Widening The Circle

By Dan Walters

There is a desire on the part of many religious people, including some members of the Lord’s church, to widen their circle of fellowship. There are understandable reasons for this. There is prestige in great numbers; many do not feel comfortable as members of a small minority, whether in society, politics, or religion. There is power in numbers; with increased resources, new and greater works can be undertaken. For instance, there are at least five congregations in Asheville, North Carolina which are known as churches of Christ. Not one is large. If all were united, a large and impressive building could be constructed, comparable to those of Baptist churches in the area. The church would be more visible to the public, and perhaps it would be easier to gain converts.

There is another reason why all Christians would desire to widen the circle of fellowship, if they could do so with God’s approval. Our desire is to see more people saved; we especially desire that our relatives and close friends be included among the saved. If we could consider them saved without the necessity of repentance on their part, which many of them cannot see the need of, it would bring us great happiness. This applies even more to our loved ones who have obeyed the same gospel that we have, and yet have gone into digression by obeying the doctrines and commandments of men in relation to the work and worship of the church. What could be more desirable than a totally reunited church of Christ, able to face the hosts of denominationalism with a new strength and dedication, unmarred by sectarian strife?

The denominational world is now engaged in a struggle over the widening of fellowship. Carl McIntire of the Bible Presbyterian Church is involved in a controversy with John R. Rice of the Baptist Church. Both men are fundamentalists. Rice is personally a deadly enemy of classical liberalism, of those who would deny the verbal inspiration of the Bible. Yet he continues to have religious fellowship with such apostates if he believes that they have been born again. McIntire says:

“Born-again men who live and worship in the apostasy, preaching from pulpits that are under the control of the United States Presbyterian Presbyteries of Methodist bishops, maintain membership, communion, fellowship with the Devil’s own angels of light. These born-again men are all right to work with on his platform, and in his campaigns, says Rice.”

McIntire can not see why Rice takes such a position, but he should understand that Rice is forced to such a position by his own Baptist doctrine of “the eternal security of the saints” or “once saved, always saved.” According to this doctrine, if one has been born again, there is no way that he can apostatize to such an extent that he will be lost. And if he is saved, and will go to heaven, then why not have fellowship with him on this earth?

The word “fellowship” can be used in more than one sense, of course, but we usually consider ourselves to have religious fellowship with those whom we believe are saved and bound for heaven, without a need or repentance. Some would take the position that since God alone is the judge, and He will make the determination as to who will be saved at the judgment, that we should just accept all who claim to be fellow Christians upon their word. Many would consider that this would be the kind, the considerate, the loving thing to do. To do otherwise, according to this view, would be to make ourselves judges and to condemn others to hell.

This viewpoint is not scriptural; neither is it logical. We know that there are many passages which tell us to warn the erring, attempt to restore the lost, avoid the teachers of false doctrine, and withdraw fellowship from the impenitent. But, leaving that aside for the moment, what is the consequence of widening the circle of fellowship beyond the limits of Scripture? What is the consequence far as it concerns our erring friends and neighbors? Is it really the loving thing to do?

If we accept the gospel plan of salvation as outlined in the New Testament, we know that those who have never obeyed that gospel are doomed to be lost. Likewise, if we reject the “once saved, always saved” doctrine, we know that many will depart from the faith, and that those who have departed will be lost unless they repent. Though it is a hard thing to tell a dear friend that the bible says that he is lost and bound for hell unless he repents, that is the only kind of message that can possibly motivate him to repentance and thus bring about his salvation. If his house were on fire, would we warn him to flee, even if this involved great inconvenience? If he were involved in a business arrangement with a confidence man, would we warn him again, lest he lose his life savings? By what logic then can we afford to hold our peace while he jeopardizes his immortal soul?

Only a true love of the scriptural variety, not a mushy, sentimental, modern love, will motivate us to act as watchmen and to warn our neighbors of impending disaster. To widen the circle of fellowship, without regard for the eternal consequences, would be an act of folly, of indifference, of unconcern, and, indeed, an act of cruelty. With this in mind, we must view with a jaundiced eye the efforts of some modern “unity” advocates to present themselves as apostles of love and compassion, was well as their attempt to brand the proponents of limited fellowship as hard and uncaring Pharisees. The circle of fellowship has been drawn by the God of heaven. Man widens it at his own peril.

Truth Magazine XXIII: 9, p. 156
March 1, 1979