Fellowship  

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Contents of Fellowship:

 WE ARE NOT TO HAVE FELLOWSHIP WITH SIN

 GRACE AND GRAY AREAS

 BEWARE THE LEAVEN OF THE PHARISEES

 TESTING DOCTRINE

 WE ARE NOT TO HAVE FELLOWSHIP WITH SIN

 by: Joe R. Price

Fellowship implies common interests and describes mutual agreement. It is to participate together toward common interests or goals. In this light, husbands and wives enjoy "fellowship" in the oneness of marriage (Gen. 2:24). The church and Christ are "one" and Christians have fellowship with Christ as they keep His commandments (Eph. 5:31-32; 1 Cor. 1:9; Jno. 14:21-23). Only if we walk in the light of truth are we assured of being in fellowship with God (1 Jno. 1:1-7). To go beyond the doctrine of Christ forfeits one's fellowship with the Father and Son. Consequently, our fellowship with that person is restricted (2 Jno. 9-11). We are commanded to not have fellowship with darkness and its works, but to instead reprove them (Eph. 5:11; 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1).

Over the past several years some brethren have made a defense of having fellowship with false teachers and others whose lives violate scripture. Clarity of the Bible subject and the honesty of the person's heart have been advocated as the defining marks upon which fellowship can be had. Pleas of "tolerance" and "acceptance" toward false teaching and practice on "matters of serious moral and doctrinal import" are becoming more vocal. The mistaken notion is being advanced that Romans 14 instructs us to "receive" brethren with doctrinal and/or moral deviations. We are being told that if we can judge a brother to be honest in heart (he has a good conscience) and we judge that the clarity of the Bible teaching in question is sufficiently lacking, we have a basis for maintaining fellowship over differences of faith (please note the completely subjective, human judging processes being advocated in this approach to fellowship - jrp). This is an abuse and misapplication of Romans 14. The context of Romans 14 establishes its arena of application to be matters which are indifferent before God (i.e., the eating of meats, the observing of days). In such things we are to "receive" and not to condemn each other, since God receives both parties (v. 1-4). When matters of opinion and moral indifference are handled as outlined in Romans 14:1-15:7, peace among brethren results. The body of Christ will be edified and Christ is glorified.

It is a gigantic and unscriptural step to go from these inspired guidelines about fellowship pertaining to morally and doctrinally indifferent issues and start applying Romans 14 to topics which do have moral and doctrinal import. For instance, the religious homosexual has long appealed to Romans 14 as justification for receiving him into the fellowship of the church since "God hath received him" (cf. Rom. 14:3). The denominations race to Romans 14 to justify a multitude of doctrinal differences. Yet they maintain fellowship among themselves where obvious doctrinal (and sometimes even moral) differences exist due to a misunderstanding and misapplication of Romans 14.

Now, brethren are using the same reasoning. Fellowship with brethren who are teaching and promoting doctrinal and moral error is being justified on the basis of Romans 14! (Some examples are marriage, divorce and remarriage, institutionalism, the social gospel, women preachers). Will we never learn? Will we be slow of heart to believe what the Bible teaches about fellowship with sin?

Read 1 John 1:1-7, Ephesians 5:7-11, 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1, 2 John 9-11 and Romans 14 again. Fellowship with sin and error is forbidden. But Romans 14 encourages fellowship among those who differ. Unless we are ready to pit scripture against itself we must acknowledge two different areas of application for these passages: one in which doctrinal and moral error cannot be fellowshipped (matters of revealed faith), and one in which differences are allowed (matters of indifference). We must not try to accommodate or tolerate error and sin. It costs us our fellowship with God and with His people.

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 GRACE AND GRAY AREAS

 by: Joe R. Price

Charles Swindoll wants to expose what he calls "grace killers." He says the "grace killer" acts in ways which destroy grace. According to Swindoll, if you want to be a grace killer, do this:

"...leave no room for any gray areas. Everything is either black or white, right or wrong. And as a result, the leader maintains strict control over the followers. Fellowship is based on whether there is full agreement. Herein lies the tragedy. This self-righteous, rigid standard becomes more important than relationships with individuals. We first check out where people stand on the issues, and then we determine whether we will spend much time with them. The bottom line is this: We want to be right (as we see it, of course) more than we want to love our neighbor as ourselves. At that point our personal preferences eclipse any evidence of love. I am of the firm conviction that where grace exists, so must various areas of gray." (THE GRACE AWAKENING, Charles R. Swindoll, 52-53)

This excerpt should especially concern us because some brethren are duplicating this argument as they attempt to convince us that unity in doctrinal diversity is not only allowed, but endorsed by God. Brethren are being convinced that when it comes to so-called "less clear, more difficult" passages and doctrines in the New Testament, we should content ourselves with saying "this is what I believe to be the truth" rather than boldly proclaiming from God's word, "this is the truth" (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 4:2). Compare this with the bold preaching of the gospel of Christ in New Testament times: Acts 4:13, 29, 31; 9:29; 13:46; 14:3; 18:26; 19:8; Eph. 6:19-20; Phil. 1:14; 1 Thess. 2:2. Which of these approaches to gospel preaching is bold, and which is not? (cf. 2 Tim. 1:7-10)

Some despise their brethren for boldly preaching God's word on "difficult" doctrinal subjects. They make statements like: "Who are you to think that you have arrived at the final, definitive truth on this subject?" "Do you have 100% perfect knowledge?" Boldness is disparaged while uncertainty is exalted (whether intentionally or not). This should not be so! "These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee." (Titus 2:15). We must appeal to the authority of Christ, revealed in the New Testament, as the basis for our boldness of faith and its confident proclamation.

Brethren who appeal to and apply 2 John 9-11 to difficult doctrinal subjects (such as marriage, divorce and remarriage) are accused of being intolerant, church-splitters and grace killers. Such accusations can and must be answered from God's word.

"Everything is either black or white, right or wrong."

Please tell us dear brother, you who would allow gray areas in the revelation of the gospel of grace, wherein is the "gray" area? Romans 14 teaches liberty in the area of personally indifferent matters before God - matters which are morally neutral in God's sight (Rom. 14:3-5, 14, 18, 20, 22; cf. 1 Cor. 8:8). Therefore, we are not to dispute over these sorts of doubtful things, but receive one another (14:1, 13; 15:7). A close study of Romans 14:1-15:7 teaches us not to use this passage to justify ongoing fellowship with doctrinal error or moral sins. 2 John 9-11 establishes that fact, and it is not in conflict with Romans 14. So please tell us, what is the "black and white" of the gospel, and what are the "gray areas of divine revelation?" This is the language of Ashdod -- the vernacular of modern-day Calvinism.

"Fellowship is based on whether there is full agreement."

We are taught to agree with the apostles of Christ to have fellowship with God (read 1 Jn. 1:1-4; 4:1-6). Men may agree and still not have God (if their agreement is error which goes beyond the doctrine of Christ). Such do "not have God" (2 Jn. 9). You see, kind brother, we must agree with Christ first, before agreement between ourselves means anything. Fellowship with brethren is based upon each other being in fellowship with God (1 Jn. 1:9).

By appealing to 2 John 9 and the "doctrine of Christ" as our absolute guide for fellowship with God and brethren, we are being accused of demanding perfect knowledge. Such is a misleading and inaccurate charge. God expects every Christian to mature and abound in our knowledge and discernment (Phil. 1:9-10). The babe in Christ, who is indeed in fellowship with God, is far from possessing a mature knowledge (1 Pet. 2:1-3). But notice please, that the babe in Christ can and must put away sin to have fellowship with God and to grow to maturity (1 Pet. 2:1-2). Every Christian is expected to grow in knowledge, thus helping us on to maturity (Eph. 4:11-16; Heb. 5:11-6:3). It continues to be true that "you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (Jn. 8:32). Dear brother, if you disagree with the above teaching, be so kind as to tell us on which teachings of Christ we may disagree with the Bible and still have fellowship with Christ? Calvinism is raising its ugly head among us.

"This self-righteous, rigid standard becomes more important than relationships with individuals."

The standard which is most important to the Christian is the word of God (2 Tim. 3:16-17; Col. 3:17). As noted above, relationships with men may exist which do not have God's approval (2 John 10-11; Eph. 5:8-11). God's standard of truth is set in place for our protection against sin and to afford us the proper relationships with men and women of like faith. Appealing only to the doctrine of Christ to approve our fellowship is not "self-righteous," it is safe (cf. Phil. 3:1; 2 Pet. 1:12-15). The Calvinist does not like absolute, abiding truth (Matt. 7:21-23; Gal. 1:6-9; 1 Pet. 1:22-25). Do you?

"We first check out where people stand on the issues..."

Are we not under divine command to do exactly that? "If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him, for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds." (2 John 10-11; cf. 1 Cor. 1:11-13; 3 John 4, 11)

"...Where grace exists, so must various areas of gray."

The Calvinist (i.e., Charles Swindoll) believes that grace allows us to tolerate doctrinal differences (Ibid., 231-233). And, so do some brethren. Therefore, when we appeal to absolute truth as the pattern we must apply and follow in our teachings and our lives, these brethren object. But they cannot have it both ways. If there is an absolute standard of truth, it is consistent with grace (Acts 20:24, 32; Titus 2:11-14). If grace says "be tolerant with doctrinal differences," then there cannot be an absolute standard of truth.

Which will it be, brethren? The Calvinist has already told us his position. He denies doctrinal absolutes. To him, if we call for doctrinal absolutes we are "grace killers." Will you follow his steps, or the footsteps of our Savior (1 Jn. 2:5-6; Gal. 1:10)?

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 BEWARE THE LEAVEN OF THE PHARISEES

 by: Joe R. Price

A stage actor in ancient Greece and Rome was known as a "hypocrite" (the word primarily denoting "one who answers"). It was customary for Greek and Roman actors to speak in large masks with mechanical devices for augmenting the force of the voice; hence the word came to be used metaphorically of "a dissembler, a hypocrite" (Vine). These masks made their voices seem to be louder than they actually were. The word was eventually used to describe someone who gave himself out to be something he actually was not, hence, a dissembler or hypocrite. Hypocrisy is pretense, play-acting.

 

While play-acting on the stage may be harmless enough, it is another matter when it comes to the moral and spiritual realm. Jesus used the word "hypocrite" more than anyone else in the New Testament. In Matthew 23:3, His description of the scribes and Pharisees aptly defines hypocrisy: "they say and do not do". They were religious pretenders, and Jesus emphatically condemned their hypocrisy.

 

Jesus taught His disciples: "Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy" (Lk. 12:1). What the Pharisees taught contributed to their hypocrisy, for Jesus said to beware of "the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees" (Matt. 16:12). Their hypocrisy was showing through whenever they elevated their traditions above the word of God (Matt. 15:3-9). They continued to set themselves forward as being obedient to God while in fact they "transgress(ed) the commandment of God because of their tradition" (Matt. 15:3). They pretended to obey God even as they were disobedient to Him.

 

Jesus pronounced destruction upon the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23. Using it and additional Bible passages, let us learn some of the characteristics of hypocrisy. These will help us identify this dreadful sin, repent of it and avoid it in ourselves.

 

1) Hypocrisy obligates others while excusing itself. "They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger" (Matt. 23:4). The hypocrite places burdens upon others while excusing himself of similar obligation. As noted from Matthew 15:3-9, the hypocrite binds his traditions on others then harshly judges the person who does not conform to the tradition. Jesus rebukes this trait in Matthew 7:1-5, where the hypocrite is pictured trying to extract the speck from his brother's eye while a beam is lodged in his own eye. We avoid hypocrisy by first removing the beam from our own eye so that we can then help our brother with his speck. Beware the leaven of the Pharisees.            

 

2) Hypocrisy is overly concerned about outward appearances (Matthew 23:5-7). Jesus said that "all their works they do to be seen of men" (Matt. 23:5). Winning the approval of others is of primary concern to the hypocrite. While ignoring the true condition of his heart, the hypocrite is supremely confident that since he appears righteous, he is righteous. He fails to examine and arrange and purify his heart. Jesus compared such external emphasis to a cup and platter that are clean on the outside but full of filth on the inside, and to whitewashed tombs that are beautiful on the outside but full of inward corruption (Matt. 23:25-28). Why are you who you are morally and religiously? Is it because of your abiding faith in God and your devotion to Christ? Or, is it to have the praise of men? Beware the leaven of the Pharisees.

 

3) Hypocrisy strains out a gnat and swallows a camel (Matt. 23:23-24). The hypocrite becomes consumed with the minute details of obedience while at the same time ignoring the basis for that obedience. Justice, mercy and faith must undergird our obedience to God and service to others. Jesus said obeying every command is essential, while also warning that our concern for the commands of God must grow out of these "weightier matters of the law" (Matt. 23:23; cf. 5:19-20). Beware the leaven of the Pharisees.

 

4) Hypocrisy spreads (Lk. 12:1). Jesus likened hypocrisy to the influence of leaven upon bread dough. Desiring to be accepted by our peers, we are tempted to act hypocritically in order to secure their acceptance. When we yield to this temptation we pretend to be something we are not for the benefit of others. The influence of hypocrisy is on vivid display in Galatians 2:12-13, when an entire group of Jewish Christians were drawn into sin by Peter's hypocrisy. Hypocrisy influences others to agree with it. Beware the leaven of the Pharisees.

 

5) Hypocrisy condemns (Gal. 2:11). There should be no doubt that moral and religious hypocrisy is repulsive to God. Being a hypocrite will cause you to lose your soul. Beware the leaven of the Pharisees.

 

6) Hypocrisy will be exposed (Lk. 12:1-5). "Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known" (Lk. 12:1-2). Hypocrisy tries to cover up its true identity. But, since every hidden thing will be exposed when God judges us all, we ought to fear and obey God rather than men. By fearing men instead of God, hypocrisy attempts to secure men's approval. In the process, God's approval is forfeited. We must put away hypocrisy (1 Pet. 2:1). Beware the leaven of the Pharisees.

 

Finally, it is worth remembering that another person's hypocrisy is not our comfort. Too often the hypocrisy of others is used to justify bad behavior. It does not. Beware the leaven of the Pharisees.

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 TESTING DOCTRINE

 by: Joe R. Price

Testing doctrine is very important to every person who is interested in living by the truth of God. Truth must be known in order to be lived (cf. John 8:31-32). But, to know truth we must be willing to test what is offered to us as truth in order to determine if it is, in fact, the truth of God.

The Bible teaches us to prove all things so that we may hold fast to what is good and abstain from every form of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22). We should pray to abound in knowledge and discernment so that we can distinguish between what is right and what is wrong (Philippians 1:9-10). "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1). Every preacher or teacher should be willing to have his teaching examined for its accuracy (1 Timothy 4:16). Unfortunately, such is not always the case.

Many people who want to live in the truth have not properly tested the doctrine they accept. Some of them test doctrine to see whether it is true by how it makes them feel (Proverbs 14:12). Others, use tradition to determine right and wrong (Matthew 15:1-3). Still others determine the validity of doctrine on the basis of human wisdom and philosophy (1 Corinthians 1:21; Colossians 2:8). Some base truth upon whether the doctrine in question is popular (Galatians 1:10). Some expect to receive a "prompting in the heart" telling them whether something is truth or error. Their eyes have been blinded so that they cannot see the light of the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). In contrast, here are biblical ways to test the accuracy of doctrine:

  1. Does it agree with what the apostolic doctrine of the first century found in the New Testament? "We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he who is not of God heareth us not. BY THIS WE KNOW the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error" (1 John 4:6). It was the "apostles' doctrine" in which the early Christians "continued steadfastly" (Acts 2:42). They had been taught it, they had knowledge of it, so they could live it and use it to test what others taught them. We must learn and know the apostles' doctrine - it is our God-given instrument of testing to avoid being tossed about and destroyed by error (Ephesians 4:14).
     

  2. We now have the apostles' doctrine in the form of inspired scripture (1 Corinthians 14:37). The scriptures must be used to establish doctrine and to equip us to do every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). When we use the scriptures to test doctrine we are using an objective standard. It is the same truth for everybody. Compare this with the false ways of testing doctrine mentioned above (feelings, tradition, human wisdom, popularity, "promptings" of the heart). There is a big difference between doctrine that changes depending on who is talking and doctrine which remains the same for everyone! (cf. 1 Peter 1:22-25)

Jesus warned us against false prophets in Matthew 7:15-23. Please read this passage carefully. The standard we must use when testing prophets (teachers, preachers, etc.) is the will of the Father - the gospel (v. 21). It is the standard that measures every man. Everyone who does not conform to it will be rejected by Jesus (v. 23). The "fruit" the prophet bears must harmonize with the Father's will, the gospel (v. 16-20). Don't accept man's word as truth - test it with God's word! (Galatians 1:6-10)

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Last modified: 08/03/2017.

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