As was correctly noted in the article on Fellowship, “much has been written and spoken in recent years on the subject of fellowship” (page 10); indeed much has been written by various Christadelphian fellowships, all using the same scriptures to justify a different fellowship practice. The issue therefore is one of fellowship practice, i.e. the application of the scriptures which is crucial to a common understanding.
The writings of Brother Collyer have been held in high esteem throughout the Central community and so we are thankful to learn of your appreciation of his words contained in his book Principles and Proverbs and willing to accept his words as a sound basis for understanding this vital subject. Brother Collyer however presented a balanced view of fellowship in his article which we believe was lacking in the use of the material in the presentation. The material used emphasizes the inclusiveness of fellowship and failed to comment on the scriptural principle of the exclusiveness of fellowship (presented on pages 73-75 of Principles and Proverbs). We believe this balanced approach was adequately covered in the fourth presentation at the Book Road Study Day.
Unfortunately throughout our discussions both parties have focused attention on the scriptural subject of withdrawal when in fact we should be emphasizing the basis upon which fellowship should be extended. The scriptures declare that basis to be The Apostles Doctrine; that unity with the Father and with the Son is based upon the teaching of the apostles of the Lord Jesus Christ – “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one: as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us” (John 17:20-21).
In the first century there was one body, one community of believers who met together on a common basis; the first century community of believers were “together, and had all things in common…continuing daily with one accord…and singleness of heart. (Acts 2:44-46); they shared a fellowship together in the gospel which required being “likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of the same mind” (Philippians 1:5; 2:1-2).
We are prepared to extend fellowship to any member of the Unamended community provided they can satisfy the scriptural conditions that we can agree on regarding the fundamentals of the faith; provided we can together show that we are indeed of the same mind and same judgment. This process has always been through the acknowledging of the same scriptural truths as expressed in the Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith (BASF), which is the basis upon which all Central ecclesias meet inter-ecclesially as noted in the UA08 agreement (bullet no.5). As we have previously pointed out the UA08/NASU excludes the BASF within North America.
Under this heading we would like to address three specific points that you have raised; other points related to fellowship will be addressed when we come to the section under the heading Questions and Concerns.
Your presentation states: “Our fellowship implementation uses the approach: declare what you believe to be the Apostles’ doctrines and basis of fellowship and all that partake on that basis do so on their own responsibility” (page 11). We do not subscribe to this position because in adopting this position you absolve yourselves of the scriptural responsibility to separate from error and by so doing shift the responsibility from yourselves to those in error. The instruction of the apostle Paul was that we should not be “unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness”. Indeed Paul placed the responsibility for separation upon the shoulders of the believer: “Wherefore come out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord”. (2Corinthians 6:14-18). In fact he goes on to advise his readers to “cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (chapter 7:1). By implementing your fellowship approach you are in effect following a conscience-based fellowship which conflicts with your agreed participation in an ecclesially-based fellowship in the UA08 agreement.
The other important observation from the above quotation is that it is only partially quoted from the pen of Brother Thomas and one that does not reflect the sense of his words. Brother Thomas wrote: “…Declare what you as a body believe to be the apostle’s doctrines. Invite fellowship upon that basis alone. If upon that declaration, any take the bread and wine, not being offered by you, they do so upon their own responsibility, not on yours…”
A number of points require highlighting:
- Brother Thomas is careful to state who should do the declaring, “Declare what you as a body believe”; he is speaking corporately not individually (as implied in your version of the statement). The Central body of believers has done precisely that, it has declared what it believes as a body and this is recorded in the BASF. The Unamended community traces its origins to a group of brethren who could not accept the teaching of the worldwide community at that time and “they went out from us”.
- Brother Thomas speaks of “inviting fellowship”; he speaks of the emblems “not being offered by you”. Such language places the responsibility upon the congregation of believers and not on those who would seek fellowship with us.
- In the same article Brother Thomas also writes, “Those who hold Paul’s doctrine, ought not to worship with a body that does not”. This is not the language implied in your version of the quotation.
You mention that your “four point fellowship position is set out in Exhibit 2. This has been available since the implementation of the NASU/UA08 process. This approach, based upon sound Bible principles, has worked” (page 11). In reviewing the four points outlined on page 47 it is evident that your view of fellowship is at variance with Central fellowship practice. For example in point number four you state, “We continue to consider members of other Unamended ecclesias to be in fellowship with us, provided they do not declare their rejection of our ecclesial position” (bold is our emphasis). In effect you are saying that regardless of whether individuals agree with you on doctrine or do not accept your basis of fellowship, as long as they do not reject your ecclesial position they are welcome. We can only conclude from this that doctrine is less important than sharing fellowship, and that you encourage a loose fellowship standard; on the other hand we believe that fellowship is predicated on a common doctrinal understanding (Acts 2:42; 1Corinthians 1:10), and those who we will share fellowship with must be consistent in their practice.
Your comment that your “four point fellowship position…has worked” is no doubt true within the environment of the NASU/UA08 agreement simply because there is no definitive position on fellowship and evidently doctrine is de-emphasized. This is confirmed by your reference to “six (6) additional unamended ecclesias (one Ontario, five Mid-West) have joined in the unity process” (page 11). What is omitted from your comment is the fact that the Mid-West Unamended ecclesias continue to share fellowship with members of the Church of the Abrahamic Covenant who have not signed onto the UA08 agreement. Surely you must recognize the confusion that has been created since the implementation of the Unity Agreement.
The third point we wish to address is your reference to “bloc-disfellowship”; you say, “There are no examples in Scripture of ‘bloc-disfellowship’ of fellow ecclesias, nor of one ecclesia disfellowshipping another ecclesia” (page 11). First of all there are clear scriptural statements that require ecclesias to withhold fellowship from those that persist in promoting another gospel (Galatians 1:8-9; 2John 9-11; 1Timothy 6:3-5; 1Timothy 1:20); from those who walk disorderly (2Thessalonians 3:6-14; 1Corinthians 5:11); from those who cause divisions (Romans 16:17; Titus 3:10); from those who refuse correction (Matthew 18:15-17; Titus 3:10). While it may be argued that all these scriptures have reference to individuals in particular ecclesias, there are absolutely no grounds for suggesting that it is permissible to withhold fellowship from one individual and not from a whole ecclesia of twenty individuals even though they are guilty of the same error; such reasoning makes no sense. Brother Roberts recognized extending this principle to the whole ecclesia in the Ecclesial Guide when discussing Ecclesial Differences in Section 37, he said, “These are different from individual offences, and yet they stand nearly related to these, and are best dealt with by the same general rule that Christ lays down for them”.
Your comment actually contradicts the UA08/NASU document which interestingly upholds the same principle mentioned by Brother Roberts; see NASU under the heading of Ecclesial Autonomy (page 9): “However, when an ecclesia officially renounces any of the first principles of the One Faith and persists in teaching false doctrine, it shall by its own action separate itself from the reunited community and the community shall so regard it as outside the community. In these circumstances, it is the duty of faithful members to absent themselves from such an ecclesia.” How do you reconcile this contradiction?
Furthermore the principle has been upheld by the three major reunions in the 1950’s.
- 1952 Berean/Central agreement – “If an ecclesia is known to persist in teaching false doctrines, or to retain in fellowship those who do, other ecclesias can only avoid being involved by disclaiming fellowship.”
- 1956 UK Suffolk St agreement – “If an ecclesia is known to persist in teaching false doctrine, it is the duty of other ecclesias to dissociate themselves from such an ecclesia.”
- 1957 Australia agreement – “If it is established that an ecclesia sets itself out by design to preach and propagate at large, false doctrine, then it would become necessary to disassociate from such an ecclesia.”
Your point regarding “bloc-disfellowship” is not valid.