Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Integrity of the fellowship

"The first happy community became distressed by heresies and by men who liked to have the pre-eminence over others. This resulted in schism and fragmentation. The apostles made every effort to rebuke and educate those in error, sometimes with success and sometimes not. We might ask what happened to those who refused to return to their former belief. Such persons had already broken the fellowship based on a common belief and, when the position became intolerable or entrenched, the apostles instructed the congregation in which it occurred to exclude the delinquent person from their company. This would apply particularly to the breaking of bread service which was one of the highest expressions of fellowship. In other words, whilst the brethren strove hard to recover those who had gone astray in a matter of the faith, they also had a responsibility for the integrity of the fellowship itself which they had to preserve when recovery of the wayward proved impossible. This was secured by excluding the heretic from their midst. Often, of course, the heretic would leave of his own accord.

These verses illustrate the action taken:

"He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine; receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: for he that biddeth him God speed is a partaker of his evil deeds." (2 John 9, 10)

"Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that have nothing to do with him." (Titus 3:10, N.I.V.)

However, as will be seen from the many verses quoted in this chapter, fellowship is not only a matter of common tenets of faith, it is also a common way of life. The word "doctrine" means
teaching, and teaching concerns what we believe and what we do.

The apostles' doctrine therefore concerned a common faith and the life in Christ. Godliness is part of fellowship.

Unfortunately, all of us sin from time to time. What happens to the disciple when he sins? Does he leave the fellowship of Christ?
Certainly, if he knowingly persists in his sin and remains unrepentant, his fellowship is deeply affected and severance occurs. In the mercy of God provision is made for the disciple to receive forgiveness by seeking it through the Lord Jesus Christ in prayer:

"If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us." (1 John 1:9, ­10)

There are, nevertheless, sins which, because they are grievous and bring the body of believers into disrepute, need more open treatment by the congregation. The elders should seek to restore the offender whilst also rejecting the sin which he has committed:

"Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ." Galatians 6:1-2)

"Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth, and one convert him; let him know that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins." (James 5:19-20)

"Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear." (1 Timothy 5:20)

Compassion and renewal in the right way are the twin components of this path of understanding and restoration. Tolerance of deeply offensive unChristian conduct would do neither the offender nor the congregation any good whatsoever; bitter and immediate rejection of the offending disciple would itself be unlike the patient and cleansing restorative work of the Lord himself. Wisdom in the Word of God, a deep desire to uphold the godly standards of the Lord Jesus Christ whilst keeping the fallen from destruction, and an awareness of our common frailty, are essential elements in this work of recovery."

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Brother Harry Tennant
Fellowship
The Christadelphians - What they Believe and Preach