The concept of brotherhood (1 Pet. 2:17; 5:9), along with numerous biblical examples, supports the regular association and cooperation among churches of Christ (e.g. 1 Cor. 16:3; 2 Cor. 8:19; 11:8-9; et al.). But is Christian brotherhood limited to only pleasant circumstances and enjoyable activities? Does not the “brother’s keeper” principle (Gen. 4:9) enjoin on all members of God’s universal family the responsibility of warning, admonishing, and restoring those who are drifting away from the Lord? (Gal. 6:1-2; James 5:19-20). Does not brotherly love also require the exercise of certain actions which may be somewhat difficult or unpleasant? (cf. Jude 20-23). As fellowship is not limited to the congregational level alone, neither are cooperation, association, warning, admonishing, correcting, or restoring. To suggest that a congregation cannot publicly warn, rebuke, or turn away from a sister congregation that is in error is an attempt to tie the hands of the faithful and to give the devil free course to continue his destructive work. If a faithful congregation cannot withdraw from an apostatizing group, it is therefore forced to continue its association with no means of protecting its members from subversive influences.
Since the Lord himself cuts off entire congregations when they drift too far away from the prescribed standard of conduct (Rev. 2:5; 3:16; cf. John 15:2-6), should any less be expected from those who remain in fellowship with God? It is true that there were faithful Christians even among the errant congregations of Asia Minor (cf. Rev. 2:24; 3:4), but bear in mind that the Lord did not happily accept the condition of these churches and expect them to maintain their status quo. He called upon them to either repent or face the consequences. Individuals who are true to the Lord, even within the unsound congregations, have the responsibility of admonishing and restoring the unfaithful (Gal. 6:1; James 5:19-20) and severing their affiliation with those who refuse to repent (1 Cor. 5:13; 2 Thess. 3:6; cf. 2 Cor. 6:17). Perpetual silence and toleration in the midst of unrepentant sin are not marks of faithfulness (cf. 1 Kings 18:21; Ezek. 3:17- 21; Rev. 2:20).
Every Christian and every local congregation belongs to the universal body of Christ. Congregational autonomy does not negate the common bond we all share as a spiritual family. Certainly no single congregation has the right or authority to rule over the affairs of another, but warning, rebuking, and withdrawing from an erring group of Christians is not an infringement on church autonomy. A congregation has both the right and the obligation to refuse association with any person or group that fails to abide within the boundaries set forth by God’s word. Local leaderships will be held accountable for the souls entrusted to their care (Heb. 13:17), for their faithfulness to God or lack of it (Rev. 2:10, 23), and for the messages of approval or disapproval conveyed to their brethren (1 Cor. 11:2, 17).
A word of caution is in order here. Before an entire congregation (or even an individual for that matter) is excluded from one’s circle of associations, the reasons and motives for such strong measures must be prayerfully scrutinized in the light of God’s word. It is fairly easy to make general allegations of “unfaithfulness” or “false teaching” or “liberalism” or “legalism” or “divisiveness” bolstered by numerous scripture references. But without the substantiation of specific details and reliable information, there is a risk of making illegitimate claims and premature or unwarranted judgments. There is no place for hasty decisions, unbridled emotionalism, or irresponsible proof-texting when dealing with something as precious as the fellowship of God’s people. And because this is such an important matter, sometimes the best course to take is disassociation.
--Kevin L. Moore