[While Alex uses the example of a Jehovah’s Witness, the scenario that follows can apply to many faiths today. A Muslim who becomes a Christian risks his life. Even within the Christian community, while the practice of shunning is rarely applied institutionally anymore, individuals who abandon the faith they were raised in are often ostracized by family and friends.]
Joseph was cast out by his brothers – much like many of our brothers and sisters are cast out of the congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses by their spiritual family when they come to believe things from God that are deemed controversial.
In Joseph’s case, he had a dream which was understood by his brothers as something presumptive, even arrogant.
His brothers said to him: “Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said. (Genesis 37:8 NIV)
When a Jehovah’s Witness starts partaking of the emblems, it can cause a similar reaction in the congregation. By itself, this is not a basis for expulsion from the congregation. However, any dissenting Bible understanding – such as, that there is only one hope for Christians in Scripture – will result in a situation similar to what Joseph underwent. Also like Joseph, our anointed brothers and sisters, disfellowshipped from their families and cut off from much of their past life, find themselves in a proverbial prison, with no support structure outside of the congregation to fall back on. They may well feel, as Joseph surely did, like strangers in a strange land.
If you have undergone, or are undergoing, this experience, you know the pain such isolation causes. Yet, you are not alone, just as Joseph was never alone. The Father watches out for you.
Whether you have been disfellowshipped, or are carefully fading away, you will from time to time come across a Jehovah’s Witness. Your desire is to help them come to the understanding of truth that you have experienced. But like Joseph, when he finally encountered his brothers, you may feel the need to act prudently, even concealing your true motives at first.
The Witness you are talking to may be someone with good morals that you would want to befriend. They may come across as very involved and fully devoted to the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Your heart sinks. You miss your spiritual family, but blurting out your newfound truths could actually do more harm than good. You could experience a knee-jerk reaction that would shut down all further communication.
What did Joseph do? He wanted to find out if his brothers had truly changed, so he planted his silver cup as a test of loyalty. If the loyalty of his brothers truly lay with their common father, all could be forgiven and he could move on. (Ge 44:1-34)
We cannot blame Joseph for being cautious. He hid his identity and his true motives, but only for purposes of reconciliation. We can learn from this. We too wish reconciliation with our brothers, but we need to test where their loyalties lie before knowing how best to proceed.
So in the case just presented, we might plant our own “silver cup”. We might ask, in the course of conversation, a hypothetical question. “If I found that a particular teaching of the organization wasn’t scriptural, would it be proper for me to teach it to my Bible students, or should I refrain from doing so?”
You are asking for advice, but without getting specific.
If the Witness were to respond, “Well, that’s just hypothetical”, or if he were to say that such a thing could not happen, you could respond by pointing out that it is not hypothetical, but that it has happened in the past, but then reassure him that in this instance you just want to know what the proper course of action would be for a Christian in such a case.
In short, his response will tell you whether you can pursue the conversation advantageously, or whether it would be best to leave it be. Of course, the correct answer would be that we should not teach anything that we know to be false. Such a response would demonstrate loyalty to God over men. However, it would be very rare to get such a direct answer.
There is more of a parallel between the Joseph account and our situation then we might at first comprehend. Joseph was the little one among his brothers, but he was the one that Jehovah loved. Thus, he was despised and as a result was disfellowshipped from their presence. Yet, in due time he was raised above them all and sat in judgment over them. When we awaken to our true standing before God, we humbly acknowledge the wonderful opportunity that Christ has opened for us to rule with him in the kingdom of the heavens should that be God’s choice for us. Just as Joseph spoke of the things that God had revealed to him, we speak of the things the Spirit has revealed to us. This often causes our former friends – brothers and sisters – to turn on us and hate us, even to the point of disfellowshipping us from the congregation so that they can have nothing to do with us. Yet, like Joseph, Jehovah continues to be with us. He sustains us and supports us in our tribulation, knowing that this results in refining. Should we remain faithful, eventually we will be exalted. Our situation may very well parallel that of Joseph when he was finally confronted again with the brothers who had expelled him from their midst.
Joseph told his brothers, “God sent me ahead of you to preserve life!”
As anointed Christians, we will eventually judge even angels. (1 Corinthians 6:3) One day you may find yourself having to judge your brothers and sisters as Joseph did, and no longer able to control yourself, you will say: “I am your brother/sister, whom you cast out. Now, do not be upset and do not be angry with yourselves because you cast me out, for God sent me ahead of you to preserve life!”
Jesus said that true Christians would have to endure denial and pain:
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24)
Our being cast-out is our torture stake/cross, our banishment, our being sold out by our own brothers and sisters. It hurts. But our heavenly Father is preparing us for a greater part in his mercy, one where we can receive those who have wronged us, and turn the other cheek.
“But I tell you, […] pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:44, 45 Berean Study Bible)
“…Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do….” (Luke 23:34)