Certainly withdrawal of fellowship, the final phase of church discipline, is rarely convenient, but it is the Lord’s directive (2 Thessalonians 3:6). It certainly was easier for the church at Corinth to remain proud in their religion rather than dealing with the fornicator in their midst, but it was not what God wanted (1 Corinthians 5:2). Paul, appealing to the authority of the Lord, commands, “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Corinthians 5:4-5). The purpose of this discipline is to try to save the soul of the individual who presently is not repenting of sin.
However, even if the impenitent brother/sister is not swayed by withdrawal, at least the sinful influence is removed. First Corinthians 5:6 asks, “Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?” If one in the midst of the body of Christ persistently engages in a public sin without facing discipline, then others in the congregation will feel free to engage in open sin as well. If this attitude permeates a congregation long enough, returning to the Lord’s way may take the withdrawal of so many that a split in the congregation may occur as a result. It is best then to follow this command and nip each problem in the bud before the sinful influence spreads. The purity of the church is an oft-forgotten aim of withdrawal; regardless of whether the disciplined person repents the purity of the church will be maintained.
Some wonder about the legal ramifications of such an action; others are concerned about the reputation of the church in the community when this practice is administered. But the bottom line is, when it comes to carrying out this command, (or any of our Lord’s commands for that matter), we should look up to God, rather than looking around to see which way the wind is blowing. We must learn to trust God’s wisdom in this matter. This is an oft-neglected command not because it is difficult to understand but because it is difficult to administer. It has never been easy to follow this, but it is so essential to the health of the church.