Some have stumbled over this issue, and it does require a balanced understanding to properly apply ALL the Scriptures on this topic. Let’s begin with 2 John: “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds” (verses 10 and 11).
In the previous verses John speaks of “deceivers” and of “whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ” (verses 7 and 9). It is evident that the subject being dealt with in this letter is that some no longer walked in the truth. Some had embraced a false doctrine and were actually preaching that Christ was not coming in the flesh; that is, that Christ was not living in the lives of His disciples (verse 7). After several decades in the first generation of the Church of God, false teachers and false teachings were spreading and threatening to deceive some. John also stated in 1 John 4:1-6, that some taught that Christ never came in the flesh.
In 3 John, once again this faithful apostle of Jesus Christ is writing to Gaius about the issue of deception. Note what he says in verse 4: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in [the] truth.” He singles out Demetrius who “has a good testimony from all, and from the truth itself” (verse 12). However, he also speaks of Diotrephes. The actions of this man give us insight as to what was then happening in the Church of God: “I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the pre-eminence among them, does not receive us. Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church” (3 John 9-10).
Just how extreme the situation within the church had become was also attested to by Jude: “Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (verse 3). We see in verse 4 of Jude that “certain men have crept in unnoticed.” Then in verses 16-19, Jude warns: “These are grumblers, complainers, walking according to their own lusts; and they mouth great swelling words, flattering people to gain advantage. But you, beloved, remember the words which were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ: how they told you that there would be mockers in the last time who would walk according to their own ungodly lusts. These are sensual [worldly] persons, who CAUSE DIVISIONS, not having the Spirit.”
Paul also had to contend with those — especially among the ministry — who would embrace Christianity for their own purposes: “‘Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also, from among YOURSELVES men will rise up, speaking perverse [misleading] things, to draw away the disciples after THEMSELVES. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears'” (Acts 20:28-31).
Indeed, this happened. We find this further record from Paul in Galatians 1, verses 6-9: “I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.”
What was then happening to this Gentile congregation was that some were teaching that these Christians must be circumcised — in other words, they were being falsely taught the religious dogma of Judaism. Concerning this “other gospel,” Paul stated: “… he who troubles you shall bear his judgment, whoever he is” (Galatians 5:10). In chapter 6, Paul shows that the reason for this false teaching was merely so that they would “… not suffer persecution for the cross of Christ” (verse 12).
In writing to Titus, a minister who later might have left his responsibility (Compare 2 Timothy 4:10), Paul admonishes: “But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless. Reject a DIVISIVE man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned” (Titus 3:9-11).
Jesus taught His disciples how to handle problems within the Church of God.
In Matthew 18:17, we find this final step: “‘And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.'” We see how Paul later taught the Church according to Christ’s instructions. In 2 Thessalonians 3:6, he said: “But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us.”
Paul applied this in the Church of God: “Now I urge you, brethren, NOTE those who cause DIVISIONS and OFFENSES, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple” (Romans 16:17-18).
Paul continues to explain the approach that faithful brethren are to use when situations arise where this kind of action must be taken: “And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, NOTE that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him AS A BROTHER” (2 Thessalonians 3:14-15).
We are told that we must deal compassionately with those who make mistakes. God instructed His people Israel to carefully reprove their neighbor with the idea of not condoning wrong behavior, but they were not to hate their neighbor in the process. We find this instruction in Leviticus 19:16-18: “‘You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people; nor shall you take a stand against the life of your neighbor: I am the LORD. You shall not hate your brother in your heart. You shall surely rebuke your neighbor, and not bear sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.'”
Jesus taught that rather than hating those who might be our enemy, we should follow His example: “‘But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who spitefully use you and persecute you'” (Matthew 5:44). The overarching teaching from Jesus Christ is summed up in Luke 6:31: “‘And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.'”
We see from the Biblical examples that the Church of God is administered through the ministry. There are times when people have to be told to stop attending services or to be put out of the church (Compare 1 Corinthians 5:1-5). There are also times when the ministry invites repentant people back into fellowship (2 Corinthians 2:6-11; compare John 20:23).
We have witnessed the fragmentation of God’s church in our own time. Many have left the faith, while a lesser number have continued as best they could. Some have come to hold very extreme views, and others have become less zealous, even to the point of compromising with the truth. This very circumstance has torn families apart — and that includes God’s family!
While we indeed must use discretion to avoid being deceived by false teachings, we must still not allow ourselves to assume a self-righteous approach when dealing with the people of God outside our own fellowship. We must let our light shine before all, and that includes speaking to even those who may now be cast in adversarial roles. However, that would not include listening to false teachings (including via literature or tapes) or spiritually fellowshipping with those who have chosen to follow and promote such wrong doctrines. Paul warned the Church at Corinth: “…that a little leaven leavens the whole lump” (1 Corinthians 5:6).
Let’s be careful in how we deal with people to make certain that we don’t participate in sins, but let us also strike a balance and interact with others just as Jesus did — with great mercy (compare Jude 22-23).
The command in 2 John 10, and similar commands, refers mainly to those who come to us for the purpose of sowing discord and creating division. It is not to be understood as a command to have no social relationship with anyone who is not in our fellowship. Christ did not refuse to accept invitations from Pharisees (!) to eat in their houses. He would have lodged with the Samaritans, if they had offered Him a place to stay. Sinners and tax collectors approached Him, and He did not reject them, when He saw their willingness to be taught by Him. We are to go after the lost sheep — how can we do so, if we refuse to speak or eat with everyone who does not belong to, or has left, our fellowship? We must understand, too, that the Church of God, the body of Christ, is a spiritual organism, and not a corporation. This means that there are people of God in other human organizations outside our particular fellowship. How can we reject those and refuse to have any social contact with them, when God has accepted them (compare Romans 14:4)?
We must be careful not to be influenced by wrong teachings and practices. At the same time, we must be careful not to develop an “exclusive” approach toward others in our minds and actions.