LCN Article


Disfellowshipping and Marking

January 2000

Dexter B. Wakefield

In the Church we hear occasionally that someone has been “disfellowshipped” or “marked,” but these practices are not always well understood.

Can a person who is not a member of the Living Church of God be disfellowshipped? No. Can a person who is not a member of the Living Church of God be “marked?” Yes. So there is a difference in the two. Can you explain what it is?

These are two different ecclesiastical practices in the Church, both taken from the Bible. Let us take a closer look to understand them better.

Paul wrote to the Church in Rome, “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them,” (Romans 16:17, KJV). What does this word “mark” mean to you? In The Scarlet Letter, a novel set in Puritan New England, an adulteress had to wear a red letter “A” to identify her sin. Is that what Paul meant by “mark?” Even today some groups have the practice of completely “shunning” members they disapprove of. Was Paul instructing us to do that?

“Mark” My Words

The word translated “mark” in the KJV comes from the Greek word skopeo and is rendered differently in most modern translations. Understanding this word better is helpful. Various lexicons define it as:

Consider, take heed, look at (on), mark (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance).

(1) To look at, to observe, to contemplate (2) to mark (3) to fix one’s eyes upon, to direct one’s attention to (anyone) (Thayer’s Greek Lexicon).

To look at, behold, watch, contemplate (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words).

It is interesting to see how the word skopeo is used in some other contexts:

Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness” (Luke 11:35 KJV).

“Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1, KJV).

Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others” (Philippians 2:4, KJV).

So we can see why modern translations of the Bible usually render the word skopeo a bit differently in Romans 16:17 from the older English in the King James Version:

“I appeal to you, brethren, to take note of those who create dissensions and difficulties, in opposition to the doctrine which you have been taught; avoid them” (RSV).

“Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them” (NAS).

“I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them” (NIV).

We might describe it this way. Let us say in my neighborhood there lived a big dog, which would walk up to people on the street, looking at them expectantly. When someone put out a hand to pat the dog, it would suddenly snap. Ever know a dog like that? What if you and I were walking down the sidewalk and this dog approached us expectantly. When you reached out to pat it, the dog gave you a vicious bite. Then, as you tried to stop the bleeding, I remarked, “Actually, I knew that dog would bite you. It does that to everyone who tries to pat it.” You would probably be very upset with me, and you might say (along with a few other things), “You should have warned me to mark, to note, to keep my eye on, to watch out for that dog, and avoid it!” And you would be right.

Paul was saying that the Church has a similar responsibility.

This is why the ministry, after careful consideration, will sometimes announce to a congregation or to the Church as a whole that someone may potentially do harm and needs to be “noted” or “marked.” When the word mark is used, it’s in the sense of, “Mark my words.” This is done when you need to be warned, and the person taken note of can be anyone who poses a threat of some kind, spiritual or otherwise.

Disfellowshipping

Disfellowshipping is quite different as it always involves a member of our fellowship and the Church may or may not be told about the action. People have been disfellowshipped temporarily for some ongoing sin and have returned weeks or months later without their congregation ever knowing about it. As a church member you may be asked, depending on the circumstances, to avoid social contact with the person for a period, pending repentance. Usually, business contact is not prohibited. Determining how to handle business contact is the responsibility of the individual member, but seeking counsel from the ministry can help you decide what is most helpful in each individual case.

For example, in 1 Corinthians 5, a man had been committing, on an ongoing basis, a sin which involved having an affair with his stepmother (see Deuteronomy 27:20). Paul wrote them, “And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you… But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person… Therefore ‘put away from yourselves the evil person’” (1 Corinthians 5:2, 11, 13).

However, in the second chapter of 2 Corinthians, we find that being disfellowshipped helped the man. He had repented and was to be accepted again by the Church. Paul wrote: “This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow. Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him. For to this end I also wrote, that I might put you to the test, whether you are obedient in all things” (2 Corinthians 2:5–9).

How, then, should we feel towards those who have been noted or disfellowshipped? It is very important to remember, when someone is noted or disfellowshipped, that the membership should not bear any ill feelings against the person. These practices have a constructive and protective purpose and should never be construed to encourage feelings of animosity.

Paul instructed the Church, “But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good. And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother” (2 Thessalonians 3:13–15). Even when someone is attacking our faith and practice, Jesus said we should love them: “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:44–45).

In Summary

Disfellowshipping:

  • involves only someone in our fellowship.
  • is generally for sin, pending repentance, or for causing division. The purpose of the practice is to help the person spiritually or to protect the church spiritually from sin or division.
  • The congregation may or may not know about it. How to handle it is a judgment call by the minister who carefully considers what is in the best interest of the individual and the Church.

Noting or marking:

  • means to “take note of” or to “watch out for.”
  • can involve someone who is not in our fellowship.
  • This practice may be used to protect the brethren, when people make themselves adversaries by attacking our faith or the Work. The “noted” people are trying to cause harm and it means, “Beware.”

Marking and disfellowshipping are two different practices, but both are used for the health and protection of the church.