It is remarkable that a fundamental doctrine such as separation, which is so thoroughly and consistently elucidated in the Word of God, should be so ignored by the church generally, if not actually denied. Many who refuse to practice biblical separation do so on the grounds that love forbids such action. But the Word of God sets forth this doctrine within the very context of love: “Let love be without dissimulation [“hypocrisy”]. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good” (Rom. 12:9). From God’s perspective, then, there can be no genuine cleaving to righteousness without a simultaneous leaving of unrighteousness. The Corinthian church included a known fornicator among its members; Paul explains the biblical way to deal with such an unrepentant sinner: “I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer [“reviler”], or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. . . . Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person” (I Cor. 5:11, 13b). In these verses and the associated passage, Paul sets forth God’s prescribed manner of dealing with one who is “called a brother” (because his sinful behavior so belies his profession and the fruit of his life does not evince salvation) by his fellow church members.
1. Do not socialize: Do not associate with a professing Christian who lives in flagrant sin. Paul provides a representative list of sins (see text above) committed by those professing salvation that demand separation by faithful believers. Paul says the Corinthians are “not to keep company” with such people who have been permitted to live in their midst. Paul leaves nothing to interpretation: “with such an one no not to eat.” Do not even eat with such a sinner. This injunction suggests that the separation God demands is a separation outside the formal life and activities of the church. In other words, God forbids even casual social intercourse between believers who would be faithful to God and His Word and those who, though professing themselves to be Christians, are living in flagrant sin. Such separation is not a denial of Christian charity nor a self-righteous, holier-than-thou act but humble obedience to God’s Word. Believers who wish to honor the Lord must not associate socially with friends or even members of their immediate family who call themselves believers but live in blatant sin.
2. Do not worship: Remove from church membership a professing Christian who lives in flagrant sin. Apparently, the Corinthians had thought that permitting a sinner in their midst evinced some sort of grace, charity, or spiritual sophistication (see I Cor. 5:2). But God was having none of it. His requirement direct, if not curt: “put away from among yourselves that wicked person.” Remove him as a member. Later in the epistle, Paul explains one reason (there are several) for this requirement: “Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners” (15:33); i.e., “bad company corrupts good morals.” It is not a sign of charity or of heightened sophistication to permit an unrepentant sinner to remain on the church roll. The reality is that such sin will inevitably spread like a cancer throughout the body, attacking the weakest first, but eventually overcoming the entire organism. The cancer must be excised. A godly congregation will say to a member who, professing Christ, remains a recalcitrant sinner: you are no longer a part of this congregation. As someone now outside the authority of the church, he or she becomes God’s responsibility to judge: “But them that are without [outside the membership and authority of the church] God judgeth” (v. 13a).
For the preservation of the faithful and the potential deliverance of the unfaithful, God requires the church to formally sever the membership of sinners and requires individual believers to sever informal fellowship with such individuals as well.
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