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Is Disfellowshipping a Biblical Teaching?

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Is Disfellowshipping a Biblical Teaching?

Jehovah’s Witnesses do not admit that they practice shunning. Yet they practice disfellowshipping which is a form of shunning. If you look on the FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) section of their website regarding Shunning, you will notice in the first paragraph that they immediately deflect the question, when asked, “Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Shun Those Who Used to Belong to Their Religion?”:

Those who were baptized as Jehovah’s Witnesses but no longer preach to others, perhaps even drifting away from association with fellow believers, are not shunned. In fact, we reach out to them and try to rekindle their spiritual interest.
jw.org

They italicize the word not before the word “shunned” when referring to Jehovah’s Witnesses who “no longer preach” or drift “away from association with fellow believers”. However these individuals are not “Former Members” upon which the title of their FAQ is discussing. Rather, they are inactive members. Jehovah’s Witnesses may “reach out to [inactive members] … and try to rekindle their spiritual interest” but this is a short-lived practice. If the spiritual interest cannot be rekindled within the first couple of years, Jehovah’s Witnesses usually give up calling on them and soon they become forgotten. Yet, even then, they are not former members. They are inactive members. Therefore, this paragraph is both misleading and redundant.

Simplifying Complex Factors

We do not automatically disfellowship someone who commits a serious sin. If, however, a baptized Witness makes a practice of breaking the Bible’s moral code and does not repent, he or she will be shunned or disfellowshipped. The Bible clearly states: “Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.”—1 Corinthians 5:13.
jw.org

Reading the above, JW.org states that they “do not automatically disfellowship someone who commits a serious sin”, going on to state that a baptized member who “makes a practice of breaking the bible’s moral code and does not repent, he or she will be shunned or disfellowshipped.” Though, theses statements may seem straight forward, they are very complex:

  • What constitutes a serious sin?
  • How do you determine if someone makes it a practice to break the bible’s moral code?
  • Is one who is determined to practice breaking the bible’s moral code given an meaningful opportunity to show true repentance?
  • How does one know if someone is truly repentant?

Despite the complexity of the factors involved in whether to disfellowship someone or not, jw.org backs up its justification for shunning with just one scripture: 1 Corinthians 5:13. Interestingly, no mention is given to Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians where “the bible clearly states” at 2 Corinthians 2:5-11 how to deal in a forgiving way with someone who has committed a sin. Indeed, in verse 11, Paul admonishes us to be forgiving “so that we may not be over-reached by Satan”. In the secretive Elder’s Manual, Shepherd the Flock of God (2010 Edition), there is only a single mention of 2 Corinthians 2:6,7.

When this article was originally published in 2016, we criticized Jehovah’s Witnesses because they took these verses out of context to justify reinstating a person; they had never used those versions to forgive someone who is truly repentant prior to being disfellowshipped or shunned. And yet, in the issuance of their revised Shepherd book in 2019, they make mention of 2 Corinthians 2:6,7 twice: once in Chapter 16, para 26, and again in Chapter 19, para 7. They continue to take those verses out of context to justify reinstating a person. Those verses are still not used in relation to forgiving someone who is truly repentant, prior to being disfellowshipped or shunned.

Is it any wonder then, that shunning has been glossed over in just 3 brief sentences on jw.org? How humiliating for the hundreds of thousands, even millions of Jehovah’s Witnesses who continue to be shunned every day of their lives by their loved ones and friends!

Normal Families for the Shunned?

What of a man who is disfellowshipped but whose wife and children are still Jehovah’s Witnesses? The religious ties he had with his family change, but blood ties remain. The marriage relationship and normal family affections and dealings continue.
jw.org

In the above quote, the reader is led to believe that disfellowshipping has no impact on the blood relationships that a man may hold with his wife and family. This is a blatant lie! Shunning applies equally within families as it does to other members of the congregation:

  • Parents will shun their children
  • Children will shun their parents
  • Siblings will shun siblings
  • Uncles and aunts will shun nephews and nieces
  • Grandparents will shun their grandchildren
  • Grandchildren will shun their grandparents

As the writer of this article, I can attest to this. I am currently shunned by members of my family that are Jehovah’s Witnesses. Yes, I am completely shunned by my parents, 4 siblings, 2 aunts and their husbands, along with 6 cousins, 4 nieces and 2 nephews. These numbers do not include my in-Laws who also shun me. In fact, I have received texts from my own siblings and my own mother telling me to stop calling, texting, and emailing them because I am a danger and a threat to their spirituality. Basically, they have said that I am no longer a part of their families.

The truth is, the blood ties DO NOT remain when one is shunned. The marriage relationship and normal family affections and dealings DO NOT continue after one is shunned. To say otherwise is a lie, a bold-faced lie.

Shunned at Religious Services

Disfellowshipped individuals may attend our religious services. If they wish, they may also receive spiritual counsel from congregation elders. The goal is to help each individual once more to qualify to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Disfellowshipped people who reject improper conduct and demonstrate a sincere desire to live by the Bible’s standards are always welcome to become Jehovah’s Witnesses again.
jw.org

It is true that disfellowshipped ones may attend religious services. However, this paragraph conveniently forgets to mention how a disfellowshipped one will be treated at the kingdom hall:

  • Congregants will not look a disfellowshipped person in the eye.
  • Congregants will not greet a disfellowshipped person.
  • Congregants will walk away from disfellowshipped persons.
  • If a congregant mistakenly introduces oneself to a disfellowshipped person, and the disfellowshipped person points it out, that one will quickly hurry away without an apology or without excusing themselves.
  • A congregant will not shake the hand of a disfellowshipped person.
  • The elders, who are supposed to help disfellowshipped ones, will shun such a person until he makes a formal request by means of a letter requesting reinstatement to the congregation.
  • If a disfellowshipped person is considered an ‘active apostate’, they will not permit that one to attend religious services.

They claim that the “goal is to help each individual … to qualify to be one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.” They treat the worship of God as being some sort of test where only those qualified to believe in God can be members of ‘his organization’. This is a blatant disregard for Jesus death. If we have to be at a certain level of perfection to serve God, why did he bother having his son die for us? If we have to be of a certain level of perfection in this world, it means God’s love is a farce. He cares naught for the sinner.

In any case, shunning is contrary to 2 Corinthians 2:5-11. None of the above actions by congregants towards disfellowshipped ones is consistent with a Christ-like attitude. Nonetheless, Jehovah’s Witnesses like to pride themselves on the misguided idea that everything they do is bible based.

Is Shunning Pagan?

The greatest irony regarding Jehovah’s Witnesses’s practice of shunning is that they once preached that it was a pagan practice. In the January 8, 1947 Awake magazine, pages 27 & 28, under the title, Are You Also Excommunicated? the Watchtower Society wrote the following:

IF YOU are one of the 138,000,000 people in the world that were born and raised as “Protestants”, then you are already excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Hierarchy. This means that you are looked upon with the blackest contempt by the Vatican, being cursed and damned with the Devil and his angels. Says the Catholic Encyclopedia:

With the foregoing exceptions [infidels, pagans, Mohammedans, and Jews], all who have been baptized are liable to excommunication, even those [protestants who have never belonged to the true Church, since by their baptism they are really her subjects, though of course rebellious ones. Moreover, the Church excommunicates not only those who abandon the true faith to embrace [protestant] schism or heresy, but likewise the members of heretical and schismatic communities who have been born therein.

All those belonging to such lodges as the Masonic, Fenians, Independent Order of Good Templars, Odd Fellows, Sons of Temperance, or the Knights of Pythias, are also excommunicated.

This is “canon law” which the Roman Catholic Hierarchy seeks to enforce on the pretext that it is God’s law. The authority for excommunication, they claim, is based on the teachings of Christ and the apostles, as found in the following scriptures: Matthew 18:15-19; 1 Corinthians 5:3-5; 16:22; Galatians 1:8,9; 1 Timothy 1:20; Titus 3:10. But the Hierarchy’s excommunication, as a punishment and “medicinal” remedy (Catholic Encyclopedia), finds no support in these scriptures. In fact, it is altogether foreign to Bible teachings.-Hebrews 10:26-31.

“Where, then, did this practice originate? The Encyclopedia Britannica says that papal excommunication is not without pagan influence, “and its variations cannot be adequately explained unless account be taken of several non-Christian analogues of excommunication.” The superstitious Greeks believed that when an excommunicated person died the Devil entered the body, and therefore, “in order to prevent it, the relatives of the deceased cut his body in pieces and boil them in wine.” Even the Druids had a method of expelling those who lost faith in their religious superstitions. It was therefore after Catholicism adopted its pagan practices, A.D. 325, that this new chapter in religious excommunication was written.

Thereafter, as the pretensions of the Hierarchy increased, the weapon of excommunication became. the instrument by which the clergy attained a combination of ecclesiastical power and secular tyranny that finds no parallel in history. Princes and potentates that opposed the dictates of the Vatican were speedily impaled on the tines of excommunication and hung over persecution fires. Not only individuals, but whole countries, were so treated: France, in 998; Germany, in 1102; England, in 1208. Even Rome itself was excommunicated in 1155. Luther and his forty-one “errors” were similarly cursed” in 1520. Likewise Napoleon in 1809 and Victor Emmanuel in 1860.

The excommunication of Frederick II furnishes a good example of the dire effects produced by these papal “curses” in the thirteenth century.

Five times king and emperor as he was, Frederick, placed under the bau of the church, led henceforth a doomed existence. The mendicant monks stirred up the populace to acts of fanatical enmity, To plot against him, to attempt his life by poison or the sword, was accounted virtuous …. Hunted to the ground and broken-hearted, Frederick expired at the end of 1250.-Encyclopedia Britannica.

Excommunication as a papal force was greatly reduced with the fall of the “Holy Roman Empire”, So much so that this generation does not observe such ruthless consequences of the past befalling Tito and his associates who were recently excommunicated (See Awake! November 22, 1946.)

In recounting all of these facts one is at a loss to find an explanation why the “crimes” of Tito and his associates are greater than (or as great as) those of Franco, Mussolini and Hitler, and their gang of cutthroats. Only when we turn to the Catholic Encyclopedia do we find the answer. There it is stated:

The Church’s right to excommunicate is based on her status as a spiritual society, whose members, governed by legitimate authority, seek one and the same end through suitable means. Members who, by their obstinate disobedience, reject the means of attaining this common end deserve to be removed from such a society.

Here, then, is the explanation why the Axis dictators were not excommunicated. They were ‘seeking the one and same end’ with the Roman Catholic Church.

As you can see, the first 2 paragraphs depict exactly what the Watchtower Society currently does to former members and to those who they deem have committed serious sins: they are demonized and said to be influenced by Satan. The article says that Catholics will even excommunicate “born-in’s”. If you are one of Jehovah’s Witnesses or a former member, this will all sound very familiar.

It goes on to say that this “pretext” of excommunication is pagan. They state that there is no support for it in scripture and that it is altogether foreign to bible teachings. They call it a weapon used by the clergy to gain ecclesiastical power and secular tyranny. They say it finds no parallel in history.

  • Awake! claimed that excommunication – the equivalent of disfellowshipping – is Pagan.
  • Awake! claimed it had no Support in Scripture; that it was in fact, “altogether foreign to Bible teachings.

This contradicts EVERYTHING they use to justify shunning: the scriptures they use here to refute the teaching of shunning are the very same scriptures they use to justify shunning and disfellowshipping!

Even if Jehovah’s Witnesses were to attempt to dismiss this article based on the fact that it is an old teaching, it doesn’t change the fact that it is a pagan practice. The Watchtower publication, What Does the Bible Really Teach, pages 157-160, paragraphs 9 & 10, states clearly that it is important to know where things come from. Therefore, if the Watchtower Society discovered in 1947 that excommunication was a pagan belief with no support in scripture, then how could it now no longer be a pagan belief and have support in scripture?

Lollipop in a gutter; image: jw.org

Would you eat a lollipop if you knew it came from the gutter? Would you eat it if someone washed it and put it in a wrapper? Of course not.  That’s exactly what Jehovah’s Witnesses have done with shunning: they found it in the gutter of paganism, washed it free of its origins and wrapped it up in scriptures that do not support it.

Biblical Basis for Shunning?

If anyone was deserving of being shunned, according to bible principles upon which Jehovah’s Witnesses base their beliefs on, it would have been Judas Iscariot. He betrayed Jesus Christ for the price of a slave: 30 pieces of silver. Yet, the bible says that Jesus called him a friend. Yes, Jesus referred to Judas as a friend, or comrade, even when he knew Judas gave him the kiss of death. He never shunned Judas even though he knew that Judas was going to betray him. – Matthew 26:49-50John 13:18-30

Another person who may have been deserving of shunning, according to the edicts of Jehovah’s witnesses, was the Apostle Peter. He vehemently denied Jesus three times. Yet, what did Jesus do a few days later?  Jesus had a meal with Peter and the other disciples where Jesus urged Peter to continually follow him (John 21:12-19). Before his death and before Peter’s denial, Jesus promised Peter the keys of the kingdom of the heavens (Matthew 16:19). Clearly, Jesus did not shun Peter nor did he take away any of his privileges. Yet, these are the things that happen all too often for Jehovah’s Witnesses when they confess sins, even if they are repentant.

Truly, if one of Jehovah’s Witnesses was to deny their Governing Body’s self-appointed position as God’s mouthpiece on earth, they will be stripped off their privileges, disfellowshipped and shunned. Really, if the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses imitate Jesus Christ as their mediator and Head of the Christian Congregation, surely they should be following his example. Instead, they quickly move to remove any sort of dissent amongst the ranks using scriptures that do not support such actions.

Jesus ate and drank with sinners. He was known for that. The Pharisees even pointed to this when they tried to condemn Jesus. Yet, he shunned no one. What if Jesus was confronted with someone who was caught in the act of sin, someone who was 100% guilty? And let’s just say, for instance, this sin was deserving of the death penalty in those times. What would Jesus do? No need to wonder. Just read John 8:2-11. Convenient to Jehovah’s Witness doctrine, you cannot read these verses in the 2013 edition of the New World Translation. However, they are available to read in the older 1984 edition. Compare Luke 19:1-9John 4:1-26.

Should Apostates be Shunned?

Of all those who are to be shunned, Jehovah’s Witnesses reserve a special place for apostates. According to Shepherd the Flock of God (2020 Edition), Chapter 12, para 39, the religious group considers the following persons apostates, based on their interpretation of the bible and what they consider Christian:

Of all the scriptures that the Watchtower has quoted to justify their reasons for apostasy, only one of those verses supports their basis for deeming a person an apostate. That verse is Acts 21:21 but even that verse was removed from their most recent edition of the Shepherd book. In the New World Translation (2013) it reads:

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.

It is recommended that you read the verse in Acts 21 in context and compare it with Romans 2:28-29 and 1 Corinthians 7:18-20. Clearly, the apostasy was just a rumor but it shows that apostasy is the spreading of teachings contrary to bible truth. Noteworthy is the fact that the bible does not in any way support the notion of bible truth as taught by Jehovah’s Witnesses; it only supports bible truth. Period.

In Jesus Time, the Jews would have considered the Samaritans as apostates. Why? Because, according to the Watchtower publication, Insight on the Scriptures Vol II, the Samaritans, “although they learned something about Jehovah through instruction by a priest of the Jeroboam priesthood, yet, as Samaria had done with the golden calves, they continued to worship their false gods, generation after generation. (2Ki 17:24-41).” Yes, the Jews shunned the Samaritans for their apostasy in the same way Jehovah’s Witnesses do to those whom they consider apostates. In this context, the words Samaritan and apostate are interchangeable. Yet Jesus, whom Jehovah’s Witnesses claim to imitate, used Samaritans (apostates) to show what it means to be Christian:

  • In the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:29-37, Jesus clearly shows that an apostate can be your neighbor.
  • In John 4:7-26, Jesus revealed himself as the Messiah to an apostate woman.

In view of the foregoing, is the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ disfellowshipping arrangement a bible truth? Or only a “bible truth as taught by Jehovah’s Witnesses”? If it’s the latter, why have the implemented it? Is it because it helps keep people in check, ensuring that they always remain compliant, fearful that any misstep would be met with psychologically violent discipline? Unfortunately, it can also work well to silence victims of crimes, including those who have experience child sexual abuse.

ALERT! has copies of all publications referenced in this report.

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