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Christians Need to Be Careful Who They Have Fellowship With   

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September 29th, 2016

by Max Aplin (more blog articles)
originally posted 12/14/2015 on FaithWriters

The Bible teaches us in a number of places that we should avoid close fellowship with professing Christians, i.e., people who call themselves Christians, who have heretical beliefs or are unrepentant of other serious sins. Here are some relevant texts:

(1) In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus teaches that a brother who sins and then refuses to repent should be treated like a Gentile or a tax collector. The idea is that the unrepentant sinner should be expelled from the Christian community.

(2) In Romans 16:17, Paul tells the Roman Christians to watch out for people who cause divisions and obstacles in opposition to what they have been taught. Then he tells them to turn away from such people. Troublemakers within the visible Christian community are in view here.

(3) In 1 Corinthians 5:1-5, we find Paul instructing the Christians in Corinth to expel from fellowship a man who is unrepentant of sexual sin. And in verses 6-13 he tells them not to associate with any professing Christian who is sexually immoral or greedy or an idolater or verbally abusive or a drunk or a cheat.

(4) In 2 Thessalonians 3:6, Paul tells the Thessalonians to keep away from every Christian brother who lives an undisciplined life. Then in verse 14 he tells them not to associate with anyone who does not obey his instructions in this letter.

(5) In 2 Timothy 3:5, Paul instructs Timothy to avoid people who have a form of piety but deny its power. Professing Christians are in view here.

(6) In Titus 3:10-11, Paul tells Titus to reject a divisive person after they have been warned twice. Paul is referring to divisive people within the visible Christian community.

(7) In 2 John 10-11, the readers of this letter are told not to receive into their houses or even to greet those who hold heretical beliefs. The heretics in mind are professing Christians.

(8) In Revelation 2:14, the church in Pergamon is rebuked for allowing among its number those who eat things sacrificed to idols and commit acts of sexual immorality. A similar fault is found with the church in Thyatira in 2:20.

We see, then, that the Bible contains numerous instructions to Christians to avoid associating closely with people who call themselves Christians but who are unrepentant of some sort of serious sin, including the sin of believing heresy. But why should we avoid close association with such people? What are the dangers of having close fellowship with them?

Well, first, there is the likelihood that some of what is wrong with those who believe in and practise what is evil will rub off on us. Paul refers to this danger in 1 Corinthians when, in speaking of the need to expel a sinning brother from fellowship, he warns his readers that 'a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough' (1 Cor 5:6). And later in the same letter he makes essentially the same point when he states, 'Do not be deceived. Bad company corrupts good habits' (1 Cor 15:33). We should also remember Solomon, who started off so well as king, but whose idol-worshipping wives led him astray (see especially 1 Kings 11).

Second, if we join forces for Christian work with people who are unrepentant of serious sin, it will very probably weaken the effectiveness of what we are trying to achieve. Sin and the Holy Spirit do not mix, and in all likelihood the power of the Spirit in our ministry will be hindered.

There are Christians who argue that we should not distance ourselves from any professing Christians, even if they are unrepentant of grave sin, in order to avoid visible disunity that would damage the church's reputation in the non-Christian world.

In answer to this, it is true that in relatively minor matters, and even in moderately important ones, there is a place for agreeing to disagree with other believers and for working hard to overcome divisions. However, in serious matters, contrary to much popular Christian opinion, the Bible frequently tells us to separate from those who are in serious error and sin, as the texts cited above show. In the light of these biblical passages, we need to realise too that it is often completely unrealistic to expect unity of the entire visible church. Christian unity is first and foremost an unseen unity of those who are born again.

It would also be a mistake to think that we should closely associate with professing Christians who are in serious error so that we can try to change them. We who are God's people first and foremost need a spiritually safe haven, a place where we can be built up securely in the faith without the danger of being led astray by bad influences. Certainly, let us engage in dialogue and try to influence professing Christians who are in error, but not at the cost of entering into close fellowship with them.

Neither must we imagine that the more people we are involved with, the more we will necessarily be able to do. Remember Gideon's army. At 10,000 strong it was not fit for God's purposes. However, when its number had reduced to 300, He was ready to use it (Judges 7). It is the quality of our relationship with God that is of paramount importance, not how many of us there are.

Finally, financial considerations should not be a factor in causing us to enter into close fellowship with those who are unrepentant. This can be a temptation if a church has financial difficulties and another, wealthier, church that is not true to the Bible in all important matters is willing to join forces in some way. The key thing, however, is for us to remain close to God and to move forward spiritually, even if financial difficulties arise. There are many wealthy churches in the world where spirituality is weak and little is achieved. On the other hand, there are many materially poor churches, notably in Africa, where much is accomplished. We would do well to bear in mind the words of the risen Jesus to the church in Smyrna: 'I know your suffering and [material] poverty but you are [spiritually] rich' (Rev 2:9). Besides, it is quite possible that God might choose to bless a church financially once it has decided to put spiritual matters first.

It is true that there is a danger of being over-zealous in avoiding professing Christians who are in error. The parable of the wheat and the weeds (Matt 13:24-30, 36-43) serves as a warning against taking things too far.

It also seems reasonable to think that there might be various exceptional situations in which it would be God's will for us to associate closely with professing Christians who are even in serious error:

First, there may be occasions when those in a church who are unrepentant are the majority, and the faithful minority is not really in circumstances that allow separation. This could be the situation of the church in Sardis in Revelation 3:1-6.

Second, despite what I said above about not having close fellowship with unrepentant professing Christians so as to try to change them, I think it is nevertheless true that God may occasionally call Christians to work within a compromised church in order to try to change things from within. This, however, is surely not something that would happen more than rarely, and it would only be a task for strong, mature believers.

Third, there may be rare occasions when joining forces with those in serious error might be acceptable to God because it would open an important door that would remain closed if no cooperation were entered into. However, given the warnings in Scripture of associating closely with such people, we can expect such occasions to be relatively few and far between.

Soon after the origins of Christianity, false teachings began to arise within the Christian community that threatened the church, and in the New Testament we constantly find believers opposing professing Christians who are in serious error. This theme has been a frequent and recurring one ever since. Today, as much as at any time in the church's history, we need to oppose people of this kind and to avoid close fellowship with them when possible. Instead, all too often believers seem to be influenced by what we could call a spirit of accommodation. This willingness to put our arms around everyone who calls himself or herself a Christian, and to welcome them, however, is far from being a biblical attitude.

Furthermore, if we want to help those who have gone wrong, the most loving thing we can do is to keep ourselves pure and separate, to pray for them to repent, and to engage them in discussion when the opportunity arises.

I have been a Christian for over 30 years. I have a Ph.D. in New Testament from the University of Edinburgh. I am a UK national and I currently live in the south of Scotland. Check out my blog, Dropping the Traditions, at droppingthetraditions.blogspot.com

Article Source: http://www.faithwriters.com-CHRISTIAN WRITERS


 
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