Christian Unity


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47 thoughts on “Christian Unity”

  1. @Kevin
    Hi Kevin. Thanks for your last comment. I agree, it does look like some of our disagreement was caused by using the same word(s) in very different ways. I am in complete agreement with most of your message in the last comment. If we define “fellowship” as our shared participation in Christ then, yes, that is certainly “above our pay grade” to extend or withdraw – to even attempt to do so is impossible. In this sense, fellowship exists between all members of the Lord’s body, even if they don’t know each other.

    For this discussion, I have used the term fellowship to describe our relationships and associations on a personal level. This is essentially the same way I used the word “unity” in my original comments. I said, “If our unity is not built on or around truth, God says there shouldn’t be unity at all.” If it wasn’t clear before, hopefully we’re both on the same page now.

    The difference between these two types of “fellowship” is the basis for 2 Thessalonians 3:15: “Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.” If we withdraw our fellowship from a person or congregation this is not to make a statement about their salvation – it’s to make a statement about the truth. That’s why I think your assessment of the idea of “withdrawing fellowship” is incorrect. Your comment was, “The ‘pay grade’ comment was specifically about rejecting someone as a brother–I believe that is what’s implied by the term “withdrawing fellowship.”” I actually tried to avoid this misunderstanding. In a few of my comments I specifically said, “extending or withdrawing fellowship is not intended to be a statement about someone’s salvation. One can still be considered a ‘brother’ even when fellowship must be limited for the sake of upholding the truth” (comment #27, #33).

    So back to the original point… my basic position is that fellowship (in terms of our personal associations with other brothers or congregations) is affected by truth. If truth is abandoned, fellowship must at the least be minimized for the sake of upholding the truth and admonishing the brother in error. We agree that there are at least three passages in the Bible that establish this principle – 1 Corinthians 5, 2 Thessalonians 3, and Titus 3:10. Other passages that speak to this point include Matthew 18, Romans 16:17, 2 Tim 3:5, and Matthew 18:17.

    In all of the passages the messages in the same – when a brother rejects the truth, they should be admonished and ultimately rejected if they don’t submit to God’s will. I want to emphasize that teaching and admonition comes first, but withdraw is always the final consequence. That’s my position based on these Scriptures.

    In my understanding, your basic position is that we can (and should) maintain our fellowship/association even when the truth is being abandoned. Where does the Bible teach that? I can’t find even one passage where we’re instructed to maintain our relationships with a brother even when they won’t come to the knowledge of the truth.

    Just out of curiosity… you’ve made it pretty clear that you believe that “traditional COC disputes” should not be affecting our fellowship. However, several of the specific practices that the COC rejects you have said you condone – like instrumental music and the conventional preacher system. As I mentioned before, it’s not surprising you believe these to be non-fellowship issues since you have no problem with the practices. I’m sure you can see that really undermines the integrity of your argument. That would be like me saying that I don’t think classes should be an issue fellowship. Of course I don’t think classes are an issue of fellowship – I don’t have a problem with classes. Are there any issues where you take the conservative position but still extend your fellowship to persons/congregations you believe to be rejecting the truth?

    Looking forward to your comments!

    Tad

  2. Hey brother @Tad, good to hear from you.

    Yes, I’m probably guilty of over-generalized some things again. The Bible authors used “fellowship” in slightly different contexts and with slightly different meanings, as did the translators, so it’s hard to articulate one black and white statement about it in a way that’s true in every context.

    I think some of the confusion comes from the fact that at times I find myself accepting the popular/anglicized meaning of the word “fellowship,” which I would say is “association,” and at other times I find myself using the original meaning of our English word for fellowship, “koinonia,” which is “joint participation” or some variation of that. Then we have the fact that sometimes the context of a verse is our joint participation in Jesus (i.e. brothership) and sometimes the context is the disciples’ joint participation in a ministry, or Jesus’ suffering, or a love offering. So it’s hard to be 100% consistent when there are so many different ways of using the word. I don’t want the conversation to descend into nitty gritty opinions about words and shades of meaning, so if I’ve come across that way, I apologize and will try to go to the larger picture.

    The “pay grade” comment was specifically about rejecting someone as a brother–I believe that is what’s implied by the term “withdrawing fellowship.” This is different in my mind than reducing our social interactions with someone for the sake of reproving them, which we do have the right to do in some circumstances, and which I would not call “withdrawing fellowship.” (Actually, the word “withdraw” is never used in the same context as the word “fellowship,” so the Bible is really just as devoid of the term “withdraw fellowship” as it is of the term “disfellowship.”)

    I think we both agree that we are told to reduce our association with brothers who behave in certain un-Christ-like ways [slackers, those causing division, immoral brothers], and that is “within our pay grade.” I would simply say that most of the [insert traditional COC disputes here] do not rise to that level.

    Here’s an attempt to summarize and maybe refocus on the simplicity of what (I believe) the scriptures teach:

    1) We are placed into fellowship with Jesus and with each other when we are added to the body. I think at least Wade and I have agreed on this much. All the converts on Pentecost were in fellowship with Jesus and with each other after their obedience to the gospel.

    2) To maintain fellowship with Jesus, we must remain in Jesus and walk in love. Neither of us claims we are 100% right on every truth in the Bible, yet we both believe we are in Jesus. This should establish the fact that we both believe our unity with Jesus–our oneness with him–our identity as a member of his one body–is not preconditioned on being “correct” about every truth in the Bible. We are clearly accepted by Jesus and thus into fellowship with him in spite of our human failings and sometimes misunderstandings of God’s will. Agreed so far?

    3) Now on to figuring out how to maintain fellowship with each other. Romans 15:7 is a key to my thinking here, because we are told to accept one another as Jesus accepted us. Fellowship with one another (or at least our expression of it toward one another) means “accepting” our brothers as brothers in the Lord and not rejecting them for their perceived mistakes in thinking and reasoning. We cannot disfellowship (or “withdraw fellowship” in your words) from someone for their lack of intellectual agreement with us. On the same basis Jesus accepted us, we are to accept our brother.

    1 John 1:7 is also central to my understanding of fellowship with each other, because it gives a formula of sorts…if we walk in love, as Jesus walks in love, we have fellowship with each other, and his blood cleanses us from all sin. Having mistakes in our thinking (our humanity keeps us from walking in truth 100% of the time) does not keep Jesus’ blood from cleansing us from all sin, and does not put us out of fellowship with each other. Not walking in love however, does keeps us from experiencing both, 100% of the time (1 Co 13).

    4) As stated previously, there are exceptions to our call to maintain brotherly association with one another for one of several reasons which I’ve covered before. We should cast out of the body someone who is engaging in gross immorality (1 Cor 5). We should not be an enabler to a brother who is a slacker (2 Thess 3), and should reject a divisive person (Ti 3:5). If someone departs from Jesus altogether, fellowship as brothers is a moot point because they’ve already rejected Him. These verses and others have been mistakenly used to justify division/sectarianism over the [insert list of disputes].

    Hope this helps clarify…God bless!

  3. @Kevin
    Hey there, sorry for my long delay (again).

    Just one major point here… You’ve got me pretty confused. I may be misunderstanding you, but it seems like your position has been shifting during this conversation. In one of my recent comments I said: “Fellowship is not ‘all or nothing’. Specifically, someone can still be considered a ‘brother’ even when fellowship is minimized for the sake of upholding truth.” And your response was: “I’m with you on the first sentence, but you lost me on the second one. Once we are brothers, or ‘fellows’ in the body of Christ, it’s above our pay grade to break that fellowship or “brothership.””

    You’ve made a pretty blanket statement that we have no authority to “break” fellowship. That’s just not what the Bible teaches – “fellowship” is not equal to “brothership” on all levels as you implied. Sorry to beat a dead horse, but 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15 makes this very clear – the church was not to keep company with the defectors, BUT they were to admonish him as a brother.

    I’m fairly certain you know that your statement is false because you have addressed several specific situations in your own comments where you agree we MUST break fellowship at times. For example, in comment #3 you agreed that we should, “lovingly reject a brother who is a loafer…” in the context of 2 Thess 3. You list several more areas in comment #8. So, is it “above our pay grade” or not? I’m having a hard time identifying your position here.

    Another thing worth mentioning… I know I’ve said this before, but it is so important that we don’t make assumptions about each other. Wade and I have never used the word “disfellowship” during this discussion – you actually introduced it and condemned the use of it. I deliberately talk about “withdrawing” or “extending” fellowship because those are the words used in the Bible to express God’s instructions on fellowship.

    Thanks for your continued interest in this discussion,

    Tad

  4. In reading through Ephesians this weekend, something jumped out at me.

    The “great mystery” (the bringing together of Jew and Gentile into one body), is a near-perfect illustration of the kind of fellowship and unity that we’ve been discussing. In fact, it is in this context that Ephesians 4 was penned in the first place.

    Starting in Chapter 2, I think Paul makes a better case than I can that fellowship is premised upon joint participation in Jesus Christ, and furthered by peace and brotherly love, not a shared understanding of truth in general.

    v. 1-3 – We all used to be dead in sin.

    v. 4-10 – Because of God’s great love, he made us alive in Jesus, raising us up and seating us with Christ so that he could show us his grace expressed through his kindness. It’s through this grace we are saved, not by our own works or intellectual grasp of scripture. The simple-minded and the lifelong student of the Bible have equal standing in the economy of grace.

    v. 11-13 – Therefore…remember that we gentiles were once separated from God, and foreigners from citizenship in Israel, but now are brought into the fold (into fellow citizenship, or fellowship) by the blood of Christ. I think we can agree that this occurs when we obey the gospel, or the Good News of Jesus Christ, which is the gospel that was preached by Peter on Pentecost.

    v. 14-18 – For Jesus himself is the one that tore down the wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile so that they could both be one in Christ Jesus, thus making peace, and reconciling both groups into one body through the cross. Through him, we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. This cements the idea of our fellowship (which is the reason for the call to unity in the first place) being based upon joint participation in Christ.

    v. 19-22 – As a result of our joint participation in the Spirit (which I think we can agree happens at our obedience to the gospel) and thus our joint access to the Father, we are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens and also “members of his household” with God’s people. In other words, when we are added to the body, we are placed into fellowship, or fellow-citizenzhip with each other. In him, we (the building) are being built together (in unity) to become the dwelling place of the Spirit.

    I think Paul strengthens the case through all of Ephesians that we are placed into fellowship by obedience to the gospel. As a result of being placed into the one body through the blood of Christ, we are called to be in unity with each other by expressing our love and acceptance for each other, mutually edifying one another in love. I don’t think any other kind of unity is either Biblical or possible.

    “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”

    1. My apologies for letting this linger so long. I’ve been giving your statements some thought and reevaluating mine. In the meantime, I’ve had a couple of other matters which unfortunately took priority. Anyways, here is a clarification on my Ephesians 4 position.

      With regards to Ephesians 4, I believe maintaining my initial conversion to the Lord is a part of “until we all come to the unity of the faith.” A companion passage, Colossians 2:6-7 emphasizes this:

      “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”

      So yes, I agree we must hold fast to those nascent elements of the faith in order to maintain our unity with the body of Christ. The Spirit has joined me into one body with fellow believers and I am to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” This is a basic element of fellowship.

      And yet the language in verses 3 and 13 are quite different. Verse 3 says “keep the unity of the Spirit” while verse 13 says “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God.” To reach or to come to (katantesomen) means to attain or arrive at as a goal. Paul “came to Derbe and then to Lystra” (Acts 16:1). “King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea to pay their respects to Festus” (Acts 25:13). If I keep the unity of the Spirit how can I arrive at the unity of the Spirit? How can I arrive at something when I am already there? (This is the tautology to which I earlier referred.) In contrast, I conclude that if I keep the unity of the Spirit there remains another level of unity beyond my positional unity which I seek to achieve. This aspirational “unity of the faith” is linked with a “unity…of the knowledge of the Son of God.” Reaching these objectives is the mark of Christian maturity which the Holy Spirit defines as “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”

  5. I wanted to address a little more clearly your idea that if unity is positional, we have some bad logic going on between verse 3 and verse 13.

    You said:

    As an immature Christian I have positional unity and as I mature in Christ I am aspiring to positional unity? How can I gain something in maturation I already possess in immaturity?

    The answer here is that fellowship is “positional” and unity is “experiential.” We are put into fellowship, and thus start off in perfect unity, but must “endeavor” to “keep” that unity through the bond of peace, evidently by “bearing with one another in love.” (Eph 4:2-3).

    This thought is simply carried through consistently in verse 13, where Paul expands upon that idea, suggesting that unity is something we constantly have to strive to “attain.”

    That’s frankly my motivation in discussing these topics at all. At the end of the day, we may or may not agree on all the doctrinal opinions of the day, but lacking agreement, which Romans 14 and 15 clearly say we’ll always lack, I’d much rather endeavor to bring those of us who are brothers and sisters in Christ by virtue of our joint participation in Him, into the experiential unity that Paul writes about here and that Jesus prayed for.

  6. @Wade

    I’m glad we are agreed on question one. That’s an important starting point.

    You said:

    In answer to question 2, I believe your interpretation of the “one faith” in Ephesians 4 creates a tautology when we arrive in verse 13. If, as you suggest, the one faith is the believers’ initial acceptance of the gospel, why does Paul talk of aspiring to “the unity of the faith” in verse 13?

    I see why you might say that on first glance at the passages, but history showed that the pure Gospel is something that easily slips away from us. Humans, knowingly or unknowingly, pervert it by adding rules, regulations, and requirements born out of their own reasoning. That’s why Paul writes to the Galatian believers:

    Galatians 1:6-9 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ…. If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!

    This shows we are to keep reigning ourselves back to the first principles of the Gospel that we first accepted. It is from that simple Gospel that the church has strayed repeatedly over two millennia of human history. The apostles’ doctrine was concerned, first and foremost, with preserving and restoring the original teachings of Jesus. The Holy Spirit was there to bring to their minds all the things Jesus had taught them.

    Yes, there was some new material, but the major elements of the apostles’ doctrine was meant to preserve “the faith once delivered” and to steel the resolve of first century believers who were going to be tested in the fire of Roman persecution. They needed to be constantly reminded of what they had first believed in and why it was important to stand firm in it.

    It’s apparent to me that Ephesians 4:13 is arguing the following point:

    Gifts of apostle, etc. –> Equip for works of service –> So that the body of Christ may be built up –> Until we all reach (attain) unity in the faith and knowledge of Jesus and become mature in Him

    Given the first century church’s constant departure from the original precepts of the Gospel, I think the “attaining” of the unity of the faith is meant by Paul to exactly that. They were constantly slipping away from the first principles, and the gifts of apostle, evangelist, pastor, and teacher were meant to build up the body and bring it into a better knowledge of Him as its members seek to know Christ. “Unity of the faith” clearly revolves around a deeper knowledge of Jesus and oneness with Him, not the rules of church finance or the use or non-use of musical instruments on Sunday morning, or whatever else brothers have insisted they had to “disfellowship” each other over.

    We agree that when we were immersed into the body of Christ, we were accepted by Christ into full fellowship despite whatever misunderstandings and errors we might have had in our young Christian minds. “Accept one another, then, just as [in the same way that] Christ accepted you….” That is at least one of the apostles’ doctrines.

    You said:

    Your definition of the apostles’ message lacks an antecedent. It assumes the apostles’ message relates only to their declaration of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. But when one examines the broader context, one can’t help but notice the “apostles’ message” in which all Christians believe was broader in scope.

    If I implied that the apostles’ message was “only” the facts Gospel, I apologize, that’s not what I meant. I would say the gospel is primary–meaning in the front of their minds–in just about everything they write about. When I read the New Testament scriptures, I can’t help but notice how they were consumed with preserving the original principles upon which they first believed. I am not denying that other subjects are touched on in the process. For instance, Paul teaches on marriage, elders, widows, etc. I am simply suggesting that where the apostles were silent, we ought to be silent as well.

    To take this thought a little further, I don’t believe we ought to extrapolate the apostles’ doctrine into force of law on subjects which never crossed their minds. That’s why I’ve said I believe we have a hermeneutical problem which affects our understanding of unity and fellowship.

    The apostles were responding to real circumstances in the first century church and giving inspired instruction relating to those circumstances, and we need to interpret their instructions in that context. The debates over misc. church practices which have plagued our movement for the last 150 or more years are almost entirely outside the scope of what the apostles actually taught. We have to extrapolate and build a reasoned case of what we think the author or the Holy Spirit must have intended on those things, and therein lies the problem. We end up, in my opinion, with some conjecture that is believed by many to be law. We end up (unintentionally, of course) “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”

    As to the verses you quoted (John 14:25-26, John 16:12-14, and John 17:7-8), these are Jesus speaking in anticipation of the Holy Spirit coming at Pentecost so the apostles could preach the gospel fully. When that original gathering continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine, I don’t believe the apostles were teaching them about acappella-only worship, sponsoring church organizational models, paid preachers, etc. They were teaching them about Jesus.

    I will not try to over-reach and insist that the Holy Spirit added nothing after that; obviously He did. But they needed to be guided into all truth because they were going to be knocked down hard when Jesus died and would not know how to proceed. They would definitely need the Holy Spirit to teach them more completely what the gospel even was at that point. I think the NT scriptures taken as a whole show that the great revelation that the Holy Spirit was unfolding in the first century was primarily the Gospel and the “mystery” of the Gentiles’ acceptance into it.

    Regardless, it still seems apparent to me that the meaning of John 17:20 is self-limiting…Jesus is praying that those who believe in Him through the apostles’ message would be one. It necessarily follows that the message he is referring to is the one that would bring about belief in Jesus, i.e. the Gospel. I’d be hard pressed to fit the various historical disputes on church practices into this context.

    I am glad to either declare the truthfulness of worshipping God with voice alone…

    I will agree that this is how the first century church’s assembly was conducted. I don’t believe, however, that the apostles ever taught or meant to teach anything that would prohibit the use of instruments, nor do I believe such an opinion is consistent with the rest of scripture.

    …or teach that while the early church supported those who preached the gospel they did not do so to the exclusion of their own participation in the assembly of the saints.

    I also agree that this is probably how the first century church organized themselves. However, supporting those who labor in the gospel was explicitly authorized by the apostles’ doctrine. What duties might be assigned to such a laborer are left pretty open. So while we might argue from experience the wisdom of whether to have a full time minister or not, we may not lay upon our brothers a burden that that the apostles didn’t lay upon them, with the threat of “disfellowship” if they don’t comply. Separating into our own little sects based on our opinions about these types of things is not in keeping with the spirit of unity that Jesus prayed for.

    I believe both positions are scripturally sound and were revealed to the apostles as God’s will for the church. But neither of those issues relate to the discussion at hand, which is what Tad has been driving at with his past few comments.

    Whether or not these positions are scripturally sound depends on how they are articulated, I suppose. If they are presented as “thus saith the Lord,” I don’t believe they are scripturally sound at all.

    I guess I do believe these questions relate directly to the discussion at hand, because we are discussing them in the context of the question: “Do we have to have the same opinion on what the apostles’ doctrine was on these questions in order to accept one another as Christ accepted us?” Again, I don’t think so. Jesus accepted me in spite of whatever weakness of mind I might have. It behooves me to do the same for my brother.

    “If we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another…. Anyone who loves his brother lives in the light.”

    I guess I’d like to emphasize that we don’t have to sacrifice truth in order to accept and love our brother who disagrees with us. I would have no problem worshiping with you, and would thoroughly enjoy it, in spite of our relatively minor differences of opinion on what the apostles’ doctrines were regarding musical instruments, or what congregations are at liberty to do with their money, etc. I just have a problem with creating factions over these things.

  7. @Kevin
    Hi Kevin. I apologize for returning a week later than I previously stated. I have been monitoring the conversation between you and Tad since I excused myself.

    In answer to question one, yes I believe obedience to the gospel initially unifies one with the body of Christ.

    In answer to question 2, I believe your interpretation of the “one faith” in Ephesians 4 creates a tautology when we arrive in verse 13. If, as you suggest, the one faith is the believers’ initial acceptance of the gospel, why does Paul talk of aspiring to “the unity of the faith” in verse 13? As an immature Christian I have positional unity and as I mature in Christ I am aspiring to positional unity? How can I gain something in maturation I already possess in immaturity? If my initial, immature unification with Christ’s body is all that matters, then what “unity of the faith” can I aspire to in my maturation?

    For a moment, I will return to comment #28 wherein you comment on John 17:20: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message [the message that would induce faith in Christ was that of the Gospel, not cups, classes, preachers, instruments, etc.]” The reason I bring this up is because my last comment dealt with John 17. Your definition of the apostles’ message lacks an antecedent. It assumes the apostles’ message relates only to their declaration of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. But when one examines the broader context, one can’t help but notice the “apostles’ message” in which all Christians believe was broader in scope.

    John 14:25-26 “All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

    John 16:12-14 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.

    John 17:7-8 “Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me.”

    These three passages – all taken from the broader context of John 17:20ff – testify of the comprehensive message imparted by the Lord to His apostles. Yes, the saving power of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection are the cornerstone of apostolic truth, but they are not the whole of it.

    I am glad to either declare the truthfulness of worshipping God with voice alone or teach that while the early church supported those who preached the gospel they did not do so to the exclusion of their own participation in the assembly of the saints. I believe both positions are scripturally sound and were revealed to the apostles as God’s will for the church. But neither of those issues relate to the discussion at hand, which is what Tad has been driving at with his past few comments.

  8. 1) Wade and/or Tad, would be fair to say we are in agreement that being in Jesus is what puts us–at least initially–into fellowship with each other? For instance, the believers in Acts 2:38 had all things in common, and I believe were in full fellowship with each other, based solely on their acceptance of the gospel as presented by Peter that day.

    If we can agree on that, we only need to clarify exactly what can break that “fellowship,” or brotherly association and interaction with one another.

    2) It would also help me to understand your view if you can clarify if you believe that for someone to reach a different conclusion about [XYZ doctrinal position] puts them outside “the faith” as taught by Paul in Ephesians 4? To me, this is central to the question of unity. I believe “the faith” spoken of is “The Faith” and “The Truth” as it relates to Jesus Christ and the Good News, not all truths in the Bible generally speaking.

    If a brother who believes differently than you is outside the faith, then there is no middle ground for “degrees of unity.” We have no right to declare any unity at all with someone who has departed from “the faith.”

    If, on the other hand, we are still in the same faith, but cannot associate with one another because we hold different views on [XYZ], isn’t that the definition of a sect, and thus the root of sectarianism?

  9. If you’re not comfortable addressing those issues yet, that’s fine, but I only brought them for the purpose of illustrating the point at hand about the foundation for unity, not to delve into those subjects on their own merits yet.

    I think it’s important to use the examples of those types of doctrines to keep re-focusing our minds on what kinds of subjects the apostles did and did not actually have in mind when they were writing. It takes the subject of unity out of the realm of abstract theory into the real world. I believe it’s our theories and hermeneutics regarding unity and fellowship that have brought us the division on those and so many other issues.

  10. @Kevin
    As I stated recently (comment #30), I was really hoping we could lay a foundation before we discuss specific issues that sometimes affect fellowship. Until we can agree to leave those subjects alone (instrumental music, preachers, etc…) its impossible for us to go any further with this discussion.

    Much of your view on fellowship is build around your position on those specific issues. Naturally, becuase you do not support those doctrines you of course do not see them as an issue of fellowship. We have to understand fellowship first before we can make any conclusions on how these issues fit into the picture.

    Thanks for your continued interest in this discussion. Please let me know if you’d like to continue.

    God bless,

    Tad

  11. @Tad

    No problem, I think this is a good approach to try to understand each other.

    You said:

    1. Anytime a brother willfully rejects any teaching of the Apostles that potentially affects our ability to have full fellowship with that brother. In one of your comments (#15), you seemed to agree with this idea at least in principle, stating, “willfully rejecting the apostle’s doctrine is akin to thumbing our nose at scripture”.

    I can agree with the above as long as we emphasize the word “willfully” in that sentence, because to willfully reject the teachings of the apostles, Jesus’s messengers, is to willfully reject Jesus who sent them and the Holy Spirit who spoke through them. However, to accept the apostle’s doctrine as authoritative, but fail to understand it identically, is not a willful rejection of Jesus, the apostles, or their teachings.

    This is what Alexander Campbell meant when he talked about getting rid of man-made creeds and forging unity based on acceptance of the entirety of scripture. He did not mean acceptance of each other’s opinions about the entirety of scripture. That would mean creating a creed again. He meant literally the acceptance of the authority of scripture, leaving room for human misunderstandings of it that should not bar us from fellowship with one another.

    And I am not appealing to Campbell as an authority, but as someone whose words of wisdom have been lost on us after 150 years of playing “telephone” with them. Speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where it’s silent means something entirely different to people now than to those who coined the phrase.

    2. Fellowship is not “all or nothing”. Specifically, someone can still be considered a “brother” even when fellowship is minimized for the sake of upholding truth.

    I’m with you on the first sentence, but you lost me on the second one. Once we are brothers, or “fellows” in the body of Christ, it’s above our pay grade to break that fellowship or “brothership.” 2 Thessalonians teaches us to avoid becoming enablers for lazy people. The church’s generosity shouldn’t be taken advantage of, so we are to avoid these brothers but still treat them as a brother. 1 Corinthians 5 teaches us to completely eject a person behaving immorally from the assembly. Romans 16:17 teaches us to “keep away from” those who “cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned.” What was the teaching they had learned? The message of the Gospel. Freedom in Christ. Not being brought into bondage to the Old Law again. Being patient with one another.

    The terms Disfellowship and Withdrawal of Fellowship are extra-scriptural terms that have been coined based on misunderstandings of what the apostle Paul was saying. If we were to live by our cliche “use Bible words for Bible things” we wouldn’t have this misunderstanding. In any case, we should hopefully be able to agree that nowhere does Paul teach us to “disfellowship,” “cast out,” or even “avoid” a brother who has a different understanding than us on subjects like musical instruments, paid preachers, fellowship halls, colleges, missionary societies, etc. Can we agree on that much?

    3. Some “truths” are more significant than other “truths”. See Matthew 23:23.

    Yes, I agree completely. I would add that it’s not arbitrary which truths are more important. The truths that brought us into fellowship (the Gospel) are the most important truths. I don’t see how we can elevate musical instruments, or even the “name” of the church, to being “important truths” we should divide over, but we’ll allow all sorts of diversity of opinion on other things.

    4. Doctrines are different than “opinions”. See Matthew 15:9.

    Yes, that’s true, but it’s possible to have different opinions on what the correct applications of the teachings are. It’s my opinion that the subject of musical instruments in worship never crossed the apostles minds, hence it was never addressed in their teachings. Nevertheless, two brothers may have different opinions about what the apostles meant or didn’t mean by what they said or didn’t say. One may be correct and the other incorrect, or both may be incorrect–yet both may be in full fellowship with each other, because both are called to be patient with each other.

    “Romans 15:5-7 – May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as [in the same way that] Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.”

    There’s a lot of deep meaning in this verse. In the same way I was accepted by Christ–i.e. through obedience to His Gospel–I should accept my brother. I have no right to lay a greater burden on him for me to accept him than my Lord laid on me to accept me. If Jesus is willing to have fellowship with me in spite of my fallible understanding of the Word, then I should be willing to enjoy fellowship with my brother in spite of our mutual fallibility.

  12. @Kevin
    Hello again, Kevin. Thanks for being patient with me. Here’s a quick list of some subjects I think we agree on. If we at least agree on these principles, maybe we can start working out how they should be applied towards Christian Unity.

    1. Anytime a brother willfully rejects any teaching of the Apostles that potentially affects our ability to have full fellowship with that brother. In one of your comments (#15), you seemed to agree with this idea at least in principle, stating, “willfully rejecting the apostle’s doctrine is akin to thumbing our nose at scripture”.

    2. Fellowship is not “all or nothing”. Specifically, someone can still be considered a “brother” even when fellowship is minimized for the sake of upholding truth.

    3. Some “truths” are more significant than other “truths”. See Matthew 23:23.

    4. Doctrines are different than “opinions”. See Matthew 15:9.

    If we can agree that these points are generally true, I think we can start into how these ideas should be applied and what they do or don;t apply to.

  13. @Tad

    There are a couple points you said earlier in our conversation that I want to make sure I emphasize that I agree with.

    God calls us to unity, not to uniformity – I think this is your point. It is absolutely correct to acknowledge that Christians can be joined in unity and fellowship without seeing eye to eye on every spiritual subject.

    To that I can say “Amen!” Of course, deciding on the exact list of things we may not have to see eye to eye on may be more difficult, but the following point you made was a great starting point in figuring that out:

    Ephesians 4 explains the basis of our unity in the Spirit. We join in one body through one spirit because we pursue one common hope in heaven. We submit to one Lord (Jesus), following him through one faith, and come to him through one baptism. Christians all join in service to one God. At the very minimum, unity exist only when these truths are upheld and pursued. Without agreement on these truths we have no foundation for unity.

    “Amen” to that as well! Maybe when I presented my objection to unity based on “truth” it was interpreted as not being necessary to agree on The Truth, i.e., the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ you referenced above. I do believe we are put into the body of Christ by our obedience to the Gospel, i.e. The Truth, I only take issue with the idea that we maintain unity by adherence to a shared set of opinions about the many different truths found in scripture.

    Here’s the Ephesians passage in context, which I will agree tells us a lot about unity:

    Eph 4:1-6 – As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called ; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

    Note that “bearing with one another in love” is joined at the hip with “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” That’s because brotherly love is the key to maintaining the unity of the brotherhood that we were put into by our mutual acceptance of the Gospel, i.e. “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.”

    I think where we may differ is in our reading of “one faith.” Maybe you are including things in there besides the good news of the gospel? When I read it, I see “one faith” as being the Gospel, or the Good News of Jesus Christ, not our shared opinions on the doctrinal distinctives du jour. It is the Gospel that the apostles constantly urged the first century church to adhere to closely and not stray from. That is the faith I believe Paul means here.

    I look forward to your thoughts when you get some time…

  14. @Tad

    No problem, I know these replies take time to consider and write out, so take your time. I know very little about your personal opinions or those of the congregation you regularly associate with, so forgive me if I’ve made any erroneous assumptions.

    God bless!

  15. @Kevin
    Thanks for your comments, Kevin. I’ll need to provide a full response later, but here’s one quick thought that we need to hammer out before this conversation can really go any further…

    I know this can sometime be difficult to do, but it’s important that we leave your specific objections to common church of Christ teachings alone and out of the discussion until we can agree on the basic biblical teachings on unity and fellowship. Until we do that, your current position on those specific subjects is always going to undermine our ability to rightly divide the scriptures at hand. In other words, we need to agree on the ground rule before our ideas on instrumental music, preachers, etc.. is even worth talking about.

    Another thing that has been affecting this discussion… I also think it’s important that we don’t make assumptions about each other’s beliefs on unity and/or how we extend or withdraw fellowship. For example, you said “We can’t reprove or mutually edify those with whom we’ll have nothing to do with because we’ve excluded them from ‘our fellowship.’” I’m assuming you intended this statement to describe the position you think I take towards those that don’t agree with my understanding on the specific church practices you’ve been mentioning. Again, whether or not this is my position (which it’s not) is not relevant until we work out the basic biblical ground rules for fellowship. Thanks again for bearing with me. 🙂

    I’m sorry to delay responding – I hope to have a complete response for you tomorrow.

  16. @Tad

    In re-reading my comments, I realize I didn’t address a couple of your comments very clearly. I hope this post helps you follow my train of thought a little better.

    You said:

    In Acts 15 Paul and Barnabas disputed with the Jews at Ephesus about the necessity of circumcision. Why didn’t they just ignore their differences and agree to disagree?

    There are a couple of factors at play here. First, this is early in church history, and the very fact that there was a need for a debate among the elders and apostles at Jerusalem shows that the apostle’s doctrine was not clearly formulated on this issue yet. Second, these were Judaizing teachers, i.e. folks who were trying to bind elements of the Old Law. Doing so is nullifying the work of Jesus on the cross, and is therefore an attack on the Good News itself.

    To the contrary, Paul tells the Galatian church to “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. Gal 5:1”

    A dispute didn’t make this a negotiable issue – one side was right and the other was wrong and the apostles contended earnestly for the truth.

    I don’t believe circumcision itself was either right or wrong, nor do I believe that was the “truth” they were contending for; it was the binding or prohibition of it that was wrong. There’s a big difference. Requiring elements of the Old Law was an attack on the Truth of the Gospel, e.g. that Jesus nailed the Old Law to the cross.

    The same thing was happening in Galatia (see Galatians 5) and in this case Paul specifically says that they were losing their salvation over it. Again, one side was right and the other was wrong.

    Again, I don’t think it’s the difference of opinion on circumcision that was so important to get right, it was the fundamental efficacy of the Gospel. Was the Gospel sufficient to save or are Christians bound to observe the Old Law as well? Tying this in with Galatians 5 is spot-on, because Paul teaches there that if we attempt to be justified by the law, we are denying Jesus. Jesus came to nail the old law to the cross, and if we seek to be justified by conformity to that or any other written code, we are nullifying his work on the cross. That is not inconsequential.

    It was not being right or wrong on circumcision that Paul says they were losing their salvation over, it was “trying to be justified by the law,” because in doing so they were “falling away from grace.”

    I love Galatians 5, it is one of my favorite chapters teaching about freedom in Christ within the bounds of brotherly love and the fruits of the Spirit. Paul says “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”

    Amen to that!

    The same thing is true concerning the Gnostic teachings discussed in 1 John.

    Agreed, but the gnostics didn’t believe Jesus had an earthly body; they were essentially denying a very basic fact of the Gospel, that God became man and suffered as a man in order to redeem mankind. So once again, we are not comparing apples to apples. I don’t see where we are called to deny brothers fellowship due to their incorrect opinions on church practices like musical instruments, preachers, etc. On that basis, let him who is without guilt cast the first stone. We are all guilty of errors in our thinking.

    Alexander Campbell wisely said “It is cruel to excommunicate a man for the imbecility of his intellect.” We should not be separating from one another over honest differences of opinion about church practices.

  17. @Tad

    I still contend, though, that 2 Thessalonians 3 is also a specific example of a much larger issue – the authority of Christ is vested in the authority of the apostles and anytime we abandon their teachings this is potentially an issue affecting our unity and fellowship. Do you agree with this?

    I might be able to go with you on your premise using Romans 16:17 with some limitations, but I don’t see that in the 2 Thess 3:6-13 passage at all. I think a fair reading shows that the subject he was addressing here was freeloaders and how to deal with them, from beginning to end.

    Maybe we can agree in principle that Romans 16:17 teaches us to avoid “creating obstacles contrary to the doctrine you have been taught” (meaning the apostle’s doctrine). But keep in mind that this implies disobeying (going contrary to) the doctrine you have been taught. And I again have to ask, Where did the apostles have anything to say about such things as musical instruments, cups, classes, colleges, preachers, buildings, etc.? Where are we disobeying (going against) a teaching by having instrumental accompaniment?

    To say these are teachings of the apostles is to put words in their mouths. You and I have written and spoken extensively about our thoughts on the Scriptures. Neither of us would take kindly to someone using our words, or lack of them, to formulate rules we didn’t actually assent to ourselves. We need to give the Bible authors that same respect.

    I agree with your basic ideas on Romans 14 and how to deal with “disputable issues” or “doubtful things”. Unfortunately, we are worlds apart on how to define these “disputable issues”. What is a disputable issue? You said: “The fact that it is in dispute is what makes it disputable.” I’m not really sure how you arrive at this definition.

    I think it’s self-explanatory, but I’ll admit I was being overly broad in order to make a point. Obviously, not everything two people dispute is “disputable” (the facts of the gospel are not disputable, for instance, because faith in the saving Gospel of Christ is what puts us into fellowship/unity in the first place). My point is that Paul’s advice to two people who are already “in the faith” in Romans 14 and 15 is of no help to us if we have to first come to an agreement on which matters we do and don’t need to agree on (like musical instruments, cups, classes, colleges, preachers, buildings, etc.) before we can follow his teachings and be patient with one another about our disagreements. That is convoluted.

    But are these issues really the things we ought to be so worked up over? Are they really the “meat” of the word, or are the fruits of the Spirit the true “meat” of the word and of Christian living? When we focus on these doctrinal disputes, aren’t we straining out inconsequential gnats while swallowing camels?

    You bring up Acts 15. The very fact that Paul was dissenting with those teaching circumcision was essential meant they were teaching this contrary to the apostles’ teaching. Also, this was early in the history of the first century church, so the Jews and Gentiles were still struggling with Old Law vs. new covenant issues, as were the apostles themselves, as this chapter shows. I think it’s clear the “apostle’s doctrine” was not fully formed yet on this.

    Issues of worship, edification, and church government are completely different. Is God silent on these issues? Not all.

    Why are they completely different? Isn’t it possible that God left some issues of worship, edification, or even church government open to some variations in how believers will carry it out? Can a widower be an elder? Is that not disputable and able to be handled separately by congregations who reach different conclusion?

    Why do we make an a priori assumption that believers cannot have different understandings of teachings in these categories? Can you show me where God or the apostles even taught about musical instruments at all? The silence is deafening on this and so many other matters disputed by brothers.

    Jude 3 is instructive on this point: “Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” The responsibility of the Church is to contend for “the faith” which apparently is not the same subject as “our common salvation”

    One problem here is that it seems like you’re reading the scriptures as an attorney might read a municipal code. Paul taught that Jesus died to nail the old written code to the cross, and he didn’t nail a new one in its place. The NT scriptures are not a code book, but a collection of writings preserved to provide inspired context to this person in history named Jesus.

    If you read on in Jude’s letter, I think you’ll find that his use of the phrases “the common salvation” and “the faith” for which we are to contend are two sides of the same coin: The Gospel.

    3 Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. 4 For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.

    I believe the context bears out that he is saying something along the lines of this:

    “Although I wanted to write to you about happy, joyful things relating to the salvation God had given to us, I instead feel compelled to warn you to earnestly contend for the faith of Jesus Christ so that ungodly people don’t continue trying to pervert the grace He showed us into a license for immorality, or attempt to deny Him, since He is the basis for our common salvation in the first place.”

    I don’t know about you, but I don’t hang all my hopes of redemption on doctrines about musical instruments, cups, classes, colleges, paid preachers, etc. The “faith once delivered” that I rest my hope in is that of Jesus Christ and his gospel, not these other things.

    As I’ve stated previously, the work of the church is to uphold and protect the truth. One way we do that is by withdrawing from those that resist the truth.

    Can we agree that there is a difference between The Truth of the Gospel and other lesser truths? It is true that my laptop is a Mac, but that is not a truth the church (the called out of Christ) need protect. It is also true that Abimelech in the period of the judges was a usurper king, not a judge, as the kids’ song states; but that’s also not a truth the church need to “earnestly contend for” (I hope!).

    When the apostles are talking about “the truth” or “the apostle’s doctrine” I believe they are generalizing, broadly referring to the teachings of and about Jesus Christ and his Gospel of salvation, not all truth philosophically speaking. Likewise, when they talk about “the apostles’ commands” or “Jesus’ commands” I believe they are most often generalizing, broadly referring to the Greatest Commands, i.e. to love God with all our heart soul and mind, and to love our neighbor as ourself. This is especially true in the writings of John. Read his writings from beginning to end and you’ll see it more clearly.

    Remaining “in the faith” and “earnestly contending for the faith once delivered” are simply different ways of saying “Stay in Jesus; don’t depart from the Good News that we apostles have told you so much about.”

    When we try to put words in their mouths to talk about things like musical instruments, colleges, and doctrines that never even crossed their minds, we are guilty of the same thing the Pharisees were doing when they formulated rules from the Old Law that God never actually said. We are “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” We’d be much better off following our old saying to “be silent where the Bible is silent.”

    I completely agree that love is ultimately the most important aspect of fellowship – but love cannot create fellowship without a shared commitment to the truth. I know you disagree with this…

    I actually agree with you when you say that fellowship requires a shared commitment to the truth. Where I differ is that I don’t believe it always requires a common understanding of it. Being in Christ together puts us into fellowship with each other. It’s up to us to act like it. Remaining in Jesus and walking in love is what maintains unity. But I’ll save that discussion for Wade.

    It’s extremely important to note the unity between Christians is not an “all or nothing” kind of issue. Unity can exist without being perfect or complete. It can be “imperfect”.

    This is so right when unity is understood to be based on mutual assent to “truth.” I would suggest that all unity based on this principle is “imperfect” because no human has a perfect understanding of truth, and no two humans could certainly ever agree upon it. I don’t believe that type of “imperfect unity” is what Jesus prayed for, and I would suggest it’s inferior to Biblical, perfect unity based on mutual rebirth into Jesus Christ himself.

    John 17:20-26 – 20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message [the message that would induce faith in Christ was that of the Gospel, not cups, classes, preachers, instruments, etc.], 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. [Our oneness is based on whom we are in, not what our opinions are.] May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. [He reiterates this for clarity; as we remain in God and Jesus, our oneness will be displayed to a lost world so that they will believe.] 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one – 23 I in them and you in me [again, joint participation in a Person, not shared opinions with each other] — so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. [Unity with each other is an illustration of God’s love for us, and our life should be proof to a lost world of God’s love in our lives.]

    24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. 25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” [He again illustrates the centrality of love to the subject of unity.]

    You said:

    This passage makes another important point – extending or withdrawing fellowship is not intended to be a statement about someone’s salvation. One can still be considered a “brother” even when fellowship must be limited for the sake of upholding the truth.

    We can’t reprove or mutually edify those with whom we’ll have nothing to do with because we’ve excluded them from “our fellowship.” I believe that with a Biblical understanding of unity, fellowship, and brotherly love, we can maintain all of the above even while holding differing opinions on many matters AND maintaining a relationship so that we can mutually edify one another in love.

  18. @Kevin
    Kevin, sorry to have taken so long to respond. I continue to enjoy this discussion and I think our readers appreciate it as well. At this point I have just a few things to mention:

    1. I happily concede that Romans 14 is definitely addressing other issues (and a larger idea) not limited to meats offered to idols. I still contend, though, that 2 Thessalonians 3 is also a specific example of a much larger issue – the authority of Christ is vested in the authority of the apostles and anytime we abandon their teachings this is potentially an issue affecting our unity and fellowship. Do you agree with this?

    2. You stated: “My question for you is if someone doesn’t believe the apostles had anything at all to say about whether we can use musical instruments or not, then how are they willfully rejecting the apostles’ teachings if they choose to do so?” My answer: this is a separate issue. It’s tempting to comment here but doing so would just distract from the discussion. Since we agree that willfully rejecting the apostle doctrines is an issue of fellowship we could move on to talk about the actual doctrines of the Apostles.

    3. I agree with your basic ideas on Romans 14 and how to deal with “disputable issues” or “doubtful things”. Unfortunately, we are worlds apart on how to define these “disputable issues”. What is a disputable issue? You said: “The fact that it is in dispute is what makes it disputable.” I’m not really sure how you arrive at this definition. This position is not suggested in this passage or in any other place in the Bible. In Acts 15 Paul and Barnabas disputed with the Jews at Ephesus about the necessity of circumcision. Why didn’t they just ignore their differences and agree to disagree? A dispute didn’t make this a negotiable issue – one side was right and the other was wrong and the apostles contended earnestly for the truth. The same thing was happening in Galatia (see Galatians 5) and in this case Paul specifically says that they were losing their salvation over it. Again, one side was right and the other was wrong. The same thing is true concerning the Gnostic teachings discussed in 1 John.

    The issues in Romans 14 fall into a specific category. Drinking wine, eating meats offered to idols, and acknowledging Jewish holidays were all issues subject to the circumstances and the conscience – there was no right or wrong. Paul’s point is that when God does not offer specific instructions on a subject we have three obligations: 1) be fully persuaded in your own mind, 2) be tolerant with each other, and 3) don’t offend another’s conscience. On these issues there is no right or wrong because God offers no specific instructions – that’s what makes them “disputable”. Issues of worship, edification, and church government are completely different. Is God silent on these issues? Not all. I’m afraid it’s a gross abuse of this passage to suggest that any issue that elicits contention is therefore not an issue of fellowship. These “disputable issues” are specifically areas where God is not specific.

    Jude 3 is instructive on this point: “Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” The responsibility of the Church is to contend for “the faith” which apparently is not the same subject as “our common salvation”. As I’ve stated previously, the work of the church is to uphold and protect the truth. One way we do that is by withdrawing from those that resist the truth. When we can agree on this basic point I will gladly indulge in a discussion on the specific church practices that sometimes separates congregations of the church of Christ.

    4. I completely agree that love is ultimately the most important aspect of fellowship – but love cannot create fellowship without a shared commitment to the truth. I know you disagree with this, but I’ll let Wade handle that end of this discussion 

    5. I should have mentioned this before – It’s extremely important to note the unity between Christians is not an “all or nothing” kind of issue. Unity can exist without being perfect or complete. It can be “imperfect”. Paul’s instructions about the free-riders in 2 Thessalonians 3:15 a perfect example of this. The church was to withdraw from the defectors, but he says: “Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.” He was still a “brother’ but fellowship was deliberately minimized. This passage makes another important point – extending or withdrawing fellowship is not intended to be a statement about someone’s salvation. One can still be considered a “brother” even when fellowship must be limited for the sake of upholding the truth.

    I look forward to your comments 

  19. @Wade

    I have a large responsibility looming ahead next week which requires my attention. Could we place this discussion on hold until a week from this coming Monday? I appreciate your patience.

    I’m kind of in the same boat, so that is fine. Thank you for your patience working through this conversation, I think it’s been time well spent in that we both probably understand each other a little better. I understand you would not limit “light” and “his commands” to mean “love,” but it’s encouraging that you can at least see that meaning passages.

    I do want to just clarify something. You said:

    I understand where you are coming from, but I find your definition unnecessarily limiting. Loving our brethren is important, but not to the exclusion of loving God.

    I don’t limit our command to love to the brethren. There is a reason that there are two Greatest Commands and not just one, and that is because we must love the Lord our God with all our heart soul and mind, and love our neighbor as ourselves. So I would never say that loving the brethren supersedes loving God. When I refer to the command to love in the singular, I am simply generalizing–as I think John did from time to time.

    I look forward to reconnecting at your convenience.

  20. @Kevin It is admittedly convoluted and I retract the statement. I did not re-read my comment carefully enough. I apologize for introducing a red-herring into the discussion.

    Although I have not always stated it, I do agree with some of your points throughout this thread. Brethren do divide over matters of judgment or traditions of men. While I may disagree with some of the examples you mention, I do agree in principle that sin is the source of divisiveness. Where I part ways with you is the primary evidence you cite as proof that fellowship through truth is fallacious and divisive. The failures of man do not compel me to reject the idea that truth itself is a unifying force. While I can think of instances where brethren have divided over disputable matters, I can also think of instances where brethren lovingly reasoned matters out and arrived at a mutual recognition of truth and thereby have either unified or maintained unity. You have your examples, I have my examples. But how does that prove whether an idea is true or false? Just because something does not appear to human eyes to “work” on a practical level does not automatically make it false. Which is why, I insist, we must turn to the objective authority of the Scriptures.

    It’s not that I necessarily disagree with your thoughts on John, I just don’t limit his teaching to the degree which you do. Is love important to maintaining fellowship? Of course. Love is the bond of perfection. Does John spend a lot of time talking about loving the brethren? Yes. But he also talks about the necessity of loving God. Jesus separated these two when asked about the greatest commandment, which leads me to believe these two principles address different aspects of truth. I understand where you are coming from, but I find your definition unnecessarily limiting. Loving our brethren is important, but not to the exclusion of loving God.

    It’s strange that so many thousands of words on this thread have been written without mentioning John 17. I am at fault as much as any other for this oversight. Retracing the Lord’s thoughts to 16:5, we find the Lord reiterating the promise of the Spirit who would guide the apostles into all truth. Jesus admits He had other things to teach them, but time was short and the Spirit would pick up where He left off. Jesus assures the apostles that the Spirit would perfectly communicate what belonged first to the Father and then to the Son. After a discussion of the resurrection, Christian prayer, and peace, Jesus begins the true Lord’s prayer in chapter 17. One of His primary themes is His own perfect declaration of the Father’s truth, the apostles’ reception of the truth, and their communication of the truth. He states that both He and the apostles are sanctified by truth which He defines as the Father’s word. In verse 20, Jesus turns his attention to all believers who would accept the testimony of the apostles (which is akin in spirit to 1 John 1:1-7 I might add). He prays in verse 21, “that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You.” The unity between Father and Son is the standard which Christian fellowship strives to attain. Is love a part of this? Absolutely, see verse 26. But not to the exclusion of the topic which precedes Christ’s prayer: the truth formulated by the Father, conveyed by the Son, and communicated by His apostles. “[That] which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3).

    At this point I will have to beg your forgiveness. I have a large responsibility looming ahead next week which requires my attention. Could we place this discussion on hold until a week from this coming Monday? I appreciate your patience.

  21. @Wade

    I’m confused by this point you made:

    This definition of fellowship does not require agreement with one another in order to work on a practical level.

    I don’t see how this is even close to true, practically speaking. Do any of the congregations you associate with in and out of your area have any practical/meaningful interaction with churches that have a different view of, say, instruments or paid preachers? How have the churches within your “fellowship” determined, historically, who’s in and who’s out? Is it not on the basis of agreement?

  22. Hi Wade, thanks for the clarification. I suppose we’ll have to agree to disagree on what John meant. I think a close reading of the entire book, along with his gospel, bears out that when he says “light” he means love and that “commandments” means to walk in it.

    John 15:10-12 – If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love…my command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.

    But if I may explore your Venn Diagram idea of unity a little further, you would have to acknowledge, then, that no two people on earth will ever obtain unity, right? Because I don’t know two people on earth who have, or ever will have, a perfect understanding of all truth.

  23. @Kevin

    No, you have not offended me. You have, however, misunderstood me. For the sake of those who read this thread, I offer the following clarification.

    “The bottom line, as you yourself noted, is that this definition of fellowship requires agreement with one another to be practiced in real life.” That’s not actually what I said. Here is what I said in a simple syllogism, slightly re-phrased:

    If I am aligned with the truth, and my brother is aligned with the truth, then I am aligned (or in fellowship) with my brother.

    I believe this is what 1 John 1:1-6 teaches. This definition of fellowship does not require agreement with one another in order to work on a practical level. It requires more than one person to agree with the truth. Therefore my primary imperative is not to seek fellowship with others, but rather to seek fellowship with the truth. When I do so, fellowship with others is the natural result.

    I believe the truth stands apart from human opinion or tradition.

  24. Brother Wade, I’m afraid I might have offended you, and I apologize if that’s the case. It’s hard to convey emotions in writing, and if anything sounded harsh, it wasn’t meant to be at all. Discussions like this would be a lot more productive sitting in a living room enjoying a cup of coffee together. 🙂

    For the sake of clarity, I want to add that I hold truth just as highly as you do, and try to pursue it relentlessly in my life. I just don’t believe the scriptures predicate our brotherly acceptance of one another upon a shared understanding of it.

    You say:

    What I’m saying is unification is not achieved through agreeing with one another.

    So far so good.

    Unification occurs when I agree with the truth and you agree with the truth, therefore we agree with one another and are thereby in fellowship.

    The bottom line, as you yourself noted, is that this definition of fellowship requires agreement with one another to be practiced in real life. Why else do you think that churches with a hobby like using a single communion cup, won’t associate with churches that don’t have that particular hobby? Under this philosophy, our matching understanding of the truth becomes of utmost importance, at least in practice. On paper, it sounds very ideologically wonderful…like a big Venn Diagram of truth where we all meet together on the big circle. Unfortunately, human “weakness of mind,” as pointed out by Paul in Romans 14 and 15, doesn’t allow for that.

    “This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10). Clearly doing what is right involves more than loving one’s brother.”

    Agreed, but since believers have the law of God written on their hearts and on their minds under the New Covenant, “doing what is right” is a pretty obvious thing–it doesn’t require a theology degree or crash course in differences of opinion on church practices like paid preachers or colleges or fellowship halls or musical instruments, etc.

    Galatians 5:14-26 – You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

    16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whateveryou want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

    19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

    22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things [i.e., things like this] there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

    In verse 19, the acts of the flesh are both obvious and infinite–it would be impossible to create an exhaustive list of them, because human creativity will always find another way to sin. Conversely, with God’s law written on our hearts, I believe the fruits of the Spirit are both obvious and infinite. With the Spirit of God in us and the love of God in our hearts, we know right from wrong. I believe that’s why John didn’t need to elaborate when he said “Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God.” Doing what is right has nothing to do with the family feuds over church practice that have sprung up over the centuries, except that “doing what is right” means extending the right hand of fellowship to our brothers and maintaining relationships with them for our mutual edification.

    Mutual edification is how iron sharpens iron. If we only associate with those who are likeminded on our opinion of what the truth is on this, that, or the other issue du jour, we become stagnant. By deliberately pushing our brethren away from us over their lack of adherence to our opinions, we are not loving them, and are certainly not mutually edifying each other.

    God bless!

  25. @Kevin

    When quoting my statement that the “one faith” includes the doctrine of the apostles and prophets, you said in response, “I might be inclined to agree if we could first agree what those commandments and doctrines were and were not.” No, we don’t agree on what constitutes the commandments and doctrines of the apostles and prophets. But our disagreement does not demonstrate that truth is divisive. Your entire position is predicated on the assumption that since two people who believe in Jesus cannot agree that makes our agreement on what is truth unnecessary for fellowship. What I’m saying is unification is not achieved through agreeing with one another. Unification occurs when I agree with the truth and you agree with the truth, therefore we agree with one another and are thereby in fellowship. I have presented extensive material on that topic on this website. I’ll allow my past words to further define my position.

    I believe practicing the truth includes loving one’s brother, but loving one’s brother is not the whole of practicing the truth. 3:10, “This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10). Clearly doing what is right involves more than loving one’s brother. Verses 1-9 support that assertion. Furthermore, telling a brother he is wrong does not necessarily make one unloving. “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6). It seems to me a very loving thing to compassionately tell a brother he is in error since love rejoices with the truth.

    I think I can say with a great deal of certainty that my part this discussion has reached an impasse. I will be recusing myself from this point forward unless I notice further need for me to intervene in an official capacity.

  26. @Wade

    If unity is predicated solely on acknowledging “one Lord”, why does Paul state “one faith” as a unifying factor in Ephesians 4:5?

    Are we not in the same faith because we are both in Christ Jesus? Or does me having arrived at different opinion than you on musical instruments put me out of the “one faith” in your opinion? I’d like to know–am I just incorrect, or am I an apostate from the “one faith?”

    Among other things, I believe your paradigm fails because it argues for fellowship based on a positional unity alone. I have been placed in the body of Christ through my belief in the gospel. So long as that position does not change – so long as I do not deny the Lord – I remain unified with the body of Christ.

    I too believe that unity and fellowship are “positional” and “experiential” as you say. Yes, our mutual relationship to Jesus Christ is positional. But how we choose to demonstrate that toward our brothers and sisters is experiential. It requires us to remain in Jesus, which means keeping the faith which was once delivered, i.e., the good news of the gospel (1 Cor 15 provides a good summary).

    The “good news” has nothing to do with whether you or I believe it’s OK to use musical instruments in or out of the assembly. Jesus didn’t die on the cross to free us from one legal code only to deliver us into bondage to another. Fellowship is also experiential in that we must continue to live moral lives, and “walk in the light as he is in the light.” More on that later…

    Where you limit the one faith to our shared acknowledgment of Jesus as Lord, I broaden the one faith to include the commandments and doctrines of the first century apostles and prophets.

    I might be inclined to agree if we could first agree what those commandments and doctrines were and were not. I submit that the commandments and doctrines Paul was referring to are far different than the hobbies we’ve traditionally held onto in our movement as defining the “one true church.” There are no commandments about buying buildings, having kitchens in them, eating in them, using instruments, hiring preachers, etc. Those are neither the commandments nor the doctrines of the apostles, but instead are “teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” And I myself am guilty of it.

    You know the popular saying “We speak where the Bible speaks and are silent where it’s silent?” I wish it were true. If we truly did remain silent where the Bible is silent, believers would be a lot more unified.

    Now on to 1 John 1:7 and “walk in the light” question.

    You said:

    Yes, I believe light is truth in 1 John 1:7. Verse 6 states I must practice the truth in order to maintain fellowship. Truth is contrasted with darkness, therefore truth is light. The one who keeps His commandments and His word knows the Lord, God’s love is perfected in him, and they walk as Jesus walked (2:3-6). Therefore if I walk in truth, I am walking in the light as He (Jesus) is in the light.

    I’d like to suggest a different meaning that John had in mind for “light” and “darkness:”

    1 John 2:10-11 – Anyone who loves their brother and sister lives in the light, and there is nothing in them to make them stumble. 11 But anyone who hates a brother or sister is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness.

    That is the same writer defining his own words–both light and darkness–only a few verses down. But for many years I missed it entirely. Once I got it, it started opening up the meaning of more of John’s writings, like what does he mean by “commandments?”

    The best way I know to illustrate the truth of what I’m saying is to do a quick walkthrough of the high points of John’s writings, so please bear with the length:

    What does John say about the command to love?

    Studying the Scriptures does not bring us eternal life by providing a collection of laws for us to follow. The Scriptures brings us eternal life by telling us about Jesus Christ:

    John 5:39-42 – You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. “I do not accept praise from men, but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts.

    God’s love, as expressed by sending Jesus Christ, was designed to be a model for us to imitate:

    John 13:1 – It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.
    John 15:13 – Greater love has no one than this; that he lay down his life for his friends.
    John 17:26 – I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.
    1 John 3:1 – How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
    1 John 3:16-18 – This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.
    1 John 4:7-11 – Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
    1 John 4:19 – We love because he first loved us.
    1 John 4:20 – If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.

    Yes, we have to obey his commandments:

    John 14:15 – If you love me, you will obey what I command.
    John 14:21 – Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”
    John 14:23-24 – Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.
    John 15:9 – “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. (If light is love, walking in the light is the same as remaining in his love.)
    John 15:10 – If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. (Check out 15:2 and 15:7 below to find out what his commands are.)
    1 John 2:5 – But if anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him.
    1 John 5:2-3 – This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.

    But what are his commands?

    John 13:34-35 – “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Note that this written in the Gospel of John when the centrality of the Greatest Commands was in fact a new concept.)
    John 15:12 – My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.
    John 15:17 – This is my command: Love each other.
    1 John 3:11 – This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. (Note that he’s referring back to “the beginning” early in his apostleship when he first taught that the “new command” was to love each other.)
    1 John 3:23 – And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. (He now reaffirms that this is Jesus’s command.)
    1 John 4:12 – No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
    1 John 4:16-17 – And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him.
    1 John 4:21 – And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.
    2 John 1:5-6 – And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love

    Okay, we’ll have to forgive John for using a little circular reasoning, but he uses it to make the point loud and clear. Love = His Commands; His Commands = Love.

    So what does John mean by “walk in the light?”

    1 John 1:5-7 – This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

    The answer is: Walk in love

    1 John 2:7-11 – Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard. Yet I am writing you a new command; its truth is seen in him and in you, because the darkness is passing and the true light is already shining. Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him.

    Note that 1 John 1:6 is not stating that if we agree on truth we’re in fellowship, but that if we claim to have fellowship but are not walking in love, we are not in the truth. Those are two entirely different things.

    Speaking of truth, here’s an interesting side note. Many of us have sung the old song “The Love of God” for many years without realizing the truth of it: “While His love burns true and bright, we are walking in the light…”

    It’s meaning to us has probably been obscured by the editor’s choice to quote 1 John 5:3 under the title in Songs of Faith and Praise: “This is love for God: To obey His commands” without the important context of chapter 3 verse 23: “And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.”

    I’m a little jealous that the author of this song “got it” back in 1916. I was disappointed that it took me so long to “get it” but better late than never!

  27. @Kevin Yes, I believe light is truth in 1 John 1:7. Verse 6 states I must practice the truth in order to maintain fellowship. Truth is contrasted with darkness, therefore truth is light. The one who keeps His commandments and His word knows the Lord, God’s love is perfected in him, and they walk as Jesus walked (2:3-6). Therefore if I walk in truth, I am walking in the light as He (Jesus) is in the light.

    Among other things, I believe your paradigm fails because it argues for fellowship based on a positional unity alone. I have been placed in the body of Christ through my belief in the gospel. So long as that position does not change – so long as I do not deny the Lord – I remain unified with the body of Christ. What Tad asserts, and what I believe as well, is that unity is both positional and experiential. Paul exhorted brethren to continue in the faith. We must endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. The unity of the Spirit is a positional fellowship, endeavoring to maintain it is experiential. One baptism unites me with the body of Christ, but I maintain fellowship by keeping the one faith. This is where we part ways. We all agree on positional unity. Where we diverge is the definition of one faith, what is necessary to maintain unity. Where you limit the one faith to our shared acknowledgment of Jesus as Lord, I broaden the one faith to include the commandments and doctrines of the first century apostles and prophets. There is more to truth than the elementary materials of the Christian faith. The one faith encompasses the character and doctrine of Jesus Christ as revealed by the apostles and prophets. Their doctrine – the one faith – is the Lord’s doctrine, it is the Lord’s way, therefore it is light and truth.

    If unity is predicated solely on acknowledging “one Lord”, why does Paul state “one faith” as a unifying factor in Ephesians 4:5?

  28. @Tad
    I re-read your comments, and noticed that you still seem to think I’m being inconsistent. You say:

    How you apply the Apostles’ instructions in the Scriptures changes with each passage we discuss.

    I beg to differ, and would like to understand better why you think that. It’s Paul who specifically limits the scope of his words to the teachings in that letter. We can debate all day long if there are other passages that broaden the teaching to other subjects, and I’m open to hearing that. But dealing with slackers, not instrumental accompaniment, is clearly the subject he is teaching about, in my opinion–and if you have a different opinion, we have instruction from Paul on how we should handle that in Romans 14 and 15. 🙂

    To that end, here are my thoughts on Romans 14 and 15, which were instrumental (no pun intended) in changing my thinking on the subject of unity and fellowship. I had always dismissed these passages as just dealing with specific disputable matters–and obviously, I reasoned, the hobbies I cared about, like instruments, preachers, etc., were not disputable.

    I didn’t see how circular my reasoning was. “Paul says here to be patient with one another when we find ourselves disputing over disputable matters. Yes, we are disputing X, but I’m not–you are. I personally don’t consider it a disputable matter, therefore I have to ‘disfellowship’ you.” Huh? This teaching makes no sense if we first have to agree on what’s disputable before it is okay to consider it disputable. The fact that it is in dispute is what makes it disputable.

    If you are concerned that this completely removes the brakes from the unity train, don’t be–just realize that we’re talking about general rules and the exceptions to them. The general rule is unity and the brotherhood of believers. The more we look for the exceptions, I believe the more we’ll find out how few there really are.

    Anyway, for maximum clarity, I’ve provided the entire passage with my own comments interjected. Hope this helps convey where I’m coming from.

    Romans 14
    1 Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.

    First, note that when I say these passages are broadly applicable, it’s not me arguing from the specific to the general, that’s Paul teaching it that way. He leads off with a very general statement–accept your brothers, and don’t pass judgment on disputable matters–which he then proceeds to illustrate with specific examples so we can better understand his point. I’m pointing this out to make sure it’s clear that he’s not writing this to just resolve disputes about meat offered to idols, or holidays, or wine. Those are simply examples illustrating his general rule. He’s writing this to help us resolve disputes between brothers, period.

    2 One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. 4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

    Here, he illustrates his general rule–don’t pass judgment on a brother over disputable matters–with his first example of two brothers who understand differently God’s will about eating meat. This does not mean that Romans 14 is merely about eating meat. He’s clearly illustrating a larger, broader point.

    Verse 4 teaches us to keep our humility clearly in view, because our brother is not our servant, who is subject to our own understandings and misunderstandings of the apostles’ doctrine, but our sibling. It’s above our pay grade to judge him for what his conscience allows or doesn’t allow. And yes, I think the general rule stated in verse 1 can clearly be applied to disputable matters like instrumental accompaniment, paid preachers, colleges, and many other topics that are sadly used to divide brothers into different camps. Different scruples–even incorrect or immature ones–don’t preclude someone from brotherhood or mutual edification.

    And yes, I try to live this out the unity taught here–I worship with an acappella congregation, even while believing strongly that there is absolutely nothing wrong with instruments in or out of the assembly. I love the people of God wherever they are and whatever mistakes I might think they have in their thinking, because I’m sure I have my own errors about which I hope they’ll be patient with me. I would also add that it’s not necessarily a “mistake” for a congregation to decide not to use instrumental music; it’s perfectly okay for elders and the congregation to decide to be an acappella congregation, even while not making it a test of fellowship between other believers. I know that politically, that kind of unity would be hard with some people who have been taught their whole lives that instruments are wrong, like I was; but it is both scriptural and possible. I’ve seen it in action and it’s awesome.

    Psalm 133:1 – How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!

    5 One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

    9 For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

    Here, Paul brings forward another example–those who observe holidays vs. those who don’t–to again illustrate his general rule that we should accept our brothers without passing judgment on disputable matters. Also, note verses 8 and 9, which are pretty powerful when you really consider what he’s saying. Whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. The one who eats meat, the one who doesn’t; the one who considers a day sacred, the one who doesn’t–Christ died for both and we belong to him. It is not our prerogative to divide into warring camps based on our divergent opinions church practices.

    10 You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11 It is written: “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.'” 12 So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.

    13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.

    Here, Paul moves from his example illustrating the point, back to the point itself. He emphasizes that point over and over again: Don’t judge your brother, because each of us will stand or fall before God. Our job is to love our brother, and through our love, we’ll be able to mutually edify one another.

    14 As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean.

    Paul again illustrates his broader point with the example of disputes over foods.

    15 If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love.

    I love this verse, because it brings the deciding factor in our actions back to the all-encompassing topic of love.

    Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died. 16 Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking…

    …or, I might add, eating in the building, or paying preachers, or praising God with musical accompaniment, or owning a church building, or sending money to colleges or other institution, or any number of other matters that our movement finds itself disputing one another over…

    …but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men. 19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.

    Make every effort…that’s a pretty big command that I think we need to take seriously. It’s not just the “peace” thing that we need to notice, but the mutual edification part. How can brothers who prefer not to pay a preacher (and I have no problem with that, I completely see the benefits of it) mutually edify or be mutually edified by brothers who don’t see anything wrong with it if they refuse to having anything to do with each other? Peace is one thing–so maybe we’ve stopped throwing rocks at each other, figuratively speaking–but mutual edification implies a sense of genuine love, intact brotherhood, and real community in spite of these honestly held differences of opinion over scruples.

    20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. 21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall. 22 So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God.

    This reminds me of the admittedly non-authoritative, but witty and (I think) wise quote from Alexander Campbell:

    “We will not hearken to those questions which gender strife, nor discuss them at all. If a person says such is his private opinion, let him have it as his private opinion; but lay no stress upon it; and if it be a wrong private opinion, it will die a natural death much sooner than if you attempt to kill it.”

    This is why I spend less time worrying about the specific topics of musical instruments, preachers, communion cups, eating in the building, etc., because I think those things are just symptoms of a larger problem. I’m more than happy to discuss them, but if we can get the subject of unity and fellowship straight (and I’m not saying I have it all perfectly worked out by any means), I believe those other subjects will take care of themselves. That’s my point–we don’t have to see eye to eye on instruments or paid preachers, etc.

    Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. 23 But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

    Obviously, someone who doesn’t think instruments are acceptable shouldn’t worship with a group that uses instruments. But there are plenty of opportunities to interact with each other outside of that context and show our brotherly love if we make the effort (especially with the invention of social media like Facebook!). I also believe there are those who agree with me and who don’t say anything for fear of being labeled or dismissed as divisive. The truth is, it’s not divisive to hold an opinion, it’s divisive to try to divide people over an opinion.

    Romans 15:1-7
    1 We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.

    Obviously, Paul didn’t write the chapter and verse organization, so this subject flows naturally from the previous discussion. There are those who are stronger and those who are weaker. If we knew which one we were at any given point, we wouldn’t need these verses. The whole point is that if we’re the weaker one, we won’t know it. In the meantime, we needed some guiding principles to help us maintain unity when we find ourselves holding disparate opinions.

    The NIV says “failings” here, but the KJV translates it “infirmities” and the Greek word means “error arising from weakness of mind.” I think it’s pretty safe to say that we all have errors in our thinking from time to time. God also created us all with different intellects–i.e., weaknesses of mind–so that there are people who will never be able to go into great depth in their thinking about the scriptures. Are they excluded from the brotherhood because they fail to understand what I understand (or vice versa)?

    Everyone has been given a different ability to think and reason, and everyone comes into the faith with different baggage that can impact or skew their understanding of scripture for a lifetime. Furthermore, everyone progresses in their thinking and maturity at entirely different rates. So to think that two people, much less a congregation or a group of congregations, could ever be in agreement on all of the great truths of scripture defies common sense and our knowledge of our own humanity.

    2 Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. 3 For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”

    There’s the subject of brotherly love and mutual edification again. Our goal should be to “make every effort” to keep the peace and maintain our relationships so that we can continue to serve, love, and be mutually edified (“please our neighbor for his good, to build him up”).

    4 For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

    5 May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, 6 so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    Paul’s prayer is that the God who gives us endurance (i.e., patience and perseverance, because it’s going to be hard sometimes) and encouragement (because we’ll get discouraged in seeking peace) will also give us a spirit of unity as we follow Christ Jesus. This is the key to unit. As we live our lives personally following the example, teachings, and love of Jesus, God’s love will rule in our hearts and we’ll be at peace and experience unity with our brothers like we’ve never seen before. I truly believe that.

    7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

    This is the grand finale! This verse is so simple, yet says so much. We’re simply taught here to accept our brother as (or in the same way) Christ accepted us, but what does that mean?

    “On what basis did Christ accept me?” On that same basis, I am to accept my brother.

    Did Jesus accept me when I decided my position on any of the numerous “disputable matters” that have split churches for centuries? Or was it when I decided to accept the Lordship of Jesus Christ and become immersed into Him?

    I contend it was the latter.

  29. In an effort to be as concise as possible, I’ll try to break my responses up into smaller chunks. 🙂

    @Wade, you said:

    1 John 1:7 is an excellent verse for fellowship and I love what it teaches.

    I think this would be a fruitful discussion, because I think this verse is foundational to unity. What’s your take on it?

    But it does not exclude truth as a part of the formula for fellowship.

    I’ll be bold and suggest that the verse says nothing about truth being part of the formula for unity or fellowship. However, we can get from plenty of other verses that the truth of the gospel is most definitely essential to unity, because our joint participation in Jesus Christ is what puts us into fellowship (koinonia) in the first place. Can we agree on that?

    If we can at least agree on what puts us into fellowship together, our question then is what breaks that fellowship. I believe the burden of proof is actually on anyone who wants to break it to justify it from the scriptures. I find the so-called tests of fellowship that have splintered the Churches of Christ into so many factions to be without any compelling Biblical justification. The NT scriptures are at best silent on the things our churches have walked away from each other over, and that’s not enough to end a relationship that God put us into.

    @Tad, you said several times:

    Anytime a brother willfully rejects the teachings of the Apostle that is certainly an issue of fellowship…And, when an individual willfully rejects those teachings we are to reject them…any time a brother willfully rejects the teachings of the Apostles we must for the sake of the church and the sake of their soul withdraw from him…My position through this entire discussion is that anyone who willfully rejects the teachings of the Apostles has undermined the foundation of unity in the church and must be withdrawn from…Where does he suggest in these passages that it’s okay to willfully reject the specific teachings of the Bible?

    You may be surprised to know that I agree with the gist of your comments above.

    The key is the willful part, because willfully rejecting the apostle’s doctrine is akin to thumbing our nose at scripture. My question for you is if someone doesn’t believe the apostles had anything at all to say about whether we can use musical instruments or not, then how are they willfully rejecting the apostles’ teachings if they choose to do so? That is not willfully rejecting anything except maybe your own understanding of the apostles’ doctrine. Two different things. Again, I’m definitely not saying that truth is whatever we individually think it is. Nevertheless, it’s wise to keep some measure of humility and acknowledge that our own understanding of it is always fallible. Hence Romans 14 and 15, which I’ll write separately about to keep my thoughts more concise.

    It’s getting late…hope you have a blessed day of fellowship tomorrow!

  30. @Kevin
    Kevin, I think we both agree that correctly understanding unity is extremely important. Christ prayed for it and we’re commanded to pursue it. I hope that in that spirit we can continue this discussion. I have really tried to entertain the possibility that your stance might be valid – I hope you’ll do the same for me.

    I think our major difference is that I don’t believe the identity of the church should be compromised for the sake of unity. That may not be how you’d describe your position, but suggesting that Christians can be united in fellowship without being united on the truth of the Scriptures essentially has that effect. The fathers of the Restoration Movement united believers by teaching “all of the Bible and only the Bible”. I’m afraid that your position encourages unity in spite of the Bible.

    In any case, I think we both want this to be a productive discussion, so I’ll try to keep my objections to your response as concise as possible.

    At some point I would really like to talk about some of the issues you keep bringing up – instrumental music, preachers, church finances, etc. – but I don’t think I can do that until I understand exactly how you arrive at your position from a biblical standpoint. How you apply the Apostles’ instructions in the Scriptures changes with each passage we discuss. I hate to belabor this point, but this is the key reason you arguments don’t substantiate your position. Our discussion has revolved around three basic passages – Meats offered to idols (Romans 14, 1 Corinthians 8, 10), the unrepentant fornicator (1 Cor 5), and the free-riders in 2 Thess 3. In each of these passages Paul is speaking about specific situations and he gives specific instructions. Concerning meats offered to idols and the unrepentant fornicator we agree that although he is being very specific there are larger ideas at work. For some reason, though, you do not apply this same reasoning to 2 Thessalonians 3. Whether or not you think I would use this passage is a discussion about instrumental music, preachers, etc. is irrelevant. You apply the other passages broadly, but in 2 Thess 3 you do not because it would completely undermine your position on unity. This passage also has a broader application – any time a brother willfully rejects the teachings of the Apostles we must for the sake of the church and the sake of their soul withdraw from him. Why would this idea apply only to Paul’s instructions on idleness but not any of his other instructions in other epistles? Again, how this applies to the specific issues you named is a separate discussion.

    I also think I should mention a fundamental difference in our understanding of the passages related to eating meats offered to idols. My position through this entire discussion is that anyone who willfully rejects the teachings of the Apostles has undermined the foundation of unity in the church and must be withdrawn from. 1 Cor 8, 10, and Rom 14 teach tolerance, but not in areas where God has provided specific instructions. In fact, he addresses only a subject on which God does not offer specific instructions. His point is that we are free to exercise our own judgment on the issue of eating meats offered to idols as long as we also exercise tolerance for differing opinions. Where does he suggest in these passages that it’s okay to willfully reject the specific teachings of the Bible? You continue to name issues like edification and worship as though they fall into this category, but they just don’t. God does provide specific instructions on worship and edification in the assembly and therefore they are not the subject of this passage. Why would God give specific instructions if we are free to forsake them for the sake of unity?

    We want to be as generous as possible with each other (as we want God to be towards us), but we can’t allow the identity and nature of the church to be abandoned just for the sake of getting along. In 1 Timothy 3:15 Paul calls the Church the “pillar and ground of the truth”. One of our responsibilities as the Church is to uphold and propel truth. If we fail to do that we fail as a church and cease to be the Church.

  31. @Kevin

    Yes, I will grant you that the second two sentences of my first paragraph were more of what I was hearing than what you were saying. I do, however, stand behind what I said.

    No I do not believe Jesus prayed for unity in vain. The question is what were the terms Jesus and His apostles taught as necessary for unity? 1 John 1:7 is an excellent verse for fellowship and I love what it teaches. But it does not exclude truth as a part of the formula for fellowship. If truth is excluded as a basis for fellowship, I want to know why it is excluded based on God’s word. Please present your case, not Campbell’s or Ketcherside’s or any other man. They are not talking with us, you are. I’m interested in you. I’m interested in your perspective based on the concrete evidence of God’s word.

  32. @Wade
    Thanks for your comments, although I think you misunderstood me a bit. 🙂

    Therefore truth is, like beauty, in the eyes of the beholder. And since the truth one upholds is subjective rather than objective, it will not unify, it will divide.

    I was very careful to note that truth is not subjective and that it does not change from person to person. Saying our understanding of it can and will vary from person to person is simply a fact of human nature, though, is it not? Do you disagree with that? Do you think Jesus made a plea for unity that was outside of our human ability to accomplish? I don’t. I labored under that notion for many years, and I can’t tell you how exciting it is to grasp that unity is actually humanly attainable.

    I am not suggesting that all the different understandings of what the truth is are equally valid. It just means that Paul wrote Romans 14 and 15 for a reason…because he knew that Christians of all ages and maturities needed to be able to meet around the same table and be patient with each others’ misunderstandings of the apostles’ teachings. This was the plea of the original Stone/Campbell movement. And no, of course, what Campbell said by itself doesn’t make it correct–I’m not appealing to his authority, but to his wisdom.

    If you want me to cite the scriptures that I think are most important in outlining the positive statement that unity is based on fellowship, which is brotherhood, not correctness, I can compile some for you. One of the most meaningful to me is:

    1 John 1:7 – But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

  33. @Kevin

    I think I have a good handle on what you are saying and I am not convinced.

    If I understand your point of view correctly, you’re saying truth can’t be the basis of fellowship because people cannot agree on the definition of truth. This is made so because personal bias, maturity/immaturity, pride, etc. all color our interpretation of truth. Therefore truth is, like beauty, in the eyes of the beholder. And since the truth one upholds is subjective rather than objective, it will not unify, it will divide.

    You offer several pieces of evidence to support your conclusion. You cite the failings of human nature. You suggest polling a congregation or a group of congregations to see if everyone is likeminded. You appeal to Alexander Campbell. You claim some brethren ignorantly teach divisive falsehoods. You characterize some issues that divide brethren as “silly.” But how does any of that prove that fellowship on the basis of truth is false? The evidence you cite does not support the claim. Finding middle ground, anecdotal evidence, straw men, appeals to authority, sharpshooting, and bandwagon arguments are all logical fallacies. Your subjective evidence naturally leads to a subjective view of truth and thereby a broader view of fellowship. However, it does not prove that the belief presented in this video is false.

    I would like to hear what scriptural, objective evidence supports your claim.

  34. Tad
    Thanks brother, I appreciate your dialog. These lengthy discussions can make it easy to focus on the areas we disagree on, rather than on the many areas I’m sure we agree on. Let’s just pretend we’re sitting in a living room discussing this over a cup of coffee. 🙂

    A couple points to respond to:

    1) If truth is what gives us unity and abandoning it is what prevents it, then on that basis, there will never be two people unified–much less a congregation, or a group of congregations. Alexander Campbell reached that conclusion long before I did:

    “I have tried the pharisaic plan, and the monastic. I was once so straight, that, like the Indian’s tree, I leaned a little the other way. And however much I may be slandered now as seeking ‘popularity’ or a popular course, I have to rejoice that to my own satisfaction, as well as to others, I proved that truth, and not popularity, was my object; for I was once so strict a Separatist that I would neither pray nor sing praises with any one who was not as perfect as I supposed myself. In this most unpopular course I persisted until I discovered the mistake, and saw that on the principle embraced in my conduct, there never could be a congregation or church upon the earth.”

    The Truth –> Unity proposition presupposes that we all have a clear understanding of the truth in all cases, but Romans 14 and 15 were written to deal with the fact that we don’t. Our humanity stands in the way of perfect knowledge of truth. That’s not postmodern relativism, that’s just a fact. While truth itself doesn’t change, our understanding of it will as each of us grows in grace and knowledge. Yes, there is a bare minimum of factual truth that is absolutely essential to understand in order to become a member of the family of God. It the same bare essentials that were presented to the folks on Pentecost in Acts 2, i.e. our sin, God’s grace, Jesus’s sacrifice, and our response to it.

    The very things that make someone a Christian are what make them a brother and worthy of my “right hand of fellowship.”

    This idea that truth (and therefore our unique understanding of it) is the basis of Christian unity is a major cause of division among Christians. It makes any hope of obtaining it merely a pipe dream. We are all going to have different understandings of what the truth is based on our knowledge and spiritual maturity. History has proven this over and over. If we keep doing what we’re doing, we’re going to keep getting what we’re getting…more division.

    Truth –> Unity doesn’t work for another reason because it’s not important to be in agreement on all truths. There are plenty of truths (like whether it’s OK to eat meat offered to idols) that the real answer is neither yes nor no, but “I don’t care” or “it depends.” We tend to give God only two options.

    2) The context of Paul’s instructions in 2 Th 3 is to avoid the brother who is walking disorderly–which means not according to the traditions he gave them–and he then proceeds to define exactly what he means by walking disorderly, and what traditions he gave them, i.e. working for food, not freeloading. Verse 14 specifically narrows the scope of his instruction:

    2 Th 3:14 – Take special note of anyone who does not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed.

    I think it’s pretty clear that he is talking specifically about avoiding and reproving slackers, but even if we broaden it to include the entire letter, his letter says nothing about using instruments, owning buildings, having classes on Sunday, hiring preachers, donating to other institutions, Christian colleges, etc. etc.

    I’m not sure how I’m applying 1 Cor 5 too broadly. I think casting out a brother for an unrepentant immoral lifestyle is a fair exegesis of “sexually immoral, covetous, idolaters, revilers, drunkards, and extortioners.” The gross immorality of the brothers’ actions in 1 Cor 5 was obviously like leaven and needed to be cut out like a cancer. Can we agree that this is an entirely different category than things like whether someone believes it’s OK to praise God with musical accompaniment or hire a preacher?

    3) If truth is the basis of unity and therefore fellowship, can I ask you a question?

    Is your congregation really in unity–i.e., teaching the exact same understanding of the truth–with all the other congregations that you would say you’re “in fellowship” with? What about the congregations that you’re not “in fellowship” with, that never get invited to a potluck or singing–are you in unity with them? Is that OK?

    My point is that we tend to “gerrymander” the line of which truths are important to base “fellowship” upon around the lines of fellowship we already have. If you took a poll of your own congregation, much less all the congregations you would say are in your fellowship, I think you’d find you don’t have the unity you think you have, or at least it’s not based upon a “shared understanding of truth” like you think it is. That begs the question, on what basis are we excluding our brothers and sisters from our fellowship? Is it the name of the church? Is it the content of the church’s teaching? Their practices, which unless they are immoral or unloving, have nothing to do with salvation? Which teachings are important to define our lines of fellowship and which are not?

    On the other hand, if we understood fellowship as brother-ship, not a shared set of deductions about church practices (like paid preachers, communion cups, Sunday school classes, missionary societies, musical instruments, church supported colleges and institutions, and other silly or not so silly scruples), unity could actually be something more than a theoretical but impractical concept.

    4) One last point…you say:

    “…if our unity isn’t built around shared commitment to the truth, God commands that unity should be abandoned.”

    Stated this way, maybe this is some important common ground, because I believe you and I have equal commitment to the truth, albeit different understandings of it. I think giving brothers the benefit of that doubt is what makes unity between imperfect people possible.

  35. @Kevin
    Kevin, thanks for the clarification. It looks like I should also clarify my position. You stated in your last post: “For me to say that I can’t have mutual interaction with a brother unless he agrees with me on some opinion about church practice is not living a life of brotherly love.” I’m not sure if you intended that statement to describe my position, but I do want to be clear that is not the way I extend or withdraw fellowship. As in my original statement, I believe truth is what gives us unity and abandoning truth is what prevents unity.

    Concerning your exceptions to fellowship/unity… I agree with you, mostly, except for one major point. I originally cited 2 Thessalonians 3:14 as the basis for my position, that the instructions of the Apostles are meant to be followed. And, when an individual willfully rejects those teachings we are to reject them. You responded that it was inappropriate to apply that passage outside of the immediate context, saying, “To expand that to silly arguments [to specific church practices] is a gross perversion of his meaning.” As you explained, he was in that passage commenting a very specific problem – “idleness”.

    To take your position as strictly as you define it means only idleness is a reason for withdrawing fellowship but other teachings of the Apostle can be ignored without our unity being affected. I’m confused, though, because in your application of 1 Corinthians 5 you are not so concerned with the context. In that place a brother is committing adultery with his father’s wife and therefore Paul says they should withdraw their fellowship from him. In that passage he also says the sexually immoral, covetous, idolaters, revilers, drunkards, and extortioners should be avoided. Paul is again very specific in 1 Corinthians 5, but still you apply the idea broadly explaining that you would withdraw fellowship from a brother, “if they are living an immoral lifestyle and refuse to change”.

    I’m not sure why you choose to apply one passage broadly, but not the other. Paul is addressing specific issues in both places, but his instructions represent broader fundamental ideas in the design of the church. Anytime a brother willfully rejects the teachings of the Apostle that is certainly an issue of fellowship. Fellowship is not about deciding who is a brother and who is not and it’s a good thing that isn’t the case. We can’t decide who is or isn’t saved, but we’re expected to pursue truth and uphold the teachings of the Apostles. This is precisely the point in 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15: “And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. 15 Yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.” Fellowship does not represent our belief about someone’s salvation; it is extended or withheld in our efforts to maintain truth and righteousness.

    We should always be as tolerant with each other as possible, but the Bible never teaches that we can ignore certain teachings for the sake of fellowship. As I stated originally, if our unity isn’t built around shared commitment to the truth, God commands that unity should be abandoned.

  36. Maybe the best way of stating it is that I don’t believe intellectual agreement or disagreement about what the truth is, with few exceptions, should affect our unity or fellowship.

    1) Fellowship is a noun, not a verb, so it’s not really something we can do or extend. It is a state we are put into by God when we are added to the body. Fellow = peer or brother; Ship = state. To coin another word, fellowship, as I’m using it, is brother-ship, or the state of being a brother. Perhaps the most radical consequence of this is that where God has added someone to his body, I have a brother. It took me a long time to wrap my mind around the implications of that truth, but I believe it is true.

    2) Unity involves believers acting together as one–i.e., with brotherly care and concern for each other, and without viewing each other as distant cousins, much less as opponents. We are called to act in unity with those whom God has already put us into fellowship (brothership) with. For me to say that I can’t have mutual interaction with a brother unless he agrees with me on some opinion about church practice is not living a life of brotherly love.

    Now for the exceptions, because there are some. I believe there are only a few specific behaviors and beliefs that require us to distance ourselves from a brother.

    a) One would obviously be if they deny Christ and walk away from God. (2 John 9-11)

    b) Another would be if they are living an immoral lifestyle and refuse to change (1 Cor 5).

    c) A third is a slacker who refuses to work and wants to freeload off the church. This is what is addressed in 2 Thess 3, but note that this person is not expelled from the body. They are to be treated and admonished in a brotherly, loving way…in other words, we are to exercise “tough love” and simply not let them take advantage of everyone’s generosity. It doesn’t say to “disfellowship” them–because that term is not even in the Bible.

    d) A fourth category is believers who are factious and are attempting to divide the body into schisms (1 Cor 1). It is a mistake to think that holding a liberty I don’t hold or a scruple I don’t have, is justification for division. It is the lack of brotherly love, patience, and respect that causes division.

    Hope this helps clarify…

  37. @Kevin I only jump in on other guys’ presentations if I believe a point needs clarification. I did feel like some of your statements in your second comment were a little unfair, but you cleared that up in your third comment. Thanks for that.

    I’ll leave the conversation to you and Tad. I think he asks an excellent question, and I will look forward to reading your exchange.

  38. @Kevin
    Hello again, Kevin. Thanks for continuing with me in this discussion.

    Before I can comment further, I feel like I need to make sure I understand your position. From your original comments it seems you disagree with my premise that truth is itself the basis for Christian unity. Or, at the very least, your position is that not all subjects addressed in the New Testament are relevant to the idea of unity and fellowship.

    So my question – How do you personally determine if you will extend fellowship to a proclaimed Christian? We agree that some flexibility is allowed, but where do you “draw the line” so to speak?

    Thanks for your continued interest. I’m looking forward to your comments.

  39. Hi Wade & Tad, thanks for your spirit as well, and your willingness to discuss these subjects as brothers. Unity is a subject about which I’m very passionate, as we all should be. Our movement started as a unity movement, and it’s become something much different…unfortunately.

    I apologize if my use of the term “silly” sounded pejorative, it was not intended that way…although I can see how it would sound like it. And rest assured there’s no animus on my part for those who don’t see the liberties I see in the scriptures. I sincerely want everyone to experience the love and grace God has shown me in liberating me from some (though not all! 🙂 errors in my thinking. And you’re right, the use of the term “unscriptural” gets thrown around too easily as if it’s a known fact; as if the other guy is knowingly violating the scriptures. I don’t know any believer that wants to be in error. 🙂

    I have held many opinions where I thought someone else’s belief to be unscriptural, and which I will openly admit that I now consider to be silly. I hold some opinions today that I will probably, with more maturity, consider silly at some point in the future. So I guess one’s person’s silly is another person’s scruple. All the more reason to love my brothers–and maybe even share meals and worship and singing together on occasion–even when they may hold different scruples than I. It’s the golden rule…if I want others to be patient with the errors I may have in my thinking, I had better be patient with the errors I think they may have as well.

    That doesn’t mean ignoring the subjects of disagreement and not discussing them…after all, we’re having this discussion, and it’s a respectful and valuable one. It simply means having the discussion in love, and without the animus or factional spirit of “us vs. them.”

    The dictionary defines scruples as “a feeling of doubt or hesitation with regard to the morality or propriety of a course of action.”

    It is possible to have doubts or reservations about a liberty someone else believes they have, and there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s just humans being in different places of spiritual growth at different times in their lives. But the key is that’s it’s not something we can divide over, and I believe dividing over every jot or tittle we understand differently than the next guy is sin.

    Amen to your point that we all ought to seek truth and pursue it relentlessly, always in love. You said “We are not in a position to declare one body of believers as scriptural or unscriptural, faithful or unfaithful.” Amen to that as well! I do wish more congregations, whether “liberated” or not from various scruples, lived out that proposition.

  40. Hi Tad, thanks for your reply. I can agree as long as we keep things pretty general, but “the devil’s in the details” so to speak. 🙂

    Let’s look at the verses you mention:

    Romans 16:17-18 – I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.

    Given the discussion in chapters 14 and 15 about being patient with the failings of the weak, and the discussion of 1 Cor 1 about not dividing into factions (even if our faction claims to be the one following Christ…1 Cor 1:12), it is evident that he is teaching against those who actually are attempting to divide the people of God…not those who may disagree on a point of doctrine with us, and whom we ourselves therefore decide we need to divide from. That is 180 degrees from what he’s actually saying. In that case his teaching applies to us, not them. He’s teaching us to stay away from those who are trying to split people off from us to form another faction. Consequently, he’s also teaching us NOT to be the one splitting people off from the rest of the body to form another faction.

    Here’s the full context of 2 Thessalonians 3:6:

    2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 – In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, 8 nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. 9 We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

    11 We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. 12 Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat. 13 And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good. 14 Take special note of anyone who does not obey our instruction in this letter. Do not associate with them, in order that they may feel ashamed. 15 Yet do not regard them as an enemy, but warn them as you would a fellow believer.

    In context, Paul clearly defines what being disruptive and walking disorderly means in vs. 11. This is clearly Paul getting after the Thessalonian church for a very specific problem…idleness. He gives them specific commands to deal with this problem, and instructs them to avoid people who don’t listen to his command on this.

    The church was to keep away from every brother who does not follow Paul’s teachings on this matter, and he goes into great detail to clarify what his teachings and examples on the matter were. Don’t be idle. Work hard for your own food. Don’t be a slacker and live off the resources of others. Etc., etc. To expand that to silly arguments like multiple or single cups, hiring or not hiring preachers, using or not using musical instruments, sending money or not sending money to this, that, or the other institution, etc., is a gross perversion of his meaning. Paul would roll in his grave to see how brothers are using his words to reject their brothers.

    I think you meant 2 Thessalonians 3:14 rather than 1 Thessalonians 3:14, and it is the same context of this same discussion. The Thessalonian church had a problem with those who were being idle and Paul addressed this specifically. The church was instructed to take note of the man who violates his teachings (not to go from house to house freeloading) and his example that he set for them (of working for his own food), and do not keep company with that person. Paul is teaching us to lovingly reject a brother who is a loafer so that he will change his ways, not permanently divide one congregation from another over petty issues of how we each understand Paul’s teachings a little differently. Using these verses to say something Paul wasn’t saying is not a fair use of the scriptures.

    1. Hi Kevin. I administer this site and wanted to express my appreciation for your spirit. I would like to see your discussion with Tad continue. There is, however, one point I would like for you to consider. In your last post you said:

      “To expand that to silly arguments like multiple or single cups, hiring or not hiring preachers, using or not using musical instruments, sending money or not sending money to this, that, or the other institution, etc., is a gross perversion of his meaning. Paul would roll in his grave to see how brothers are using his words to reject their brothers.”

      I believe there are traditions of men which nullify the word of God and divide brethren unnecessarily. These instances are travesties to be sure. And yet in the spirit of Romans 14, those who believe they are liberated should neither dismiss nor minimize the one they perceive as the scrupulous brother. I realize this is tempting, particularly when the scrupulous tend to throw around pejoratives such as “unscriptural.” However, I believe both sides would disappoint Paul. Perhaps if both the liberated and the scrupulous would cast aside the animus or pride that hinders and pursue truth no matter where it leads the landscape of the twenty-first century church would look far different. Could it be that both sides have points worthy of consideration? Put simply, the spirit of Romans 14 is mutual respect. This is where brethren fail.

      On this site, we present truth as we discern it. We are fallible men seeking to understand the Lord’s infallible word. We want to follow the truth no matter where it leads. We are not in a position to declare one body of believers as scriptural or unscriptural, faithful or unfaithful. The Lord knows who belongs to the one true church, and we want to belong to Him.

      Again, let me say, I really appreciate your participation and, in particular, your spirit. I hope your discussion with Tad can continue.

      With love for the truth.

  41. @Kevin
    Kevin, thanks for your participation on this site! You bring up a good subject that is worth further exploration.

    God calls us to unity, not to uniformity – I think this is your point. It is absolutely correct to acknowledge that Christians can be joined in unity and fellowship without seeing eye to eye on every spiritual subject. Eating meats offered to idols as addressed in 1 Corinthians 8, 10 and Romans 14 is a good example of this. Christians at various levels of maturity saw this subject differently, but Paul commands in Romans 14:3, “Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him.” One view is right, the other is wrong, but unity in this situation could still be maintained.

    Other situations in the Bible are not so negotiable. Divergent views or practices on some issues do not allow for unity. Romans 16:17 speaks to this point: “Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.” He says the same in 2 Thessalonians 3:6: “But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us.”

    So when should unity be abandoned for the sake of upholding truth? Ephesians 4 explains the basis of our unity in the Spirit. We join in one body through one spirit because we pursue one common hope in heaven. We submit to one Lord (Jesus), following him through one faith, and come to him through one baptism. Christians all join in service to one God. At the very minimum, unity exist only when these truths are upheld and pursued. Without agreement on these truths we have no foundation for unity.

    Paul expands this idea in 1 Thessalonians 3:14: “And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed.” Any time an individual rejects the teachings of the Apostles, whatever that may be, unity must be abandoned for the sake of their soul and ours. In this case, the level of spiritual maturity is a non-issue. Anyone who claims fellowship with Christ but willfully rejects his teachings has left the unity of the Spirit.

    I don’t think we’re too far apart on this issue. Please share your thoughts if you’d like to agree or disagree.

  42. I love all of the folks who are associated with this site, so please forgive me for bringing up some basic points that I think could use further exploration. Unity is such an important topic.

    Here are a couple of quotes from the video:

    “If our unity is not built on or around truth, God says there shouldn’t be unity at all.”
    “Truth should never be abandoned for the sake of unity, because truth is what gives us unity.”

    Let’s start with the fact that truth doesn’t change. On that we can all agree. But we all change our understanding of what the truth is over time (or at least we should), because we all should be growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, right?

    Isn’t it possible for me to be in unity with other members of the body who are at various stages of growth and maturity in their faith? Or can I only be in unity with those who have reached the exact level of maturity and understanding that I have…no more, no less? If you polled every member of your congregation on every subject of interest to believers, you’d find that unity based on agreement is an illusion. It doesn’t exist, because we are humans, plagued with varying degrees of imperfect or immature understandings of God’s Word through the course of our lifetime.

    Our human fallibility is the very reason Paul teaches us to be patient and forbearing with each other. It would be easy to be patient with everyone who is a brother if they all agreed with me. It’s not so easy when I come to grips with the fact that not everyone does agree with me; and harder yet, when I realize they don’t have to agree with me! One of the most life-changing moments for me was realizing that everyone else is entitled to their own growth curve just as I am entitled to mine, from baby Christian to seasoned follower of Jesus.

    Unity is based only upon our shared fellowship (participation) in Jesus Christ, not intellectual agreement on a gerrymandered set of teachings. We don’t have to abandon truth in order to recognize a brother as a sibling in the body of Christ, even if he is truly in error. We can still teach what we believe to be true, but love and maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. However, we may not reject a brother for not being as “spiritually mature” as we think ourselves to be (Romans 14 and 15).

    Alexander Campbell had a different take on unity than many have today:

    “I have tried the pharisaic plan, and the monastic. I was once so straight, that, like the Indian’s tree, I leaned a little the other way. And however much I may be slandered now as seeking “popularity” or a popular course, I have to rejoice that to my own satisfaction, as well as to others, I proved that truth, and not popularity, was my object; for I was once so strict a Separatist that I would neither pray nor sing praises with any one who was not as perfect as I supposed myself. In this most unpopular course I persisted until I discovered the mistake, and saw that on the principle embraced in my conduct, there never could be a congregation or church upon the earth.”

    I particularly like his Parable of the Iron Bedstead:

    http://www.outrageouscampbellite.com/Parable-of-the-Iron-Bedstead.html

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