Biblical Fellowship-

         the protection of the Truth

                     'THE NATURE AND CONDITIONS

                     OF FELLOWSHIP IN THE TRUTH'

                                     by Robert Roberts

 

 The  truth is  professedly and confessedly a "narrow" thing.  Jesus declares

 this  in  saying  "Strait is  the gate and  narrow is  the way that leadeth unto

 life".  This "way" he afterwards speaks of as "the truth", saying, "Ye shall

 know the truth,  and the truth  shall make you free";   and  also, "every one

 that is of the truth heareth my voice".

 

 The  narrowness of the truth is one of the obstacles  to  its general adoption.

 People do not like to be fettered  either in doctrine or practice.  It is also one

 of  the causes of  the  active tendency to corruption  which has manifested it-

 self among those embracing the truth from the very day  it  was apostolically

 established at Jerusalem.  It  is inconvenient to be under restrictions  in  our

 dealings  with  fellow men  in the truth  or out of it.  If  it  were a  question of

 choice, we should all prefer absolute freedom. But no one recognizing Christ

 as the supreme teacher can think of freedom in the matter. If we make free-

 dom our rule, we can only have the freedom of those who set Christ aside al-

 together, saying in the words of the wicked  "Our tongues are our own:  who

 is Lord over us". None who truly know Christ would desire this freedom. All

 who  sincerely accept Christ  will  recognize  his  law as paramount,  however

 irksomely it may work in some of its present relations.

 

 It  is  one  of the  narrownesses  of the truth that it demands of those who re-

 ceive  it  that  they "contend earnestly for it",  even if  an angel from heaven

 oppose  it  or  corrupt it (Jude 3 ; Gal. i. 8-9),  and that they maintain it intact

 and  unsullied  among  themselves  as the basis and association among those

 who profess  it, refusing  to walk with a brother who either disobeys  its pre-

 cepts (2 Thes. iii. 14 ; Rom. xvi. 17), or refuses consent to its teachings in vi-

 tal matters (2 Jno. 10 ; 1 Tim. vi. 3-5).  This policy  is  so  contrary to natural

 friendliness that it is easy to drift away from it,  and  to  invent theories  that

 will relieve us from its unpleasant obligations.

 

 The controversy on inspiration has forced the re-consideration of  this  ques-

 tion upon us.  We say  re-consideration: for it was considered and debated in

 the  beginning  of  things connected with the truth in this generation, and sat-

 isfactorily disposed of for a time.  The  principal  cause  of our trouble in the

 present situation has been  the  divergence of view that has prevailed at the

 bottom on  this fundamental question.  Many  who  have  allowed the entirely

 inspired character of the Scriptures, have not been able to see the  necessity

 for insisting upon that truth in our  basis of  fellowship.They  have  been  in-

 clined to leave it as "an open question".  This is the result of  a dim or faulty

 perception  of  the  apostolic  doctrine  of   fellowship  (a common sense doc-

 trine)  which  requires  agreement  on  fundamentals as  the first condition of

 walking together, or  co-operating,associating,or fellowshipping  together in

 the prosecution of the objects of the truth.   As a brother writing on the ques-

 tion says:

 

 "There  is  prevalent at the present time a lamentable looseness in regard to what

  must constitute the basis of fellowship.  It  arises partly from ignorance and partly

  from an over anxiety to increase numbers, and keep together divergent elements.

  This must inevitably result in serious trouble or general declension. . . The truth's

  interest is at stake, and no doubt much depends  upon our action,  as to whether it

  is yet  to be maintained in its purity and simplicity, or lapse into  laodiceanism.The

  crisis is, doubtless,  the  most  acute  that has taken place since  it was brought  to

  light in  these latter days.  It has been brewing for past years. You were  reluctant

  to believe it, and laboured to stave it off. A too long course of  loose discipline and

  slackness in dealing with wrong principles in doctrine and practice has, no  doubt,

  intensified the evil and made it all the more bitter, and grievous and  hard to bear.

  I am persuaded that good will result in the case of those many or few who will out-

  ride the storm by keeping a firm grasp of the anchor of  the soul,  by coming out of

  this ocean of suffering as gold tried in the fire."

 

  With  a  view  to the  thorough  ventilation and effectual exhibition of the Scriptural

  principles of fellowship,  we append  a double series  of propositions in which there

  is some attempt  to  formulate them  in  their  bearing upon the question which  has

  been troubling the  ecclesias.We should be pleased to receive and publish  enlight-

  ened  criticisms that may  be  offered  thereon; or any other  capable  endeavour to

  amplify or  illustrate Scriptural principles in the same direction.

 

                                              THE FIRST SERIES.

  I.  "Fellowship with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ" consists in

  walking in the light, as God is in the light.

  II.  "Fellowship one with another", depends entirely upon our conformity

  to this first and necessary principle of all fellowship,which John so empha-

  tically lays down in Jno. i. 6, 7.

  III.  "Light" is a figure of speech-a metaphor for divine wisdom, true

  knowledge, and accurate understanding.

  IV.  God is the fountain-head of these incomparable powers. Hence "God

  is light, and in Him is no darkness at all".

  V.  His light is manifested to us in three ways-first, in Christ ; second, in

  the Scriptures; and third, in His saints.

  VI.  In Christ:-"I am come a light into the world that whosoever believeth

  on me should not abide in darkness".

         In the Scriptures:-"Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto

  my path" (Psalm cxix. 105).

          In His Saints:-"For ye were sometimes in darkness, but now are ye

  light in the Lord ; walk as Children of light" (Eph. v. 8).

  VII.  These points being hereby established, they constitute a chain conn-

  ecting God and man, not one link of which can be removed, or in any re-

  spect impaired without endangering the whole sequence and breaking the

  harmony of the divine relations to us individually. Take away Christ and

  you destroy all possibility of fellowship with God. Tamper with that Bible

  which He approved, and you equally render divine recognition of you

  hopeless,while you remove the only means in visible existence among men

  which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among them who

  are sanctified ; you destroy the foundation of the righteous, and dissolve

  in so doing the household of Christ.

  VIII.  "Walking in the light", therefore, means "believing ALL things

  that are written in the law and the prophets", as Paul affirmed he did

  (Acts xxiv. 14), as well as the subsequent writings in the New Testament :

  exercising hope towards God as embodied in "Christ our hope",and foll-

  owing "righteousness, faith, love, peace with those that call on the Lord

  out of a pure heart".

  IX.  Without the patient and faithful observance of these things, fellow-

  ship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ is impossible, and in

  consequence fellowship one with another is likewise impracticable.

                                                  ____________

 

                                                        AGAIN.

 

  Is  it  not  a  commandment of God that we should receive His word- His  or-

  acles-the Scriptures-as supreme? Does not Christ enforce it  in  his "Search

  the Scriptures" (John v. 39) and elsewhere?   Does not Paul teach it in many

  ways, in regard to both the Old Testament and the New?

  Admitting  this  unavoidable  conclusion    and  reading  it in  the  light which

  1 John ii. 3,  &c.,  throws  upon  the  conditions  of  true  fellowship,  namely,

  "And hereby we do know that we know him,  if  we keep his commandments.

  He that saith I know him, and keepeth not his commandments,  is a  liar and

  the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word in him is verily the  love

  of  God perfected:  hereby know we that we are in him".   "He that  saith he

  abideth  in him ought himself also to walk so in as he walked".  Must we not

  exact  Christ's  estimate of the Old Testament,  and  Paul's  of  both the Old

  Testament and  his own writings,  as a necessary condition  to be recognized

  in our "fellowship one with another", if  we wish to secure the end for which

  we  are  working,  namely,  "fellowship  with  the Father,  and  with  His  Son

  Jesus Christ"?                                                       

                                     

                                             THE SECOND SERIES.

  1. In the accomplishment of its mission among men,   the truth acts by sep-

        aration and association.

        (a) It separates men from the world: "Come out from among them

             and be separate".

        (b) It associates those so separated: "Ye are all one . . .  forsake not

              the assembling of yourselves together".

        It produces these results by the creation of scripturally derived ideas in

        the minds of those operated upon. By these ideas they are dominated &

        controlled. They become mentally new creatures, and manifest the

        change in their altered relations to men and things around them.

  2. But the association of those separated by the truth, is governed by con-

        ditions, that sometimes interrupt that association. Hence, "Have no

        company": "withdraw": "turn away"- are apostolic commands con-

        cerning some who have been actually separated by the truth.

  3. The conditions of association relate to two departments of our standing

        in Christ which may be expressed as conviction and character . . . Unity

        of conviction and mutuality of conformity to a certain standard of act-

        ion,are the two conditions out of which association and fellowship grow,

        and by rupture of which, it is necessarily interfered with.

  4. This rupture may be only partial in either department and yet be suffic-

        ient to cause suspension of association in fellowship.Apostolic examples:

        (a) Refusal to recognize that Christ had come in the flesh was made

              a reason for not receiving men who believed in God and the

              Kingdom, and a number of other elements of truth.

        (b) Idleness was declared a ground of disfellowship where men had

              otherwise submitted to the commandments of Christ.

  5. That the first condition of association is the belief of the truth, apart

        from the perception and reception of which, there is no basis of fellow-

        ship.

  6. That the truth forming this basis is made up of a number of items or el-

        ements, that are each essential to its integrity as a whole.

  7. That it is a matter of duty to require the recognition of these at the

        hands of those claiming association with us in the truth.

  8. That we are not at liberty to receive any one who denies or refuses to

        believe any of them, because the receiving of such would open the way

        for the currency of their principles among us, with the tendency of

        leavening the whole community. The elements of the truth are so mutu-

        ally related that the displacement of one undermines the foundation of

        the whole.

  9. A man himself believing the truth, but willing to wink at its denial a-

        mong those in fellowship in any of its essential elements, becomes, by

        this willingness, an offender against the law of Christ, which requires

        the faithful maintenance of the whole. Faithful servants of Christ can-

        not unite with such, on the ground that though he hold the truth him-

        self, such a man is responsible for the error of those whom he would

        admit,and therefore becomes the channel of a similar responsibility to

        those who may endorse him in fellowship:-"He that biddeth him God-

        speed is partaker of his evil deeds".

10. That it is the duty of the friends of the truth to uphold it as a basis of

        union among themselves by refusing to receive either those who deny

        any part of it, or those who would receive those so denying.

11. Paul commands withdrawal from "any man" who "obeys not his

        word", "delivered by epistle". He commands the brethren to hold fast

        the traditions taught by him, "whether by word or epistle".

12. Paul teaches by epistle that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God.

13. We are bound to hold fast by this, and to refuse association with any

        man refusing submission to this apostolic tradition.

14. The doctrine of partial inspiration is a nullification of this apostolic

        tradition; and a doctrine consequently, from the holders of which, we

        are bound apostolically to withdraw.

15. That the highest sanction of reason supports this apostolic obligation,

        since logically, the doctrine of partial inspiration, when worked out, de-

        prives us of confidence in the only access we have to the divine mind

        in our age.                 -'The Christadelphian', 1885, pages 385-389.

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