TOUR IN SCOTLAND - FELLOWSHIP ISSUES
A reader has forwarded the following piece, further to the article on Fellowship by Brother Robert Roberts, published in the last issue:
The Editor’s refusal to break bread with the Aberdeen brethren on acccout of their connection with the Dowieites, was the subject of warm debate at two meetings. He was closely taken to task for his conduct, which he defended on principles familiar to all who are alive to the bearing of the truth. His first answer was that the Dowieites were unfaithful to the truth. This was met by a declaration that we ought not to judge each other. Now, let us look at this for a moment, and we shall find that it is a fallacy of the most pernicious kind. That we are not to judge is true in the sense intended by Christ when he said “Judge not.” We are not to decide who of those, believing the truth, are worthy or unworthy of eternal life; nor to carry out our conviction on such a point by repudiating those whom we may regard unfavourably, except where an open violation of the commandments of Christ takes place. It is Christ’s especial function to do this, and to separate the chaff from among the wheat, but it is not true that we are to shut our eyes to delinquency, and extend our fellowship without discrimination. In this we are to judge, in the sense of determining our duty toward those to whom we may stand related We are to decide where fellowship should be given and where it ought to be withheld. If this is not a true principle, whence arises the distinction between the ecclesia and the world? We come out of the world; we separate from the apostacy; we withdraw from the fellowship of both, and would, one and all, refuse to resume that fellowship by admitting parties belonging to either class into the ecclesia, and we would even, without dispute, refuse to countenance a disobedient brother. Paul says to the Corinthians (1st Epistle, 5:11), I have written unto you not to keep company if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.” Again, to the Thessalonians, he says (2 Epistle, 3:14) “If any man obey not our word by this epistle, have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.” Again, verse 6, same chapter, “Withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the traditions which he received of us.” Again, (1 Tim. 6:3, ) “If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing. * * * from such withdraw thyself.” Now here are plain apostolic injunctions which cannot be carried out without forming a judgment on the matters involved. For how shall we know when to withdraw from another, unless we conclude that a state of things justifying it, exists? And how can we come to this conclusion without observing and considering the matters leading to it? This mental act is the very basis of the withdrawal enjoined. How then can it be condemned? When Christ said “Judge not,” he did not forbid what his apostles afterwards enjoined. Is Christ against Paul? Those who deprecate a compliance with Paul’s rules for determining questions of fellowship virtually teach that he is. To such we must not listen. If any man contends for a course of action opposed to what Paul commands in his epistles, he puts himself into a position in which, by Paul’s command, we are to have no company with him. The Aberdeen answer to “judge not,” is no reply to the allegation that the Dowieites are unfaithful to the truth. This fact continues to be a reason for avoiding their fellowship.
But it may be said that Paul’s directions on the subject of withdrawal, apply only to matters of conduct, and not to matters of doctrine. To this we would reply, that if it does not apply to matters of doctrine, the Aberdeen brethren themselves have committed the very crime of which they accuse the Christadelphians; they are guilty of schism. Why have they left the Presbyterians, the Baptists, the Morisonians, and the others? Are not all these, respectable, well-behaved people? plentiful, many of them, in gracious looks, kindly words, and good deeds? On what principle can they defend separation from them? Do not the orthodox communities believe the Bible, and profess the name of Christ? Why have they come away from them? Are they not guilty of having “judged” these “sincere” professors of religion? Yes, in a sense, they are; and they have done quite right, for they are commanded to judge of themselves what is right, and act accordingly. The attitude enjoined in reference to sinful deportment, is also incumbent toward doctrinal defection. It is true the passages quoted above refer mainly to behaviour; but the same duty is elsewhere inculcated in reference to those who obstruct or oppose, or deny the truth in any of its doctrinal elements. 2 John, 9, –10, is a forcible illustration of this: “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, (that is, the truth concerning Christ’s manifestation in the flesh,) receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed; for he that biddeth him God speed, is partaker of his evil deeds.” Paul indicates the same duty in several places. Speaking to the Galatians of certain “false brethren unawares brought in,” he says, “to whom we gave place by subjection – no, not for an hour.” This was in reference to the Judaistical believers of Paul’s time, who taught the necessity for being circumcised and observing the law. He says of them “A little leaven leaventh the whole lump. * * * I would they were even cut off which trouble you.”—(Gal. 6:9, 12.) He says something to the same effect to the Corinthians: “Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. * * * Put away from among yourselves that wicked person.”—(1 Cor. 5:6, 7, 11.) There is nothing more conspicuous in Paul’s letters to Timothy, than his jealousy of those in the ecclesia whose influence was detrimental to the truth. He says, “Hold fast the form of sound words which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. * * * The things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also. * * * * Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and vain babblings, for they will increase unto more ungodliness, and their word will eat as doth a canker; of whom are Hymenœus and Philetus * * * having a form of godliness but denying the power; from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead silly women, laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. Now as Jannes and Jambre withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth. * * Evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived, but continue thou in the things which thou hast learned * * * Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine, for the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine: but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears, and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables..”—(2 Tim. 1:13; 2:2, 15–17; 3:5–8; 13, 14; 4:2– 4.)
The same anxiety about preserving the truth in its purity from the corrupting influence of its loose professors, is manifest in his letter to Titus. Defining the qualifications of an elder, he says he must be a man “holding fast the faithful word, as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine to exhort and convince the gainsayers. For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped * * * A man that is an heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject.”—(Titus 1:9–11; 3:10.) To the same purpose are the words of Jude. “It was needful for me to write to you that ye should contend earnestly for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints; for there are certain men crept in unawares, &c.—(verses 3–4.) The Aberdeen brethren and the Dowieites themselves have shown their apprehension of these apostolic precepts by separating from the sects and denominations of the orthodox world. Upon what principle then can they object to the attitude of Christadelphians towards the Dowieites, on the supposition that the latter corrupt the truth? It is entirely beside the mark to raise the cry of schism; this is a false issue. It is not a question between schism and unity among those holding the truth; it is a question of truth versus error among those professing the former. The Dowieites are consistent in the position they maintain, supposing that their doctrines are the truth: but the Aberdeen brethren have not even that feeble plea. They believe the Dowieites to be wrong in many of their doctrines, and yet they advocate connection with them, although justifying separation from the sects. They do so on the ground that the Dowieites have a great part of the truth: but this is not a principle that can be scripturally defended. There is no authority for making one part of the truth less important than another. A reception of the truth on one point will not condone its rejection on another. Can we suppose that the Judaizers had no part of the truth? Did the Gnostics who denied that Christ had come in the flesh, reject the kingdom of God? Did not the unbelieving Jew hold the truth in great part? Yet Paul counselled withdrawal from them all. Nothing short of fidelity to the whole truth can be accepted as a safe policy. “The things concerning the kingdom of God,” and “those things that concern our Lord Jesus Christ,” in their scriptural amplitude must be the measure and standard of fellowship. Those who go for less than this must be left to themselves; in this they are not judged; they are only subjected to the action of another man’s conception of duty, and are left at perfect liberty to organize themselves on whatever they may conceive to be a scriptural basis.
Paul’s injunctions on the subject of dissociation, from those whose influence is adverse to the truth, have their basis in common sense. The truth associates men in a common purpose to prosecute the mission to which it calls them as regards both themselves and others. Thus associated, they are an ecclesia, and their first duty is the preservation of the truth which has created them. Collectively, they are, in Paul’s words to Timothy, “the pillar and ground of the truth.” That is, in relation to the unbelieving world, they are a pedestal upon which the truth rests, a prop or stay by which it is upheld. Apart from them, the world has little chance of ever knowing it. With them rests the work of inviting men’s attention to, and preserving it in a form in which it will be efficacious when laid hold of. If it becomes corrupted in their midst, they cease to be an ecclesia, and degenerate to a mere sect of errorists, of which there are many in the world. If they continue steadfast in the truth, rejecting the divers fables by which, in all ages, it has shewn such a liability to be nullified and destroyed, they are a beacon of light and a storehouse of life-giving manna by which men may be saved. This is evident from Paul’s words to Timothy personally: “Take heed unto thyself and unto the doctrine; continue in them; for, in doing this, thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee.”—(1 Tim. 4:16.)
What is true of Timothy in the matter is true of everybody possessing the truth; for neither Paul nor Timothy’s power to save men lay in their appointment or their personal gifts or peculiarities, but in the truth of which they were the treasure-vessels. “Who is Paul,” enquires Paul himself, “and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed.”—(1 Cor. 3:5.) It is the gospel that is the power of God unto salvation, (Rom. 1:16, ) and not the men who may preach it. Hence, Paul rejoiced that in Rome, some preached the gospel, “of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to his bonds.” He says, “Whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea and will rejoice.”—(Phil. 1:18).
Now, by what means shall a community, based on the truth, preserve the truth in purity in its midst? Obviously by the means indicated by Paul and John, that is, by exacting of all who are in it an implicit adherence to the things, facts, principles, points, tenets, or whatever else they may be called, which go to make up the truth in its entirety, and by refusing to associate with those who oppose or refuse to endorse any of those elements. Some recommend, in opposition to this, the employment or argument with those who may be in error. As a preliminary process, common wisdom and humanity would dictate this course; but if an ecclesia is to go no further than argument, how could its existence continue? An effort would, doubtless, be put forth to reclaim those who are in error; but, where those efforts fail, dissociation by withdrawal is natural and inevitable. The ecclesia is not a place for argument; it is for fellowship in agreement. When a man requires to be argued with, his natural place is outside, and if he will not go outside, separation must be enforced by withdrawal on the part of the rest. The adoption of this policy may be oftentimes hurtful to amicable feeling, but this must not deter from faithfulness; Christ distinctly foretold that the result of his operations in the world would be to sow division, causing father to separate from son, mother from daughter, and the closest of friends to divide. Therefore, the occurrence of painful violations of friendship need not surprise, or cause uneasiness to, devout minds, as if something were happening contrary to the mind of Christ. Division is the inevitable concomitant of an uncompromising adherence to the truth. Peace purchased at the cost of compromise is doubly dangerous. The truth is the standard, and must alone be allowed to rule. All doubts ought to be solved in its favour. This is the principle of action to which study will ultimately lead. The act of separation is not an act of judgment against those from whom we may separate. It is an act of selfvindication; an act by which we discharge a duty and wash our hands of evil.
The truth has gradually emerged from the fables in which for centuries it had been lost: and only an inexorable policy on the part of those receiving it will preserve it from a recurrence of the disaster which drove it from among men shortly after the days of the apostles. The dissent of the Dowieite professors of the truth from this policy, and their fellowship with and belief of some of the fables of the apostacy, is the cause of the division that now exists. This division must be a cause of deep sorrow on the part of those who love the truth, but the attitude of the individuals in question leaves no alternative to those who desire to be faithful: with the Dowieites rests all the responsibility. Regret at the breach of unity must never overbear the determination to maintain the truth. Should they see their way to the reception of the whole truth, and the repudiation of all the fables with which they parley, and the adoption of a faithful attitude, the present state of Dowieism would come to an end, and the cause of truth and brotherly love would receive a mighty acceleration, which would fill the hearts of the brotherhood with joy. The question of brotherly love must be left alone till then, except among those who band themselves on the side of the truth. The truth first; brotherly love afterwards. “Pleas for unity” are out of place while the truth is being trifled with; they are dangerous; they are treacherous, however well meant. They will not be listened to by those who are set for the defence of the gospel.
“But,” said the Aberdeen brethren, “how do we know that the Dowieites, as you term them, trifle with the truth? We have only your word for it?” A question like this provokes an exclamation of surprise. If men cannot see the false position of the Dowieites after all the evidence that has been brought forth from their own lips and the mouths of others, there must be in the men great dullness of spiritual apprehension, or some sympathy with the position taken by the Dowieites. It cannot be ignorance of what the Dowieites are, unless they have stopped their eyes and ears for a long time. A further evidence of their state will be found in the following correspondence which has lately taken place between the ecclesia in Edinburgh, and a brother who left the fellowship of the brethren through Dowieite sympathy:—
The Christadelphian 1867 pg 267–271.