"If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with an other, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin." (I John 1:7)
Christian fellowship is a most precious gift, yet, possibly, one of the most abused, and least appreciated, of all the good things the Father has provided for us. To be able to clasp your hand into the hand of a brother, to know that both have been born of the ". . . water and the spirit", to walk hand in hand in the service of the Master, to bid another God-speed, -- these are true marks of ". . . the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love. . ." This is true fellow ship! But to what extent can such fellowship be extended?
The Bible teaches us that, under certain circumstances, the withdrawal of our fellowship becomes necessary. In the fifth chapter of the first Corinthian letter, Paul deals with the problem of sin in the church. There is a great deal of difference between a church member sinning and sin being in the church (such as it was in Corinth-I Cor. 5: 1-11). We all sin! But we may thank the Lord that through his great foreknowledge he has provided us with an advocate, Jesus Christ, through whom we may seek forgiveness. But again we must emphasize: there is a vast difference between the sin we may commit and, repent and pray the Lord's forgiveness, when it is called to our attention, and the sin which dwells, or becomes rooted so deeply within us, that we refuse to heed the exhortation of the brethren. and continue in sin. The latter constitutes sin in the church.
The sin that presented such a problem to the church at Corinth was fornication. Yet if that fornicator, after having committed the immoral act, had repented and sought the forgiveness of God there would have been no occasion for terminating fellowship. But such was not the case! He continued in his sin. Notice: "It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife." (I Cor. (I Cor. 5:1). This erring brother was still in possession of his father's wife, or, as the Revised Version states for a man is living with his father's wife." For this reason it was necessary for the faithful brethren to withdraw their fellowship. Why ? ? ? "For what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness; and what communion hath light with darkness." (II Cor. 6:14). There can be no fellowship, or communion, between the faithful children and those who enter, and continue in, infidelity.
Paul assures us, in I Cor. 6, that the purpose for the withdrawal is two-fold. The first: ". . . To deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." (vs. 5) If the fellowship of the brethren is of any value to the persistent sinner; if he counts it precious -- then loss of such fellowship should provoke him to a re-consideration of his relationship to his brethren. and to God. If he appreciates that fellowship, and if he feels a need for it, he will soon "come to himself", re-discover God above the veil of his own sinfulness, and, after having made proper amends, be received back into the f old of God, and into the fellowship of his Church. Fellowship, like many of God's other gifts to man, is usually appreciated more after we are forced to be without it for a season.
The Second: ". . . Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened." (vs. 6, 7) The doctrine of the contagiousness of sin is set forth more than once in the Corinthian letter. In I Cor. 15:33, "Be not deceived: evil communications (ocmpanionships) corrupt good manners". Man must realize that sin is dangerous. It is not a toy to be played with. It must not be used to test a man's resistance. Past the point of teacher and an example, we can have no fellowship with those in darkness, without becoming a partaker of their deeds.
I believe the reason there are so many in the bond of Christian fellowship today who walk according to the flesh, who mind earthly things, and who neglect living as they should is because there has been no church discipline. We have, as long as I can remember, refused, or at least neglected, to make application of New Testament teaching. Did not the sudden death of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) cause great fear to come upon the church at Jerusalem? Was this simply because they died, or because their death symbolized their loss of fellowship with God and the church? Was not the purpose of withdrawing fellowship from the immoral brother at Corinth to discourage immorality, as well as awaken the erring sinner? If so, would not the same, (the withdrawal of fellowship from those who continue in sin), discourage others from following the evil example?
With shameful hearts we must admit we have shunned to practice those things. Not too long ago this very question was discussed in the presence of some brethren and one sadly, but truthfully stated: "People would think it was old fashion". Unrecognized by far too many church members is the fact that the answers to all of the problems before the church today can be found in the realm of the "old fashion", the fashion of the first century.
Truth Magazine I:5, pp. 2-3