By Hoyt H. Houchen
Question: (1) Does one’s presence in a worship period conducted by institutional brethren indicate endorsement of their error or fellowship therein? (2) Can one scripturally participate with such brethren in matters scriptural without lending influence to other practices? (3) If the answer to the preceding questions is “no,” then is their presence in a worship period conducted by conservative brethren interpreted to mean approval of all that we teach and practice? If not, then why should our presence with them be so construed?
Reply: (1) One’s presence in a worship period conducted by institutional brethren is not an endorsement of their error nor is it fellowship with their error. One’s presence in such a service is not to be interpreted as a sanction of their unscriptural practices any more than one’s presence in a service conducted by some denomination. Both practice things which we believe are unscriptural, but one’s presence alone does not mean endorsement or fellowship of error. Paul visited assemblies conducted by Jews who did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah (Acts 13:14). In this instance, Paul and Barnabas as visitors, first heard the reading of the law and the prophets. Did their very presence indicate their endorsement of error on the part of the Jews who conducted the service? If it be argued that Paul and Barnabas were there to teach the truth, it is agreed. But if they had not been invited to speak, would their mere presence be their consent to errors believed and taught by those who conducted the service?
(2) We can scripturally participate in a service conducted by our institutional brethren (such as during a gospel meeting), if the service is scriptural, without lending influence to their other practices which are unscriptural. We can sing scriptural songs and pray, even though the brother who leads the prayer may believe and practice some things which we do not endorse. By doing so, we are not fellowshipping their error. Paul commanded, “and have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather even reprove them” (Eph. 5:11). Participation with brethren in scriptural matters is no endorsement of their error in other matters.
(3) The same is true in reverse. If institutional brethren attend a worship period conducted by us, it cannot be justifiably construed to mean that they endorse our positions in areas where they disagree. Our attendance at one of their services does not indicate endorsement of things in which they are in error any more than their attendance at one of our services would indicate that they are in agreement with all that we believe and teach. Consistency demands that the same is true in both cases. It is a two way street.
What is stated above is “a far cry” from the open fellowship position as espoused by some. They are two different things. We cannot participate in, or endorse, a service of worship which is contrary to the word of God. For example, it would be wrong to participate in a period of worship in which mechanical instruments are employed. Yet if we visit the service, provided we do not participate in the worship, our mere presence is no endorsement of what is done. For instance, we may attend a funeral service that is conducted by some denomination. Although the service is not scriptural, merely being there does not indicate approval of what is said and done. A period of scriptural worship conducted by institutional brethren is not the same thing.
Contributing money to a church whose work is unscriptural is a different matter. Doing so would abet and fellowship error. Attendance and participating in scriptural worship (say in a service during a gospel meeting that is conducted by brethren who are in error on such matters as churches contributing funds to human institutions, or the sponsoring church) is not endorsing or having fellowship with error. Or, participating in worship and Bible study with brethren whom we disagree, such as the Arlington meeting a few years ago, is not endorsing or having fellowship with all that they do. We can participate with a brother in what is right without giving sanction to his error.
Guardian of Truth XXIX: 6, p. 164
March 21, 1985