Sins That Warrant Expulsion

In 1 Corinthians 5.11 the apostle writes, ‘But now 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, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.’

This is the list to which we refer should someone have to be put out of church fellowship or excommunicated from a church of Christ. Although this is a rare event for most churches, it is always painful and difficult. This is the biblical list of what might be called excommunicatable offences. It is lengthened in chapter 6 by the addition of a thief (which is closely related to extortioners), and adulterer (which is related to fornicator).

This sin list must be considered firstly in the context of degree of scandal and secondly in the context of repentance and change. Fornication is set by Paul in a category of its own, being the cause of great scandal. Paul also tells us that unlike so many sins it is a sin against the body, both that of the offender and that of the church as the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 6.15-19). Even if repented of, the honour of Christ and the standing of the Gospel must be upheld and demonstrated by a period of expulsion from the church.

 However, the other offences on this sin list may be reproved, repented of and forsaken so that expulsion need not follow. Paul says, ‘If any man that is called a brother be’. If the sin is continued as the ongoing practice of the offender, then an expulsion may need to follow.

Obviously the scale of the sin counts also. To covet small things does not warrant the same reproof as setting the heart and life upon wonderful houses and cars. If people are greatly covetous so that this is the ruling principle of their life, they should not be able to continue as members of the church. They may claim to be believers, even carrying out Christian service, but the love of gain, and possessing splendid things, and being superior, is uppermost in life. Such people not only commit a form of idolatry (Ephesians 5.5), but they infect others with their covetousness and may ruin a church.

Despite what Scripture says, we see many rich Christians flaunting their gains in churches, but we have never heard of an expulsion for covetousness. We hear even of extremely rich pastors, so what hope is there of the sin of covetousness being warned against?

An ‘idolater’ in this passage probably refers to people who worshipped and served in the church in Corinth but at the same time continued to go to the idol temple. They may not have participated in its immoral practices, but they may have worshipped in it to preserve their standing in society, or their jobs. It was a shocking compromise that called for ­repentance and a complete break with idolatry, or expulsion.

A railer describes someone who is vehemently abusive, although the Greek word translated railer has a slightly different meaning. It is derived from the word for mischief and it indicates someone who makes trouble. Modern translations tend to use a word like ‘slanderer’ to reflect this. Such a person harms others by speaking against them and ruining their reputation. A persistent malicious gossip would well fit this term, but ‘railer’ also carries weight. Someone who uses abusive critical language intended to sting is surely included in this descriptive word. If there is no correction, such an offender is a menace in the family of God. A railer intends to wound, bring down or ruin the reputation of another person.

For persistent, unrepentant offenders the Lord’s remedy is expulsion from the church accompanied by a cessation of friendly interaction (‘with such an one no not to eat’). We may think this might be counterproductive, but we bow to the wisdom of God and realise that this is the remedy he will use to bring about repentance, and so it proved in the case of the Corinthian sinner.

Taken from a Tabernacle Prayer Meeting Address