The Scriptural Principles
1. Fellowship is with the Father and the Son – 1 Jn. 1:3; 1 Jn. 9; but also among brethren, having been called by God – 1 Cor. 1:9; provided they walk in the light(of divine wisdom and understanding) – 1 Jn. 1:6-7; 2:3-6; and is intended to unite believers to strive together for the faith of the gospel – Phil. 1:27; 2:1-2
2. Right doctrine is intrinsic to baptism – Acts 2:41, 8:12; to fellowship and breaking of bread – Acts 2:42-46; and to salvation – 1 Tim. 4:16
3.Wrong doctrine, arising even from within the ecclesia, jeopardizes salvation – Acts 20:28-30;
1 Cor. 15:12-17; 2 Cor. 11:2-4, 13-15; Gal. 1:6-9; is characterized as ‘leaven,’ and ‘a canker’ (gangrene),and must be removed from the ecclesia to prevent the spread of its destructive influence – 1 Cor. 5:6-8, 11-13; Gal. 5:9, 12; 2 Tim. 2:17-18
4. Doctrines critical to salvation (first principles) are distinguished from “matters of conscience”; the former is a criteria for fellowship, the latter is not
– First principles (Heb. 5:12-6:2) are made a test of fellowship since error associated with them jeopardizes salvation – 2 Jn. 8, 11; 2 Cor. 7:10
– Matters of conscience are not made a test of fellowship – 3 Jn. 6-10
– It is critical to distinguish between the two, as condemnation is afforded to those who fellowship with error (2 Jn. 11), but also to those who withhold fellowship over matters of conscience (3 Jn. 10)
– First principle truths transcend matters of conscience. If a person’s conscience is in conflict with a
first principle, it is the conscience that must change, not the first principle (Matt 16:21-23); first principles are also made a test of fellowship every week, in every location; unlike matters of conscience that vary by ecclesia.
5. Condemnation is directed towards two groups in 2 John, those who believe wrong doctrine (v9) and those who tolerate/support those who believe wrong doctrine (v11) – even though the supporters may not personally believe the wrong teaching.
Bro. Roberts writes, “he that biddeth a man God-speed, in an evil course, makes himself responsible for that course.” The condemnation of the second group is warranted since turning a blind eye to error does not help recover the person holding it and leaves their salvation in jeopardy. This is not “guilt by association” as it is sometimes improperly called. The issue John addresses is not about contamination, it is guilt for failing to fulfill a responsibility to expose error and to attempt recovery of those under its influence. The apostle teaches a willingness to tolerate error is tantamount to acceptance of it. Fellowship is withheld from both condemned groups (not just the former), to repudiate complicity with the evil, and to recover those in error by warning of the need to change either the wrong belief or the willingness to tolerate it.
6. Contending for truth is a commandment of Christ – Jude 3-4
– When a brother adopts wrong doctrine/conduct, God places responsibility upon the ecclesia to counsel/discipline – Deut. 13:6-12
– If the ecclesia fails in this responsibility, God holds them accountable – 2 Jn 11; Rev 2:12, 14-15
– The divine wisdom in linking fellowship with responsibility for upholding truth enables God to use the ecclesia to keep each member on the path to life, while preventing the spreading of error
7. Withdrawal of fellowship from those who promote error is the scriptural command (Rom. 16:17 – “withdraw thyself”; 1 Tim. 6:3,5 – “withdraw thyself”; 2 Thess. 3:6, 14 – “have no company with”; Titus 3:10 – “reject”); fellowship is not linked to salvation (as the Roman Church teaches), it passes no judgment on the salvation of the one withdrawn from, that matter is left to Christ as judge (Eccl. 12:14; Rom. 2:16; 2 Cor. 5:10); shunning a person who promotes error, hoping he will leave, is not a fulfillment of this command because it is not characteristic of “grievous wolves”and “false teachers” to depart, rather to infiltrate and destroy (Matt. 7:15; Acts 20:29; 2 Pet. 2:1-2; Rev. 2:14-15; 2:20).
False teachers and their teaching are removed from the ecclesia to protect the flock, but only as a last step in an unsuccessful recovery process.
8. A single serious error, in doctrine or conduct, is grounds for withdrawal, even though remaining truths are all accepted – Matt. 18:17; 1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Jn. 9-11
– The notion that a person can believe “close enough” to the Truth for fellowship, while harbouring/tolerating one or two false beliefs, is not a scriptural teaching
9. A single error in conduct, if serious enough, is grounds for withdrawal, even though all doctrinal truth may be believed as well as all other conduct issues practiced – 1 Cor. 5:1-5, 13
10. There are groups of believers in the New Testament who are condemned for following false teaching; withdrawal is not necessarily restricted to individuals – Rev. 2:14-16; 20; (this principle is also found in the Old Testament – Deut. 13:12-15)
11. Fellowship, based upon the mutual acceptance of fundamental beliefs, must be consistent from week to week and not vary by circumstance, location or personal preference.
– Peter was rebuked for his inconsistency as circumstances changed, failing to uphold a doctrine to be rejected (circumcision required for salvation – Gal. 2:11-14); as was Diotrephes for asserting his personal preference (3 Jn. 6-10). A fellowship practice that results in its boundary lines varying from week to week, or from one location to another, makes a mockery of the divine principle in question.
12. Withdrawal from fellowship is for the purpose of recovery – 1 Cor. 5:5; 2 Cor. 2:7-8; 1 Tim. 1:20; and is done out of love – 2 Jn. 5-6; to win the erring believer back to righteousness.
– It is not undertaken as a punitive measure but for purposes of simultaneously encouraging the repudiation of error and the acceptance and re-commitment to God’s truth.
The Practical Outworking
A. To “believe like we do” requires agreement with both our beliefs and our fellowship practice.
Scriptural unity in ecclesial life is defined as all having the same understanding, judgment, and giving the same counsel [“speak the same thing”] (1 Cor. 1:10; Amos 3:3). For an ecclesia to share unity with the Central community, the members must share the same beliefs (same mind/understanding) as defined in the BASF (or equivalent statement); recognize the beliefs to be first principles and uphold them in their fellowship practice (same judgment/application of the understanding); and encourage others to do likewise (same counsel). Having the same understanding without the same judgment and counsel, or having the same understanding and judgment without the same counsel, fails to meet Scripture’s definition of unity.
Ecclesial-based fellowship, in which only visitors from Amended ecclesias are welcomed to break bread, is a simple, yet practical means to ensure scriptural unity exists with visitors – that they share our beliefs by upholding these in their fellowship practice and encouraging others to do the same – while eliminating the need for “at-the-door” interviews on Sunday morning.
This is also why baptism candidates are asked to declare their common beliefs and to give their assurance they will confine their fellowship to the Central community. Similarly, individuals who share our beliefs and who desire to join a Central ecclesia from another Christadelphian (or related) community, must also agree to restrict their fellowship to our community, while leaving the possible need for “re-baptism” as a personal decision, depending upon their beliefs at the time of their baptism.
B. Our fellowship practice defines our first principle beliefs. The first principles our amended ecclesias agree are important for salvation, and which unite us doctrinally (being summarized in the BASF), establish the boundary line we draw for fellowship at the Memorial Table. Conversely, a doctrine ceases to be a first principle if we are willing to fellowship with those who deny it. In the same way, our fellowship practice also defines our statement of faith. An ecclesia willing to fellowship with those who reject the BASF cannot rightfully claim it as their statement of faith. There must be integrity between what we declare to be first principles, our statement of faith, and the boundary line of our fellowship practice.
C. Fellowship at the Memorial Table is the result of several aspects. These include: right doctrine – abiding in the doctrine of Christ (2 Jn. 9); right conduct – walking in the light (1 Jn. 1:7); and begins with a commitment to become a lifelong servant of the Lord Jesus Christ at baptism (Acts 2:41-42).
D. The determining factors to extend fellowship are right doctrine and conduct, not a person’s standing with Christ. We have been given the ability to determine the former, but not the latter.To attempt to set a boundary line for fellowship based upon conjecture concerning a person’s membership in the one body or their eternal salvation, when we don’t have the ability to discern either, would be untenable. The ecclesia would improperly take the role of a “spiritual judicature, deciding questions which the Lord has reserved for himself” (R. Roberts – 1891). Withdrawal does not equate to exclusion from salvation, it is separation from error. It is noteworthy that the Catholic Church sets its boundary line for fellowship based upon a person’s membership in the one body and their eternal salvation, believing it has the power and ability to discern both. The question to ask regarding a person’s standing for fellowship is not, “is he part of the one body or will he be in the Kingdom?”; which we cannot discern. Rather, it is “does he uphold first principle doctrine and conduct and fellowship with those who do?”; which we can discern.