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Scripture should guide our decisions on fellowship

I am concerned about Wayne Newland’s editorial in the September 2018 issue of the Chronicle.

I appreciate the spirit of the article in which he urged Churches of Christ not to draw unnecessary lines of fellowship.

Related: We can and should remain together

JoAnne and Stafford North

JoAnne and Stafford North

Unfortunately, he did not suggest any principles to guide us in making such decisions, and so some might extend his message to mean that we continue fellowship with a church whose teaching or practice is unscriptural.

1 John 5:7-11 says that if people who have held the teaching of Christ come to us having left that teaching, we should not “take them into our house or welcome them” because to do so would signal our approval of what they teach. The unstated underlying principle on which John bases this admonition is that extending fellowship to a person signals approval of his teaching. We should not, therefore, grant our fellowship to those whose teaching or practice is not in harmony with scripture.

The great majority of Churches of Christ do not and should not draw lines of fellowship on matters within the boundaries of Bible teaching. Thus these churches do not break fellowship on such differences as whether a church has a Sunday night service, uses wine instead of grape juice in the communion, sings a song between the bread and the cup, has a class for children during the service, recites scriptures aloud together, or makes responses during a sermon. Neither do they break fellowship on differences in interpretation of scriptures that are not about foundational issues.

This same majority of churches, however, hold that they should not extend full fellowship to churches they believe to be violating the teaching of scripture. To do so would signal their approval of a practice or teaching they consider contrary to scripture. A few churches who use the name Church of Christ, for example, teach that baptism is not necessary to salvation even though Acts 2:38 and Acts 22:16 say that it is. Some churches have begun to use women to lead in the public worship even though Paul through the Holy Spirit wrote that “as in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak” (1 Cor.  14:33-34). And some churches from our fellowship, likely less than a hundred out of about 12,000, have begun to use instruments even though Paul says to “sing” and does not authorize instruments (Eph. 5:19). Not only while under apostolic guidance did churches not use instruments, historical evidence shows that churches did not use instruments in their worship for almost a thousand years.

“We should not, therefore, grant our fellowship to those whose teaching or practice is not in harmony with scripture.”

So the great majority of our churches conclude that there should be a change in relationship with congregations who choose to practice what most of our churches believe is out of harmony with scriptures. These churches make this decision for two primary reasons. First, to extend such fellowship would signal their approval of a practice they believe is unscriptural. Second, since these practices do not match the ways of the early church, approving them would greatly weaken our claim that we follow the teaching and practice of the New Testament church.

We can and should, therefore, hold full fellowship with those with whom we may have differences on matters not out of harmony with the scriptures. On the other hand, however, we must make a distinction in fellowship with churches who have chosen practices we believe are in violation of scripture. To show them full fellowship is to signal approval of their unscriptural practice.

Filed under: Big Questions Opinion Views

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