Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
December 3, 1964
NUMBER 30, PAGE 5,13b

Disfellowship Among The Churches (III.)

Ralph D. Gentry

In preceding articles we have discussed the authority and specific action in the practice of one church being out of fellowship with another church. Inasmuch as this has been a live issue in the Dayton area for the past three or four years, I've heard several objections voiced to the practice.

Never Heard Of It

"I've heard of disfellowshipping an individual but never a church." But, does the fact that you've never heard of it being done prove the practice right or wrong? Not at all. Suppose one should say, "I've never heard of the church of Christ." Does this mean the church is unscriptural? Or, even that the church of Christ did not exist during that person's lifetime? Of course not. Such is also true respecting a disfellowshipping action toward the practice of a church.

In the past, concerning every major departure from the faith by some congregation, other congregations holding fast to the truth have regarded that church as apostate and unworthy of endorsement and support as a loyal church of Christ. When some churches accepted the Missionary Society into the organization of the church, other churches broke fellowship with them. The same was true respecting the introduction of mechanical instruments of music and the teaching premillennialism. Though I believe the anti-class brethren to be in error in rejecting classes in the teaching program of the church, they also have been withdrawing fellowship from the churches having classes.

Throughout the year I received phone calls from brethren visiting in this city and asking the location of a loyal church. Some will ask for one that believes in church support of Herald of Truth and Orphan Homes. With them, such is a test of fellowship and they will not, by their presence and contribution, fellowship a church which does not accept such into their program or which teaches in opposition to the same. Other brethren will ask for the location of one that stands against institutionalism. In either event, they are, according to their concept of what constitutes "the unfruitful works of darkness," conscientiously following the divine precept to "have no fellowship" (Eph. 5:11).

Never heard of it? Take a look about you and be enlightened. Call it what you may — it has been disfellowshipping in act and in fact, if not in name. And had it not been done, there would be no church of Christ today. It would have taken its place among the denominations. The plea to restore all things to the New Testament order would have long since been forgotten. If it is wrong to disfellowship a church that is unscriptural in doctrine and practice, then, we as a church, lose every right to a distinctive plea and right to maintain it. We lose every right to exist as a distinctive body called the church of Christ. Arguing that it is unscriptural to disfellowship a church is a nice beginning for all compromise, innovations of every kind among ourselves, full surrender of a standard in religion and a complete apostasy.

Violates Church Autonomy

"Such would be one church dictating to another church and would involve violation of autonomy". This is not true. To withhold endorsement of and participation with another congregation is an exercise of congregational independence. Control of another church is not required in order to recognize, declare and refuse to condone sin by word and action. The unscriptural church has refused to be governed by Christ, the head, and is responsible for the prevailing disfellowship. And if it is not wrong for a church to publicly state what it believes and practices, it is not wrong for a church to say it will have no fellowship with another until that church restores the fellowship between them by returning to fellowship with God in His word. Further, it is an honorable thing to do, to relay this information to the other church, as to why you will no longer regard them as a scriptural church and worthy of fellowship. It is not a question of one church trying to run the affairs of other churches in the area!

Case For The Corinthians

"The Corinthian church was in sin and Paul addressed it as the true church. He had not disfellowshipped this church". Let us get the facts straight, please. There were some in this church guilty of sin and thus out of fellowship with God and Paul. Hence, his instructions, admonition and rebuke. Paul did not fellowship any sin there and did not endorse any person guilty of sin. He regarded the entire church as in danger of apostasy (I Cor. 5:6). Paul warns of what he will say and do if they do not repent and purge themselves of this sin among them (2 Cor. 10:11; 12:20-21; 13:1,2).

Chain Reaction

"But, then we would have to disfellowship all other churches which did not take the same action toward a certain church". True, and why not? Is there any respect of persons with God? Does God have two laws? Would you advocate a scriptural church is to endorse a church which fellowships a church using instruments of music? If not, why not? You may now answer your own objection.

Only The Lord

"The Lord disfellowships congregations and we can't know when this is done and only He knows when is should be done". This idea is denominational to the core, eliminating the Bible as God's complete revelation of His mind in regulating our affairs one with another and in order that our mind and action may be as His will. We are taught to judge (Jno. 7:24) by their fruits (Matt. 7:20) in comparison with the Truth (Isa. 8:20). God has told us what constitutes sin and what action we are to take toward it. The Lord works through His servants. If the Lord regards a church as unscriptural, he wants us to so regard it.

Case For Ephesus

"Remember therefore whence thou art fallen, and repent and do the first works; or else I come to thee, and will move thy candlestick out of its place, except thou repent" (Rev. 2:5). It is argued from this scripture that the Lord had not ye disfellowshipped this church, that he yet recognized it as a church of Christ, that the Lord would, at some indefinite time, withdraw the candlestick or would disfellowship this church. On this basis it is further argued that we cannot know just when the Lord has disfellowshipped a church, therefore, we can't know when we are to affirm such a church to be apostate and when we are to withhold recognition of and cooperation with a church, as such.

If this passage teaches we can't know when to withhold fellowship, then, we are of necessity, obligated to extend recognition to and endorsement of every church of Christ (that is, every body of baptized believers, Acts 2:47; Gal. 3:26, 27), regardless of the number and kind of human inventions in their organization, work and worship as a church. By what standard, then, do these brethren judge as to when they shall withhold fellowship if the scriptures are not clear on this matter? Do they prejudicially decide that some errors are more destructive than others and are, therefore, to be avoided while other errors may be tolerated with compromise? Do they judge of themselves that the Lord has "removed the candlestick" if these particular errors are involved? Just how do these brethren decide a church is no longer worthy of endorsement as a church of Christ? It is quite clear, to me at least, that sentiment and prejudice have been, and continue to be, the controlling factors in such judgment. Just how and when was it decided that the churches using mechanical instruments of music were no longer to be fellowshipped if it is impossible to know when the loving patience of the Lord will be exhausted and his withdrawal executed? Just how much false teaching and practice would have to go uncorrected in a church before these brethren would maintain such unworthy of endorsement and cooperation?

Is the scripture such an insufficient rule of faith and practice as these brethren have intimated? Their obligation is clear. If these churches have regarded themselves as out of fellowship with any church of Christ for any reason, they are logically obligated to cite the scriptures by which they are governed in such action and to abide by these same scriptures now in present issues. We call upon them to either cite these scriptures, or else, to consistently extend fellowship to churches now regarded by them as digressive and apostate.

The church at Ephesus was a digressive church. The Lord found fault with it. The Lord was not extending fellowship to it. The term "fellowship" is absent in the text. Christ was not recognizing it as a scriptural church and worthy of fellowship. They were already out of fellowship with the Lord (I Jno. 1:3-7), hence, in need of repenting and were threatened with removal of the "candlestick". They were not being threatened with being disfellowshipped such was already a fact. He would approve of this church when and only when repentance was accomplished. He would remove the "candlestick" if they refused to repent — if they persisted in sin — if they allowed this situation to go uncorrected. Churches today have the New Testament in which the Lord's warning is found and any church today which refuses to correct its errors or even make an effort to do so, is already out of fellowship with the Lord and as such, unapproved in His sight. For brethren to refer to this example as justification for endorsing a church digressive in doctrine and practice is a perversion of scripture. Any act of ours by which error is endorsed, encouraged and supported is forbidden whether to one individual or to a group of individuals, (Eph. 5:11; Rom. 16:17; 2 Jno. 10-11).

But what is the meaning of "will move thy candlestick out of its place"? In chapter one and verse twenty the "candlesticks" (marginal reading says lampstands) are used as symbols and as such represents the churches themselves. "The seven candlesticks are seven churches". This is a figure of speech called a metaphor, meaning a strong likeness or representation. Hence, the reference to removing the candlestick is a statement to the effect that the church itself would be removed. Just exactly how or in what way He would "come unto them" and this be accomplished is not easy of interpretation. It may refer to His complete withdrawal of divine favor and protection in providential medium. As history attests, this removal was accomplished and the church of Christ in Ephesus did cease to exist. The Ephesian church, by its own corruption from within, ceased to be either a "light" or a "bearer of the light".

There are several other objections known to me but with which I shall not burden the reader at this time. These are troubled times and serious matters. I pray that all brethren will always act out of love for God and one another and that the Word of God will ever be recognized as the only source of authority and unity among us.

620 Bowen Street Dayton, Ohio