We have a unique fellowship. Only those who have obeyed the Gospel plan of salvation (as revealed in the New Testament), who are worshipping God in "spirit and in truth" who abide in the "Doctrine of Christ," and who have a "thus saith the Lord" for every practice and belief, can enjoy this fellowship together.
Christians who strive to walk in the light by obeying God's will and staying
faithful to it are in a class by themselves. Christian fellowship is limited
to those who abide in the doctrine of Christ.
Hear the apostle John, "Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son" (2 John 9). The doctrine of Christ is the boundary line, or circumference, within which our fellowship is with God and Christ. He who abides within this circle enjoys fellowship. He that transgresseth and goes beyond the teaching of Christ does not have that fellowship. Verses 10 and 11 reveal what should happen when false teachers come along. "If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds." Truth and false doctrine have no fellowship with each other.
The doctrine of Christ includes ALL the teaching of Jesus Christ. The teaching of Christ is the body of truth, the whole New Testament. The "gospel of Christ" (Rom. 1:16), "the faith once for all delivered unto the saints" (Jude 3), the word of the cross (1 Cor. 1:18), "the truth" (John 8:32), and "the faithful word" (Titus 1:9) are just a few of the terms that reveal the teaching of Christ. The doctrine of Christ is the whole Christian system -- all its facts, warnings, commands, and promises.
The New Testament church is the only body that is truly IN the doctrine of Christ. The body is unique because it is the only one that Jesus built (Matt. 16:18; Eph. 4:4). The body of Christ, church of Christ, can have no fellowship with those who are in error and promoting false doctrine.
The New Testament Christian can have no fellowship with the denominations.
Paul writes to the churches of Galatia, "I marvel that ye are so soon removed
from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which
is not another, but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel
of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto
you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed" (Gal.
1:68). The apostle reveals these Christians were being misled by false teachers
who were teaching they needed to go back to the law of Moses to be justified.
Paul says they perverted the Gospel of Christ. Anyone who "adds to"
or "takes from" the Gospel of Christ is a perverter of the Gospel
and will be damned for doing so.
The denominations preach, teach, and live a perverted Gospel. They are against the teachings of Jesus Christ and against the teaching of the apostles given by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye 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" (1 Cor. 1:10). Denominationalism is contrary to Christianity. We can have no fellowship with the denominations because: 1) they exist without divine authority, 2) we are to have no fellowship with those who are not in the doctrine of Christ (2 John 9-11), 3) they are against the prayer of Jesus (John 17), all the teaching of God's Word, and 4) they are corrupt in teaching, including worship, work, organization, name, plan of salvation, and lifestyle.
We can only have fellowship with those who are in the body of Christ. The church of Christ was planned by God and established and paid for by his Son Jesus Christ (Dan. 2:44; Isa. 2:2; Acts 2). Our fellowship is limited to those in the body of Christ because they are the only ones who are saved. The Lord adds one to his church when he obeys the Gospel plan of salvation as taught in the New Testament (Rom. 10:17; Luke 13:3; Acts 8:37; 2:47; Gal. 3:27). Men and women attain Christian fellowship with one another when each one of them attains fellowship with God. "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" (1 John 1:3). What did the apostles see and hear? The Gospel of Christ! It should be clear that no child of God can scripturally extend Christian fellowship to anyone who has not been baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.
The apostle Paul warned against sects, parties and divisions which equal denominations. In the midst of the works of the flesh in Galatians 5, Paul lists "...fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, parties, envyings, drunkenness, revellings, and such like..." (5:19-21, ASV). He reveals that those who practice such "shall not inherit the kingdom of God."
Christians can have no fellowship with the denominations because the denominations do not abide, nor do they preach the whole truth of the Gospel of Christ. Brother F. D. Srygley has written that "no denomination embodies all religious truth, nor is any denomination without some truth mixed with a considerable quantity of error" (The New Testament Church, McQuiddy Printing Company, 1910. p.37). The truth, which is the word of God, has no fellowship or association with error. Brother Srygley summarizes why the body of Christ has limited fellowship. "The same process which makes a man a Christian constitutes him a member of the church. Those who are not members of the church are out of Christ, for the reason that the church is the body of Christ (Col. 1:18,24; Eph. 1:22-23).
...No one can be a child of God without belonging to the household or family of God, which is the church.
...A child does not have to join the family; it is born into the family. Just so a man does not have to join the church; he is born into the church. 'Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God' (John 3:5)" (p.53-54).
We are not to have any association with the denominations which are man-made and sinful. "...Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it...That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish" (Eph. 5:25,28).
The Bible declares that children of God, Christians, can have fellowship with
each other. The apostle John revealed, "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" (1 John 1:3).
We learn from this passage that: 1) John and the apostles were declaring what
they received from the Holy Spirit, 2) they were revealing it to Christians,
3) they had fellowship with people of the "one faith" and 4) our fellowship
is with God the Father and Christ the Son.
We are heirs to eternal salvation together through Jesus Christ. "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together" (Rom. 8:16-17). We have a unique fellowship. Only those who have obeyed the Gospel plan of salvation (as revealed in the New Testament), who are worshiping God in "spirit and in truth," who abide in the "Doctrine of Christ," and who have a "thus saith the Lord" for every practice and belief, can enjoy this fellowship together.
These people, known as Christians, saints, members, make up the church of Christ. Only the saved are part of this body and only those who are members of this body will be saved. Christians make up individual congregations who are governed separately. The Bible provides examples of congregations fellowshipping each other in various good works (1 Cor. 16:3; 2 Cor. 8; 9; 3 John 5). Since congregations can fellowship each other in good works, by implication, a congregation can withdraw fellowship from a congregation that is out of line with the doctrine of Christ. This must be accomplished with a loving spirit for the congregation that is departing. The reason for withdrawal is to warn and admonish the sister congregation to come back to the doctrine of Christ.
What if a local church of Christ went into apostasy? For example: a congregation introduces a choir to their worship assembly or merges with a denomination such as the Christian Church. Would other churches of Christ have need to publicly disassociate themselves from such a congregation? Yes! The faithful churches of Christ should make an effort to help the apostate congregation back to the path of truth. If this fails, then, the faithful church should make it known to the community that even though both congregations have the name "church of Christ" on their sign, they are not the same!
Does God disfellowship individual churches of Christ? Yes! Revelation 2 and 3 threaten such action if repentance was not forthcoming. To the church at Ephesus: "Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent" (Rev. 2:5). The basic teaching of the seven letters to the churches was, if repentance were not forthcoming, their lampstand would be removed. This represented that God would sever His affiliation with them and they would no longer be considered a faithful church of Christ. God gave them a chance to straighten up, we should do likewise and encourage a church that is on the road to apostasy, to come back to the truth.
Though each congregation is autonomous and independent by divine design, every Christian and local church is a part of the universal body of Christ. We have a common bond as brothers and sisters in Christ. What we do as a local church affects and reflects upon every other church of Christ. It does make a difference what our neighbor is teaching and practicing. I have had elders tell me that it didn't matter that a local church of Christ had a choir. They revealed to me that we should not worry about what other congregations are doing. That attitude shows a lack of concern for the souls of those involved. Choirs, instrumental music, and everything else that is not authorized by Christ, is sinful in the worship of God!
Brethren, let us not overlook 2 John 11 concerning fellowship with apostates. "For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds." When a local congregation has gone off into apostasy, we can have no fellowship with them. Romans 16:17 also gives us authority to mark those who have departed from the faith. "Now I beseech you brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them." One who causes division must be marked, whoever he is or wherever he is located. "Them" might be fifty or five hundred persons who may be marked. If not, why not?
Christian fellowship is limited to only those who are in Christ and walking in the light. Our study has shown us that we cannot, with God's approval, fellowship the denominations, apostate congregations, false teachers, or the immoral. The Lord limits fellowship, should we do any less than our Lord and Savior? Let us enjoy true Christian fellowship and practice discipline in separating from those in darkness.
By Steve Miller
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