By Cecil Willis
Some of our brethren act rather strangely regarding the subject of fellowship. Brethren’s concepts of fellowship have undergone some unusual evolution. In Luke 5:26 the miracles that Jesus performed are referred to as “strange things” (from the Greek word paradoxa). His miracles appeared to be contrary to fact. A paradox is something that seems contradictory. Some of our brethren have a very contradictory position regarding fellowship.
There is a little country congregation just a few miles from my home that is well over one hundred years old. In fact, the congregation was established in 1836. I have read their business meeting notes all the way back to their beginning. In years gone by, this congregation has been associated with the Daniel Sommer sentiment. They have objected to full-time local preachers, and have never had one, though they have continued to have regular appointment preachers throughout the years.
In recent years, they have taken a more favorable attitude toward those of us who oppose the church support of human institutions. Probably this has been partially out, of necessity. There are very few of the old-time Sommer — type preachers left. A little over ten years ago, this congregation first asked me to conduct a gospel meeting for it. I have since held about three other meetings there. When I was first invited, the elders told me, “We do not care where you learned to preach; we are only concerned with whether you can preach.” Apparently they thought that when I came for a gospel meeting, I would feed them a dose of the college issue each night.
Throughout the past forty years or so, this congregation has meticulously kept to itself. They had a “failing out” of some sort with the old-time Sommer-type preachers. I think
I was invited to hold them a meeting because they considered me to be the lesser of two evils, when compared to institutional preachers, though they also have had meetings held by a few liberals. Sometime they have not been very discriminating in the kind of preachers they had for meetings. Some would consider they were not very discriminating when they invited me!
A few months ago, this congregation had Ed Matthews, a graduate student in “Missions” from Abilene Christian College, to hold them a gospel meeting. I was not at home, and hence did not get to hear the lessons first hand. They asked Brother Matthews to speak each night on “Legalism and the Law,” whatever that was intended to mean. In f act, they asked me to hold the meeting and to speak on the same theme. I turned them down, stating that I had spent too much time trying to teach brethren carefully to follow the “law of Christ” now to speak several nights minimizing gospel law keeping. This subject was right down Brother Matthews’ line.
Brother Matthews began the meeting by using some historical material to show that some brethren had always thought of the church as being comprised of the good people out of all denominations. He made a featured point out of Alexander Campbell’s famous Lunnenburg letter. These nearby brethren have arrogantly thought of themselves as super Bible students because they did not need a full-time preacher. The truth of the matter is they were so ignorant that they were gullible to error. When one came teaching palpable error, apparently not one person in the congregation recognized it as error.
In the course of the gospel meeting, Brother Matthews several different times stated that instrumental music should not have been made a test of fellowship, and that he could fellowship those in the Christian Church who used instrumental music in their worship. Rather than reprimanding this false teacher, the elders of this nearby church publicly commended him. Apparently they had not so exercised their spiritual senses so as to discern good from evil.
Brother Norman Midgette preaches for one of the churches here in Marion. Brother Steve Wolfgang then preached for the other faithful church here in Marion. The nearby church had announced there would be a question period following the lessons presented by Brother Matthews. After about one session of questioning by Brother Midgette, and later by Brother Wolfgang, these brethren decided to discontinue their question period. In fact, they rather rudely told Brother Midgette that if he came back, he was to keep his mouth shut.They gave the same order to several other brethren who were chagrined at the blatant error taught there.
Brother Matthews taught the “fellowship-everybody” (meaning every baptized believer) position now being popularized by Brother Carl Ketcherside and Leroy Garrett. When I returned home and requested permission to listen to the tape recordings of Brother Matthews’ lessons, I was adamantly forbidden to do so. One of the elders told me that Brother Matthews preached precisely what they wanted him to preach.
Since these brethren publicly endorsed the “fellowship-everybody” position, you would have thought they would at least have been charitable toward their brethren who disagreed with them. But not so. These brethren now will not attend our services at all. During our most recent gospel meeting, only two or three ladies from that congregation attended our services, and they came only a night or two. Yet for several years these brethren have professed to agree with us, and heretofore have been most cordial.
It is very strange, yea very paradoxical, that these brethren will publicly endorse the statement that we should fellowship those in the Christian Church, but yet they will not fellowship those of us in the church of Christ. Another of the Ketcherside-type churches nearby publicly taught that those in the Christian Church should be fellowshiped, until about fifty members from the church joined the Christian Church. Then the brethren there became upset. I fail to see why they were upset, since the departing brethren merely put into practice what they had been taught for several years. In fact, these brethren became so upset they even asked me to come and talk to them. When I walked into their church building, I picked up one of every tract they hid on display. Not one of the fourteen or go tracts on display had been written by anyone even remotely connected with the Lord’s church. Every single tract had been written by some denominationalist and distributed by a denominational tract society. Yet these brethren pretended to be unable to see why brethren would leave the Lord’s church to join a denomination.
It is very strange how these misguided brethren can so strongly contend that every baptized believer should be fellowshipped (even those in denominations), but then they treat us who really are their brethren as though we had the plague. It reminds me of some of the capers of the Ohio Valley College brethren. They pretend to be strongly opposed to church support of colleges, but then load their lecture programs with brethren who advocate this which they affect to believe to be serious error. Meanwhile, they refuse to use any of us with whom they pretend to be in agreement on the church-supported college issue. Indeed, some of our brethren do have a paradoxical fellowship!
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XVI: 20, pp. 3-5
March 23, 1972