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Fellowship   Leave a comment

In talking about church discipline and disfellowship, it is probably important to understand the Biblical definitions of church membership and fellowship. If you’ve spent any time studying the Bible you are aware of the emphasis on “fellowship” found within.

Upon conversion, we are called into fellowship with God, with Christ, and with the Holy Spirit (1 John 1:3; 1 Corinthians 1:9; 2 Corinthians 13:14) and there is the blessed fellowship that Christians enjoy with one another (1 John 1:7).

When the Lord prayed that all of his disciples might be “one,” he implied the warm fellowship that should prevail among them (John 17:20-21), and we later read that the disciples “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship” (Acts 2:42), for the “multitude of them that believed were of one heart and soul” (Acts 4:32). There are  many positive aspects of New Testament fellowship.

Like with so many other human interactions, fellowship has some downsides and God dealt with these in His scripture.

God’s child is to have no fellowship with the works of darkness, but should reprove them (Ephesians 5:11). How can light and darkness, righteousness and iniquity share in the same fellowship (2 Corinthians 6:14)?

While it is true that we cannot leave the world in order to avoid all association with the wicked (1 Corinthians 5:10), we must recognize that intimate evil companionships  can, and frequently do, corrupt good morals (1 Corinthians 15:33).

This is why a recognition of the Biblical teaching regarding fellowship also demands an awareness of the converse postures of non-fellowship and withdrawal of fellowship.

Let’s first deal with the extremist attitudes of some. There are those who see almost no limitations to fellowship, even in the broad realm of “Christendom.” They can participate spiritually with a variety of religionists with no pangs of conscience whatever. Others appear to have fellowship with only a chosen few with whom they are in agreement in virtually every minute detail.

The truth lies somewhere between such extremes, but they highlight that the application of Biblical principles relative to fellowship is not always easy, though there are general scriptural guidelines that help us in drawing some reasonable conclusions.

The Scriptures clearly teach that we cannot fellowship, i.e., partake with, people in their sins.

Paul warned Timothy not to be a partaker (koinoneo — related to the term rendered “fellowship”) of other men’s sins (1 Timothy 5:22). It is thus always wrong to share in the wickedness of others.

We cannot avoid some association with non-Christians (1 Corinthians 5:10). That’s not even desirable, for without some mingling with our neighbors, how can the leavening influences of Christianity ever be brought to them (Matthew 13:33; 5:13-16)?

However, Christians should not join in common  religious observances with those who are not Christians. When I first met Brad, he was a Catholic. He asked me to his church. I went, but I refused to go forward for the eucharist, which required that I explain that I did not think the Roman Catholic Church (not necessarily individual Catholics) was a truly Christian sect. Scripture has circumscribed the sphere of our spiritual fellowship. John says there is no fellowship with God for those who walk in spiritual darkness (1 John 1:6); therefore, fellowship “with one another” is restricted to those who “walk in the light” (1:7).

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