In the last issue it was said that the Assembly of God was identical to the body of Christ. If so, then surely this means that the man of 1 Cor. 5:13 was put out of Christ’s body even though he was a real believer (2 Cor. 2: 6–8)?
Scripture teaches quite clearly that there is just one Assembly, and that the terms “assembly of God” (1 Cor. 10: 32) and “the assembly, which is his body” (Eph. 1: 23) refer to different aspects of that one Assembly, rather than two different assemblies. Furthermore, it also teaches that local assemblies like Corinth (1 Cor. 1: 2) are simply local representations of the universal whole (12: 27).
The assumption in the question is that Paul instructed the Corinthians to put the “wicked person” out of the Assembly of God. If this is so, it is reasoned, and if there is just one Assembly, then the man is also removed from the body of Christ. If you look carefully at the passage, however, you will find that it does not say that the man was to be removed from the Assembly of God. It says: “Remove the wicked person from amongst yourselves” (5: 13). However, if the words “from amongst yourselves” do not mean removal from the Assembly of God, then what do they mean?
Certainly no genuine Christian can ever be removed from the body of Christ. Our membership is unconditional. Through a work of the Holy Spirit we have become Christ’s flesh and bones (Eph. 5: 30) and it is an irreverent thought to suggest that what is of Himself can be torn out. By the same token only those who have really passed out of death into life (John 5: 24) could be part of that body. No mere professor could be a member of Christ.
Now whilst membership of the Assembly is unconditional and is brought about by a work of God, participation in the fellowship of the Assembly is both conditional and subject to the fallible judgement of man. The latter is confirmed by the Scriptures that speak of those that “got in unnoticed” (Jude 4) and who “went out from among us, but they were not of us” (1 John 2: 19). Such were never members of Christ’s body, but had nonetheless managed to infiltrate the assembly as a public body––join its fellowship in an outward sense. The saints of God are also responsible to refuse those whose conduct or doctrine is incompatible with the holiness of the fellowship to which they are called. Thus participation in fellowship has certain conditions attached. Failure with regard to these conditions may lead to removal from the fellowship of the Assembly, but this does not mean dismissal from the body of Christ. If anyone is removed from amongst the saints (1 Cor. 5: 11, 13) he is not removed from the body. No one has the right or the capacity to do that, not even Diotrephes (3 John 10). He could only cast persons out of the public side of the Assembly.
The offender at Corinth was not put out of the Assembly, but out of the fellowship of the Assembly. Why was he put out? Because they could not walk in partnership with wickedness. Note the way in which the apostle describes such wicked persons: “if any one called brother be fornicator, or avaricious ...” (1 Cor. 5: 11). Their conduct introduces an element of doubt into the sincerity of their profession. However, we have no warrant to talk about putting people out of the Assembly, whatever their behaviour, since only “[The] Lord knows those that are his”. Still, we are responsible to “withdraw from iniquity” (2 Tim. 2: 19), and thus must discontinue fellowship with any whose walk is wicked. The Corinthians thus removed the offender from amongst themselves––put him out of the fellowship of the Assembly.
As it turned out, the man in question had been a genuine believer all along (2 Cor. 2: 6–8), and was thus a member of the Assembly throughout, even though his conduct lead him to be excluded from its fellowship for a time. When he repented, the saints simply received him back into fellowship.
Thus no one is ever put out of the Assembly, and hence there is no conflict between 1 Cor. 5: 13 and the assertion that the body of Christ and the Assembly of God are one and the same Assembly. The wrongdoer is put out of the fellowship of the Assembly, not the Assembly itself. Like the disobedient schoolboy suspended from school lessons he is still on the register of the Assembly, though excluded from all its activities and privileges (v 11). He has not been expelled––he cannot be if he is a true believer.