Inter-Congregational Brotherhood?

Larry Ray Hafley
Plano, Illinois

Some expressions of fear have been issuing from certain quarters of late relative to the relationship or fellowship of brethren in churches of Christ. Brethren should be commended for their interest and concern for peace and unity among the Lord's people (1 Pet. 2:17; Heb. 12:14). However, one must not permit his brotherly anxiety to envelope the idea of inter-congregational fellowship.

Christians are not bound to Christ and to one another through earthly organization. They are spiritually linked together, united as one, as members of the body of Christ, as branches of Christ, the true vine (Jno. 17: 20-22; Gal. 3:26-29).

There is a tendency to think of all Christians as being united in Christ through means of local congregations. The idea is false. The relationship does not exist. If it be true, what of the Ethiopian eunuch? He was baptized in the name of Christ and had his sins washed away (Acts 2:38; 8:35-39). Thus, he was saved and added to the church (1 Ct. 12:13). But he was not affiliated nor associated with a local congregation. Was he, then, devoid of fellowship with other Christians? With Christ? Obviously not! (1 Cor. 12:13).

No one is a brother in Christ because he, like you, is a member of a local church. All are brethren as a result of their common communion in Christ (1 Cor. 10:16, 17; 1 Jno. 1:3, 7).

There is an inherent danger in viewing local churches as that which provides the spiritual relationship called the brotherhood, If brethren are in fellowship with one another due to a relationship of "sister congregations," then do not brethren sustain duties toward one another through the collective action of their local churches? If the brotherhood exists because Christians are related in the fellowship of churches ("churchhood"), then are not Christians free to fulfill their brotherly obligations through an inter-congregational organization of their local churches?

The answer to both of these questions is "Yes," and this constitutes the innate danger of which I spake. If it could be established that the fellowship of the brotherhood is transmitted via the fellowship of local congregations, then obligations toward one another could logically be routed through [he collective cooperative fellowship of all the local churches. If I were of those who feel hindered by the Bible doctrine of independent, autonomous churches, I would seize any vestige of an intercongregational brotherhood and erect upon it inter-congregational organizations to perform the duties all brethren have toward one another. Of course, I here reasoned from a hypothetical example, but a functional unit, larger than the local church, is the next logical process. See why I said there was an inherent, innate danger in this intercongregational-unity-of-the-brotherhood-philosophy?


It is possible, even desirable, for members of different congregations to work and worship together. (Such frequently occurred in the New Testament (Col. 1:7; 4:9; Rom. 16:1-4). Their oneness in Christ led them to commune in common labors of love. They did not act through a structured, inter-congregational body.

To avoid the organizational corruption of churches of Christ, Christians must recognize themselves as members one of another through walking in the truth--not as a brotherhood in congregations, but as body in raid of Christ. Therefore, when one pleads for the unity of brethren on a level larger than a local church, let him not hint at a fellowship of federated sister congregations as the basis of his plea. {Did any New Testament writer ever contradict that advice?)

TRUTH MAGAZINE XIV: 24, pp. 13-14

April 23, 1970