Fellowship And Factions
In a previous issue of this paper we treated of the subject of fellowship involved in the relation existing between Christians as Christians, as distinguished from such copartnery as may exist between people in other relationships in life.
A group of people may have fellowship with one another in other realms of interest than religious, but when they are drawn together and form a compact to function together in worshipping and serving God, then there must be that supremacy of attachment and devotion to things sacred and divine to the exclusion of that which is human and secular. In the one there may well be great diversity of interest and identity, but in the other there must be a singularity and unity, because it constitutes the basis and occasion of the compact thus formed. A congregation of disciples may be composed of people of varying political persuasion and affiliation, but in their spiritual character there must be uniformity of purpose, persuasion and effort. Presumably, all congregations are composed of individuals who are engaged in different pursuits of livelihood, merchants, farmers, employees and employers. A clear line of demarcation must be recognized between these on the one hand and the Christian relationship on the other. Unfortunately, efforts are being made to establish an alliance between purely secular affairs and religious matters.
We have insurance companies formed by brethren, with the "selling point" featured that to patronize such is also to contribution to "Christian Education" and Eleemosynary projects "among us." This reflects a distorted species of thinking, and certainly poses a danger for the cause of Christ.
With fellowship being established and experienced between Christians on a spiritual basis, we can see the latent danger of it being disrupted by the intrusion of a foreign element into the thinking, conduct and affections of the saints. This leads to factions. The church in Corinth became victimized by this development. "For ye are yet carnal; for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions (marginal reading: factions), are ye not carnal and walk as men?" (I Cor. 3:3.) It is quite clear that this condition was the result of an undue attachment for men, for those who taught them the word of God. Even though they were inspired men the partiality for them was wrong, and created a condition that gravely imperiled the church. Paul condemns this factional condition and charges it to carnality as the cause.
This was in the church, these divisions being within, among them. Hence, we observe, first, that a faction does not, on becoming one, cease to be a part of the church. That those guilty of it were in sin is granted, for to be carnally minded is to be at enmity with God, and brings death. (Rom. 8:6-7.) Therefore, if persisted in it will bring ruin to those involved in such guilt. The very fact Paul wrote as he did, condemning on the one hand and endeavoring to show them the baseless ground for such divisive attachment for men on the other, indicates that they were not reprobate and apostate at that point.
Often times schismatically conditions develop within congregations because of personal partisanship. Always it is an evidence of spiritual immaturity, as was the case of Corinth. He said they — that is, those thus guilty — were — babes.
Peter, however, told Christians that as newborn babes they should desire the sincere milk of the word that they might grow thereby. Unhappily, the reason so many remain spiritual infants is that they do not desire the sincere milk of the word in order to grow — they want just enough of the milk to exist, and never reach that point of development wherein a desire and appreciation of strong meat is entertained — even though they wish to be teachers. Consequently, they neither know what they teach nor whereof they affirm. Among such are many posing as elders of congregations — yes, feeders of the flock! This creates a fertile soil and favorable climate for the intrusion of strange and divers doctrines.
With eldership approval they flourish and frutify, and any dissent therefrom is branded as heresy. Why? Simply because the idea is well entrenched in the thinking of brethren today that whoever agrees with the elders is orthodox, and whoever dissents from that which they approve is hetherodox. We know of instances where this condition exists.
Then we witness those instances where brethren, acting solely within their unimpeachable right to assemble with whomsoever they please, fellow Christians, and work and worship within the undeniable framework of the New Testament, are branded as factionists. Why? On the superficial basis they so acted without the sponsorship or "sacerdotal" blessings of some "mother church" and its eldership.
Then what follows? Why it is publicized — sometimes in the papers — that such a group is a faction, and, hence, is unworthy of the fellowship of "faithful brethren everywhere." This designed quarantine is thus recognized by neighboring congregations, whose elders refuse to "recognize" the designated congregation. The cry is "they divided the church in _______ , and are, therefore, a faction; we cannot fellowship them, announce or attend their meetings."
A recent occurrence of this kind came to our attention. Even an opposition meeting was carried on by a congregation, which a few years ago came out of the "mother" church, using the "sound" brethren in the area as their speakers. (Of course, when brethren begin borrowing so copiously from the denominations, we should not be surprised at such tactics borrowed from the same source.) But when did this congregation which came out under uncongenial conditions a few years back cease to be a faction itself? But now it favors that which neither it nor the one out of which it came practiced when they came out! They are both sound now because they now favor that which until recently was unknown by either church.
Again, the idea is that the group which departs from the original premises is, by virtue thereof, a faction. Is this true? Never. They may be a faction, but not on that score. That which proves too much proves nothing. When the instrument was brought into the congregations, who took a walk in the vast majority of instances? We all know; but on such a basis of reasoning, they; would have been right in calling us the "anti-organ faction." But in reference to the present, what do we behold? Rather recently we have noted the beginning of another congregation, in Texas, where the ones who departed is called the sound and faithful church by those who are bandying about the term "faction" so glibly these days.
They even have the gratifying knowledge that brethren "everywhere" have been addressed in a commendation of them by a Bishop of a neighboring congregation.
It was a matter of such worthiness as to merit universal attention! And on what did he predicate his confidence and bestow his blessings? Not on the fact they went out from others, did he withhold his blessings, but, notwithstanding they so did, he commends them highly. Hence, independent of the fact a congregation remains in possession of its property or has to secure facilities elsewhere, is the case to be determined. In this instance it was determined expressly on the fact that one prominent member of the congregation thus commended and approved had been a loyal friend and supporter of an orphan home over which the good brother doing the commending presides as Superintendent!
Today, then, brethren are being branded as factionists solely on the basis they decline to submit to a creed, written or unwritten it matters not, of human origin. They, standing fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made them free, refuse to bow to the dictates of a controlling clique in the brotherhood who hide behind the specious and pious-affected plea that elders have the right to establish the policy of the church, irrespective and independent of what the scriptures teach. Theirs is the right, because it is the obligation, to ascertain what the scriptures teach, but they have no right to establish or create anything in religion. That is an assumption of the Lord's prerogatives.
Paul told Titus, after the first and second admonition, to reject the man that is an heretic. Today, brethren, in many instances, are first rejecting and then endeavoring to justify such by arbitrarily branding those rejected as heretics or factionists without ever getting around to admonishing even once, not to mention the second effort. What is an heretic? The answer involved the point of what is scriptural truth.
That is, one's relation to others is not that which identifies him to be a heretic or a factionist; rather it is his relation to the truth. If holding the truth is the occasion of one becoming alienated from others such doesn't constitute him a factionist. It is all a question of fact in every particular instance as to whether a given teaching is heretical or the one so teaching is an heretic, and the element identified therewith is a faction. The fact to be ascertained in each case is whether or not that which is held as true is sustained by the scriptures as true. A heretic is defined as an opinionative person, and this certainly precludes all possibility of anyone being heretical in simply walking by faith rather than in pressing opinions as a standard.
Therefore, the present situation in the churches is reduced to a simple point: Is the issue over what the scriptures authorized or over practices not authorized? Is it a matter of opinion or faith ? Matters of faith constitute the bond of unity and fellowship, but matters of opinion can never be so regarded without resulting in sectarianism.
So, then, when brethren require acceptance of any doctrine or practice by others as a condition of their recognition and fellowship, and without it they are branded as factionists, they are under the severe and inescapable necessity of proving such doctrine and practice to be enjoined by the Lord.
To insist on the former and refuse to do the latter is to make of themselves Lords over God's heritage. Where are their credentials from above to authenticate such pretensions and claims? When they either establish from the scriptures that the Lord imposed such requisitions on us, or establish their right to bind on earth with the assurance that such is bound in heaven being attested by supernatural powers, in the working of miracles, then we shall yield. In the absence of either we cannot but refuse to be subjected to such rules and laws as currently being legislated among us.
Can we divide? In 1855 Moses E. Lard asked this question in his Quarterly. He took the position that at that time it was highly improbable, though admitting such to be remotely possible. Future developments proved him to be too sanguinary. The church did divide in a qualified sense. Correctly he reasoned that in the absolute sense of the term such is impossible. Hear him: "On what principle, let me ask, is the predicted division to take place? For there are principles which underlie and control divisions as real and determinate as those which underlie and control unions. A division has its cause, and proceeds in its own appropriate way, as much so as any other event of time. From what cause, then, can we as a people divide? I am free to confess I see none. But suppose we were to divide. What then? Would the two halves of the divided body be equally legitimate? The thing is impossible. The adhering half would still be the body of Christ; the separating half would be a division proper, or a sect, and no part of the church. That is, this would be the case, provided the division were permanent and incurable. Certainly a temporary estrangement of brethren might take place, which would not deserve to be called a division in the sense in which I am now using the word. Of such an estrangement I am not speaking; I am speaking of those deep rents in the church, which are certainly possible, but which end only in one of the rent-off parts becoming an apostasy. But this is not properly speaking a division of the church. It is a separation from it, not a division of it. A division of the church, were such a thing possible, would be such a rent in it as would leave each of the halves still halves of the church. But the church of Christ in halves, or a divided body of Christ, is impossible. The moment the church is so divided the one part becomes an apostasy, the other remains the church. Hence, we settle at once in the negative, the question: Is the church divisible." Lard's Quarterly, Vol. 3, Page 380.
May we fervently pray and earnestly labor to prevent such a catastrophe in our day. A rebirth of respect and reverence for the all-sufficiency of Divine Revelation is the urgent need of the hour — may it be hastened.