By Jimmy Jividan
Two questions must be answered before Christian fellowship can either have meaning or be practiced.
1. How can one know if he is in fellowship with God?
2. With whom can I have fellowship in Christ?
This tract will attempt to answer these questions by establishing the basis of fellowship in Christ.
DETERMINED BY GOD – NOT MAN
The basis of fellowship is with God and not man. A Christian does not determine who is in fellowship. He only recognizes what God has determined. It is not a matter of the will of men but the recognition of the will of God. One does not choose his brother. He only recognizes him as a brother. Horizontal fellowship (between men) is always determined by perpendicular fellowship (between God and men).
If one is in fellowship with God, then he by necessity is in fellowship with all of God’s children. If one is not in fellowship with God, then all of the human decrees, organizations, compromises and sanctions of men will not make it so. Christian unity is not obtained by human compromises but by divine allegiance.
FELLOWSHIP LIKE A TRIANGLE
Fellowship in Christ can be compare to a triangle. The points of the triangle are God, me and my brother. God is the apex of the triangle. My brother and I are the horizontal points of the triangle. Genuine fellowship in Christ is when all of the lines of the triangle are unbroken. When both my brother and I are in fellowship with God, then we have fellowship one with another. John says, “…if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another…” (I John 1:7).
When either my brother or I break fellowship with God, then fellowship is broken between us. It is one’s relationship to God that determines fellowship between Christian brothers has meaning and power.
Sometimes one breaks fellowship with God because of belief in and practice of error. When this takes place, he must be cut off from the fellowship of the brethren. Such is the teaching of II John 9-11.
“Whosoever goeth onward and abideth not in the teaching of Christ, hath not God…if any one cometh unto you and bringeth not this teaching, receive him not into your house, and give him no greeting: for he that giveth him greeting partaketh in his evil works.”
Breaking fellowship with such a brother is merely a recognition of the break in fellowship that has already taken place between him and God. The brother is excluded from fellowship – not because he is disliked – but because of loyalty to Jesus Christ.
Sometimes one breaks fellowship with God because he willfully leaves the fellowship. When this takes place, brethren need to recognize this break. He is no longer one of them. John describes such a condition in I John 2:19.
“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest that they all are not of us.”
When a brother in Christ leaves the fellowship either to be associated with another religious group or to do “his own thing,” this should be recognized by the church. When a name remains on the “church roll” long after a brother has left the fellowship by neglect and indifference, it is a farce. Keeping his name in the membership directory does not keep him in fellowship. If he has broken fellowship with God, then it should be recognized by the church.
FELLOWSHIP AND THE JUDGMENT
Wouldn’t it be terrible to appear before Christ in the judgment and be wrong about fellowship? What if Jesus extended fellowship to those whom we had rejected? What if Jesus rejected those to whom we had extended fellowship?
Jesus separated the sheep and goats in the parable of the judgment in Matthew 25. The goats were rejected by Jesus because they refused to know and practice fellowship with the brothers of Jesus. Brothers of Jesus were sick and hungry. They were unloved and unhelped by the goats. Jesus said, “Inasmuch as ye did it not unto one of these least, ye did it not unto me. And these shall go away into eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:45-46). Because they rejected even the least brother from their fellowship by neglecting to care and share, Jesus rejected them at the judgment. If one refuses fellowship with someone Jesus recognizes as a brother, then he is rejected by Jesus. One cannot love Jesus without loving the brethren (I John 4:20).
Not all who claim to be in fellowship with Jesus are known by him. One might claim to be a disciple of Jesus, a son of God and filled with the Holy Spirit and be wrong in his claim. Such a one might be sincere and devoted to works in the name of Jesus but still be rejected by Him. Such was the case in Matthew 7:21-24.
“Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy by thy name, and by thy name cast out demons, and by thy name do many mighty works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” They who claim to do mighty works in Jesus’ name but still refuse to obey His simple teachings are rejected by Jesus. They must also be rejected by those who follow Jesus. One must not extend fellowship to one until he has obeyed Christ’s will and has become a member of His body, the church.
OBJECTIVE BASIS OF FELLOWSHIP
God has not left man without an objective, absolute way of determining the scope and limits of fellowship. The basis of fellowship is established in the New Testament. By its teachings and the fruits of a man’s life one can determine who is, and who is not in fellowship with Christ. John warns Christians to…”Believe not every spirit, but prove the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” Fellowship is not determined by one’s own personal likes, emotional desires or traditional standards. Fellowship is determined by the teachings of Jesus and his apostles.
Man cannot establish the basis of fellowship in Christ. The scope and limits of fellowship established by men are inadequate. They are established upon human authority. They are changing and contradictory. Religious fellowships which are determined by a religious hierarchy, a human creed or a cultural tradition cannot be fellowship in Christ. It has a horizontal basis instead of a perpendicular basis. This is the primary failure of the unity attempts in the ecumenical movement.
The only kind of unity meeting that is valid is one for the purpose of Bible study. It makes little difference what man desures or culture demands. In seeking religious unity, one question must be at the center: “What does the Bible say?” Men do not have the right to establish the criteria by which fellowship is determined. They can only test to see if men meet the criteria of fellowship which has been determined by Christ and revealed in the Scriptures.
THE RESTORATION PRINCIPLE AND FELLOWSHIP
The Restoration principle of “speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent” is an attempt to call back to a divine basis of fellowship. Fellowship in Christ has never been broken by anything the Bible teaches. It has always been broken by that which has been taught, practiced or instituted by the authority of men. If the religious fellowship of which a person is a part is based upon anything for which he does not have a “thus saith the Lord,” – – – Beware! Such a fellowship is of men and not of God.
The fellowship in Christ is too precious to be broken by self-willed men who demand in the name of “relevance” or “liberty” that which has no Bible basis. When one resists attempts to bring into the faith and practice of the church that which is not authorized by Christ, he is not destroying the fellowship. He is rather preserving and defending the divine basis of fellowship in Christ.
FELLOWSHIP ERASES BARRIERS
Fellowship in Christ is greater than personal preferences or cultural conformity. It supercedes such barriers of alienations as racial differences, educational levels, cultural structures and economic advantages. Christianity is the great leveling place. All in Christ are on the same level in the fellowship. In New Testament times this was demonstrated by bringing together Jew and Gentile. In the early church, fellowship in Christ destroyed barriers between bond and free, Greeks and Barbarians, rich and poor and mighty and humble.
This is clearly shown in the New Testament. The same spirit and practice must be shown by the church in the twentieth century. The all-important thing is whether one is in fellowship with Christ. Everything else is of no consequence at all.
Historically, fellowship in Christ has been hindered because men have allowed other factors to determine fellowship. Identifying with a preacher party, lining up with a Gospel paper or following the thinking of a certain school have alienated brothers who should have been one in Christ. Cultural differences, sparations and political sympathies have made brethren fearful of one another and too often lead to a break in fellowship. The death of Jesus on the cross broke down all such barriers between men (Ephesians 2:13-18). This one event was so great and full of unselfish love that it completely obliterates all of the little peculiarities that the followers of Jesus might have.
THREEFOLD BASIS OF FELLOWSHIP
There is a threefold basis of fellowship identified in the Scriptures. True fellowship in Christ must rest upon all three points. If any one of these points is lacking, then the fellowship is not genuine.
Identity, doctrine and practice are all essential in determining if one is in fellowship with God. Before one can extend fellowship in Christ to another, he must know the same three things. (1) Who is he? (2) What does he believe? (3) What does he practice? The answer to these questions provide an objective and absolute criteria for determining fellowship.
No one can be in fellowship with Christ or His church who is not a child of God. One must be begotten by God, born of the water and the Spirit and filled with the Holy Spirit of God before he can know fellowship in Christ. There is no basis for calling God “Abba Father” or calling Christians “brother” until one is in the family by birth. This is shown in Galatians 3:26ff.
IDENTITY AS A BASIS OF FELLOWSHIP
“For ye are all sons of God, through faith, in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ. There can be neither Jew nor Greeek, there can be neither bond nor free, there can be no male and female; for ye are all one man in Christ Jesus…and because ye are sons, God sent forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, Abba Father.” I cannot recognize one as a brother in Christ who is not a son of God. To do so makes fellowship in Christ a farce. An unbeliever in Jesus Christ, though very religious, cannot be in fellowship in Christ. An unbaptized person is still outside the family of God. It is impossible for him to know fellowship in Christ. To compromise this teaching in the name of an ecumenical spirit is to rob fellowship of its meaning and power. Lost souls are not brought to Christ by this spirit. They are repulsed. They are deceived into thinking that being a Christian really is not very important if fellowship is so weak and meaningless.
Not everyone who has been born into God’s family remains in the fellowship. Fellowship is narrower than brotherhood. One might be born into God’s family at baptism and become a prodigal son or a dsinherited son through disobedience. All baptized believers are in God’s family. They are children by right of birth. They cannot be unborn. Not all baptized believers, however, are in fellowship with God. Neither are they in fellowship with His church.
A prodigal son of God who has willfully left the fellowship no longer enjoys the blessings of the Father’s house. He is still a child of God- – but lost. Since he cut himself off from the Father’s house, he cannot receive the fellowship of the family until he repents and returns to the Father.
A disinherited son of God who has been cut off from God because of sin no longer is in fellowship with God’s family. He is still a child of God but he is lost. When God cuts him off, he no longer has access to the blood of Christ. He is condemned in his sins. He is out of fellowship and lost. He cannot be saved or come back to the fellowship until he repents and prays to God for forgiveness.
Nothing is a test of fellowship which is not a condition of salvation. Only saved persons are in the fellowship. If one loses his salvation through rebelling against God, he is cut off from the fellowship. It should be noted however that not all children of God are saved. Neither are all children of God in fellowship.
DOCTRINE AS A BASIS OF FELLOWSHIP
The doctrine that one believes is also a basis of fellowship (I John 4:2). What one believes is important. One can believe a lie and be damned. One who teaches a doctrine that goes beyond the doctrine of Christ is not in fellowship with God (II John 9). Neither is such a one to be received into the fellowship of Christians (II John 11). If a teacher teaches a doctrine contrary to the doctrine learned from apostolic men, he is not to receive fellowship from Christians (Romans 16:17). Doctrine is a basis of fellowship with both God and man. A man should not be ashamed or afraid to declare what he believes. He should be willing for the world to know it (Acts 4:20). There is something lacking in a man’s integrity if he wants to claim fellowship with God’s family but does not want to expose his faith or lack of it. Fellowship is a relationship of openness and trust. If one cannot expose his faith or doubts to a brother, then to whom can he expose them? (If after a man exposes his faith and finds that it is contrary to the group with whom he seeks fellowship, then why would he want to be a part of it?) Faith and fellowship cannot be separated. There must be the unity of the faith before there can be the bond of peace!
PRACTICE AS A BASIS OF FELLOWSHIP
What one does and how he lives is also a basis of fellowship. A child of God who believes all of the teachings of Christ may not know fellowship in Christ because of the things he practices.
A person who refuses to keep the commandments of Jesus is not in fellowship. Such a one may claim to know Jesus and feel that he is very close to God. Claims and feelings are not a basis of fellowship, but what a man does – – is! John says, “Hereby we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments is a liar” (II John2:3f). Commandment keeping is essential in knowing Jesus. If one says that it is non-essential, he is a liar. Certainly one cannot have fellowship with Jesus if he does not know Him. The church should not keep in its fellowship anyone who does not know Jesus.