The Fellowship Question

By Ron Halbrook

(Note: It has long been said, and truthfully so, that when men take the simple Word of God on certain subjects, apart from human or denominational creeds and dogma, they can arrive at common truth on those subjects. The following article by Alan Highers is taken from the August 16, 1973 Gospel Advocate published in Nashville, Tennessee. The author worships with people known as a Church of Christ. Sadly, he has perverted what the gospel teaches about the simplicity and autonomy of local churches, therefore he does not hold forth the gospel in its purity and simplicity, We use his words here because what he says about the Fellowship of God’s people is what God’s Word has always said about it, Furthermore, Highers’ recognition of widespread drifting on the subject of fellowship and unity is very interesting since some affect to see no great problem of drifting away from Bible concepts of unity and fellowship! This should be very educational for some who (1) do not see any “new fellowship movement” afoot, (2) speak of the ‘so called” new unity movement, (3) do not think Ketcherside, Garrett, and company have had much influence, and (4) fear a few brethren with over-heated imaginations are making a mountain out of a mole hill. Certainly not all have gone as tar as the ones mentioned by Highers; but for those who belong to the Know-Nothing Party, who hear no evil, see no evil, say no evil, concerning the new unity movement, this article is an excellent primer on the subject.-Ron Holbrook)

“There is evidence of a new ‘fellowship movement’ among us today which is led, curiously enough, by those who have been known in the past for their factionalism, radicalism, and disruption of fellowship. It may seem that these teachers have gone from the extremes of radicalism to he extremes of liberalism, but the difference between their position then and now is not so great as it first appears.

Gospel and Doctrine

“In their earlier opposition to the located preacher, these brethren argued that it is the duty of the evangelist to preach the gospel. But, they contended, it is impossible to preach the gospel to the church, for the gospel is for the unevangelized. They concluded, therefore, that the evangelist could not remain with the church in a sustained local effort since it was his responsibility to preach the gospel. The church, on the other hand, was to be taught by mutual ministry or mutual edification. Thus they made a significant distinction between the ‘gospel’ for the unevangelized and ‘edification’ for the church. (See especially the Wallace-Ketcherside Debates and the Nimble-Garrets Debate.)

“In reality, then, these brethren have not changed their position so much as they have shifted it. In their teaching on fellowship they have transferred the same basic concept which underlays their theory on the located preacher. With regard to fellowship we are told that there is a fundamental difference between `gospel’ and `doctrine.’ The gospel is to be preached to the world (does that sound familiar?), and doctrine is to be preached to the church.

“In application to the fellowship question it is asserted that fellowship is determined by the gospel. It is admitted at least in principle that there can be no fellowship with those who have not obeyed the gospel. But when one obeys the gospel he is then ‘in the fellowship,’ and doctrinal differences have no effect upon that relationship. That conclusion is reached by applying an arbitrary distinction between gospel and doctrine ~n which it is asserted that (1) gospel determines fellowship, (2) when one obeys the gospel, he is in the fellowship,. (3) he thereafter studies and learns doctrine, (4) but doctrine does not affect fellowship! These teachers are still pursuing the same fundamental distinction which they argued in support of the anti-located preacher persuasion, but this time, brethren, they are finding a far greater reception to their views.

Instrumental Music

“The question of instrumental music has become the focal issue of the discussion; although in principle many other issues are involved. Integrity, Mission Magazine, and perhaps other publications recently carried `An Open Letter to Disciples, Independents, and Churches of Christ’ by James L. Christensen, minister of Lindenwood Christian Church in Memphis in which he pleads for unity among “those of their common family heritage.” He speaks of working together “as partners in Christ.” And how does he propose to resolve the differences that exist between us? He uses the following language: >transcend our religious differences,’ ‘re-union . . . even amid and retaining great diversities,’ and finally, >Can we bury in the sea of Christian love the issues that once divided us, and unite ourselves in the service of our common Lord?’ The answer, according to this letter, is to bury our differences >in the sea of Christian love.’ With this solution Nehemiah could have had unity on the plains of Ono!

“We are continually told, and we shall hear it many more times in the future, that instrumental music is in the area of doctrine; that it is not, therefore, an issue which should disrupt fellowship. You will also find that those who are guilty of heresy and factionalism are not the users of instrumental music, but those who object to having fellowship with them. In fact, if you read very long in Mission Messenger. Restoration Review, Integrity, Mission Magazine, and the book, Voices of Concern (published by the Mission Messenger), you will soon learn that their umbrella of love covers everyone but you. They want to be in fellowship with everyone except those who oppose their teachings, and their avowed and undisputed aim is to ‘restructure’ the church. They reserve their bitterest invective and most sarcastic humor for the church as we have known it, preached it, and defended it.

Objections Considered

“The argument on gospel and doctrine is a distinction without a difference: it is the creation of an artificial distinction to provide support for a false theory. Consider the following:

1. The gospel is to be preached to the world (Mark 16:15) and to the Christian (Rom. 1:15).

2. The .faith is to be proclaimed to the world (Acts 6:7) and to the Christian (Jude 3).

3. The truth is proclaimed to the world (1 Pet. 1:22) and to the Christian (Eph. 4:15).

4. The word of God is preached to the world (James 1:18) and to the Christian (2 Tim. 4:2).

5. Doctrine is delivered to the world (Rom. 6:17) and to the Christian (Tit. 2:1).

“Further, keep in mind that one obeys the gospel to be saved (2 Thess. 1:7-9), but he likewise obeys doctrine (Rom. 6:17). The gospel is for Christians (Rom. 1:15; Gal. 1:6-12), yet children of God continue in doctrine (Acts 2:42).

“No matter how desirable unity is, we cannot afford peace at any price. God has always demanded of his people that they be a separated people. It follows that there are some individuals, institutions, conditions, and circumstances with which we cannot be in fellowship. Remember the words of Paul: `Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather even reprove them.’ (Eph. 5:11.)”

Truth Magazine, XVIII:6, p. 11-12
December 6, 1973