Fellowship of The Spirit
Bryan Vinson, Jr.
The problems that have in recent years troubled the children of God have not been removed. They have multiplied. They do not continue for lack of solution. A clear plan for the removal of such problems is proclaimed by the apostle Paul: "Let all things be done unto edifying" (I Cor. 14:26). Those brethren who have promoted and defended the various institutions which have created the problems have claimed, time and again, that their projects were not matters of faith. They have attempted to defend them as expedients without bothering to first prove them lawful. Yet, on the basis of their own contention they should abandon their "expedient" practices in order to restore the unity of God's people. This they are not willing to do. Evidently they favor division and destruction over peace, unity, and edification.
Consequently the matter of fellowship must be given serious consideration. I think it wise that the matter of fellowship not be given too much emphasis until it becomes apparent that restoration and reunion are indeed improbable. The New Testament makes it very clear that erring brethren are to be entreated more than once, and that the breaking off of fellowship is to be the last resort. A recognition of this truth will develop tolerance, forbearance, patience, and humility. These qualities will increase the likelihood of restoration, while the absence of such will tend to broaden the separation and amplify the error.
The possibility of reunion has greatly decreased. I believe it can now be stated that complete division is inevitable without appearing as one overly pessimistic. When brethren have ceased to study, and when they have lost all desire to have their practices examined fairly, both publicly and privately, I think it fair to conclude that the hope of restoration is virtually extinguished. We must, therefore, consider fellowship and what it involves.
Our hearts in Christian love;
The fellowship of kindred minds
Is like to that above.
Fellowship is the tie that binds us together. It is based upon our belief that in Christ Jesus we are of one mind, one heart. It is expressed by our joint participation in all phases of the Lord's work, and by our acknowledgment of our kinship in the family of God. It binds us together with the joint hope of the final resurrection and eternal glorification. The fact that fellowship existed from the beginning of the church is made evident by Luke's statement: "And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers" (Acts 2:42). It undoubtedly embraced the idea of partnership in every phase of the Lord's work. They had fellowship in the worship of God. They had fellowship in the preaching of the gospel when they provided the support of those who did the-actual preaching. Paul spoke of fellowship in this light when he penned the following to the saints in Philippi: "I thank my God upon all remembrance of you, always in every supplication of mine on behalf of you all making my supplication with joy for your fellowship in furtherance of the gospel from the first day until now. . . . No church had fellowship with me in the matter of giving and receiving but ye only; for even in Thessalonica ye sent once and again unto my need" (Phil. 1 :3-5; 4:15, 16).
Where is the foundation upon which fellowship rests? And if that foundation is destroyed, is the fellowship destroyed? Our fellowship is not based upon our love for one another. It is not based upon our mutual appreciation of one another's sincerity. It is in no way based upon any direct relationship that may exist between us. It is based entirely upon our relationship to God. If my relationship to God is proper, then I deserve the fellowship of all faithful Christians. If that relationship is not proper, I deserve no fellowship. Consider what the apostle John says: ". . . That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you also, that ye also may have fellowship with us: yea, and our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.... But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth us from all sin * " (I John 1:3, 6, 7). John has made it very clear that his fellowship was with God and Christ. But, when two or more people establish fellowship with the Father they enjoy fellowship with one another. Under no circumstances should one child of God extend fellowship to another who has destroyed fellowship with God by his persistence in sinful living. John teaches us that we "have fellowship one with another" when we "walk in the light as he is in the light." Fellowship with God and with His Son Jesus Christ is the basis of fellowship among brethren.
"God is faithful, through whom ye were called into the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord."-l Cor. 1:9
It is by our faith in Jesus and our obedience of his commands that we come into fellowship with God. Our faith comes by hearing the word of God (Rom. 10:17), the gospel. Our obedience to the will of Christ contained in that gospel, by faith, procures for us that divine fellowship. Thus, as we give attention to the gospel, and as we respond to its commands, it can be said that God has called us by His gospel. ". . . Whereunto he called you through our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ" (II Thess. 2:14).
It is important that we remember that the calling power belongs to God, not man. Whenever the evidence indicates that a man has been called by God, through the gospel, into fellowship of the Spirit, it is to such a man that every Christian ought to extend the right hand of fellowship. It should be remembered, however, that the continued extension of fellowship is dependent upon his continued faithfulness (Eph. 4:1). Only as "we walk in the light as he is in the light" do we have fellowship one with another.
Obedience is evidence of the fact that a man has been called. If, the evidence reveals to us a faith in Jesus made known by confession (Rom. 10:10), genuine repentance demonstrated by a change in life, and complete submission acknowledged by baptism in water, then fellowship ought to be extended. The acceptance of any thing other than the true gospel which was preached by the apostles does not entitle one to the fellowship of the saints. Thus, while multitudes of denominational people may be sincere and zealous, they have not been called into fellowship.
It has already been pointed out that continued fellowship depends upon continued faithfulness. This is true because our fellowship with one another rests upon our fellowship with God. We can not work the works of the flesh and, at the same time, enjoy the blessings that are in Christ Jesus. Consider the following: "Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers: for what fellowship have righteousness and iniquity? or what communion hath light with darkness?" (II Cor. 6:14). This passage is usually considered as prohibitive of any unequal relationship between a child of God and one who has never obeyed the gospel. Certainly this is taught. But the principle set forth would apply to any unequal relationship between a faithful Christian and one who has departed into a state of unbelief. 'Take heed, brethren, lest haply there shall be in any one of you an evil heart of unbelief, in falling away from the living God. . . " (Heb. 3:12). Certainly time and experience have proved to many that the most unequal of all relationships is one that involves a faithful Christian with one who has turned away from the faith. And no danger of corruption is as great as that which comes from within. With this in mind the apostle wrote to the brethren in Corinth, saying, "I wrote unto you not to keep company, if any man that is named a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such a one no, not to eat" (I Cor. 5:11).
Fellowship is partnership. Whenever Christians work together in the service of God they have fellowship one with another. Fellowship involves co-operation. Many brethren think that there must be a "pooling of funds" before there can be co-operation. When two Christians go out to teach the lost the way of the Lord, whether in the same town or on opposite sides of the globe, they co-operate with one another in the work of the Lord. It might be said then, that, if each has done his work in a way pleasing to God, each has had fellowship with the other. This type of fellowship ought to exist among all Christians throughout the whole of the earth.
In a more specific sense we fellowship those disciples with whom we are acquainted and more frequently associated. This specific type of fellowship Paul writes about in the following manner: ". . . And when they perceived the grace that was given unto me ... they who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship. . . " There was a recognition, by the apostles in Jerusalem, of the common work to which they were all related, and in which they were all actively engaged. James and the others were under no obligation to acknowledge the existence of fellowship until they "perceived the grace that was given unto" Paul and Barnabas.
Since fellowship involves a partnership,-a working together, it is not possible for brethren to have fellowship when they are unable to work together. I am now referring to that type of joint participation which constitutes real Bible fellowship. This is the fellowship referred to in Acts 2:42; Gal. 2:9; Phil. 1:5; and Phil. 3:10. Any other type of fellowship is remote, involving a general relationship with all faithful Christians, yet not requiring that we know specifically who or where they may be.
What then of the present conditions? Shall there be a break of fellowship? It seems as though the time has passed for the consideration of a future break in fellowship. Actually, there is little or no fellowship to break. When, for conscience sake, brethren can not work together in serving Christ there is no fellowship. Brethren may differ, as they have in times past, without breaking fellowship. One may feel that it is lawful to use instrumental music in worship of God. The other may consider such sinful. They may study this matter for months and years without reaching agreement, and at the same time work together in leading the lost to Christ. There has been no break in fellowship between them. But the brother who favored the instrument may lose interest in further study and exert his influence to bring about the immediate purchase and installation of the instrument into the place of worship. The conscience of him who opposed the instrument will not allow him to sing together with those brethren any longer. Furthermore, his conscience would be violated if he continued to give his money, knowing that it was being used in part to support and maintain a place for unlawful worship. Thus, these two brethren could no longer work and worship together. Hence, they could no longer have fellowship with one another.
Similar conditions have been produced by recent innovations. There are many brethren who disagree as to whether or not it is right for the church to support, from its treasury, institutional orphan homes, "Herald of Truth" type cooperation, or such like. The fact that they disagree is not justification for the dissolution of such a sacred partnership. But when one or the other finds it impossible to participate in the work and worship of a congregation because of such innovations, the basis of fellowship has been removed, and continued partnership is no longer possible.
May the Lord help us to carefully consider every practice in order that we may maintain the "unity of the spirit" and the basis of fellowship.
We are indeed happy to add to our staff of writers an outstanding preacher of the gospel, Luther Blackmon. Bro. Blackmon lives in Pasadena, Texas (a suburb of Houston), and has written articles for TRUTH Magazine in the past. We are confident that he will add much to the enrichment of these pages throughout the months to come.
Truth Magazine, V:2; pp. 2-4