Musing on Fellowship

By Olen Holderby

As a verb, “To consider or examine attentively or deliberately,” is Webster’s definition of “musing.” That is precisely what we wish to do with the subject of fellow-ship; and, this writer wishes to call attention to some practices which he believes to be dangerous and without scriptural warrant.

It will serve our study best if we give some attention, just briefly, to each of several passages of Scripture. We are, prayerfully, trying to do just what was commanded by Paul in 2 Timothy 2:15, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” This appears to be an important need everywhere.

Ephesians 5:11

“And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.” “Do not participate” (NAS); “Stop having anything to do with” (Williams translation); “Don’t have anything to do with” (Beck translation).

Read the above translations carefully! “Have no fellow-ship” is an obvious command; but, how have we applied it in practice? In many instances it seems to be applied, “have some fellowship,” or, “have partial fellowship.” To use “joint participation” as the definition of “fellowship” is fine providing we understand the application of those two words. As I observe the practice of some brethren, I feel like asking the question of the Psalmist, “Shall the throne of iniquity have fellowship with thee…?” (Ps. 94:20).

“Works of darkness” in our text has often been limited to immorality. Neither the context nor the balance of the New Testament will permit such a limitation; though there can be no doubt that immorality is in the picture here.

Take a look at verse 8, and the terms “darkness” and “light.” Does “light” here refer only to morals; or, does it include all facets of their walking in the Lord? If “light” includes all, then “darkness” would include all of the opposite. The term “darkness” is used by our Lord to describe the whole life of some men (John 8:12; 12:35, 36; Eph. 6:12, etc.). Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” But, how does Jesus shed that light for us? It is by the word(Pss. 27:1; 119:105, 130; John 3:21). Walking by the instructions of the word would be walking in the light.

Now, this question, “If walking in the light” is walking in harmony with the word, what would be “walking in darkness”? It appears obvious to me, then, that “works of darkness” simply refer to works which are not in harmony with the word. Paul makes the same contrast in Romans 13:12, “… let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.” What were these people to “cast off “? Was it just immorality?

It seems, then, that Paul merely used an expression in reference to immorality which applies equally to the area of doctrine. Would not this include the false teacher as well as the immoral? To this writer, the answer has to be in the affirmative.

1 Corinthians 5:9 and 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14

I put these two Scriptures together because of their using the same terminology: The first in reference to the incestuous man; the second in reference to those walking disorderly. Here we find the expressions, “have no company,” “not to company with,” “not to keep company,” and, “not to eat” with.

“Company” (sunanamignumi) is defined by Vine as, “mix, mingle, to have or keep company with.” These pas-sages would, then, forbid any mixing, mingling, or keeping company with the guilty. In practice many have changed the word “no” to “some.”

The word “disorderly” is often limited to an idle per-son, as mentioned in the text, or to a busybody. The definition of the word does not permit such limitation. Originally a military term, the word “disorderly” meant, “not keeping rank, insubordinate.” Is being idle the only way one can be insubordinate? Again Paul was using a term in application to idleness, which applies with equal force to other insubordinate acts. Would not this include the false teacher? Is not the false teacher insubordinate?

One other point, in these verses, needs to be noticed. We cannot post a guard at the church house door and keep such people from the activities inside; it follows that the “no company” and “not to eat” with, would apply to other activities. If those activities are not limited to, they most certainly would include social activities. If not, why not?

Romans 16:17

“… mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.” “Mark” (skopeo) is defined as, “to look at, watch.” The NAS puts it, “Keep your eye on.” All of this, of course, is in the form of an urgent warning, as found in Colossians 2:8. Philippians 3:12 uses the word “mark” with a view of following. How closely are we to look at these examples to follow? Then, how closely are we to watch the false teacher in order to avoid him?

Vine defines the word “avoid” (ekklino) as, “turn away from, to turn aside.” For the one that will love life, Peter says, “Let him eschew evil” (1 Pet. 3:11). The word “es-chew” is the same word, with the NAS having “turn away from.” How much of this evil must one turn away from? A little? All? Now apply the same reasoning to the “avoid” of Romans 16:17.

1 Corinthians 15:33

“. . . Bad company corrupts good morals” (NAS). True, this says “morals”; but, to what is Paul applying the principle? He is applying it to doctrine  the resurrection from the dead. If the principle holds true (and it does), keeping company with the false teacher will corrupt; and, this, in spite of what anyone may say to the contrary. With all of this before us, is it any wonder that Paul asks the questions of 2 Corinthians 6:14-16?

Now, we are ready to go back to those “dangerous” practices mentioned in our introductory remarks. I refer to gatherings of various kinds, for social reasons, which bring together those in error with those not in error. Let it be understood that I am not referring to those incidental and chance meetings of the false teacher; though I some-times am made to wonder at the judgment used even here. Nor am I speaking of those situations into which we walk ignorantly, though a case might be made here also.

I have in mind, in this article, those gatherings into which we walk with open eyes. We know that the false teacher(s) will be there. We know that it is not scheduled to array truth against error on some Bible subject. We know that it is basically a social gathering. Whether we call it a jubilee, a camp, a seminar, or some other designation, the nature of it is still the same  we have planned to spend social activities with the teachers of error. We know that we are not there to discuss truth in contrast with error.

Some questions are, I think, in order: How can we have “no fellowship” by having “some fellowship”? How can we stop having anything to do with, by having some-thing to do with? (See our discussion of Ephesians 5:11.) How can we “have no company with” by having some company with? How can we keep from mixing and mingling by mixing and mingling? How can we avoid eating with by eating with? (See our discussion of 1 Cor. 5:9 and 2 Thess. 3:6, 14.) Looking, again, at our discussion of Romans 16:17, how can we avoid anyone by being with them? How can we avoid encouraging the false teacher by encouraging them (2 John 9-11)?

If I have missed something in these passages, what is it that I have missed? If I have misapplied these passages, wherein have I done so? Some suggest that they want to break down the barriers or open channels of communications. Perhaps a noble thought, but what barrier was broken down? Between truth and error? Between those who espouse truth and those who espouse error? The only barrier of which I am aware that exists between me and the false teacher is the error he teaches. When that error is removed, regardless of what his mannerisms may be, I am obligated to accept him, and will do so  in both word and deed.

Brethren, is this conclusion wrong? You may be able to point out inconsistencies in efforts to respect the teaching of these passages; but, that does not change the passages one bit. They teach what they teach, and it is our job to conform to them.

There is the practice of some in condemning the error of the false teacher; then, turning around and using the false teacher in the services of the assembly. A declaration that such practice has nothing to do with these passages, simply does not make it so. Whatever happened to a “thus saith the Lord” for all that we do? What Scripture do we use to justify such? Or, have we reached the point at which we conclude we do not need Scripture for what we practice? The barrier that is being broken down, I fear, is the barrier between truth and error; and, wherever this attitude prevails there will be apostasy. Brethren, these things merit our most serious attention.

These thoughts may not be too popular in some quarters. It may be as Peter said, “And in all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excess of dissipation, and they malign you” (1 Pet. 4:4, NAS). Nevertheless, our goal, our aim, must be to please him in all things (1 Cor. 5:9; Gal. 1:10). I solicit your prayerful consideration of these matters.

Guardian of Truth XL: No. 14, p. 4-5
July 18, 1996