Are you disfellowshipped, dear one? Do you now feel lost, bereft, and directionless? If so, know that when Jesus looks down from heaven, he feels toward you exactly as he felt toward individuals during his earthly ministry. Matthew 9:36 says regarding him: “On seeing the crowds he felt pity for them, because they were skinned and thrown about like sheep without a shepherd.”
By his life course, Christ our Exemplar showed us how to live. (1 Peter 2:21) There is no record of him of shunning anyone. In fact, he did just the opposite, eating with individuals from God’s dedicated nation who had strayed–sometimes severely so–and this is what gave such ones the strength to turn their lives around. (Luke 15:1, 2, NIV). Should we not then imitate our Lord in all things? In carrying forth Paul’s admission in Corinthians not to worship as a group with an unrepentant sinner, could we break God’s instructions to us given through the life course of his Son? Should not the Lord’s example be the overriding factor, especially in regard to repentant wrongdoers?
The unfortunate truth is: there are many myths that sincere Jehovah’s Witnesses hold in regard to disfellowshipping. These myths are what cause an “insensibility of their hearts” toward those in the so-called ‘disfellowshipped state’. (Mark 3:5) When an active Witness encounters a disfellowshipped one on the street, you often see severe discomfort in their body language and facial expressions. In some cases the Witness will even cross to the other side of the road to avoid passing nearby; if it were not so sad, it would be humorous.
The absence of empathy and the hardening of the heart that occurs comes from a lack of accurate knowledge, from myths that have been perpetuated from the publications, the platform, and casual conversation. Unless a person has passed through this fiery trial, they are not truly equipped to speak in regard to the reality as those of us who have.
Many myths have an element of truth. The stereotype of the brazen, unrepentant sinner with a bad attitude might characterize some judicial cases for sure, but certainly not all. I have come to believe that many cases involve poor shepherding and legalistic adherence to traditions of men that contradict Scripture. (Mark 7:8)
Let us consider just three myths.
Myth #1: Disfellowshipping is the last resort, reserved for those who are unrepentant, determined to continue in sin.
While this might describe some who are disfellowshipped, it certainly doesn’t describe everyone. Repentance is defined as “deep sorrow, compunction, or contrition for a past sin”. Many who go before a judicial committee feel this way. They may have ceased their sinful course, even for some months, and are displaying “fruits that befit repentance”. They may even brought the matter to the attention of the elders in hopes of getting spiritual help. (James 5:14-16) And yet, they still disfellowshipped. What is the problem?
One elder said to a repentant one, “The issue is not whether you are repentant, but whether you are repentant enough.” This falls in line with what elders are instructed in their secret handbook, Shepherd the Flock of God. (KS10)
“The degree of regret (repentance) ought to be commensurate with the degree of deviation.” (KS10, page 91)
“An individual may have gone so far into sin that be may not be able to demonstrate sufficient repentance to the judicial committee at the time of the hearing. If so, he must be disfellowshipped, allowing time to pass for him to prove his repentance.” (KS10, page 92)
Remarkably, there are no scriptures cited that back up these statements, and these decisions seem that they could become quite subjective. How do you measure the degree of regret a person feels? While it is true that actions should reflect repentance, like an iceberg, most of this quality lies beneath the surface, beyond the eyes of human scrutiny.
Some elders might say, “Well, Jesus could read hearts. We cannot.” But remember, Jesus left “YOU a model for YOU to follow his steps closely”. His life course on Earth was a master class, as it were, in how we are to carry out our earthly course. Is it valid for a Christian to refuse to follow the Lord’s example, using the excuse, “Well, Jesus was perfect, I am not”? Absolutely not! So then, if imperfection is no barrier in showing true Christianity, then neither should our inability to read hearts be a barrier in carrying out Christ’s teachings in our lives.
And notice what Jesus says about determining repentance at Luke 17:4, “Even if he sins seven times a day against you and he comes back to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”
According to Jesus, the matter was pretty straightforward. A person is repentant or they are not. And if somebody professes their repentance, they are not to be put through a long ordeal to make them prove it, but rather Jesus told us we must forgive. Does Jehovah do any less? Should we?
What did Jesus do? (See Luke 19:1-10) Zacchaeus extorted his fellow worshippers of Jehovah God. Did Jesus wait for the degree of repentance to be commensurate with the degree of deviation before associating with him? Verse 5 says: ‘Now when Jesus got to the place, he looked up and said to him: “Zacchaeus, hurry and get down, for today I must stay in your house.”’
This did not go unnoticed. Verse 7 says, ‘But when they saw [it], they all fell to muttering, saying: “With a man that is a sinner he went in to lodge.”’ The Pharisees grumbled that Jesus wasn’t shunning the man. But all the shunning in the world had not helped Zacchaeus up to that point. Jesus knew this and gave him the support and attention that he needed. To what result?
Verse 8 says, ‘But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord: “Look! The half of my belongings, Lord, I am giving to the poor, and whatever I extorted from anyone by false accusation I am restoring fourfold.”’
Not only was Zacchaeus moved to repent commensurate to his deviation–he went magnitudes beyond. That is the power that living by Gospel teachings can have on people today.
On the other hand, think what a damaging thing for such a ‘shepherd’ to tell a repentant person, “You are an unrepentant sinner and no longer a servant of God.” If a person begins to believe this lie about themselves they could well go down a wrong path indeed, resulting in overindulgence, depression, self-medicating, and even suicide.
Myth #2: It is not the sin that disfellowships a person, it’s their attitude.
To be sure, some people who have appeared before a judicial committee might have indeed been quite disrespectful, insolent, and contemptuous, saying, “I’m going to do what I want to do when I want to do it and nobody has the right to tell me otherwise.” But that does not describe everyone. In fact, I suspect most have been respectful, humble, and contrite.
Attitude is defined as “manner, disposition, feeling, position, etc., with regard to a person or thing; tendency or orientation”. Like repentance, judgment of attitude can be quite subjective. Oftentimes, attitude is confused by mood. Goodness knows that if judicial committees were held before people got their first cup of coffee, there would be no mercy on anyone.
Many erring ones have the attitude of the sinful woman who wept on the Lord’s feet. (See Luke 7:36-50) And yet, elders are told in the Shepherd the Flock of God, “tears do not necessarily indicate sincere repentance”. (KS10 page 93) There was a certain disfellowshipped sister in my old congregation who often left the meeting in tears, time and time again. How could the elders see this woman so obviously repentant and not accept her back immediately?
Whose attitude really disfellowships a person and keeps them disfellowshipped? It seems to me that an elder has to work to shut “the door of his tender compassions”, his empathy, his mercy, even his common sense to uphold traditions of men. When Jesus sees this, do you not think he look down at these men with “indignation, being thoroughly grieved at the insensibility of their hearts”? Most definitely he does!
Myth #3: Elders are stars in the right hand of Jesus, Holy Spirit guides their decisions, and thus have divine wisdom. We can’t question their decisions because we don’t know all the details.
This is certainly what I used to believe. In Revelation 1:20, however, is there any indication that the elders are the stars of the congregation? It is a matter of Watchtower interpretation to be sure! If we let Scripture define scripture, then maybe we should take Scripture at its word when it says “the seven stars mean [the] angels of the seven congregations”, those congregations to whom Jesus was speaking to in the first century, rather than reinterpreting them to be elder bodies some nineteen hundred years later. Indeed, Revelation 1:1 says, “And he sent forth his angel and presented [it] in signs through him to his slave John.”
If we are truly in doubt of this then perhaps we should let “wisdom is proved righteous by its works”. (Matthew 11:19) For, while some elders as individuals can be guided by Holy Spirit just like the rest of us, the fact is elders have made serious lapses in judgment. I know firsthand that my judicial committee had no special window into my heart and were quite blind to my repentance. The things they said in the backroom of the Kingdom Hall were very off. They rarely used the Bible, but for a handful of stock verses. They did not exhort, encourage, or help me scripturally in any way. They offered no special insights.
I had believed that Jesus would intervene by means of Holy Spirit during the judicial committee and guide these men to see my repentance and they would come to my aid spiritually. However, these men’s hearts seemed to me to be hardened, and their skulls were thick as well. That day, when myth met reality, I saw into the heart of the organization and I realized that something was seriously wrong.
Can elders be mistaken in a judicial capacity? As one sister, who had awakened to the truth about the ‘truth’ said: “If these men were guided by Holy Spirit, they would have known how I felt about the Society, and they would never have reinstated me. If they weren’t guided [by God’s Holy Spirit] in reinstating me, how could they have been guided by Holy Spirit in disfellowshipping me?”
I will second that statement. In the eyes of the Watchtower Society, I am liable to eternal death, because I do not believe they represent God’s sole channel of communication. The elders never asked me my feelings regarding this and I didn’t divulge them. My meetings for reinstatement were about my repentance and I truthfully was repentant. However, if God’s Spirit were guiding them, would they have not detected my feelings about this Organization and disallowed me to return to the fold? No? Well, could they have been infallible in their decision to disfellowship me in the first place? Either they were mistaken about disfellowshipping me or mistaken about reinstating me–one cannot have it both ways.
In a secular court, everything is transparent and the full text of the law and due legal representation is available to the defendant. However, these ‘judicial’ meetings are held in secret, without outside observers and recordings, representation or jury– nor is there a transcript afterward that is made public. Even if the one being tried requests these things, they would not allow it out of “confidentiality”. On top of everything, there are secret rules that come in the elder’s handbook, letters from the Society, secret elder schools, and directives from traveling overseers that the one being tried is not privy too. I feel if Witnesses were allowed to know all the details, many would likely awaken to the truth about the ‘truth’, because sometimes, that is what it takes for a person to awaken.
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I firmly believe that when a person seriously sins, they need more support, not less. They need their friends and family to rally around them and upbuild them! Disfellowshipping, as practiced by the Watchtower Society, does the exact opposite. In many cases, shunning tends to keep people away, rather then restoring them. And when they do return, why is it that they have returned? Were there motives to serve God more fully or merely to regain association?
Think of it this way. Genesis 2:18 says, ‘And Jehovah God went on to say: “It is not good for the man to continue by himself. I am going to make a helper for him, as a complement of him.”’ If it was not good for a perfect man to be alone, how much more so, a sinner? Again, they need more encouragement, not less!
Proverbs 18:1 says, “One isolating himself will seek [his own] selfish longing; against all practical wisdom he will break forth.” While this can be true if an individual isolates themselves, is it not just as true if they are isolated against their will? By isolating an erring one, we could actually make matters worse! Some do, in the despair of utter loneliness of being shunned by everyone they know, seek to fill the void by a course that draws them further and further from their Heavenly Father.
If there are any active elders reading this who serve on judicial committees, I advise you to seriously weigh the words of Ezekiel 34. Let us consider a few verses:
4 The sickened ones YOU have not strengthened, and the ailing one YOU have not healed, and the broken one YOU have not bandaged, and the dispersed one YOU have not brought back, and the lost one YOU have not sought to find, but with harshness YOU have had them in subjection, even with tyranny.
5 And they were gradually scattered because of there being no shepherd, so that they became food for every wild beast of the field, and they continued to be scattered.
6 My sheep kept straying on all the mountains and on every high hill; and on all the surface of the earth my sheep were scattered, with no one making a search and with no one seeking to find.
7 “‘“Therefore, YOU shepherds, hear the word of Jehovah,
8 ‘“As I am alive,” is the utterance of the Sovereign Lord Jehovah, “surely for the reason that my sheep became something for plunder and my sheep continued to be food for every wild beast of the field, because there was no shepherd, and my shepherds did not search for my sheep, but the shepherds kept feeding themselves, and my own sheep they did not feed,”’
9 therefore, YOU shepherds, hear the word of Jehovah.
10 This is what the Sovereign Lord Jehovah has said, ‘Here I am against the shepherds, and I shall certainly ask back my sheep from their hand and make them cease from feeding [my] sheep, and the shepherds will no longer feed themselves; and I will deliver my sheep out of their mouth, and they will not become food for them.’”
You dear ones who have been disfellowshipped, who have been scattered and feel ravaged by such bad shepherding, especially consider our last verse at Ezekiel 34:11, “For this is what the Sovereign Lord Jehovah has said: “Here I am, I myself, and I will search for my sheep and care for them.”
Please know that Jehovah loves you very much. He gave his Son for you. If you ever feel lost, Jehovah himself will look for you. There is nowhere you can go, even Sheol itself, where he will not even be able to find you. He will care for you. This is his promise and assurance. Take courage!