By Mike Willis
The subject of Christian fellowship has been an important issue for the twentieth century. The ecumenical movement of Protestant denominationalism changed those churches; instead of being denominations at war with one another, they accepted one another as Christians with different denominational heritages. The influence of this movement spilled over into the restoration heritage. The Murch-Witty discussion of the 1930s was a “unity-in-diversity” movement.
The conversion of Carl Ketcherside and Leroy Garrett from sectarians who would not fellowship anyone except those baptized believers who opposed located preachers and colleges in which the Bible is taught was the beginning of a “unity-in-diversity” movement among the churches of Christ. That movement spilled over to influence the non-institutional churches in the early 1970s, taking about 100 younger preachers with it.
The “unity-in-diversity” movement is storming the camp of the institutional churches. F. Lagard Smith describes the move toward fellowshipping those in denominational churches as a “quiet revolution” that is a “clear and present danger” (Who Is My Brother? 16, 17). That movement asserts that there are Christians in all denominations with whom we should have “unity-in-diversity.”
In the 1997 Promise Keepers rally in Washington, D.C., Max Lucada called on Christians to quit building walls between denominations, but to let those walls come down. Mike Cope delivered a series of lessons at the Highland Church of Christ in Abilene, TX entitled “Christians Only — Not the Only Christians.” One of his lessons that has been frequently quoted is reprinted in Wineskins (III:3, April/May 1997). In this lesson, he explained how he came to the realization that there were Christians in all denominations. He argued from Romans 14-15 that we should have unity with one another in spite of our important doctrinal and moral differences. He closed by expressing his desire for the time when he could exchange pulpits with a local Baptist preacher. A significant number of the liberal churches of Christ are moving into the mainstream of Protestant denominationalism, recognizing as Christians those who profess faith in Christ without regard to whether or not one has been baptized.
What beliefs must be changed to have fellowship with the denominations? Let me suggest several changes that have to occur before one is ready to extend fellowship to those in denominations:
1. One must believe that one can be saved without water baptism. One cannot speak of “Christian fellowship” with those in the denominations unless he believes that they are Christians. The New Testament teaches that one becomes a Christian when he obeys the gospel. The obedience of faith includes repentance of one’s sins and immersion in water for the remission of one’s sins. Most groups will admit that one must repent of his sins in order to be saved (Luke 13:3; Acts
2:38; 17:30; 2 Pet. 3:9), but most Protestant denominations reject the idea that water baptism is essential to salvation. The Scriptures describe the purpose of water baptism in the following words:
He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned (Mark 16:16).
Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38).
And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord (Acts 22:16).
The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 3:21).
When one is baptized, his spiritual state changes. He ceases being an alien from the commonwealth of Israel and becomes a fellow-citizen with the saints in the kingdom of God; he ceases being outside of Christ and without hope to being in Christ with the one blessed hope; he changes from a sinner to a saint, an unbeliever to a believer, one who rejects Christ to a disciple of Christ.
In as much as the denominations teach that one can be saved without being baptized, they have not taught men how to become Christians. The denominational plan of salvation through faith only is contrary to divine revela- tion (Jas. 2:24). Those who call for Christian fellowship with those who teach salvation by “faith only” must give up their belief that one must be baptized in water in order to have the forgiveness of his sin, to enter the kingdom of God, and to be in Christ.
2. One must believe that one’s salvation is not effected by the worship that he offers. The Lord has always revealed how he wishes to be worshiped. If there were no Bible pat- tern for worship, the sin of idolatry could not exist (Gal. 5:20). The fact is that God has revealed in both the Old and New Testaments that only that worship which is offered according to the revealed pattern is pleasing to him.
God rejected the worship of Cain because it was not offered “by faith” (Gen. 4; Heb. 11:4). He rejected the worship of Nadab and Abihu because they brought “strange fire” which God had not commanded (Lev. 10:1-2). The worship of Saul was rejected because it was not offered by God’s designated priests (1 Sam. 15). The worship that Jeroboam I set up in Bethel and Dan was a sin (1 Kings 12:25-32). Jesus taught that true worship must be offered to the Father in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24).
The divine pattern for worship includes these five items: (a) the weekly observance of the Lord’s supper (Acts 2:42; 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:17-34); (b) Prayer (1 Cor. 14:15; Acts 2:42); (c) Congregation singing (1 Cor. 14:15; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16); (d) A contribution taken on the first day of the week (1 Cor. 16:1-2); (e) The preaching of apostolic doctrine (Acts 2:42; 20:7).
The denominations have departed from the worship revealed in the New Testament in a variety of ways. Rather than having congregational singing, they use choirs and other professional (or semi-professional) singing groups that entertain the assembly (accompanied by clapping to show their approval of the entertainment). The singing is accompanied by mechanical instruments of music and instrumental solos. The Lord’s supper is not observed on the first day of every week, but once a month, once every six months, or once a year, sometimes in conjunction with a special foot washing service. Prayer may be offered in the name of Mary (as in Roman Catholicism). Contributions are taken at every service without regard to which day of the week it is and usually several contributions per service. The preaching that is done is usually woefully thin in Scripture, consisting more of heart-warming stories and anecdotes. In addition to the changes in revealed worship, most churches will also allow theatrical performances, speeches by prominent political figures on political issues (such as Jesse Jackson speaking in Black Baptist Churches), and many such like things.
However, if one is going to extend fellowship to the denominations, he must accept that these departures from revealed worship do not endanger the souls of men or break fellowship with the saints.
3. Teaching the doctrines of men does not affect one’s salvation. The early apostles were absolutely charged with preaching the gospel of Christ, without addition or omission. The early apostles were to teach what “I (Jesus) have commanded you” (Matt. 28:20). They were to teach “apostolic doctrine” (Acts 2:42). They were charged not to teach any other doctrine (1 Tim. 1:3). Timothy was charged to give attention to his doctrine in order to save himself and those that hear him (1 Tim. 4:16). Peter commanded that one speak as the oracles of Christ (1 Pet. 4:11). John told men not to transgress the doctrine of Christ and warned those who did that they did not have fellowship with God (2 John 9-11). Jesus warned of the danger of teaching for one’s doctrine the commandments of men saying,
This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. . . . But he answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up. Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch (Matt. 15:8-9, 13-14).
Many such like Scriptures can be offered in support of the same truth. Those who depart from revealed revelation are guilty of sin and in danger of eternal damnation.
To have an on-going fellowship with the denominations of men, one must reject this concept. He must be willing to accept that water baptism is not essential for salvation, can be administered by sprinkling, pouring, or immersion, and can be administered to unbelieving infants. He must tolerate the doctrine that says God predestined some to eternal life and others to eternal damnation without regard to anything foreseen in what man does. He must tolerate the Catholic doctrine about the Virgin Mary. He must not draw lines of fellowship over the doctrine of babies inheriting the guilt and sinful nature of Adam. He must tolerate those who deny the inspiration of the Bible, the virgin birth, and the resurrection of Jesus, for Protestant churches contain those holding these various positions.
To fellowship those in Protestant and Catholic denominations, one must give up his belief in what the Bible teaches. He must give his belief that water baptism is essential for salvation, that there is a pattern of New Testament worship, and that it makes a difference what one believes and practices. One cannot maintain purity of faith and extend the hands of fellowship to those who deny the faith once for all delivered to the saints.