TROUBLES OVER FELLOWSHIP
By Douglas W. Hill
An ever-increasing number of brethren are struggling with the issue of fellowship. Too many are drifting away from the Biblical mooring of God's Word on the subject. Sadly, many down play the seriousness and the scope of a leavening influence among us or at least deny that they are being caught up in it. Let us take a fresh look at the word of God on this very pressing topic.
First of all, the New Testament is clear that there are boundaries and limitations to the fellowship that were are authorized to extend to brethren. Jesus set forth how to deal with personal or private sins in Matthew 18:15-17. The one sinned against is personally to show the erring one his fault in hopes of winning him back. If he refuses to hear, progressive steps ensue: the bringing of witnesses is enjoined and then bringing the matter before the church. Finally, if the erring one persists in his sin, the church is to break fellowship with him.
A second case of correction is seen in 1 Corinthians 5. One man had his father's wife and the church had failed to discipline him. Paul directed the church to stop their foolish glorying. Perhaps they thought themselves gracious and loving for receiving him or strong enough to resist his sinful influence. Whatever the reason, Paul rebukes them and warns them of the destructive influence of even a little of that "old leaven". From 2 Corinthians 2, we gather that the church actually did as Paul directed and (Praise be to God's wisdom) the brother repented.
Another place that speaks of "turning away" from those that persist in error is Romans 16:17-18. It is written that we are to "mark" those that cause divisions and occasions of stumbling. Note that we ARE to "look at" or "identify" these. Some would have us believe that it is un-Christ-like to do so, but the apostle commands it. Also, we are to identify not just those who actually have caused a division or caused someone to stumble, but those who even provide opportunity or "occasion" for such. We do not have to wait until AFTER a church has been broken apart in order to discipline those who promote error and sin. Furthermore, it is not just anyone who "causes" division. We are not, like wicked Ahab, to attribute the cause of trouble to the one who opposes error (cf. 1 Kings 18:16-18). Rather, we are to properly to lay the blame at the feet of the one who is "contrary to the doctrine". From these we are to turn away.
It is important to note that Paul does not stop there. Too often the issue of "sincerity" or "intentions" is used to mitigate the error and division promoted by the erring. Yet Paul clearly states that those who promote and actually produce division and occasions of stumbling are NOT serving Christ, despite their fair words to the contrary. Paul also reminds us that if these are allowed to continue in our fellowship, then they will proceed to "beguile the hearts of the innocent." As they continue to be received and well spoken of they shall continue to leaven the lump. As they continue to be praised as "good" men and "good" preachers their "good" reputation shall increase to the woe of many. This, dear brethren, is where many fail to demonstrate the faith and maturity so badly needed today. Too many have continued in fellowship with men who are known to be in error precisely because they wish to preserve friendships and family relationships. All the while these supporters of the erring still profess loyalty to Christ and declare that they have not compromised truth. Yet, Jesus pointedly said that those who love family (or friends) more than Him are "not worthy of Me" (Matt. 10:37-39).
Permit me to borrow from the Old Testament in order to make this point all the more clear. "If thy brother, the son of the mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of the bosom, or thy friend that is as thine own soul, entice the secretly, saying, 'Let us go and [follow another doctrine]', which thou hast not known, thou, nor thy fathers; of the [doctrines] of the peoples that are round about you, nigh unto thee, or far off from thee, from the one end of the earth even unto the other end of the earth; thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shalt thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him: but thou shalt surely [mark him and turn away from him]; thy hand shall be first upon him to [withdraw from him], and afterwards the hand of all the people. And thou shalt [withdraw fellowship from him] because he hath sought to draw thee away from Jehovah thy God, who brought thee out of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. And all Israel shall hear, and fear, and shall do no more any such wickedness as this is in the midst of thee." (cf. Deut. 13:6-11)
Be it a greatly loved friend or family member, we must follow through with the principles of God. There are boundaries to the fellowship that we can extend. It matters not whether the error starts out "secretly" or not, if they are in error then we must act to correct it and stop their corrupting influence. It matters not if they profess sincerity, beloved; let them show it by their repentance! For we cannot consent to them or conceal them, lest we be partakers of their evil (2 John 9-11). Surely this is the path of faith.
While we must be willing and diligent in seeking to save the erring, it should be well noted that when we withdraw fellowship that does not mean we no longer try to convert them (2 Thess. 3:14-15). But we CANNOT pretend that nothing has happened! Beloved, those who go hand in hand with errorists (and even defend errorists!) are not following Christ! Demonstrate your genuine love for them and unfeigned faith in the Lord, by doing what He says is the best way to correct the lost and protect the church at the same time. We cannot continue in "perpetual fellowship" as if all is well. Nor can we continue fellowship in the hope that some day we will be able to "fellowship them out of their sin." All this does is give them a sense of acceptance and fails to give them reason to repent. And all the while, they are allowed to continue in error and to continue their influence upon others.
Consider the Taliban. Would anyone think that their defense of Bin Laden and the Alkaida network is something that the US should continue to tolerate? What has it accomplished thus far except death and destruction? Sure, we had a sense of "peace" for a time, but in reality the evildoers were allowed safe harbor and time to grow in strength. But now that they are on the run, there is much less they can do. Surely we can see this in the physical realm, why do we not see it in the spiritual? Brethren, beware! For we will reap from what we sow in our fellowship!