I am not one that feels comfortable with building an entire doctrine of separation as it is fleshed-out by many in the fundamentalist orb with the 2 Thessalonians 3 text alone, but I think that it is just as imaginative, if not creatively blind, to limit Paul’s instruction to the lazy man as so many are inclined to do in their effort to debunk the fundamentalist argument.
If, as some insist, 2 Thessalonians 3 gives us insight into what we are supposed to do toward the lazy person exclusively, then what does 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 teach us about dealing with anybody in sin except for the rare occasion when a church is faced with the problem of a man having an incestuous relationship with his stepmother?
If anything, one could argue reasonably that the 2 Thessalonians passage is a classic lesser-to-greater argument. Of the many sins that one can commit, belligerent laziness is relatively benign compared to some gross sins. If this is what we are supposed to do toward the idle, it seems at least reasonable that some kind of withdrawal from the belligerently erroneous would be justified.
Back to 1 Corinthians 5. Paul obviously did not intend for his instruction to be limited to an incestuous relationship with a stepmom. In chapter five he gives two lists, and as is typical with Paul, they are illustrative and not exhaustive.
“I wrote to you,” says Paul, “not to keep company with sexually immoral people. For I certainly did not mean with the
1. sexually immoral people of this world, or with the
2. coveteous, or
3. extortioners, or
4. idolaters, [four sins] since then you would need to have to go out of this world. But now I have written to you not to keep comapny with anyone named a brother, who is
1. sexually immoral,
2. or covetous, or
3. an idolater, or
4. a reviler, or
5. a drunkard, or
6. an extortioner [six things] — not even to eat with such a person” (1 Corinthians 5:9-11).
Well, Paul, who does “such a person” define? The first list or the second list? Because there are going to be certain people in the year 2008 that will refuse to apply anything in this chapter to any sin that is not specifically listed by you. And you, Paul, have confused all of us by giving TWO lists!
The way we read the Bible we’re going to apply 2 Thessalonians only to a “lazy person.” We’ll ignore the fact that the weight of the NT decries the evils of false teachers, the importance of doctrine, and the abomination of those who will change doctrine; and we’ll simply close our eyes to the force of logic that compels us to acknowledge the fact that a Christian who does not withdraw from those kinds of people is himself in disobedience.
That 2 Thessalonians applies to more than just the lazy person seems reasonable to me, and that is before one even begins to explore the possibilities of what Paul is speaking about when he uses the word “tradition.”
I challenge my friends on the evangelical side to give me something better than, “Well, that passage only applies to the idle person.”