The Fellowship Of The Saints
"I propose to fellowship any child of God in any practice wherein I believe God fellowships those so teaching and practicing. By the same token, I propose to refrain from any fellowship of any teaching or practice which I conceive to lie outside the limits of that He sanctions."
This subject is one which should hold a great interest in the thoughts and affections of every child of God. It is not unlikely that, should there have been that measure of interest in and understanding of the scriptures bearing on this matter, the conditions now prevailing in the church would never have been brought to pass. Hence, we would today be enjoying a fellowship as brethren of the Lord that does not exist. If anyone can, therefore, contribute to an enlarged and clearer conception of the truth as related to this subject, he will be performing a service rich in value and salutary in effect. While cherishing no high degree of confidence I shall be able to do so, yet for whatever worth it may possess I wish to submit my thoughts and reflections on this theme. I do so in response to a request and invitation by brother William Wallace, for publication in this periodical.
No effort shall be made to exhaust every passage bearing on this subject, or to examine every occurrence of the terms from which it or an equivalent word in the scriptures is found. To attempt to do so would be unnecessarily tedious for me, and equally so for the reader; and would, in the final analysis, contribute little or nothing toward securing the proper conclusions.
Bound Together By Common Interest
In the Ephesian letter the apostle depicted the formation of the body of Christ out of the two principal and dissident contingents of mankind, the Jews and the Gentiles. To them he said: "Now then ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the saints and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord, in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit." (2:19-22). The point I wish to notice first is the statement to the effect that, however alien and foreign these people were before, they are now fellow-citizens. The idea of citizenship thus intrudes itself into our thinking, and this involves the matter of government, its nature and the relation each citizen sustains to this government. A prophet of old foretold that the government should be upon his shoulders; that is, the Messiah. Hence, being fellow citizens, every citizen, be he Jew or Gentile, sustains an equal relation to the Lord of heaven and earth, the head of the church and the king of the kingdom. This relationship is one that involves an equal obligation to be wholly governed by Him, and completely dependent on Him. Consequently, there can be no intervening force or power employed by anyone or ones within the kingdom to either create or dissolve any conditions affecting this proper relationship between the citizen and the government of the King, or that between the citizens themselves. This being true, then, except the King has prescribed the term or condition establishing, altering or dissolving this community of interest, action and blessings, woe be to those who presumptuously engage to create such.
The term fellow reflects the thought that of an equality in sharing the blessings identified with the relation existing, and, commensurate with the ability and opportunity existing, sharing the obligations and duties incumbent on a given association or fraternity. No one should consent to being a member of any order apart from a recognition and assumption of the duties enjoined. Further, no one should arbitrarily be deprived of any of the advantages and blessings identified therewith. In labor unions, in political parties, and doubtless in many other bodies selfish interests are displayed by those who aspire for personal gain or power; in the kingdom of Christ, such manifestations are incomparably more reprehensible.
In considering the subject of fellowship in any area of human association, it is basic that recognition be given to the purpose of the association thus formed. In the multiple interests of our mundane existence there are associations many and varied. Political, social, business and cultural interests each have their instrumentalities in the form of collective efforts to advance the particular objectives, and the inducement to become members is predicated on these common objectives. This being recognized, what is the common interest which binds together those who are citizens of the kingdom of heaven?
This common interest can be simply stated in its ultimate form of reaching heaven at last and there living eternally in the felicity and joy offered by the presence of God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, angels and the redeemed of all ages. This is the noblest aspiration of the soul, and transcends all temporal and material interests far beyond our power to compare. Then, it should be evident to all that with such in store for those whose citizenship is in heaven, that nothing should be allowed to intrude itself into the thinking, the affections and the interests of God's children to becloud this prospect, or mar the relations righteously existing between those cherishing this one hope.
Dissolution Of Relationship
In reading the early history of the followers of Christ, as recorded by inspiration, one is understandably fascinated by the warmth and closeness of the relation they sustained toward one another. Such apostolic instructions as "let love be without dissimulation;" "in honor preferring one another;" "love as brethren;" "let brotherly love continue," and a host of others similar in content — all are born of the deep and pervading consciousness of the singular and supreme interest and aspiration held in common by those who have been born again. In just such an atmosphere we can appreciate thrillingly the moving appeal to the Ephesian saints to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. The underlying, pervading and effective instrumentalities enumerated by him to secure this preservation of unity, calls into activity those fraternal affections that everywhere are enjoined upon the children of the Father.
The individual relation of one to God, having become a follower of Christ through obedience to His will, is that relation of a child; and this being formed there is correspondingly formed between such a one, and all others who have likewise been constituted God's children, that relation of brothers. Brotherhood rests on the antecedent one of childhood. We are brethren because we are the children of God. This recognized, can that be dissolved without this having any bearing on effecting such dissolution? That is, can any proper alteration be made between the fraternal relations of the children as brethren, which is not provoked or warranted from a changed relation with the Father? Are the children justified in severing their relation with other brethren, except as there has been an alteration of those brethren's standing with God? Can I say I will not fellowship a child of God whom the Father fellowships? If so, why? Also, can I rightly fellowship a brother whom the Father refuses to fellowship? I believe both these must be answered negatively.
Until, then, one has been brought into fellowship with God and Christ he is not to be fellowshipped by those who are Christians, as Christians. Believing, as I do, that a Christian may belong to, some human organizations of a non-religious nature, he may in those relations fellowship those who are not Christians. But no fellowship of a religious nature is to be engaged in between a Christian and those who aren't in covenant relation with the Lord.
Evidently this was not the persuasion of some in Corinth, as indicated by the strong language of Paul to them: "Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers; for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and I will be their God and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing, and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty." 2 Cor. 6:14-18. It must be evident to anyone who reads this that some of the saints in Corinth were contaminating themselves with an identification in idolatry and with those thus practicing such. No continuation therein was tolerable, and a complete severance of themselves from all such was required, and the promised reception of sons and daughters was conditioned on them doing so. In this address we see the line drawn clear and strong between those who are God's children on the one hand and those who are not on the other; and that any fellowship between them where such involves fidelity to God is viewed by Him as utterly intolerable. It forbids any service or worship professedly engaged in by an amalgam of believers and unbelievers. The whole tenor of the prohibition thus stated conveys the thought that God views those addressed as His, peculiarly and separately so, and therefore any association with the unregenerate in religious enterprises to be an act of disloyalty to the Father. The force of this passage is emphatic and far-reaching in its application even in our day. It is a clear injunction against Christians joining with unbelievers to take up collections for the Salvation Army, as is done on the streets of our towns. It restricts Christians belonging to the Masonic Lodge, because they engage in religious activities.
Notice is merited to be given to the terms herein employed: fellowship, communion, concord, part, and agreement. These terms, essentially, are synonymical in import: a holding with, partner; using a thing in common; a sounding together; a portion; a putting down together — hence, is seen the idea generally of togetherness identified throughout.
Underlying all joint action is the antecedently formed relationship, and therefore this constitutes a state of fellowship with one another, and so long as they act in harmonious concert in any given action there is the practice of fellowship. This fellowship in this state of oneness as the family of God should be so esteemed by every Christian as to restrain every inclination or impulse to jeopardize it by asserting and striving to impose personal opinions and preferences in the worship and service rendered to God in joint action with other brethren. This is the point wherein dangers always arise to imperil the basic fellowship of all of God's children.
We have advanced the position that fellowship is primarily or basically a matter of relationship. That is, the parties involved in any active form of fellowship must first become related to one another in such a way as to afford the occasion for the given action jointly engaged in. When, then, such actions are pursued that a divergence is created and any antagonism develops, it reacts adversely on the basic relationship which preceded and existed in reference to a joint participation and sharing by the parties constituting the fellowship. Should not a mature appreciation of this obvious fact act as a strongly repelling force against brethren ever becoming so attached to any given course, however attractive to them it may be, that would subvert this basic relationship?
In appraising the magnitude and blessedness of this relationship as creating and limiting this fellowship, one but needs to reflect on the truths bearing on the point of the Divine participation therein. In Paul's entreaty to the Corinthians to receive not the grace of God in vain, he prefaced with the words: "we then as workers together with Him beseech you ..." Here is presented the thought that the posture he here takes is so magnificent that any appeal issued from this position must secure a ready acceptance and call forth a favorable response. This identification of himself as a worker together with the Lord invests any appeal he might make with a persuasive power that is irresistible to every God-fearing Christian to whom it was or may be addressed. The thought that a Christian is in co-partner[ing] with God, Christ and the Holy Spirit is as elevated a conception as can be possessed by man. Think of how many persons are willing to make personal sacrifices for the glory and fame which comes from being associates and co-laborers with a chief of state in Washington! Such an affiliation and association falls far beneath that of the simple Christian who is joined to the Lord; and, in this relation shares with Him in a work of faith and labor of love in the promotion of the cause for which He died.
This fellowship between the redeemed and the redeemer is acknowledged by John as follows: "That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ." I John 1:3. One can easily see that the desirability of the fellowship between John and those addressed rests on the antecedent consideration that he was in fellowship with God and Christ. Any spiritual fellowship between men should always be predicated on their fellowship with the Father of their spirits. Also, there is the expressed recognition by the writer that the contemplated fellowship was suspended on a knowledge of that declared by the apostles. "We declare — that you may have fellowship." A knowledge and conviction of the truth is necessary to afford the occasion and give substance to this fellowship. No other relation is formed on or sustained by this body of truth. Verily, he that hath known the Father hath known the Son! John further affirms that God is light, and that in Him there is no darkness at all; and, this being true, if one affirms he has fellowship with God, and walks in darkness, he lies. I doubt not there are millions who today fall under this sentence, while honestly thinking they are truly in this fellowship.
The Ephesians were straitly enjoined to have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but to reprove them. Light and darkness are terms freely employed to denote, respectively, knowledge and ignorance, and good and evil. The immediate context of this statement indicates that the works of darkness were those of an immoral nature too shameful to speak of, but certainly the quality of darkness is not exhausted by the realm of the immoral. Any work unauthorized which is done as professed obedience to the Lord is essentially a work of darkness. What does the walking in darkness embody, that John spoke of, which would not embrace any activity violative of the will of God, including both the moral and spiritual law? Paul's statement does not simply involve an abstinence from participation or fellowship in such works, but also enjoins an outright opposition or reproof of them — that is the works. A faithful Christian cannot, therefore, maintain a non-committed attitude toward either truth or error. Multitudes of God's children likely are maintaining a course of silence toward teachings and practices which they regard as a breech of the law of Christ solely out of a desire to maintain an association and fellowship with those so doing. This is a position, in being pursued, strikingly like that of those who believed in Christ but would not confess Him lest they be put out of the synagogue, because they loved the praises of men more than the favor of God. These could not be saved in the position in which this statement depicts them, and one cannot but be fearful of those who are governed by the same craven spirit today.
Breaking Fellowship — Extremes
There has been displayed, I think, too great a readiness on the part of many, however, to break fellowship with their brethren without having weighed the gravity of the consequences involved by such hasty action. Such reflects a lack of consideration, and an immature appreciation of the basic state of fellowship created in Christ as existing by virtue of being in Him. "God is faithful through whom ye were called into the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord," 1 Cor. 1:9. Since God is he who called us into this fellowship, we should be very careful in endeavoring to exclude those He has thus called. Since He has prescribed the terms embodied in this call, we should not act rashly — and vainly — in either altering them or negating them by our alleged right of action. The present scene presents two very diverse and extreme views of this whole matter. With them I wish to deal to the end they each may be seen its true character. We have, on the one hand, the position being promoted by brother Carl Ketcherside in which he makes the matter of fellowship wholly one of relationship. With him it's entirely an "in" thing. And in his definition of that which constitutes the grounds of being brought into this relationship of fellowship, he is more liberal and less exacting than is warranted by the scriptures. His position, as determined by his statements, is that the gospel relates to fellowship, whereas the doctrine does not; that one who believes the good news relating to Christ, and is immersed, for the general intent of 'obeying the Lord' even though in so doing he denies that baptism is in order to the remission of sins, is translated into this fellowship, regardless of doctrinal errors then or subsequently held. From this premise he reasons that whatever divergent views may exist or unauthorized practices be followed, those so doing are in the fellowship! He includes the people constituting the Baptist denomination within this fellowship, and presumably all other denominations who immerse rather than sprinkle. He identifies the virtue of baptism to be wholly transitive apart from any motive, purpose, or design connected with it. Any student of the scriptures should readily perceive that God not only takes cognizance of that done but also of the intent or motive provoking the action performed. To reason that the validity of baptism is independent of the expressed design of "for the remission of sins," would entail the assumption that when the Lord said "this do in remembrance of me," the acceptability of eating the loaf and drinking the cup is to no degree suspended on remembering Him while and in so doing. There is no greater fallacy in reasoning than that of assuming that either an act is competent apart from motivation, or this apart from that. Multitudes have reasoned that so long as the intention is laudable and sincerity is present, the failure to do the thing prescribed, or to substitute a humanly preferable action, that God accepts the unauthorized act as rendered virtuous by the sincerity existing. Brother Ketcherside falls in to this error in reverse form on the point of baptism for the remission of sins.
The ecumenical movement developing in the religious world, in which efforts of denominations to get closer together, and in turn to establish a measure of rapport with Roman Catholicism, is now reaching out to find those involved endeavoring to embrace Judaism as a divinely recognized and accepted religion. No man who believes that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah can, while so believing, accept those who deny Him as being in covenant relation with God. This spreading movement may well be influencing some within the church to the point they are becoming imbued with an inclination to recognize at least the Protestant denominations as the children of God. There is a radical difference in the point of view of Campbell and his contemporaries that there were, in their day, Christians in the denominations, and that denominationalism is Christian. Further, much discussion was provoked by the contention of some that the pious unimmersed could partake of the Lord's Supper! This met immediate and competent refutation by Lard and others.
This extremely latitudinarian position of brother Ketcherside likely will find increasingly an acceptancy by some members of the church, and more particularly among the self esteemed intelligentsia. The restrictions of the scriptures will become more and more galling to them, even as it did with the same class a hundred years ago. While doubtless several factors can well be conceived as contributing to such a changing attitude, yet I am persuaded that the two most influential are, first, the developing insensitivity of a need for authority revealed in the New Testament for all that we do and teach in the name of the Lord; and, second, a reversion against the narrow and Pharisaical proscriptiveness that has fractured the family of God so much. Of this condition it is in order to speak somewhat at length. The havoc it has wrought is fearful beyond description, and in some respects irreparable.
The Other Extreme
This condition is the other extreme of that one just noted, and is equally untenable. It rests on a different premise than the first one; that one that fellowship is wholly a condition of state or relationship, and this one that it is wholly one of agreement in doctrine and practice. I sincerely believe both these views to be wrong, and that the matter of fellowship in the church involves a proper recognition of both aspects, and when a proper balance is secured in our thinking of the force of each respectively we will be able to respond more correctly and righteously in effecting a solution to any problems arising in the area of fellowship.
Any practical advantage to be derived from a study of this subject is dependent on an application of its principles to the problems created by the differences which have arisen between brethren, both in times past and in the present. Resting on the basic concept of being in fellowship are the numerous appeals found in the apostolic writings directed toward maintaining the peace and unity which originally characterized the body of believers. It is this underlying relation of a fraternal fellowship which gives substance to these appeals. Today there are heard those voices in advocacy of "unity in diversity," portraying as neither attainable nor desirable a complete unity in agreement. This contention is in direct conflict with the instruction to the Corinthian saints to "all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment," I Cor. 1:10. This follows immediately the affirmation to the effect God had called them into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ the Lord! Hence, the relationship they sustained to the Lord, and to one another in consequence, makes imperative the complete harmony of attitude and disposition, resulting in a oneness of judgment and speech. This is the uniformity prescribed by inspired instruction.
While recognizing this as the goal to be sought and attained, there is the realistic recognition that it does not now exist. At one point in the history of God's family it did exist. Acts 4:32. "And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul." This doctrine, however, of unity in diversity as it is applied today not only recognizes the existence of differences but apologizes for them and accepts them as irremovable and even desirable. This reflects against the wisdom of these passages as divinely given. Nonetheless, being confronted with the presence of these differences, and believing they should be removed, what should be the feelings and demeanor of brethren toward one another in the presence of these differences? It would be difficult for me to believe that the personal resentments,, finding expression in the treatment brethren have accorded one another, arises from any source other than an unwarranted sense of self-importance, vanity and egotism. On no rational basis can one justify a sense of resentment toward another person for differing in any point of individual persuasion or conviction as touching the truth of any matter. To take umbrage toward one who differs with me on any point of teaching implies that I am so superior to him that he is failing to recognize this in taking issue with me and therefore his impudence is to be rightfully resented!
So, then, if there obtains a proper estimate of our common worth before God, while differences exist we will ht. duly considerate of the just interests of one another. If this had been true in periods of stress fellowship would not have been broken so rashly as has been the case. An atmosphere of arrogance has been generated and a spirit of intolerance has been displayed to the hurt of the church, both in the past and present. Tolbert Fanning was a man of strong character and deep conviction, and while opposing that which brethren were advocating in his time, he sought resolutely to maintain the fellowship between brethren of divergent persuasions. "Tolbert Fanning spent himself totally in trying to cultivate unity in soil hardened by alienation" (Pg. 193, Hazard of The Die), "In 1859, determined to do all which was humanly possible to maintain an unobstructed rapport between himself and his society brethren, Fanning had attended the annual national meeting of the American Christian Society in Cincinnati. Ten years had elapsed since the first convention. Fanning was determined to express his concern but at the same time to continue to fellowship those with whom he differed." (Ibid.) He sought and finally secured an opportunity to address this gathering. "Consultation in Tennessee had brought unity among those who were previously divided. Surely his friends here were capable of the same calm deliberation toward such peaceful fruit. At the close of Fanning's remarks, however, Isaac Errett was immediately on his feet with a resolution" the effect of which was to stifle any further discussion of differences.
There was published in 1901 a book titled, "Reformation of the Nineteenth Century," a series of historical sketches by different writers under different sub-heads. One section by W. T. Moore was styled "The Turbulent Period," in which he gives his estimate of that period covering the controversies arising over the Missionary Society and Instrumental Music in the Worship issues. On page 206-207 we read: "Nevertheless, be it said to the credit of the Disciples that the heresy hunters have, for the most part, received scanty approbation, and upon the whole it cannot be denied that the spirit of the churches has always been in harmony with the great principles upon which the Reformation was founded. It is also true that most of the men in this movement who have made much impression upon their contemporaries, have been men who have always advocated a liberal policy both within and without the communion. Before the sixth decade of the present century had ended, the battle for liberty had been practically won, and consequently since that time the flowing tide has always been with those who believe in freedom of thought, freedom of speech and the right of individual interpretation." Those identified as the principal heresy hunters were Benjamin Franklin and Moses E. Lard in their periodicals, the American Christian Review and the Quarterly. These two, with Tolbert Fanning, constitute the principal ones against whom the venom of Moore was directed.
This brief allusion to the past but illustrates the spirit of innovationists as it relates to an utter insensitiveness of the gravity of division. Just so the majority can be gained in the course prescribed as progress and liberalism, then it matters not at all what the dissenters think or feel. Such is the history of the church in that period of turbulence, and the smug self-satisfaction which characterized the Moore's, the Errett's, and the Burnett's of that time. The present has their counterparts in men now; those who have placed, apparently, a preference for what they conceive to be their liberty in Christ above the fellowship graciously provided by God in this Christ.
Benjamin Franklin is quoted in this history as advising a course which is viewed by the writer to be a temperate one: "Declare non-fellowship with no one, say nothing about refusing fellowship, or leaving the church, or withdrawing from it. But deliberately and quietly meet in another place of worship regularly according to the scriptures. Attend to the breaking of the loaf, the apostles' teaching, prayers, praise and contribution. Worship in spirit and in truth. Talk of no new church, second church, nor anything of the kind." It is my judgment that not only was this a temperate but wise course urged by Franklin, and one which, if followed both then and in the present period of differences, would have been better for all concerned. It would have pin-pointed the area of differences without gendering a climate of at least to the degree then or now existing. Too, it would have brought into sharper focus a distinction between a state of fellowship in Christ, and the matter of having fellowship with some in that fellowship in the practices in dispute. The idea that at the very point wherein we cannot engage with other brethren in a given activity that each is warranted in concluding the other to be out of the fellowship which theretofore they were in is, I think, a fallacy.
Inasmuch as God is the one who places us in the fellowship of His Son, it would be safe for us to refrain from assuming the prerogative of putting any out of this fellowship. When the editor of the Gospel Advocate recommended a tag of quarantine to be placed on all who would not fellowship him and likeminded brethren in the practice of those matters, he, in effect, assumed this prerogative and thus displayed a rashness that doesn't compliment his intelligence or his piety. When some of the ones against whom he "legislated" over-reacted in ceasing to countenance those with whom they differed as brethren in the Lord, they compounded the error and further perpetuated it.
In more recent times efforts have been made to repair the damage done, and to set in operation a course of renewed communication and exchange of views between the two dissident groups. The Arlington, Texas (1968), meeting, having such a purpose, has been subjected to suspicious criticisms by some who were not there, and who regarded any association with those of the contrary part to be a compromise. To me it appears that some think it is a betrayal of the truth to meet with others within the family of God and unite in any activity of worship, such as singing and praying. Only on the assumption that God has cast them out of His family could any reasoning of a deserving kind lead to such a conclusion. This assumption I do not accept. I regard them as brethren, and any break of fellowship between them and me is one that exists by reason of their rejection of me for not doing that, or accepting as proper the doing of that, which I sincerely believe to lie beyond the perimeter of divine authorization. For such a break the responsibility must inevitably be theirs, and not mine. It is this view of the subject that occasioned the remark of some able brethren to the effect they had not been under any necessity to be concerned about fellowship inasmuch as the advocates of the things in dispute have taken care of it.
Brother Ketcherside claims to fellowship all the differing groups within the "Restoration Movement," but the thing which I have wondered about is how many and which ones fellowship him! With me the course is reasonably simple. I propose to fellowship any child of God in any point of teaching and practice wherein I believe God fellowships those so teaching and practicing. By the same token, I propose to refrain from any fellowship of any teaching or practice which I conceive to lie outside the limits of that He sanctions. The determination is of necessity personal, because the responsibility is personal. No man who has a becoming regard for God can knowingly go beyond the Word of God to do anything whether in so doing or not men approve or disapprove the thing done. But, even so acting on this principle, we should guard against any self-intoxicating heroics which can hallucinate one into thinking except others cross every "t" and dots every "i" as he does he has become reprobate to the faith. Good and sincere men can and do differ despite the fact the scriptures are designed, in the light afforded and the directives given, that there be no differences among us. To them recourse alone can and should be made to resolve every difference, and pending such an end we should strive to be humble children of God, and brethren one of another.
Individual And Collective Fellowship
In this, the final piece of this series on the subject of fellowship, attention is directed toward one important area, which involves a distinction between individual and collective action, or joint action. The practical aspect of this subject finds application in the matter of what one does in conjunction with one or more others. It is true that there may be an individual action of such a nature that would react so adversely on the spiritual and/or moral character of a fellow citizen that it would prevent any joint participation with him in our service and worship. The instruction to the Corinthians advising a putting away from themselves the incestuous brother affords a case of this kind. There is nothing intimated against this person as bearing on his faithful attendance of the worshiping assembly, or of his acceptance of all the truth taught by the apostles on the spiritual level. His was a gross corruption of the moral sensibilities that must be rejected by all Christians. Hence, until he repented he was not to be countenanced by the other followers of Christ there. Less attention is being given today to this area of behaviour as affecting the fellowship of the saints and the good name of the congregations of the Lord than should be the case. Nothing can be more disgusting, nauseous and utterly absurd than the disposition which has been evidenced by some to esteem a brother, with whom they differ on these points of current issue, to be unworthy to pray in the assembly, and yet harbor as front rank members those with multiple marriages, and those whose reputation is questionable in business dealings. Liars, gossipers and character assassins, cheats and adulterers are rarely exposed and rejected by any congregations today, so far as I know.
In the realm of one's knowledge of the truth where differences exist as to what the truth is the point of continued or broken fellowship may well turn on whether the point of difference has a bearing on what we are to do individually or jointly. There are many questions of what the scriptures are believed to teach wherein those differing continue in full recognition and fellowship of one another. Through the years brethren have held contrary persuasions on whether a Christian can bear arms in defense of his country. During and immediately following the Civil war the church was sorely tried as to whether brethren would divide over the issues of that conflict, but, happily, unlike the prominent denominations division didn't occur. Basically, the reason for this is found in the fact that this conviction embodies a matter of individual action, and any brother is not drawn into any assumed guilt which might attach to a brother of the contrary part. However, political resolutions were presented and passed in a convention of the Missionary Society during that war. Listen to Lard:
"Missionary Societies Are Dangerous Institutions. Not In Themselves, Of Course, Or When Doing Right, Or Acting Within Their ,Own Proper Bounds; But Dangerous Because Of Their Extreme Liability To Usurp Power Which Does Not Belong To Them, And To Perform Acts Hurtful And Oppressive To The Feelings Of God's Children, Which They Cannot Lawfully Perform. No Man Living Can Say That The Danger Here Does Not Exist, Or That It Is Imaginary. The Tendency Of All Human Institutions, Especially Of All Moneyed And Chartered Institutions, Is To Augment Continually Their Power, That Thereby They May Become The More Effective In Their Operations. This Is Perfectly Natural; Nor Can It Be Pronounced Absolutely Wrong. But Just Here The Danger Appears. Let Now Anyone, No Matter Who He May Be, Or From What Motives He May Act, Rise Up To Oppose These Institutions, And Not More Naturally Does The Wild Beast Defend To The Death Her Young Than Do They Seek To Maim Or Crush The Interfering Party. But Their Most Dangerous Features Lie, Not In Their Efforts To Preserve Themselves, But In Their Usurpation And Use Of Unwarrantable Power. As A Mournful And Humiliating Illustration Of What Is Here Said, We Have Only To Refer To The Action Of Our Own General Missionary Society, Within The Two Years Preceding The Past, In Turning Aside To Pass Resolutions Expressive Of The Political Feelings Of A Majority Of Those Then Present, To The Pain And Grief Of Remonstrating And Dissenting Brethren. In This Act The Feelings, Not Merely Of Young Men With High Blood, But Of Venerable Men Whose Whole Grand Lives Had Been Given To The Cause Of Christ, Not Even Excepting Those Of The Patriarchal President Of The Society, Were Rudely Disregarded And Trampled Upon. Boys And Women There Cast Votes, And Rushed The Papers Through, While Men Like John Smith Hung Their Heads In Shame." (Lard's Quarterly, Vol. 2, Page 138)
This has been cited to show how serious this issue was, and, too, how the Society forces were determined to rule the kingdom of heaven! But the point is, that even in time of such high passions and severe tensions, the fact that this was essentially an individual matter, one to be personally determined by the individual, and carried no others along with the decision, is what saved the church from dividing over the Civil war and its issues. I know brethren with whom I differ on this and other things which are wholly identified as of individual determination of duty, and so far as I am concerned it has never ill-effected my feelings toward or my esteem for them. However, I have had a meeting cancelled because it was learned my views on the war question didn't coincide with the ruling sentiment there, and in another instance a meeting was opposed with me because of my views on I Cor. 11:1-16. But I am sure these are rather rare instances with any of us. One brother told me that if his views on this teaching in Corinthians were the same as mine, he would have every woman who didn't comply therewith withdrawn from! I think he is entirely sincere, but equally and fully as wrong as he is sincere. Whatever the views and practice may be, it remains one of individual determination and action, impinging on no others differing therefrom.
But when we come to the area of those actions or practices which grow out of our teaching, and involving necessarily a joint action by the members of a congregation, the restraints must be more clearly recognized and cautiously respected. I have a duty, as opportunity exists, to teach what I conceive to be the truth on any and every matter within Divine Revelation; that is, as clearly taught therein. But if it requires individual response, then I am not guilty of an imposition on the congregation; consequently, any and every individual is left to his own free choice to believe and respond to such teaching, or to personally reject it. In either case my acceptance or rejection by the Lord is entirely independent and apart from the acceptance or rejection of that taught by any one or all who have been extended the teaching. Also, their acceptance or rejection by the Lord turns, just as does mine, on the truth and relevance of that taught. So, then, there is no ground for a cleavage. However, if that which I teach involves, in its acceptance, the collective response of the congregation, there must be a uniformity of believing or disbelieving that taught, if the congregation is to be spared the danger of differences being created. Viewing, then, this as a proposed course of teaching carrying the likelihood of resulting in an internal cleavage, one should be fully persuaded that the thing taught must be practiced by the church at the peril of their souls! No mere expeditious course of action warrants this grave a risk. However, one may counter, why should one side be forbidden to present its position out of deference to the feelings of the other. If it be a matter of opinion, it should be kept as private property; if viewed as being in the category of matters of faith, it should be taught, and both sides should be heard. Discussion should continue until truth has been elicited, and good will, concord and fellowship should be maintained throughout. But when one side seeks to silence the other side, simply by the force of superior numbers, or the alleged prerogative of elders, fellowship cannot be maintained. And one cannot forego the strong suspicion that when either side is fearful of the other being heard, such is indicative of the conscious weakness of their position. I cannot believe that one feels secure in his persuasion of the truth on any question who fears a full and candid examination of the grounds on which he rests his persuasion.
That is why I have ever believed those who have advocated the practices in dispute, have felt a sense of weakness, and thus have warned brethren against hearing the opposition. Editors, elders and preachers have done this many times throughout the period of controversy. It has rendered difficult any re-establishment of communication between the two groups of brethren. Suspicions have been aroused and distrust has been cultivated between the two groups of brethren. Efforts have been made to bridge these chasms, but it is my observation that too many on both sides are too well pleased with conditions as they are to be hopeful of much success. I have an opinion as to why this is true, and for different reasons for each group, but being an advocate of the contention we should hold our opinions as private property, I'll adhere to this principle in this particular!
Conclusion And Summary
In conclusion, may I summarize as follows: We are all called into the fellowship of God's Son in being called by the gospel, and therefore enter into this fellowship when, and on the terms prescribed, we obey this gospel. In this state of fellowship we are workers together with God, Christ and the Holy Spirit in promoting the accomplishment of human redemption from sin, and ultimately salvation in heaven. Just so long as we walk in the light, as God is in the light, we have fellowship one with another. We can be in fellowship — and are — without necessarily having fellowship in every area of activity in which other brethren engage. If this were not true I cannot conceive how anyone can claim to be in fellowship with any other brother! Why? Because I doubt that there is a single one of us completely, one hundred per cent, in agreement both in faith and practice, both jointly and singly, with any other one. If I am conscious of having sinned, and any of you, conceding this to be true, would not fellowship me in the thing I have done that is wrong, would you? Then, if you can not be in fellowship with one whom you do not have complete fellowship with in every act of his, you are in fellowship with no one. Hence, I conclude, that I can participate with brethren in some things which are right without participating with them in other things I consider to be wrong; and more especially should this have been true of our course when we each were endeavoring to determine who has the truth on those things which are in dispute. I have been asked, was the fellowship at Arlington social or spiritual. Others can speak for themselves who were there; with me, when spiritual songs were sung and prayers offered to God, it was a spiritual fellowship, and whether the worship of others was accepted or not, is a matter I leave with God.