Is Shunning In The Bible?



Have you ever experienced it? Being shunned, I mean? Perhaps you have seen it in an Amish movie, but have you seen it in the Christian world? It shows up in two distinct places in some cases:

1. Families

The story usually goes this way…someone decides that certain standards that their family held are not what the Lord actually asked of them in Scripture and they make changes. Most would call this a mature step as each person must individually seek the Lord and make relationship with Christ personal. Plus, in matters not addressed in Scripture, this move is actually exercising our own priesthood as a believer as told us in God’s Word. The problem comes when some members of the family take exception to the changes. In many sad cases, the relationship becomes strained. In a few isolated cases, the relationship is ended. The person is shunned until they repent of the changes they have made. In every case I am personally aware of, discussion is shortly limited to complete agreement or the discussion is over. Logical arguments are not accepted and biblical ones are belittled and ignored.

2. Churches

In this case the shunning may be over standards, but it is more likely a case of not submitting to the pastor’s overreaching demands. While there are situations where church members disrespect and try to manipulate the pastor in their own shameful power play, I speak here of cases where pastors misuse their power in turning the church into their personal kingdom (I say that as a pastor who believes the pastor is the first authority under Christ in the local church). Someone wouldn’t mindlessly accept the increasingly unbiblical demands of the pastor and then are pushed out the door. Usually this expulsion is followed by a smear campaign, sometimes accompanied with a tirade from the pulpit, and ended with incredible pressure on the whole congregation to break fellowship and have no contact with the lambasted person under fear of similar repercussions.

The pain is disgraceful and horribly out of place among God’s people. In the cases involving family, holidays and family gatherings are smashed, relationships gutted, and hearts broken. If the case involves parents, you have the added devastation of the cry of every heart to be accepted by parents. If it involves the church, there are all those awkward encounters around town.

I have written on standards, soul liberty, and pastoral abuse from several angles on this blog, but in this matter of shunning I particularly ask us to look at the Bible together. Can you find verses that champion shunning? Some may cite separation verses but none of them are ever prescribed to be used in such cases, and there is not a shred of evidence that they are to be carried out this way.

Where really is there even a story in the Bible of shunning in this way? There is the shunning of Absalom by David after Absalom killed Amnon. That wasn’t even over something as minor as a standard, but actually a horrible and serious matter. David would not speak to him in any way–it was a complete shunning. Come to II Samuel 14 and we find a woman of Tekoah who the Bible presents as a heroine for getting David away from his ridiculous shunning. It caused deep problems too. David, I believe, had great regret over this when Absalom died. Check out David’s emotion in II Samuel 18: 33, “And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!” How catastrophic when life is over that the tale ends so tragically. This Bible story is not exactly a ringing biblical endorsement to the shunning that some practice.

It is not the glory of God that is honored in shunning, but the basest of unchristian behavior. A complete shunning is not called for in the Bible. Please do not cite the church discipline verses in I Corinthians 5 where the context is the Lord’s Supper and the putting away is in regards to churching someone over horrible sin–in that case incest. Even in the case where church discipline must take place, the shunning I described above is never told to us as something to do by the Lord.

Believe it or not, the doctrine of eternal security can be brought into the discussion. J.I. Packer once said, “What sort of father is it who never tells his children individually that he loves them, but proposes to throw them out of the family unless they behave?”  He wasn’t writing about shunning, but the way God treats His children should demonstrate how to treat children, even erring ones. Does God cast you away when you err? While the Lord is always right, we are not. So does pushing someone away for a difference of opinion seem right when there’s some possibility that we are wrong? That is really self-apparent, isn’t it?

Instead of shunning, I believe we should hold the shunners accountable. The weight of Scripture is against them as is the guilt of hurting fellow believers whether family or fellow church members. We can’t make any person do anything, but we can avoid shunning ourselves and love those who have felt the blows of the heavy hand of shunning.


This was originally IBTR #23.  Find all articles in that series here. My experiences come primarily from my background as an Independent Baptist, but I have learned through a great deal of interaction with others that this problem is in many branches of Christianity.





31 thoughts on “Is Shunning In The Bible?

  1. I would like to take a closer look at the passage you told us not to bring up. It seems to be an important one on the subject and includes a lot more than just incest. I’d like to know what that passage is really saying, because it seems like there is a “fellowship” that must be broken in some cases for the cause of restoring someone who is outright living and sin and refuses to repent.

    • I really believe that it refers to breaking fellowship in the context of denying the Lord’s Supper, and then in regards to churning or removing from membership. There are other cases other than the incest mentioned in that chapter, but only very serious things. Breaking fellowship on a church level is not equivalent to complete shunning because that breaks the whole point of church discipline, which is restoration.
      Jesus knew Judas was a devil and He never shunned him.

      • I don’t really disagree with you in the area of “convictions”, and the topic is important to our circles. I’m just picking your brain because I want to do right in regards to certain relationships. What about when Jesus says “treat them like a heathen…”? Whenever we have gone to them in love and they refuse to listen (even after repeated attempts and bringing others in on it), we are told to treat them like a heathen and a publican. Obviously Jesus still loved publicans and heathens, but in context, even when he ate with them it was because they were listening to him and seemed to be repentant (or at least considering his teachings). Other than that, I think the Bible makes it clear we are not supposed to fellowship in an accepting way of people who are living contrary to God (i.e. Coveteous lifestyle, drunkenness, adultery…all the things mentioned in 1 Cor. 5.

        If they say they are our “Brothers” and live in open shame and won’t change, what do you think is our responsibility in the area of social engagements? If a backslidden “brother” invites us to his house to watch the game an we know his live-in girlfriend will be there or that there will be alcohol on the counter…? If we are invited to go out with them on their new boat at the lake, knowing that they stopped going to church because they pursuing a coveteous lifestyle, only concerned about money and how much stuff they can get. Is it “shunning” them to say “I can’t hang out with you as long as you are going to keep going down that road. I love you and I’ll pray for you, and I’m here if you need me, but I can put my stamp of approval on your lifestyle”?

        Thank you for your thoughts.

      • I see what you are saying. Many who have commented on the heathen remark you referenced believe treating them like a heathen means witnessing to them as if they were unsaved. They may not be, but witnessing as if they weren’t might help wake them up.

        In your examples I think the alcohol one might make me a party to that sin, but riding the boat would not. There is always an opportunity to be clear that you do not agree with sinful behavior, but there is no need to avoid social activities just because they were there. There is no distinction made by Christ in His engagements with people by whether they were truly listening or not. If you shun where is your opportunity to share God’s Word with them. It is Christians who are true to the Bible on issues without sacrificing love, those who instead of shunning reach out with concern and compassion that make a difference!

  2. I have seen this be a part of mainstream Baptist groups. The problem that I see is that many things are preached and promoted that have no Biblical basis. When I was a young Christian I was taught the priesthood of the believer. That is a Biblical principle that I never hear preached. I have sat under pastors who taught the exact opposite . If something is being preached that goes against the word of God stand up and question it. Better yet why sit under preaching that isn’t Biblically based?

  3. Reading between the lines, I’m deducing that you are experiencing or have experienced this personally. So much can be said here, but let me weigh in on one aspect, that of shunning over “standards”. If a man’s fellowship with another man is based solely on the fact that the man’s wife doesn’t wear pants, then we are dealing with either a staggeringly self-righteous, immature Christian, or a stronger possibility – he is not a Christian at all. There. I said it. If one’s barometer of spirituality rises no higher (pardon the marginal pun for impact) than a patch of denim wrapped around a woman’s loins, then I can say with confidence that he knows NOTHING of Biblical Christianity. He fits the definition of a Pharisee to a tee. And if the man so described happens to be a “pastor”, then he fits the Biblical definition of a wolf. Look up every instance of a wolf in Scripture. You will see conclusively that the wolves are not in the pews. The wolves are in the pulpits. Solution: stop following them. Amen.

      • I want to know why it is okay for the pastor, his wife and several others in Baptist church to shun me when I did nothing but let it be known that two women in church were lying and spreading gossip about me? My hubby is having memory issues so I do not want to take him away from that church, but I feel that I have no pastor or friendships there anymore. I think the pastor is judging people he should not be judging, and allowing people to do this because he has taught them to behave like that and basically given his permission. He has never talked with me about any of it, just started shunning me. I think he is wrong and should not be a pastor. Watch, this message will make it to church before I do tomorrow morning and he will be even madder.

      • Sorry you are having this problem. I think you should ask the pastor for a meeting and give him a chance to make it right. If he is shunning and doesn’t care that might call for one response, but if either he did not realize how bad it was, or did but is willing to fix it, you can move forward. Sometimes we have to try in order to do what God asks. I pray you can work out this difficult situation. God bless you.

      • Thank you, I appreciate the response. I asked to speak with him before but he wouldn’t speak with me.. Maybe it is because I am not a ‘voted in member’ of the church? We have gone to that church for approximately 14 years and always tithed there. We have never ‘joined’ because we think that anyone who attends a church is a member (without be voted in) and it is supposed to be God’s house, not the Pastor’s. I guess I will just have to continue on as it is, though it is hurtful. Thank you again.

  4. While I agree in principle, what do you do with Romans 16:17?

    “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.”

    • If you notice, the first 16 verses are about unity in the various congregations Paul was working with. There is a time to back away from division and heresy, but again that is not a full-blown shunning. In light of Ps. 1:1-3, we would of course back away from those whose actions personally tempt us. I can love them, be kind to them, be around them at social events, and still avoid them to the degree I don’t get catch in their sin. It is my privilege to be as close to someone as I feel comfortable with as long as I am loving , Christian, and not going to the extreme of shunning.

  5. We are being shunned right now us and 4 other families, due to a dictator preacher. God has called the other 4 families away. We are waiting for God’s leading to go or to stay to help start a church. We live in a small town with only 1 choice for an Independent Baptist church. Somethings happened that were not scripturally right so we left. We have not talked about the pastor to anyone in the area as God will judge us for gossiping about His chosen. We have no believer fellowship except friends from afar. We will continue to be friendly if we run into anyone in town. We hurt for the families left in that church though. They are following the man, not God. We will continue to pray for them and remain friendly if we run into them.

  6. You are facing one of the hardest things imaginable. You must exercise care in the influence that family member might have (Ps. 1:1-3) on your children. You must state your stand based on what the Bible clearly says. But I believe there still must be some contact where you can demonstrate the love of Christ and be ready to help if they reach out to turn away from it. If you fully shun them, you will cut off all opportunity to help later. You will have to continue to pray for His guidance in how to pull this off in the particulars. I believe He will guide you on both sides.

  7. You wrote: “I speak here of cases where pastors misuse their power in turning the church into their personal kingdom. Someone wouldn’t mindlessly accept the increasingly unbiblical demands of the pastor and they are pushed out the door. Usually this is followed by a smear campaign, sometimes accompanied with a tirade from the pulpit, and ended with incredible pressure on the whole congregation to break fellowship and have no contact with the lambasted person under fear of similar repercussions.”

    You have incredible insight into one of the most destructive things that has happened to our family. Not only were we smeared, but our precious child was caught in the cross hairs, so sorely confused by the misuse of authority, and our end has been tragic.

    Someone very close to our family and aware of the abuse we have been subjected to, our subsequent tragedy and healing, forwarded me your article. As we walk through the valley of grief, sadness, sorrow, mourning, and HOPE in our Lord, your article and the timing of it’s arrival have been precious to our hearts. The Lord is daily affirming that He is over all and nothing escapes his omniscience, omnipresence, nor omnipotence.

    We have forgiven those that have harmed us and our son. We wait the Lord’s righteous outcome in the matter. May God bless you for your faithfulness to publicize a very detrimental cancer that is prevalent in many of our our Lord’s churches. It is sad, but true, and it is happening. May God help the remnant and the abused to remain faithful. There are souls to be rescued and souls to be saved. Christ must be lifted up even in the midst of destruction done His people by those professing Him. May we all be found faithful.

    May we endeavor and be faithful to PRAY for those that think they are right, that are abusing their power, that are blinded in their own eyes. They probably think they are sincere and doing right, but they are confused and have left off the Biblical example of our Lord as well as the Scriptures. A very terse check of the qualification of the Pastor will give even the simplest discerning Christian understanding in the matter, but sadly, most that profess Christ have not a clue about His Word. Those of us having walked through these valleys need to be filled with the Spirit and have the mind of Christ. We need to love as Christ has loved us, forgive, and let God do what is God’s work while we wait on Him.

    God bless you.

  8. I was shunned at the young age of eighteen. The pastor came out to my house when he knew I was about to graduate from high school to let me know that if I bought a senior ring and wore it, I would be disfellowshipped from the church. I purchased one anyway and he came back out to my house to let me know that my name would be taken off the church roll. Could you give me your feed-back on this. please

  9. Pingback: It’s Time For An Independent Baptist Truth Revolution! | The Reagan Review

  10. Yes, I could try with Matthew 18: 15-17. I also considered Proverbs 6:16-19 as it relates to things going on.

    Blessings to you and thank you.

  11. I would just like to say that while I know there are extreme cases, very few people bother to ask the pastor his side of the story. People don’t always tell the truth. I am a PK, so you can call me biased, but there have been so many situations where my dad was called a dictator and there were no grounds. People shunned our church and then expected other members to keep complete fellowship with them. A pastor has God given insight to detect people with wolf-like characteristics. He must do what he believes is necessary (biblically)to protect his flock. Again, I know there are extremes, but to be quite honest, I have seen VERY few extreme pastors in “our” circle of solid IB churches.

    • I see your point completely as I am a pastor myself. Still, I have had many horror stories that are far more than a misunderstanding. I am glad that your experiences are better than many others. God bless!

      • The shunning I was referring to, is shunning by certain ‘ladies’ in the congregation that are ‘gossipy’ and ‘unchristian-like’ and a Pastor that does nothing about it because these people are his friends and biggest “$upporter$. To me that is a Pastor that doesn’t know the meaning of his ‘God-given’ job.

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