FELLOWSHIP - ITS NATURE AND CONDITIONS
The, truth is professedly and confessedly a “narrow” thing. Jesus declares this in saying “Strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leadeth unto life.” This “way” he afterwards speaks of as “the truth,” saying, “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free“; and also, “every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.”
The narrowness of the truth is one of the obstacles to its general adoption. People do not like to be fettered either in doctrine or practice. It is also one of the causes of the active tendency to corruption which has manifested itself among those embracing the truth from the very day it was apostolically established at Jerusalem. It is inconvenient to be under restrictions in our dealings with fellow men in the truth or out of it. If it were a question of choice, we should all prefer absolute freedom. But no one recognising Christ as the supreme teacher can think of freedom in the matter. If we make freedom our rule, we can only have the freedom of those who set Christ aside altogether, saying in the words of the wicked “Our tongues are our own: who is Lord over us ?” None who truly know Christ would desire this freedom. All who sincerely accept Christ will recognise his law as paramount, however irksomely it may work in some of its present relations.
It is one of the narrownesses of the truth that it demands of those who receive it that they “contend earnestly” for it, even if an angel from heaven oppose it or corrupt it (Jude 3; Gal. 1:8‑9); and that they maintain it intact and unsullied among themselves as the basis of association among those who profess it, refusing to walk with a brother who either disobeys its precepts (II. Thess. 3:14; Rom.16:17), or refuses consent to its teachings in vital matters (II: John. 10; I. Tim. 6:3‑5). This policy is so contrary to natural friendliness that it is easy to drift away from it, and to invent theories that will relieve us from its unpleasant obligations.
The controversy on inspiration has forced the reconsideration of this question upon us. We say re‑consideration: for it was considered and debated in the beginnings of things connected with the truth in this generation, and satisfactorily disposed of for a time. The principal cause of our trouble in the present situation has been the divergence of view that has prevailed at the bottom on this fundamental question. Many who have allowed the entirely inspired character of the Scriptures, have not been able to see the necessity for insisting upon that truth in our basis of fellowship. They have been inclined to leave it as “an open question.” This is the result of a dim or faulty perception of the apostolic doctrine of fellowship (a common sense doctrine) which requires agreement on fundamentals as the first condition of walking together, or co‑operating, associating or fellowshipping together in the prosecution of the objects of the truth. As a brother, writing on the question says
“There is prevalent at the present time a lamentable looseness in regard to what must constitute the basis of fellowship. It arises partly from ignorance and partly from an over‑anxiety to increase numbers, and keep together divergent elements. This must inevitably result in serious trouble or general declension. : . . The truth’s interest is at stake and no doubt much depends upon our action, as to whether it is yet to be maintained in its purity and simplicity, or lapse into laodiceanism. The crisis is, doubtless, the most acute that has taken place since it was brought to light in these latter days. It has been brewing for past years. You were reluctant to believe it, and laboured to stave it off. A too long course of loose discipline and slackness in dealing with wrong principles in doctrine and practice has, no doubt, intensified the evil and made it all the more bitter, and grievous and hard to bear. I am persuaded that good will result in the, case of those many or few who will outride the storm by keeping a firm grasp of the anchor of the soul, by coming out of this ocean of suffering as gold tried in the fire.”
With a view to the thorough ventilation and effectual exhibition of the Scriptural principles of fellowship, we append a double series of propositions in which there is some attempt to formulate them in their bearing upon the question which has been troubling the Ecclesias. We should be pleased to receive and publish enlightened criticisms that may be offered thereon; or any other capable endeavour to amplify or illustrate Scriptural principles in the same direction.
THE FIRST SERIES
- “Fellowship with the Father and with His Jesus Christ” consists in walking in the light, as God is in the light.
- “Fellowship one with another,” depends entirely upon our conformity to this first and necessary principle of all fellowship, which John so emphatically lays down in 1 John. 1: 6, 7.
- “Light” is a figure of speech ‑ a metaphor for divine wisdom, true knowledge, and accurate understanding..
- God is the fountain‑head of these incomparable powers. Hence “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all.”
- His light is manifested to us in three ways first, in Christ; second, in the Scriptures; and third, in His saints.
- In Christ:‑‑”I am come a light into the world, that whosoever believeth on me should not abide in darkness.” In the Scriptures:‑”Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” (Psalm 119:105). In His saints:‑”For, ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord; walk as children of light.” (Eph. 5: 8).
- These points being hereby established, they constitute a chain connecting God and man, not one link of which can be removed, or in any respect impaired without endangering the whole sequence and breaking the harmony of the divine relations to us individually. Take away Christ and you destroy all possibility of fellowship with God. Tamper with that Bible which He approved, and you equally render divine recognition of you hopeless, while you remove the only means in visible existence among men which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among them who are sanctified; you destroy the foundation of the righteous, and dissolve in so doing the household of Christ.
- “Walking in the light,” therefore,‑ means “believing ALL things that are written in the law and in the prophets,” as Paul affirmed he did (Acts 24:14), as well as the subsequent writings in the New Testament: exercising hope toward God as embodied in “Christ our hope,” and “following righteousness, faith, love, peace with those that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.”
- Without the patient and faithful observance of these things, fellowship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ is impossible, and in consequence fellowship with one another is likewise impracticable.
Is it not a commandment of God that we should receive His word ‑ His oracles ‑ the Scriptures ‑ as supreme ? Does not ,Christ enforce it in his “Search the Scriptures” (John 5:39) and elsewhere? Does not Paul teach it in many ways, in regard to both the Old Testament and the New ?
Admitting this unavoidable conclusion and reading it in the light which 1 John 2:3, etc., throws upon the conditions of true fellowship, namely, “And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in Him.” “He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.” Must we not exact Christ’s estimate of the Old Testament, and Paul’s of both the Old Testament and his own writings, as a necessary condition to be recognised in our “fellowship one with another,” if we wish to secure the end for which we are working, namely, “fellowship with the Father, and with his Son, Jesus Christ” ?
THE SECOND SERIES
- In the accomplishment of its mission among men, the truth acts by separation and association:
(a) It separates men from the world: “Come out from among them and be ye separate.”It associates those so separated: “Ye are all one . . . forsake not the assembling of yourselves together.”
(b) It produces these results by the creation of scripturally derived ideas in the minds of those operated upon. By these ideas they are dominated and controlled. They become mentally new creatures, and manifest the change in their altered relations to men and things around them.
- But the association of those separated by the truth, is governed by conditions that sometimes interrupt that association. Hence, “Have no company”: “withdraw”: “turn away” ‑ are apostolic commands concerning some who have been actually separated by the truth.
- The conditions of association relate to two departments of our standing in Christ which may be expressed as conviction and character . . . Unity of conviction and mutuality of conformity to a certain standard of action, are the two conditions out of which association and fellowship, grow, and by rupture of which, it is necessarily interfered with.
- This rupture may be only partial in either department and yet be sufficient to cause suspension of association in fellowship. Apostolic examples:
(a) Refusal to recognise that Christ had come in the flesh was made a reason for not receiving men who believed in God and the Kingdom, and a number of other elements of truth.
(b) Idleness was declared a ground of disfellowship where men had otherwise submitted to the commandments of Christ. efusal to recognise that Christ had come in the flesh was made a reason for not receiving men who believed in God and the Kingdom, and a number of other elements of truth.
5. That the first condition of association is the belief of the truth, apart from the perception and reception of which, there is no basis of fellowship.
6. That, the truth forming this basis is made up of a number of items or elements, that are each essential to its integrity as a whole.
7. That it is a matter of duty to require the recognition of these at the hands of those claiming association with us in the truth.
8. That we are not at liberty to receive any one who denies or refuses to believe any of them, because the receiving of such would open the way for the currency of their principles among us, with the tendency of leavening the whole community. The elements of the truth are so mutually related that the displacement of one undermines the foundation of the whole.
9. A man himself believing the truth, but willing to wink at its denial among those in fellowship in any of its essential elements, becomes, by this willingness, an offender against the law of Christ, which requires the faithful maintenance of the whole. Faithful servants of Christ cannot unite with such, on the ground that though he hold the truth himself, such a man is responsible for the error of those whom he would admit, and therefore becomes the channel of a similar responsibility to those who may endorse him in fellowship:‑”He that biddeth him God‑speed is partaker of his evil deeds.”
10. That it is the duty of the friends of the truth to uphold it as a basis of union among themselves by refusing to receive either those who deny any part of it, or those who would receive those so denying.
11. Paul commands withdrawal from “any man” who “obeys not his word,” “delivered by epistle.” He commands the brethren to hold fast the traditions taught by him, “whether by word or epistle.”
12. Paul teaches by epistle that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God.
13. We are bound to hold fast by this, and to refuse association with any man refusing submission to this apostolic tradition.
14. The doctrine of partial inspiration is a nullification of this apostolic tradition; and a doctrine consequently, from the holders of which, we are bound apostolically to withdraw.
15. That the highest sanction of reason supports this apostolic obligation, since logically, the doctrine of partial inspiration when worked out, deprives us of confidence in the only access we have to the divine mind in our age.
Robert Roberts, The Christadelphian 1885