Class 4 – The Relationship of Doctrine and Fellowship


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Summary Points

Note: This summary was written independent of the class presenter and contains additional information.

1. There is an inseparable link between doctrine and fellowship practice (Acts 2:42; 1 Jn. 1:3,6-7). This divine principle is reflected on the title page of our Statement of Faith which declares “A Statement of the Doctrines forming the Christadelphian Basis of Fellowship.” Those who are willing to fellowship outside our community, with others who do not believe the BASF, act contrary to it.

2. New Testament writers use a variety of terms (“what has been seen, heard, written; “the word, the truth, the message, the light” – all found in 1 John) to identify the teachings of Christ. Walking in the “light,” upholding these teachings, is the basis for our fellowship with one another (1 Jn. 1:7). Fellowship is therefore based on right doctrine and behaviour, not upon whether a person is called a “brother,” or a “Christadelphian.” Even baptism is not the determining factor as it is only one component of walking in the light.

3. 2 John echoes the need to walk in the “light” using similar words as 1 Jn. 1 (“truth, commandments, doctrine”). He defines “love” as walking in truth (v6), underscoring the need for right doctrine and conduct. John warns that if we lose our doctrine, we lose our reward (v8). We also have a responsibility not to receive (fellowship) those who fail to uphold right doctrine (vv9-10). Two groups are condemned in this epistle: i) those holding false teaching and ii) those receiving in fellowship the ones holding false teaching. This shows the issue is not one of contamination, it is a failure to uphold sound doctrine, which jeopardizes both the ability of ecclesial members to walk in the light and their salvation.

4. There is a clear scriptural command to withdraw from those holding doctrinal error or ungodly behaviour (1 Tim. 6:3-5; 2 Pet. 2:1 with Titus 3:10; 1 Tim. 1:20). This divine principle is intended to help preserve the saving doctrines of the Truth (1 Tim. 4:16) and is applicable to individuals or entire ecclesias, as it wouldn’t make sense to be under a heavenly command to withdraw from one erring brother, but not an erring ecclesia. This principle, applied on an ecclesial level, is even included in the NASU (page 9), having been adopted from the 1957 Suffolk Street reunion agreement in the UK.

5. God likens false teaching to “a canker” (Greek: gangrene) in 2 Tim. 2:17 because it eats away and destroys the body if left uncontested. While tolerance, patience and forbearance are Scripturally encouraged in any appeal made to those holding false teaching, permanent tolerance of error is foolish because of the destructive outcome.

6. Care must be taken that faulty reasoning through a legalized application of scripture does not nullify divine principles regarding fellowship. For example, some claim that because in Rev. 2 the Pergamos ecclesia was not specifically commanded by Christ to disfellowship those holding the teachings of Balaam or the Nicolaitans, or because the Thyatira ecclesia was not specifically told to disfellowship Jezebel and her followers, that neither should ecclesias today separate from those holding wrong teaching. But in light of the Lord’s criticism of both ecclesias for tolerating their respective error, and recognizing the need to separate from unrepented error was part of the gospel he taught (Matt. 18:17), can there be any doubt these two ecclesias were being commanded to take disciplinary action to prevent their lightstand from being extinguished by false teaching?

7. The need to separate from error is clearly seen in the terms used in the New Testament – “withdraw yourselves” (2 Thess. 3:6; 1 Tim. 6:5); “avoiding” (Rom. 16:17); “rejecting” (Titus 3:10); “turn away” (2 Tim. 3:5). Faithful disciples do not sit on the fence when false teaching is present, nor do they simply shun those in error. Reconciliation is eagerly sought out, but if it fails, withdrawal is the divine command.

8. Fellowship should only exist where agreement on fundamental doctrine exists.  For those weak members who may be uncertain about details or doubt the clarity of a doctrine, education is the right path.  But for those who deviate even in one element of fundamental doctrine or behaviour separation is necessary e.g. Alexander, Hymenaus, Philetus, the trespasser in Matt 18:17; the fornicator in 1 Cor. 5.  It is also necessary for those who, though they possess a right understanding of fundamental doctrine, are willing to fellowship with those who believe error (2 Jn. 10).

9. The UA08/NASU fellowship basis draws no common boundary lines for fellowship and leaves this determination up to each ecclesia and individual. This is not the Central fellowship practice as evidenced by the December 2008 Tidings5 article which identified three criteria defining the Central fellowship practice. It states that fellowship should only be extended to an ecclesia who:

i) declares itself to be part of the Central community and who uses either the BASF or equivalent statement to define its beliefs and to form the basis of fellowship

ii) restricts their fellowship (at the Memorial meeting) to members in good standing of Central ecclesias

iii) is recognized and accepted as being in the Central community by neighbouring ecclesias

By contrast, the UA08 extends fellowship to members of ecclesias who meet none of these three criteria and has recently expanded to include members of the Church of God of the Abrahamic Faith, who, at present, accommodate in fellowship those who believe in immortal emergence, a false doctrine that is specifically rejected in the BASF. This is not the fellowship practice of the Central community and its continued use will prevent the reuniting of our Amended ecclesias.

Additional Reference Material

E. 10 Points of Concern Regarding the UA08/NASU
F. The Scriptural Principles, Wisdom and Outworking of the Central Fellowship Practice
G. Inter-ecclesial Responsibility – John Carter
H. 1995 – West Coast Ecclesias Identify Central’s Fellowship Practice
I. Ecclesial Based Fellowship – 7 Consistent Scriptural and Historical Perspectives
J. 100 Years of Consistent Scriptural Counsel Regarding Fellowship