Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
September 5, 1968
NUMBER 18, PAGE 11b-13

"Restoring Lines Of Fellowship"

Lewis G. Hale

To speak of re-establishing lines of fellowship is to imply of necessity that there has been fellowship: that such fellowship has been broken, but that it is desirable and good that it be re-established. The word "fellowship" has been used in a variety of senses. I think we should attempt to see what is the correct use of the word. The word "fellowship" is rendered from the Greek KOINONIA, which is not a doubtful word. In its classic use KOINOS signifies "common, shared in common," in social and political relations, "common to all the people, public, the commonweal;" or disposition, "lending a ready ear to all, impartial, connected by a common origin, kindred, especially of brothers and sisters." These are its principle classic uses as given by Liddel and Scott. And the same authority defines it as communion, community, intercourse. Its sacred use is given in New Testament Lexicons as "fellowships, partnerships, participation, communion, aid, relief or contribution in aid." Now this leads us to think of a community of interests or obligations. Spiritual kinship with others in Christ. A partnership of duties of interests and of destiny.

Perhaps it would be enlightening at this point to read from II Cor. 6:14-16. There are six expressions in this that I want you to notice, and six attendant evils. "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers, for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness, and what communion hath light with darkness, or 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 walk in them and I will be their God and they shall be my people." Now these six expressions that I have in mind denote a relationship, and with each of these there is a corresponding evil that would break or violate that relationship. Let us notice them. First, "yoked together with unbelievers." Second, "fellowship with unrighteousness," Third, "communion with darkness," Fourth. "concord with Belial," fifth, "have part with an infidel," and Sixth, "agreement with idols." Now surely these expressions have a great deal in common. May I be allowed to say, they have "fellowship," they are yoked together, are in concord or agreement. These expressions, each one tells us something a little different and they amplify our understanding. They complement each other. Now the evils that are named here are sufficient reasons to discontinue fellowship. While fellowship is most usually considered from the standpoint of the individual, it may very well apply to the six relationships that are mentioned between groups of individuals. In Galatians 2:9, Paul uses the word fellowship in a broader sense. He says, "when James, Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas, the right hand of fellowship that we should go unto the heathen and they unto the circumcision." Now fellowship here was agreement. They also agreed as to the division of work; that while James and John were content to labor among Jews, they would at least recognize and respect the labors of Paul and Barnabas among Gentiles.

Now, while fellowship or partnership, or joint participation, is commonly applied to a relationship between individuals, we read also of such between congregations. Paul said in Rom. 15:26-27, "It hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia, to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem. It hath pleased them verily and their debtors they are, for if the Gentiles have been made partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister unto them in carnal things." Now the people of Macedonia and Achaia had shared with the spiritual things of Jerusalem and those of Jerusalem are now about to share of the material things of those of Macedonia and Achaia. This is fellowship in a broader sense than simply among individual persons.

Now is there such a thing as partial fellowship? Now this is the same as to ask, "May we be partners in some respects and not in others?" When Paul and Barnabas were about to go out on a second missionary journey, Barnabas insisted on taking John Mark again and Paul thought it not good, and he refused. They parted company, Barnabas taking Mark, Paul taking Silas. Here it is very clear that Paul would not share in common with Mark the work of this journey, but he certainly did not refuse to recognize him as a brother, in the Lord, as a fellow Christian. But, he had no partnership with him as far as this journey was concerned. In like manner there are many elders in various congregations that would recognize a man as a brother and as a child of God within that congregation, but would not share with him the duties of an elder. So to that extent, they would not have partnership as elders. So I believe there are some limited senses in which we certainly have partnership with brethren and not in the fullest sense of partnership. Even doctrinally, we have for many years, been able to live with many of our differences. We have differing views on the "war question" in just about every congregation that I know anything about. Some good brethren believe that even fornication itself does not give sufficient grounds for a re-marriage so long as a former companion lives and many others do. Some believe that an elder must have a plurality of children in order to serve as an elder and others as sincerely believe that one child will suffice. Now this list could be greatly expanded. I believe that we have certainly been able to have fellowship in spite of many such differences.

But the question comes up, "When do such differences become so important that we will not even recognize a man as a brother, worthy of recognition and approval, by the Lord, and thus by us?" Now, obviously, we cannot recognize an alien sinner as being within our fellowship. But, what about a brother? What about one who has been born again, one who has been washed in the blood? Romans 16:17 says to "mark and avoid them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which you have learned." I Cor. 5:9 forbids keeping company with fornicators and the following verses extends this to the covetous, extortioners, idolaters, railers and drunkards. I believe that others could be added. We assume that it would be right and necessary to take action in such cases. But what about the moral brother, not the immoral but the moral brother, who sincerely believes and teaches and practices what we believe to be error?

Now it seems to me that here again there are some very obvious facts. If my fellowship with him is such as to render my own practice contrary to my conviction and conscience, then such fellowship must unquestionably cease. For example, if I go into a house of worship and their singing is accompanied by instrumental music, I cannot participate. Likewise, if a brother comes in where communion is being served from a multiplicity of containers, and he is of a one container persuasion, he cannot partake — not in good conscience. And if another brother meets with a church who sends part of its offerings to an orphan's home, and he cannot conscientiously support such out of church treasuries, then he can't conscientiously make his offering there. Now so far as my limited understanding of the subject goes, it seems to me that if I'm in a congregation where I can fully and conscientiously participate in what I believe to be scriptural in what they are doing, that I could still recognize and respect as a brother, one who may not approve all in which I participate. Now unless my practice is such that he thinks it rules out any possibilities of my being accepted and approved of God, I would hope that he would cordially receive me. Now in a very practical way — what can we do to show our good will and brotherliness without compromising our convictions? How can we create a climate favorable to fellowship?

Now rather than restoring fellowship itself, I want to suggest these things with reference to making it possible to re-establishing lines by which fellowship itself might be more fully restored. First, no brother should be loved any less because he preaches his honest and sincere convictions. I can't respect a man who will not preach his convictions. He should do so in love and in the true spirit of Christ. But it doesn't mean that he makes it his hobby and his pastime, but he should certainly be free to preach what he honestly and sincerely believes to be the word of God. Secondly, I would like to see us visit each other more, both in our homes and in public services. Thirdly, I would like to see us ask each other to participate in public services, such as in leading of prayer and song leading, things of this sort. Fourth, I believe it would be wholesome to exchange pulpits occasionally. I believe that this would help to enlighten one another as to the fact that we really preach the same gospel in most particulars. Fifth, I believe that it would have a salutary effect to invite one another to have part in lectureships both on the part of colleges and churches, training programs, workshops and such like. Sixth, I believe it would produce a kindlier feeling and better understanding if journals would exchange well-written articles which display a desire to seek and present truth in the best spirit possible — so long as men do not show an ugly disposition, but simply a sincere search for the truth. Seventh, it is absolutely imperative that men on all sides of the issues be completely objective and fair, both with the word of God and with men. We must not deal with personalities but with what the word of God teaches. No church or individual should be charged with a practice unless we are absolutely sure of our facts. We must not be anxious to publicize evil reports. I believe that if we actually and sincerely strive to search for the truth and give brethren all the benefit of the doubt in all cases we possibly can that it will certainly go a long way toward creating a climate in which fellowship can grow and spread and develop. God bless you.