By Clinton D. Hamilton
A reader poses several questions in a letter to me which he desires to have addressed in this column. Basically the questions center around a Christian’s having business dealings with a non-Christian or with one who is a wayward Christian. These questions are considered in this article.
Question: May Christians utilize facilities owned/operated by denominations or “liberal” churches of Christ?
In pinpointing the issues he wishes discussed, the querist gives examples. “Is it right for a Christian to buy material from a ‘Baptist Bookstore’?” Then he gives another, “May a Christian obtain a degree from a ‘Baptist’ college?” He then adds, “If yes, may parents (Christians’ send their children to a preschool which is part of a denomination’s or ‘liberal’ church’s local work?” In further amplification, he adds these comments: “If it’s wrong for churches to operate or maintain orphanages, wouldn’t it be equally wrong to use them for adoption purposes? Is it not inconsistent for one to not buy clothes from the Salvation Army but allow them to assist you in need?”
Response: Paul said, “I wrote unto you in my epistle to have no company with fornicators; not at all meaning with the fornicators of this world, or with covetous and extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world: but as it is, 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. ” In these words are embodied some principles of behavior that should prove helpful in consideration of the question posed.
Later in the querist’s letter, he mentioned the need to look at the question of fellowship. He raised this fellowship issue in particular with some other matters which will be dealt with in this article in due course. Fellowship in the New Testament is from two basic words: koinonia and metoche. Their sense or meaning is crucial to a correct understanding. Koinonia is a sharing jointly in something, a sharing in common, joint participation, or communion. It is obvious that some action is the predicate on which the sharing rests. Early Christians had a bond of being children of God through obedience to the gospel (Acts 2:37-38,41) that was indeed fellowship or a sharing together (Acts 2:42). But this joint participation was predicated on their acts that enable them thus to share. Christians are called by the gospel into fellowship of God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord (1 Cor. 1:9). Without one’s responding to the call of God through the gospel (2 Thess. 2:13-14), he cannot be in fellowship with the Son. One’s action of obedience to the gospel is the predicate for that sharing or communion with the Son of God.
Since light and darkness in the moral or spiritual world are antithetical, there can be no sharing between them (2 Cor. 6:14). For this reason, Christians are not to participate as a child of light in the works of darkness (2 Cor. 6:17-7:1). Unless one does or endorses the works of darkness, he has no fellowship with darkness.
Metoche means a sharing, communion, or partnership. Both koinonia and metoche are used in 2 Corinthians 6:14. In speaking of righteousness and lawlessness, Paul said there is no metoche, or sharing. Conforming to the standard of right shares nothing with violations of it. In speaking of light and darkness morally or spiritually, he said there is no koinonia or communion between them. Sharing, participation, or partnership is established by two individuals doing or endorsing the same thing.
Another term that needs attention is the term company appearing in 1 Corinthians 5:9,11 and 2 Thessalonians 3:14. It is translated from sunanamignumi. It is compounded of three terms: sun, together or with; ana, up; mignumi, to mix or mingle. With Christians who are obstinate in rebellion to God in that they participate in the works of darkness, one is not to mix and mingle so that they do not come to the conclusion that their conduct is acceptable. However, there is to be some contact because one is instructed to “count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother” (2 Thess. 3:15). Fellowshipping or sharing in the work or deed is one thing and not mixing up with or mingling with is another thing.
If one comes teaching something other than the doctrine of Christ, one is not to tell such a person to rejoice in that work because if he does, then he becomes a partaker of his evil deeds (2 Jn. 10-11). Partaker is from koinoneo, to share with or take part in. One who teaches error or endorses one who does and encourages him in that endeavor is a sharer of the evil work.
Certain principles of truth should be clear from the preceding discussion. First, one can associate with people in the world in a way or manner in which he is not so to do with Christians. One in the world has not established a relation in the Lord common with the one who has obeyed the gospel. Accordingly, their association is predicated on a different basis altogether than the fellowship or sharing in Christ common to Christians.
Second, there is a difference in fellowship and company. One must do or endorse a work of darkness to be in fellowship with it. On the other hand, one shares in righteousness or light when one does righteousness and walks in light. “If we say that we have fellowship (koinonia) with him and walk in the darkness, we lie, and do not the truth” (1 Jn. 1:6). One can refrain from being in fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness (Eph. 5: 11) but can keep company with an unbeliever who does fellowship darkness.
Third, Christians engage in business dealings with people of the world. When one buys a product and exchanges money for it because he believes the product has the value to him in the amount he pays for it, there is no endorsement or encouragement of the individual from whom he buys it in his religious, personal acts. The business transaction is independent of any predicate of sharing in spiritual issues.
Fourth, another principle is that the context in which a deed is done has relevance to whether one is right or wrong in the doing of it. For instance, one in Corinth might go to an unbeliever’s home and eat any food set before him but if the one providing it says that it has been offered to an idol, then he was not to eat for the sake of the conscience of the one who showed it (1 Cor. 10:27-28).
May one buy a product from a Baptist Bookstore? If that product is exchanged for an equivalent value, then one may buy the product without endorsing error. May one utilize a facility owned or operated by Baptists? Let us take the instance of a college partially supported by Baptists. If the college offers a program of higher education of which one desires to avail himself and he exchanges money for the instruction and services received, then the transaction has no relevance to endorsing a religious doctrine or giving God speed to the false doctrine. If one buys goods or clothing from one who denies that Jesus is the Son of God, that does not cause one to participate in the person’s infidelity. The predicate for the transaction – the buying of goods – does not set up the context of endorsing or supporting infidelity. Rather, it is in the context of the exchange of money for a product perceived to be of at least the value for which it was exchanged. Conceivably there could be a context established in which one could not execute the transaction. That would be special to the occasion and one would have to make the determination of what to do when faced with it.
May one utilize a preschool operated by a “liberal church of Christ”? In a context that does not cause one to endorse error either in teaching or practice, one could buy the product of instruction or service. But if there is an association or conversation that could be interpreted as endorsement, then one could not engage in the transaction or deed.
May one adopt an orphan from an agency supported by a church? The adoption of an orphan to provide the orphan with parents and care is not a sinful act. One who does such is not participating in a work of darkness. One would have to examine the context in which the adoption occurs. So long as the context in which it occurs does not lead to the conclusion of the endorsing of error or the practice of it, one could execute the adoption. Situations and circumstances do vary. The principle remains clear: one does not fellowship darkness unless one participates in, or endorses, it.
The Salvation Army is a denomination such as is the Baptist Church. What the Salvation Army does typically is in a different context than say, a Baptist Bookstore. Goods sold in a Salvation Army thrift shop are contributed to support that organization’s work. The goods, however, are worth some value. Just as clothes sold by one who may take a portion of his earnings to support the teaching that Jesus is not the Christ, so may earnings from a Salvation Army thrift store be used to support Salvation Army doctrine. The contexts may be entirely different but the exchange of goods for an equivalent value in money is the same in principle. One must decide what to do on the basis of the context in which the transaction occurs.
The querist in the second half of his three and one-half page letter asks whether fellowship is to be left in the realm of individual conscience. He then comments, “Sadly brethren refuse to act on what they boldly proclaim as sin. It’s a sin to smoke – yet nothing is done about those who have heard lessons, admitted addiction, and continue to smoke (for years). It’s a sin to use mechanical instruments in worship – yet nothing is done to those who use it in their homes or sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs at civic programs at Christmas time. It’s a sin to dance but nothing is done to those who encourage their children or the children who go to the prom, etc. . . . etc.” The writer adds that he would “like to see the subject of the individual and the extent they may involve themselves with ‘institutions’ of unscriptural origin. . . . We aren’t trying to cause trouble only allow us to see we must think of our actions as individuals as well as collective.”
In Ephesians 5:11, Christians are instructed to have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness but rather to reprove them. The verb fellowship in this passage is sunkoinoneo, which is compounded of sun, together or with, and koinoneo, to share or to participate with. The idea is that if a work is one of darkness or sin a Christian is not to share in it. Rather, he is to reprove it. Reprove is from elencho, to convict or to rebuke.
It is essential that a work be tested against the teaching or doctrine of Christ to ascertain whether it is one of darkness or light. Having done this, and assuming that one is correct in his classification of the work, one is not to partake of or share in one that is of darkness. If another does, the obligation is to tax that one with the fault, which is the sense of convicting or rebuking.
If one is singing praise to God, this should be unaccompanied with a mechanical instrument of music (Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:19, et. al.). Jesus taught men how to pray and said after this manner pray ye (Matt. 6:9). He was teaching and not praying when he uttered the words following his exhortation. Although the words might under some circumstances be uttered as a prayer, that was not what he was doing. Rather, he was instructing them how to pray in contradiction to the way hypocrites of his day did. One may seek to learn a song and not be offering it as praise to God. The purpose or intent of the heart determines whether it is praise and to be unaccompanied by a mechanical instrument of music.
One’s obligation as a child of light is to be separate from darkness and to reprove any Christian who engages in a work of darkness. In a congregation, only a few may be in fellowship (sharing) with God (Rev. 3:4). At Sardis, there were a few who had not defiled themselves; God called them worthy and said they would walk with him in white. The obligation is not to fellowship, or share in, sin. Under some circumstances, as has been pointed out, one is not to keep company or to mix up together with some members of the body of Christ. Every Christian, in his or her context, must make this determination on whether to mix up with or to mingle with other Christians. In no event, should one participate in the sin.
One must be convinced that what one is doing is right. If there is doubt in the heart while one does something, it is a sin because Scripture says “whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). If one doubts he should engage in an act, he is condemed because it is “not of faith” (Rom. 14:23). Taken by itself the act may be permissible according to the doctrine of Christ. However, in the context of one’s personal doubt, or in the context by influence to lead one to do a sinful act (for him), one would sin to do the act (1 Cor. 8:7-13; 10:23-33).
Guardian of Truth XXXV: 10, pp. 293-295
May 16, 1991