When individual members of
Jehovah's Witnesses engage in an activity that the
organization designates a "serious" or
"gross" sin, they are subject to discipline. The
first step is to bring the offender before a judicial body of
three elders so that they may question the individual to
ascertain the seriousness of the sin and the attitude of the
individual about it. If it is determined that the person is
unrepentant for the wrong (whether he or she claims to be or
not), then that person is "disfellowshipped"
(excommunicated) from the congregation. After this occurs, the
rest of the members of the congregation are required to shun
that person. The individual is free to attend congregation
meetings, but will continue to be ignored by the others until
such a time has passed that the elders are convinced that the
person is now repentant of his or her sin. After this, the
individual may be reinstated after meeting again with a
judicial committee. As long as a person is in a
disfellowshipped state, he or she is considered to be out of
favor with God and subject to destruction at Armageddon.
The reformation movement is
opposed to institutionally mandated shunning, because it is a
policy that is in direct contradiction to Scripture and usurps
authority that should be in the hands of congregation members.
The central Governing Body uses this practice to maintain
its grip of power, control the lives of others, and weed out
any who might question its authority. The men who constitute
this group have no right to do this. The practice must stop immediately.
As long as it continues, Jehovah's spirit cannot operate fully
on the worldwide brotherhood.
The Witness leadership teaches
that the practice of disfellowshipping is called for by the
apostle Paul in his letters. The chief scriptural passage
relied upon is 1 Cor. 5: 1-13.
Paul indeed does speak of
'handing a person over to Satan' for certain offenses and that
such a 'handing over' meant taking the person away from the
midst of the congregation (5:2,5). He also urges the members
of the congregations to go further and refrain from
"mixing in company" with the offender, "not
even eating" with such a person (5:11).
The Governing Body of Jehovah's
Witnesses asserts that the action Paul calls for here is a
complete shunning of the individual who has been "handed
over to Satan." Is this really the case? Further
discussion of what it means not to "mix in company"
(sunanamignusthai) with a person like this is given in
Paul's second letter to the Thessalonians:
if anyone is not obedient to our word through this letter,
keep this one marked, stop associating with him (sunanamignusthai),
that he may become ashamed. And yet do not be considering him
as an enemy, but continue admonishing him as a brother"
(2 Thess. 3:14-15).
Paul uses the same word here as
in 1 Corinthians and makes it clear that not to mix in company
with someone does not mean a complete shunning, for he urges
his readers to keep admonishing the one with whom they are not
to associate. In order to do that, they would have to speak to
that person. Congregation members, therefore, would limit
their association with one who has been "handed over to
Satan," not enjoying a meal of fellowship with that
person, but would not shun them completely. The Governing
Body, however, to avoid this obvious conclusion
deliberately created a new category of congregational
discipline called "marking" to which they could
apply 2 Thessalonians and separate it from 1 Corinthians.
However, there is no other place in the Bible that speaks of
"marking." It is a concoction made for the sole
purpose of explaining away 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15, so that it
could not be applied to disfellowshipped ones.
An even more important
difference between what Paul calls for and what the modern
organization of Jehovah's Witnesses does is that Paul
tells the entire congregation of Corinthians that they
themselves should be the judges of such issues and should
gather together as a group to make decisions in this regard
(5:4, 12; 6:2-4), whereas the leaders of Jehovah's Witnesses
designate representatives to decide these matters for
the congregation, and then the congregation is required to
abide by the decisions made. Paul clearly calls all of
the Corinthians judges and considers them wise enough to make
these decisions. By ignoring this counsel, the Witness leaders
place the elders in the congregation on a level higher than
the congregation and promotes a clergy-laity distinction. When
serving in a judicial capacity, the elders forsake their role
as shepherds and fellow brothers and become masters over the
faith of others.
One might argue that Paul was
speaking only to the elders in the Corinthian congregation
when he said this. However, if that were true, then his
counsel not to speak to disfellowshipped ones should also then
be directed to the elders, but such a conclusion does not
coincide with the Governing Body's policy that elders are
permitted to speak to disfellowshipped ones and admonish them
to change their ways.
gives a list of offenses for which someone might be
"handed over to Satan." Actually, it is inaccurate
to say "a list of offenses;" the list is of types
of people, and these are fornicators, greedy persons,
idolators, revilers, drunkards, and extortioners (5:11). In
another letter he appears to add "blasphemers" (1
Tim. 1:20). Notice that he does not say “someone who commits
fornication” or “someone who commits idolatry.” He says,
“a fornicator” and “an idolater.” Clearly he is
referring to practicers of these sins, and these persons are
not presumed future practicers or potential practicers. They are
practicers. This explains why the entire congregation would be
involved in the decision to remove the person from their
midst--they are all privy to the person's conduct already.
organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses has added a long list of
other offenses for which someone might be disfellowshipped.
These include: manslaughter, lying, obscene speech, failure to
abstain from blood, refusal to provide materially for one’s
family, non-neutral activities, fits of anger, misuse of
tobacco or addictive drugs, loose conduct, associating with a
disfellowshipped person, and several activities that come
under the “apostasy” umbrella and have to do with
syncretism, like attending meetings of another religious
group, working secularly for another religious organization,
celebrating a religious holiday, and the possession of images
or pictures employed in another religion (Pay Attention,
pp. 92-96). Is it justifiable to add to Paul’s words? Should
the organization go beyond what is written? The reformation
movement thinks not. If it is not called for in the Bible,
then clearly it was not important enough for God to have
included it (1 Cor. 4:6; Gal. 1:9).
these scriptural thoughts in mind, we are asking the
organization to change its policy when it comes to
disfellowshipping. First, the offenses which might suggest a
person's danger to the congregation should not go beyond
scripture. Second, a person should be a known practicer of
such things before coming before the judgment of the
congregation. Thirdly, the shunning is not to be a complete
shunning, but only limited. Lastly, judgment should be left up
to members of the congregation. If we follow the first-century
example strictly, this would be done as a group. If not, then
individuals could make the judgments for themselves.