“But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.” (Reference: Titus 3:9-11 )
Back on July 1st when we were still considering the issue/theme of “Separation”, meaning separating one’s self from those who do not seem to value Christian living, I talked about the historic Anabaptist practice of shunning or banning. It seems that in the past few days under the theme of “Brotherly Rebuke” we have encountered this practice several times. Today the quote from the historic Anabaptist deals with it in a very direct and complete manner. The editors of Reading the Anabaptist Bible say of it, “How should one treat a member who has been excommunicated? Some Anabaptists concluded that “avoidance” was necessary, as does Jacob van den Wege in the following excerpt. This question became the cause of much dissension and division.”
The dissension and division came about because it was used in several different ways. In some cases it was complete – you had nothing to do with that person or their immediate family until the person confessed the sin. Even then there was a break in relationships that never really healed. Others were more gentle and worked to mend the relationship and bring the erring person or party back into full communion.
Please understand, beloved, this was and many times still is practice in very small communities. It would be hard to avoid someone when the community is not much more than, say, one hundred people. And the avoidance would be very obvious. In a city of hundreds of thousands you could avoid someone and no one, including the person avoided, would be aware of it. But in small communities and intimate faith circles it would be a daily reality – sometimes several times a day.
So when van den Wege says,
“I confess that such carnal men, [as depicted in Corinthians] who thus sin against God, are, according to the ordinance of Christ, with the Word of God, as Paul has explained this thus, to be excommunicated and excluded from the church, and that we are also not to company with them . . . For as the Word of God has power to excommunicate the presumptuous transgressor, so it has also power to teach and to avoid the excommunicated person, since excommunication is ineffectual without avoidance. And as excommunication and avoidance are thoroughly taught in the Scriptures, I confess both, since also Paul excommunicated, and also taught, to put away him that doeth evil, and says: “Keep not company with them; with such [as he there specifies] ye shall not eat.” . . . hence the church is to avoid them, lest she be leavened or corrupted by them” he means that the avoidance is to be keenly and obviously carried out – with malice we might say.
But that is not what Titus is saying I think. Van de Wege’s statement cites the Titus passage but the writer of Titus is talking not about sin but pointless arguments about lineage, matters of interpretation, minute points of law – argument for argument’s sake. That’s the sort of person the writer of Titus is saying don’t get entangled with but live your lives as God directs. Don’t make divisions where the divisions are of human nature and not of God. Which ironically is what happened many times with the issue of shunning and banning.
Oh beloved! How we go astray when we think we and only we have the correct interpretation and understanding. Heed what the writer of Titus says, and what I say. Live in harmony, celebrating each individual and that God has united us under one Lord who understands the heart and soul of each one of us. Stay away from people who like to bicker and fight about things that only cause hurt and heartbreak. May our Lord God soften each one of our prideful spirit’s so that we will show the compassion that God intended. Selah!