Q.

While 1 Corinthians 5 tells believers in Christ to disassociate from a sinning brother or sister in the context of church discipline, does this principle also apply to families? The Amish practice “shunning,” but should we cut off a relationship with a Christian blood relative who lives in open, continuous, and belligerent sin?

A.
The word “shun” is found only a couple of times in the Bible. Second Timothy 2:16 says, “Shun profane and vain babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness.” Titus 3:9 has the same word in the original, but uses the word “avoid” here in the English: “Avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless.” A third passage, Acts 20:27, uses the word “shunned,” but it is a different word in the original: “I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.” These verses, as well as many other passages that don’t even use this particular word, remind us that that Christians need to shun (avoid) many things.

But is shunning (the act of avoiding) to be done toward people? The Bible teaches that shunning should be practiced in at least two situations. You have already mentioned one of them. The unrepentant incestuous man in 1 Corinthians was to be expelled, disassociated from the congregation. The Corinthian believers were not to eat with him (5:11). Believers back then would meet in homes and share a meal as they worshiped. The sinning and unrepentant believer was to have no part in any of this assembling together including sharing a meal together.

However the Bible limits shunning. In Matthew 18 Jesus outlined the steps to follow when we believe someone has sinned against us. Jesus said, “But if he refuses even to hear the church [to take these steps], let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector” (v. 17). Now the question is, Did Jesus associate with heathen people and tax collectors? He certainly did. He didn’t shun them as some consider shunning. He sought to win them (Luke 19:10).

The second Biblical reason for shunning is seen in Romans 16:17 and 18: “Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you have learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ.” We are to shun (avoid) those who teach false doctrine, those who teach a message that is contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Yet the spirit of this verse—along with other Scriptural norms and practices, including those of our Lord Jesus—is that we still reach out to people who do not know Christ or who have strayed. If no one, for example, ever witnessed to anyone in a cult or false religion, few in that number would likely ever hear the gospel and be saved. Again the indication is that we avoid, or exclude, these people within the context of our assembling together. We simply do not let these people into our worship and fellowship.

The shunning that is truly Biblical has a redemptive purpose: repentance and forgiveness on the part of the wayward believer, salvation of the unbeliever and protection of the flock of believers. It is not to give us the luxury of acting toward someone as though we’re consigning the person forever to Hell.
Unfortunately certain cults and isms practice shunning as though its purpose is to maliciously shame or destroy the individual for life, just because the person no longer is one Of them. One cult teaches and requires that their people must hate such a person. I understand that some extremist Islamic groups consider those they shun worthy of punishment with death.

So on the basis of these passages and considerations, it hardly seems justified that we shun blood relatives, at least in the strictest sense of the word. Of course we can justifiably make it clear that we don’t approve of their lifestyles. But we certainly don’t want to harm them, blocking them from repentance, restoration, and forgiveness.

Do you have feedback or a Bible question to submit? Send to nolson@garbc.org or mail to Norman A. Olson in care of the Baptist Bulletin, 1300 N. Meacham Rd., Schaumburg, IL 60173-4806.

Reprinted from the Baptist Bulletin (January 2004).
© 2004 Regular Baptist Press. All rights reserved.
Used by permission.