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Is it biblical to break fellowship with an unrepentant believer?

by Stephen Davey

Beth from Alabama asks, “The Bible clearly teaches that we’re to show love, grace, and forgiveness to everyone, but does that mean that there is never a time to break fellowship with someone who does not respond to the efforts one makes to show those things mentioned?”

There is no cap on forgiveness. Jesus says in Matthew 18:22 that we should forgive “seventy-seven times,” which is a Greek way of saying “an innumerable number of times.”

But forgiveness of the heart is different from breaking fellowship with someone, as an individual or as a church body.

There are many steps to take with an unrepentant believer before breaking fellowship with them, including a private conversation and public confrontation.

But if all of those efforts fail to generate repentance in the sinning believer, then it is appropriate and biblical to publicly condemn that person and break fellowship with them. On a persona level, that can mean refusing to fellowship with that person or see them, especially if they are continuing to directly sin against you.

On a corporate level, breaking fellowship can include removal from church membership, and closing the doors to that person, unless signs of genuine repentance are later seen.

It brings to my mind the example in the parable of the prodigal son. The father let his son walk away from fellowship, and it took the filth of the pig stye for the son to realize the error of his ways.

Sometimes it takes extremely tough love, even when the person may not see it as “love” at all.

But remember, even if you break fellowship with someone, continue praying for them, and if the Lord ever does stir their heart toward repentance, consider welcoming them back into your fellowship as well.

Excommunication should never be a permanent decision.

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