Limiting Fellowship   Leave a comment

I believe, because I have seen it work, that limited fellowship should be extended to brethren who have drifted into the kinds of error we’ve been discussing.

What do I mean by limited fellowship?

In some instances the local churches these people are members of should discipline them and, if necessary, even withdraw fellowship from them. This is not done very often and, sadly, the congregations themselves frequently are led into the errors of these individuals.

But what can the larger Christian community do when a church will not discipline its wayward minister? Though formal withdrawal of fellowship is principally a congregational matter, fellowship extends further than the local church, so limitation of fellowship can also go beyond the local church.

When the Southern Baptist Convention voted to disfellowship New Heart Community Church it was withdrawing its financial support and disallowing its delegates to vote in the convention. While Pastor Danny Cortez had a point about churches that allowed their pastors to officiate at remarriages after non-permitted divorces, he had the Godly instruction backwards. We are not to embrace such immorality, but discipline it when it occurs in the churches. If churches would cease to support teachers who go into error, some of the rogues might be brought to repentance. Certainly their influence could be curtailed.

My husband Brad is a recovering alcoholic who will point out that Alcoholics Anonymous is not anonymous for the drinking drunk. If you’re not involved in AA, you may not realize that. If you’re off the wagon, they do not protect your anonymity. They will tell your pastor, your wife, your boss that you need help. They will call the cops if you’re driving drunk. It is only when you are sober that they will refuse to even share that they know you.

Churches really need to remember that. AA got it from us, by the way. Bill W. talked about it in his book. Yet, these days, when Christians face unsound teaching from the pulpit or Christian pen or open immorality in a church, we all get quiet and pretend it’s not happening. A form of discipline can be exercised by making the brotherhood aware of the sinful situation.

Christians have a right to know where a teacher or preacher stands on fundamental issues before they use his services. Some brethren complain about the “gossip journals” that are devoted exclusively to digging up church dirt and sometimes that’s justified, but more often than not, there’d be no muckraking if there was no muck.

If more responsible brethren would muster the courage to kindly and forcefully chastise erring teachers, there would be no need for the world to take Christians to task for our hypocrisy.

If Christian schools, churches, and journals would cease to use men and women who are openly known to advocate radical ideas or cause division, it would send a message. A preacher with no audience, or a writer with no readers, doesn’t have nearly the power of one who is being listened to.

This is not a call for head-hunting. We should not withdraw from every Christian who may disagree with us regarding various points of Bible interpretation. That’s a fanatical approach that has fragmented churches and made Christianity a reproach before an unbelieving world. But it is equally foolish to shut one’s eyes to blatant false teaching that undermines the spiritual and moral foundations of the churches. When the Bible says stay away from certain doctrinal aberrations, we should.

Church discipline needs to be exercised in love, but love needs to be tough. Discipline doesn’t need to be abusive, but it does need to interrupt the influence of evil coming from supposedly Christian pulpits and pens in the hope that it might lead to repentance or that the false teachers will at least be identified as false and no longer considered Christians.

If the churches truly want to be relevant in a sinful world, we need to start by taking the logs out of our own eyes before we try to deal with the dirt in the eyes of non-Christians.

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