Posted by: chuckbumgardner | June 11, 2010

Early Application of 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 to Ecclesiastical Separation

At times, the application of 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 to ecclesiastical separation is pooh-poohed as a 20th-century Fundamentalist innovation.  “If this is a legitimate application of the passage,” it has been asked, “then why don’t we see it noted in treatments of this passage from time past?”

I will note that I have come across no such application of 2 Thess 3:6-15 in the fathers.  In pre-Reformation texts, the passage is most often used in discussions of work and in discussions of church discipline, which are obviously its most direct fields of application.  However, I did some searching in Google Books using some of the key terms in the KJV text of the passage (particularly “disorderly” and “withdraw”) and this yielded some interesting early allusions to the passage.  (Italics are original, and I’ve put in bold key terms and phrases connecting with 2 Thess 3:6-15.)  To be clear, the point of quoting the following passages is not to hold each of them up as shining examples of a proper use of 2 Thess 3, but to demonstrate that the passage has for some time been used to justify separation in contexts broader than local church discipline.

[Regarding the actions of the Reformers,] “They were commanded [in Scripture] to withdraw from every brother who walked disorderly, and who refused to be reclaimed; which necessarily implies the duty of withdrawing from any number of brethren,—even from a whole church when found disorderly and irreclaimable: so that the reformers were guilty of no schism, but were only obeying a divine command, when they separated from the church of Rome.”  William McGavin, The Protestant: Essays on the Principal Points of Controversy Between the Church of Rome and the Reformed,  2 vols. (Hartford, CT: Hutchison and Dwier, 1833), 2:618.

[Following a quotation of 2 Thess 3:5-6, 14] “If we are to withdraw from every disorderly-walking brother, of course, we are to withdraw from all disorderly-walking churches; if we are to note that man that obeys not the word, and have no company with him, of course we are to act in the same manner toward those churches which obey not the word.”  Associate Synod of North America, The Religious Monitor, and Evangelical Repository, vol. 17, ed. C. Webster [Philadelphia: William S. Young, 1840-41], p. 559.

“Since ‘evil communications corrupt good manners,’ there must be also the fellowship of watch and care, not only among the membership of the local church, but also among the churches themselves.  When necessary to purity, one church or more than one must admonish another, try to reclaim it, and, if it persist in denying the faith, or in walking disorderly, withdraw fellowship from it.  This apostolic course of discipline has been found to give purity where mere policy in centralized organizations would have given, first, silence, then corruption.”  A. Hastings Ross, “Superiority of the Congregational Churches,” in Congregational Quarterly, vol. 12 (new series, vol. 2), ed. Alonzo H. Quint, et al. (Boston: Congregational Rooms, 1870), p. 561.

“But we hold the [Old Mennonite] church was dead, and no reformation or change can ever bring it to light and life as a church. . . . Individual members of a dead body . . . cannot remain with a dead body, because they cannot obey Christ there, they cannot carry out their duty as Christ prescribes.  Paul says, we shall withdraw from every brother that walketh disorderly; and when all walk disorderly; we must withdraw from all.  In a fallen church, all do walk disorderly, for however blameless some may be in their general deportment and demeanor, if they do not withdraw from the disorderly part, they do not obey the order which the Holy Spirit has prescribed for them, and this is disorderly, and the faithful must withdraw from them also.  In short, it is not possible that a true and faithful child of God can remain in a fallen, or carnal church.  They must come out from among them and be separate, or else make themselves partaker of their evil deeds.” Daniel Musser, The Reformed Mennonite Church: Its Rise and Progress, with Its Principles and Doctrines (Lancaster, PA: Elias Barr & Co., 1873), p. 294

H. F. Tong speaks of “the important right and power of an association of sister churches to withdraw from any disorderly church, or fraction of a church, when all conciliatory means fail to satisfy or restore them” (Historical Sketches of the Baptists of Southeast Missouri [St. Louis: National Baptist Publishing, 1888], p. 109).

“Baptists should read their own proof-texts a little more carefully,—2 Thess. iii. 6, 14, for example.  These texts are used by them as authority for the maintenance of church discipline.  But if they authorize withdrawal from one professed disciple because of his disobedience, they equally authorize withdrawal from all who disobey.  Note the language: ‘Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every’ —member of the local church?  No,—‘from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.’ The same comprehensiveness of statement is found in the fourteenth verse: ‘If any man obey not,’ etc.  Why should not these commands apply to ‘brethren’ outside the church, as well as within its membership?  Baptists should certainly feel constrained to a consistent withdrawal of church fellowship from the disobedient, which means abstinence from all church unions with them.”  “Close Communion: By a Baptist Divine,” Bibliotheca Sacra 52 (1895): 109-10.


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