunately, though, the Ruach Elohim (Spirit of God) can heal such spiritual wounding. I know that for myself. After I had found out what the Scriptural teaching really was, I no longer felt guilt and a sense of rejection, but sorrow that my former brethren had been so led astray and didn't know how to love. So, yes, I was bitter in the beginning and it took a long time to work out. In the end I realised that bitterness was a sinful reaction and not at all becoming a mature believer. But I guess I was quite immature at the time...
Q.: How do you deal with bitterness when it occurs?
A.: Dealing with a bitter person will test all your virtues -- patience and ahavah (covenant, selfless love) being foremost amongst them. A bitter person lashes out irrationally because he is insecure and cannot accept that you love him. Sometimes you need a lot of time for that person to see that you do truly love him. To admit that you are wrong when you have adamantly insisted that you are right is a hard pill to swallow but is the way of humility. But if that person is honest he will in the end tire of waging inner warfare. He will realise that his way is leading to spiritual death. In the end he will be desperate for spiritual life in Messiah and eventually humble himself. It may take years or a lifetime for a man to do so but we must wait patiently no matter how long it takes.
Q.: In the eternal persepective, then, there is no such thing as disfellowshipment because inwardly you still love that person. Isn't that true?
A.: Yes, I agree with you. In your heart, if you love, you never 'disfellowship' a person even though the disfellowshipped person will find that hard to believe. It is, after all, hard for us to believe that Elohim (God) still loves us when we are cut off from Him, isn't it? Yet He does. We only have to open the door of our heart a little crack and we will soon know that He still loves us. So too does a true believer. But the one who feels estranged must first open the door of his heart a little crack to find out. Usually a bitter person is waiting for the one he is bitter against to take the next move -- to come begging for forgiveness. It's human pride, I'm afraid. When you are bitter you are gleeful when you defeat the 'enemy'. A bitter person never forgets wrongs done him even if they are in his own imagination. He feeds them like a man stacking coal on the fire.
He also gives a list of other characteristics of ahavah/agapé (love) that are worth memorising.
"[Ahavah/Love] keeps no record of wrongs" (1 Cor.13:5, NIV).
Q.: So how do you identify a person who has been rightfully disfellowshipped? What sort of characteristics can you expect?
A.: If he is unrepentant, then you can expect any one or more of the following -- I'm here taking Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 and putting them in the negative. So let's see -- the one who lacks ahavah (love) will have these characteristics:
Q.: What happens when a member of a church/assembly deliberately fellowships with someone who is disfellowshipped?
A.: Such a person does great damage both to the person who is disfellowshipped as well as to his assembly (church). Firstly, he sends a signal to the disfellowshipped party that he does not uphold the toqef (authority) of the assembly (church) court which disfellowshipped him, thereby dishonouring his leaders; he is in effect rejecting the judgment of the court and the authority of those placed over him. Secondly, he sends a signal to the disfellowshipped person that maybe the latter was right and the assembly (church) was wrong, thus sabotaging his repentance. If the disfellowshipped party is bitter, this will simply reinforce his bitterness, and encourage him to seek out more 'sympathisers' and delay repentance even longer. Thirdly, such action sows disunity in the assembly (church), thus breaking the communal covenants of the qadoshim (saints, set-apart ones). Such an action is therefore the height of irresponsibility.
- He is impatient and unkind
- He is envious, boastful and proud
- He is rude and self-seeking
- He is easily provoked to anger
- He keeps a detailed record of every wrong done him
- He delights in evil and gets angry when the emet (truth) wins
- He doesn't bother to protect others
- He is mistrustful
- He has no tiqveh (hope)
- He gives up at the slightest difficulty
Further more, if a member fellowships with a disfellowshipped member he automatically becomes a partaker of that man's sins. This was the original sin of Eve who chose to fellowship with Satan by first listening sympathetically to him and then believing him. And the serpant, you will recall, persuaded her that Yahweh's mitzvot (commandments) were silly and that the consequences of breaking them were the opposite of what Elohim (God) said. He infact made Elohim (God) out to be a liar.
A disfellowshipped person is by definition unrepentant and seeking every excuse not to repent. Indeed it is not untypical for an unrepentant sinner to make out his judge to be the one in need of repentance. Thus to fellowship with a disfellowshipped person is to partake of his rebellion.
Q.: Couldn't this action be out of pure motives?
A.: This is unlikely and I've never encountered it. In my experience when members fellowship with a disfellowshipped person it is usually because they have a gripe or grudge against the leaders of the assembly (church) and are simply making a statement of protest. It is highly immature, not least dangerous, behaviour. It is usually a sign, morever, that he is weak in the emunah (faith) and is himself abiding in a spirit of rebellion. Invariably, such a person soon finds himself in sympathy with the disfellowshipped person and before long is out of the fellowship of the qodeshim (saints, set-apart ones). He has believed the lie because of the support he obtains from the aggrieved excommunicant.
This is human nature, and its consequences are tragic. It is also my experience that those who are not valiant for the Kingdom -- who have only come into NCAY half-heartedly, or have their own ideas about how NCAY should be run -- will seek every opportunity to identify with rebels when the going gets tough or makes heavy demands of them. Thus the fatal flaw of moral weakness is revealed in them.
If the qodeshim (saints, set-apart ones) really want to help a disfellowshipped person they must allow Yahweh to do His work by breaking contact with that person. There are many misguided people who, acting out of good will, fellowship with excommunicants mistakingly believing they are loving and helping them. They are not. Instead they are making the process of repentance more difficult by giving him yet another excuse not to squarely acknowledge his faults. It is only in isolation that certain sins can be resolved.
Q.: Should such a person seek out another Assembly/Church?
A.: If they don't repent that is probably the best course. It doesn't usually solve the problem but at least allows the person to serve and love others. And as he does so, he may eventually come to a realisation of his error. I would certainly recommend this over being an eclectic or loner. The one who gives of himself in service to another Assembly (Church) will progress far quicker than the one who goes it alone. The latter will always stagnate and spiritually die in the end for fellowship is life.
Q.: So disfellowshipment is, in a way, a death sentence?
A.: That is a good way of looking at it. Yahweh created us to be social creatures and has implanted in our natures the need for the intimacy of family life, biological as well as spiritual. That is why we recommend disfellowshipped persons to seek out another Assembly (Church) and try to serve there where hopefully they can be with people for whom they feel no bitterness. Of course, if they don't repent, they will soon be embittered by others.
Q.: Is Yahweh in control in all of this?
A.: Absolutely. If we refuse to choose the best way, Yahweh will nudge us towards the next best; and if we reject that, then He will prod us along to the next best after that. He is always seeking after our salvation -- He always cares. In that we can rejoice.
Q.: So if a person leaves NCAY, it's not the 'end of the world', so to speak.
A.: Good grief no! We're not a fellowship that maintains it has the one and only emet (truth) and that there is no salvation outside our walls. We have never claimed that and never will. We claim to have the most potent form of the Besorah (Gospel) that will progress people the fastest -- that is all. So if a person goes away from us, then we bless them and pray that they will find a path they are willing to be obedient to. We are desperately sad to lose the fellowship with them, naturally, but we don't force anyone to do anything against their will. That is the price of free agency. But our prayer is that they will one day return both to enrich us and we them.
Q.: Could it be Yahweh's will was for some of our people to leave us and go elsewhere?
A.: Certainly. The chief aim is to progress people, to get them to grow, and Yahweh always sends people into environments where they can flourish the best, if they choose to accept His guidance. Certainly I have known that many people who have come to us were never meant to be a part of us -- such we guide to other groups where they can be happy.
We don't want people to be miserable. We acknowledge, and teach openly, that the Messianic Evangelical Path is difficult and sometimes painful. But if, after the fire, there is no simcha (joy), then clearly that person needs something less demanding. As a teacher I know full well what it is like for a child to be put in a class where he can't manage -- he gets lost and actually starts to regress. If someone is going backwards amongst us then he shouldn't be with us. But I've never known anyone who voluntarily joined us regress until they rebelled -- the way is so narrow that most people never want to enter it in the first place anyway.
Q.: What of excommunicated people who attack this ministry?
A.: Attack is the normative response of those who are bitter. I know of one person who uses every opportunity he can to attack the fellowship and its members to complete strangers despite extensive counselling and attempts at reconcilliation. People usually feel better attacking because it stimulates a powerful negative and addictive energy -- they actually feel 'good' for a while. Afterwards there is usually depression and so attacking becomes a drug. It is the same spirit that compells people to compulsively steal and kill. A person who attacks will always get what the Bible calls "itching ears", people who like a controversy, but he will rarely get respect, sympathy or friendship because there is little or no ahavah (love) in him.
A person who abides in a root of bitterness will seek to get members to break their fellowship ban in order to set one member against the other. I have never met a disfellowshipped member from this ministry who has not been able to talk without attacking someone or something. When a person stops attacking then the Ruach Elohim (Spirit of God) is working in him. Because their root is based on selfishness and evil, you will not find a disfellowshipped person trying to convert the person or persons who disfellowshipped him to the higher light they suppose they have because they have no higher light. Instead they mentally and emotionally cut them off by disfellowshipping them in return! It is a bizzare, self-destructive cycle.
Q.: How much contact should a member have with a disfellowshipped person? Should we greet them on the street, for example?
A.: There are no further guidelines in the Scriptures than what is to be found in 2 John so I will give some modern apostolic council here. If you totally ignore someone on the street when they greet you it can sometimes become not only comical but actually look quite ridiculous. Once or twice people who dislike me have deliberately turned their heads away or even crossed to the other side of the street as though I were carrying some fatal, infectious disease. Such practice is childish at best and foolish at worst.
You cannot deny someone exists. In speaking of the gnostics, John simply said that the qodeshim (saints, set-apart ones) were not to admit them into their homes or welcome them in any way (2 John). My advise is to make eye contact and to radiate a spirit which says: 'I acknowledge your presence but I will not acknowledge your evil deeds -- no conversation will follow unless you intend to start putting things right'. One or two simple words of recognition should be sufficient. You should radiate ahavah (love), concern but also strictness and resoluteness that you will not break the disfellowshipment ban.
Q.: What of the person who has begun the repentance process?
A.: As I have said a disfellowshipped person has, in most cases, a bridge with the fellowship through one of the elders, usually the pastor so long as their is a glimmer of repentance. It is most important that that elder's position is not undermined by a thoughtless member trying to do things 'his/her way'. Yahweh has revealed an orderly and purposeful system of reconciliation which individual members should not seek to improve upon by unilateral action. If a member is in doubt, he should first speak to his pastor or to the pastor of the former member's congregation.
The fellowship is a team or Body with divinely appointed and democratically sustained heads who must be allowed to carry out their duties. The member who tries to 'go it alone' is acting in a selfish and irresponsible way and quite likely has little understanding of what a community covenant is.
It is natural and right that members should feel compassion for a disfellowshipped person and want to help; but it is wrong when, like Eve, he tries to do Yahweh's work in his own strength and illumination (or lack of it). He must understand what team or Body work is and seek to get it to work as one under the leadership of Yahweh's anointed. He must understand that whilst individual independence is a good thing, this is not independence from communal responsibility, and that the latter is conformity to the divine will. Without such communal consciousness, there can be no progression into the Chavurat Bekorot (Melchizedek Priesthood Order) or Assembly of the Firstborn (Heb.12:23).
Q.: Does this system work in practice? Can you give any examples?
A.: Yes, it does work, though it is hard -- repentance is always hard, especially if there is a lot of pride. I can think of one man (whom I am not going to name) who, though he was not disfellowshipped by a local assembly (church) court, became voluntarily inactive and absented himself from the fellowship after being rebuked for various sins by the elders. He eventually repented, returned to the fellowship, and has since become one of the pillars of NCAY.
In terms of getting lots of members, no, the system doesn't work, because we aren't, like many churches, a sales organisation trying to grab as many members as possible. We don't let all and sundry into our House, but only those who are willing to serve the Master Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) will all their mind, might and strength.
The honourable and noble will be attracted to us but not those with impure motives. For the former the system works, but not the latter.
Q.: What would your last word be to those who are anxious for disfellowshipped persons?
A.: Pray for them and read the epistle of Jude very carefully and note especially this part:
Q.: And to those who are disfellowshipped, or who have removed themselves from the Covenant?
A.: In the words of a modern revelation:
"Dear friends, remember what the apostles (emissaries) of our Master Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) foretold. They said to you: 'In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.' These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Ruach (Spirit). But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most qadosh (holy, set-apart) emunah (faith) and pray in the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit). Keep yourselves in Elohim's (God's) ahavah (love) and you wait for the mercy of our Master Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) to bring you to eternal chayim (life). Be merciful to those who doubt; snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear -- hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh. To Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great simcha (joy) -- to the only Elohim (God) our Deliverer (Saviour) be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) our Master, before all ages, now and forever more! Amen" (Jude 1:17-25, NIV).
"And now come, saith Yahweh, by the Ruach (Spirit), unto the elders of His assembly (church), and let us reason together, that ye may understand; Let us reason even as a man reasoneth one with another face to face. Now when a man reasoneth he is understood of man, because he reasoneth as a man; even so will I, Yahweh, reason with you that you may understand" (cp. Isa.1:18). Amen.
This page was created on 18 May 1997
Last updated on 9 May 2017
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