WHILE THE TITLEof this article can find no support in Holy Scripture, in all honesty we must confess it is the practical theology of most of the Church. We dare not blatantly say, "Our Fellowship is all right but be careful of the others," however, through insinuations, attitudes and daily life practices, this is the message we communicate. Cautious isolation and suspicion toward "other Christians" is more the custom than the cooperation, fellowship and communion the Word of God teaches.
In these days I believe God is dealing with the body of Jesus Christ on the principle of unity. He wants us, as a church, to live and work together, and He is allowing things to come which will put us to the test so that we will learn the true principle of unity from Him. He often teaches us by putting us into a situation in which we have to learn in order to survive.
In nature the eagle is a creature who flies to the greatest heights and when its fledgling comes to the age where he should earn to fly the mother eagle must teach it. But how can she teach a baby eagle to fly? She cannot sit down and talk to it, but she might fly around a bit to show the little baby how he is supposed to move his wings. However, for that baby eagle to try it himself is the problem. So what does the mother eagle do? Whether true or not, I don’t know, however, I have been told she sometimes teaches a reluctant youngster to fly by putting him in a situation where he must learn by pushing him out of the nest. The nice comfortable nest is gone! And so while he is hurtling downward, he must learn to fly!
God also does that with us. He puts us in a Position where we have to learn. It is sink or swim. It is do or die. It is no time for theorizing. It is a time for action. And it is in the action that we learn. So the Lord allows things to come against us that put us in the place where we have to "learn to fly". In other words, He will continue to put us in circumstances where we must learn that we need each other and will realize that every member of Christ’s body belongs and is necessary. (I Cor. 12).
Throughout the Scriptures the Holy Spirit has been telling us that our center has to be in Jesus. We have to be Christocentric. Not egocentric, but Christo-centric. Not doctrine-centric, but Christo-centric.
God is working with His people teaching them to receive one another according to each one’s relationship and faith in Jesus. For if a man is bought by the blood of Christ, if he has faith in Jesus, if he has received Him as his savior, if he is trusting Him as his way to heaven, if he is trusting Him as his redeemer, he has the same Spirit that I have, and on that basis alone we can have fellowship. We must receive one another as brothers begotten by the same Heavenly Father.
There are many viewpoints or doctrines within the fellowship of the body of Christ over which we can divide if we want to find them. Some are true, some are false, and some are in between. Those great doctrines -- the deity of Jesus Christ and the principle of salvation by grace through faith as the free gift of God’s love --are cardinal doctrines of Christianity. If any man deny Christ he is none of His and therefore not my brother. When anyone denies Christ we can have no fellowship or unity with such a one. We reject those persons and stand against those who come with another doctrine than this. The Bible instructs us, "If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house." (II Jn. 10). So there we must stand firm.
But having met a brother who has faith in Jesus, I must receive him as a brother. He may still be encumbered with the grave clothes of his old life; he may be immature; he may have problems, morally, spiritually, emotionally, but if he has faith in Jesus and is working righteousness, I have to receive him in the body of Christ. And as long as we stay Christo-centric we both can worship that Christ together and we can glorify our Jesus.
If we are concerned about being Christo-centric then I can minister Jesus to him and he can minister Jesus to me. We can have the most wonderful fellowship even though we may disagree on ninety-nine out of a hundred lesser doctrines. We can disagree about what the sacrament of the altar is, or if it be a sacrament at all. We can disagree about the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We can disagree about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. We can disagree about any and every possible point of disagreement, but we can still have beautiful fellowship in Christ, if we stay Christo-centric. We can grow in grace and we can grow in the knowledge of that which is really essential -- the knowledge of Jesus. We can become beautiful Christians. We can become a church that is strong, a church that will give its life for its Lord--if we stay Christo-centric.
No matter what our lesser doctrine may be, if it becomes more important to us than maintaining the unity of Spirit in Jesus it will bring schism in the body. We cannot get two people together for fellowship and stay united on any other basis than that we are one in Jesus Christ. Unless, of course, individual liberty and freedom of thought is sacrificed, but this produces a false unity. Otherwise, someone is going to feel that this doctrine of "yours" is a deadly doctrine. He can draw it on to a conclusion that you would not dream of, saying, "You see where this will lead--how deadly it is? Therefore, I can’t have anything to do with you because you hold a deadly doctrine." Any doctrine can be drawn to a "deadly conclusion" and thus justify rejection of those who hold it. If our fellowship is around lesser doctrines we will put schisms in the body. Certainly two thousand years of church history ought to have taught us that. Our fellowship today in the Christian church at large is not Christocentric. It is doctrine-centered.
Each group draws up its doctrinal statement and says, "If you want to believe this, then you can have fellowship with us." So if you take the right amount of water, then you can come and fellowship, but if you do not have the right amount of water you cannot. If you use grape juice instead of wine, then you can come and have fellowship. Or if you do not take any grape juice but rather take wine, then you can come and have fellowship. It does not matter. Each group has something that has become so vital to it that it fellowships with "us four and no more".
Very few groups who are doctrine-centered will deny that there are true Christians in other groups. Only very extreme fanatics will claim salvation only for their group. Very few will say there are no Christians in other denominations or in other doctrine centered fellowships. However, while admitting this they insist that they cannot have fellowship with those others for fear of being tainted. The Word of God says all are the children of God who have faith in Jesus, and He commands us to receive one another and tells us that we do have a unity through His blood and through being baptized into the body of Jesus Christ.
We are all members of the same body whether we like it or not. And since we are, we are to maintain the unity of the Spirit. Paul beseeches us in I Cor. 1:10, that we "all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among (us) but that (we) be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." This means that we should find something to agree upon rather than finding something to disagree with.
When we meet a brother who has a "far out" doctrine, why dwell on the thing that becomes divisive? Although it may take some effort, why not find something that we can speak the same thing on, that we can be of a like mind on, and maintain the unity of the Spirit? If we cannot find it anyplace else we can always find it in Jesus, keeping our center in Him, and walking in love one toward the other.
If a brother does not like something that I believe, I am not walking in love if I insist on making him believe it. However, we can sit down and discuss it and look at it from the standpoint of the Scripture if he wants to. Our rule for conduct, our rule for teaching, our basis for faith, can only be the Word of God and nothing else. Paul makes it clear that we should put no stock in doctrine based upon visions and angels and revelations. Neither should one oppose another doctrine on the basis of visions, revelations, traditions, discernments, projections and fear tactics. We should answer a false doctrine with God’s Word.
As we look into Scripture together we may find that our brother has a strong, legitimate basis for what he is talking about. At such an impasse, where we see points of Scripture that we cannot give up, and he sees points of Scripture that he cannot give up, we are forced to decide, "Am I going to stop fellowshipping over this doctrinal point? Or are we going to center in Jesus and keep Him uppermost and not allow this division to become a schism in the body of Christ?"
It is through these disagreements that I believe the Lord is teaching us to fly. I believe He allows various viewpoints to teach us how we can have fellowship together in Jesus Christ though we may have some very "far-out" doctrines in the midst of us.
Our local assembly has been charged with being "too open in receiving anybody." One man said, "I get the impression it is like a fish bowl full of all kinds of fish!" He did not seem to realize, but that is exactly what the Kingdom of God is like. I did not say that! Christ did in His parable of the net in Matthew 13:47-51: Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
The Kingdom of Heaven is just exactly like that fish bowl this man was telling me about. Jesus said it. He said it is a net, literally, a dragnet. The fisherman puts it into the sea and pulls it along and as it is pulled along it catches many fish. Some are good. Some are bad. But the fisherman cannot always tell what fish are in the net. He has to get them to shore. And it is the angels that sort them out -- not the fish sorting themselves. Do you see that? That is important! One guppy does not look at the other guppy and say, "You don’t belong in this net!" There might even be a shark in that net, but Jesus did not say to let the other fish gang up on him and throw him out. The angels do the throwing out.
This same theme is in the parallel parable of the tares and the wheat in Matthew 13:24-30: "Another parable put he forth unto them4 saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also. So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares? He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn."
Matt. 13:36-43: "Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field. He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; the field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; the enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear."
Let me emphasize this -- the prerogative of judgment is Jesus Christ’s. He will send forth His angels -- and that at the end of the age. In the meantime, those who were taking care of the field saw some tares and they were ready to cleanse the field for they had the responsibility of caring for the field.
Jesus said the Son of man is the one who sowed the seed. Jesus sowed a good seed in the world. He put some of His people in the world. The world is a field. He expects to gather a harvest from it one day. And right in the midst of the good seed -- right in the midst of the children of God -- there are tares which Jesus says are children of Satan. Here He is not even talking of other Christians, but of people who are not Christians at all, and who are in the midst of people who are Christians. The division here is between the children of the Devil and the children of the kingdom, the children of God. Yet Jesus says these two are growing together. They look alike.
I do not know much about tares. I understand it is a plant that looks very much like wheat, but it does not bear good fruit. It has a similar leaf and grows to about the same height. The one way to tell the difference between the wheat and the tares is when they come to maturity. The wheat becomes loaded with grain and the weight of the grain in the head causes the head to bow. But the tares have very light seed in them and so they stand straight and tall. The proud and arrogant tare stands with his head up and nothing in his head. But the real wheat is bowing in humility but with a lot in his head. Of course, the parallel is obvious. The children of the Devil are proud and arrogant. That is the fruit of Satan’s spirit -- pride and arrogance and headiness. And the fruit of the Spirit is meekness, humility. I am afraid some of us have a little bit of the wheat and a little bit of the tare seed all mixed together all too often.
But to return to those who had the care of the field. They looked across the field and saw that there were tares in it. And they said, "Lord, we had better purify this field. We have to keep this field pure. And there is a tare over there. Let’s get out and root him out." And the Lord said, "No, no! You are not that clever. You are not clever enough to do a good job. You might, peradventure, in your zeal root out some good wheat." In another place the Lord has said, "If you offend one of these little ones that believe in me it were better that a millstone were tied around your neck and you were cast into the depths of the deepest sea." (Luke 17:2). It is a dangerous thing to root out wheat in our zeal to keep the field pure. It is better, Jesus said, to let the tares grow than to jeopardize good wheat while rooting out bad tares.
The history of the church proves that whenever man has undertaken to purify the church he has made havoc of it. Whenever those who have the responsibility of the flock undertake to purify it they put it under bondage instead. Invariably the authority shifts from the Holy Spirit to a man because the only way man can attempt to keep the church pure is to draw up a creed and set someone over the church to enforce that creed with the weapon of excommunication or rejection. But without commission from God to excommunicate, there are no teeth in authority. Consequently, a hierarchy or priesthood develops as some of the brethren claim special unction from God to keep the flock pure.
Through this usurped authority over the flock of God they claim special wisdom from God to dictate to fellow Christians how and what to believe. If it is found that a fellow Christian is even thinking contrary to what should be believed, he is excommunicated or warned against. These "purifiers of the church" do not stop with judging what a man may teach or preach -- which can be justified -- but they attempt to control the very thinking of fellow Christians by withdrawing fellowship or marking as "tainted" anyone who dares entertain a thought contrary to what they consider truth.
This is the history of the church! Before the hierarchy was developed the early Church was by no means of one doctrine. Paul preached a doctrine of salvation by grace and the Judaizers followed after him, preaching, "You’ve got to become a Jew first before you can become a Christian." These Judaizers were Christians. They were not against Gentiles becoming Christians. They wanted them to become Jews first -- that is all. So they followed Paul around, opposing him. "Paul’s preaching a heresy!" And so, from the beginning there were serious differences resulting in a council held at Jerusalem. And what was the council’s conclusion? Work at righteousness and believe on Jesus. And we lay on you no other burden than this. (Acts 15:28).
From the very beginning there has been division of doctrine, but the early church had unity in the Spirit. They did not think alike but they had unity in the Spirit, and it was the healthiest church that we know anything about. It spread to every corner of the world until even the mighty Roman empire gave up its persecution and decided to join them.
From then on the seeds of hierarchy which had already been planted grew at an accelerated pace. Certain overseers in the church felt they had to keep the church pure. And therefore, they began to develop the doctrine of God-sanctioned authority over the body to keep it pure, to set up the place of the bishop as being supreme and taking the place of God in the midst of the assembly. Therefore, he was the voice of God to tell the rest of them what they could believe, when they could believe, and how they could believe it -- in other words, how to think. Immediately the Spirit began to dry up; the prophet’s voice was stilled, and the life of the church became nominal. The Spirit’s power and authority was quenched and the gifts of the Spirit began to fade until there was no power left at all. Men had to improvise with ritualism and doctrinarism and empty forms -- the shell of that which once was.
Invariably, as these overseers operated, the wheat was rooted out in the desire to take out the tares from the field. Jesus did not give these overseers of the field the right to purify the field. He retains that right for Himself. He could have sent His angels to root the tares out even while the field was bearing fruit, but He did not. Paul says in I Cor. 11:19, "For there must be also heresies among you (not outside of you, but among you) that they who are approved may be made manifest.. . ." God always has a reason!
In my opinion, to have this thought, "I have the wisdom -- I have the commission to keep the body of Christ pure!" is the height of arrogance and becomes the basis for division in the body of Christ. One man says, "Oh, but I have my flock to be careful for! You have to beware of that fellow over there." And another says, "They’ve got something dangerous." Don’t go over there! Stay away from those people! This man over here -- look out for him, too." The result is that we get taken up with fighting, with doctrine, with the work of keeping the body of Christ pure doctrinally; spreading discord, suspicion and fear. We forget about Jesus. And when we forget about Jesus, the Holy Spirit is grieved and withdraws His power. When we have lost the Spirit of God in power we have lost everything.
Today we are in a crisis in the charismatic movement over precisely this. I believe that the Lord is looking for stubborn men who will not bend on this point. A man who loves Jesus is my brother. I do not have to accept his doctrine. I do not have to accept his viewpoint -- but he is still a child of God if he loves Jesus.
Some brethren, because they have a traditional position, even though they disagree with each other in their traditional position, seek to put an anathema upon another brother who does not have a traditional position. This is going on all over -- "spirit-sniffing," judging, rejecting, criticizing, backbiting, exalting themselves as someone superior with a divine revelation and the commission of God to keep the brethren pure. And it is destroying the body of Jesus Christ. It is putting schism in the body. Brethren who once worked and fellowshipped together are separated because one takes issue with the other’ s doctrine.
The point I am stating is that we must learn to accept one another in Jesus Christ, that we must learn that out of every nation they that fear God and work righteousness are acceptable to God. (Acts 10:35). And if they are acceptable to God, who am I to forbid the hand of fellowship? If Jesus is willing to put His name upon you and call you brother, what have I to lose or protect by doing the same?
This is not to say that there is no false doctrine about or that it should not be guarded against. We do not receive all men as teachers. We do not allow teaching to come into the fellowship with the sanction of the eldership from the standpoint of recommending everything. Again, the teaching that goes forth must be Christo-centric. The teaching that comes forth must minister light so that all can grow in Jesus. This is the criterion of whether we receive a teaching or not. Checking out a brother’s private doctrine and viewpoints and thus rejecting him is another matter. Teaching is to be judged, not brethren. Ministering doctrine rather than Christ does not minister life -- it ministers schism. There is a priority for ministry in the New Testament and that is to build up one another in Christ, to build up the body of Jesus Christ -- to build it up, not to tear it down. To build it up -- not to purify it. Purification is the realm of the Lord who will purify the body in His wisdom, in His day, and that by qualified purifiers. No man in this life has the wisdom to judge another man concerning his relationship to Christ nor to judge his purity, nor his usefulness to his master. To be sure, there is false doctrine everywhere and we must be alert for the truth. Who can say he is without some false doctrine himself? And if such be the case, it is folly to become too dogmatic and sure of oneself in any doctrinal controversy. The opponent may be right and you find yourself fighting God.
Looking at the history of the church we find that the church fathers, men like Origen and Tertullian, were great men of God who helped preserve for us the truth of the Gospel so that we have it today. But as we examine their doctrines some of them were as "far-out" as one could possibly get. If they were alive today many brethren would reject them. But God owned them in the body and set them as real lights in the church that preserved for us the flame of faith. They loved Jesus and they taught Jesus. That was their one center regardless of what else they may have believed.
Those who seem to us to have held false views may even have been right. After all, we are two thousand years removed from Jesus. They were only about one or two hundred years removed from Him. Chances are they might have had more light than we do. They did not have to go through the dark ages first. We are trying to regain the glimmer of truth that was snuffed out. For approximately five hundred years we have been trying to get it back and the Holy Spirit has been gradually re-illuminating His people with a progression of revelation. When we get to the point where we say, "We’ve got it all right now and any further revelation is of the Devil", from that moment on we limit the work of the Spirit in leading His people into all the truth.
Each one of us must have the freedom of the Holy Spirit in our hearts to think and to be convinced in our own hearts and not to be afraid to think because someone says we dare not think. Paul, writing in Romans says, "He that has faith, let him have it between himself and God. Let each man be convinced in his own heart. And let us no longer judge one another anymore, but this rather, that we do not put a stumbling block in one another’s way." The message of Romans 14 must be central in our hearts if we will have true Christian unity.
That, to me, is the explicit, lucid, clear message of the New Testament. When we ignore that message we are in jeopardy. We then put schisms in the body. People who cause schisms often accuse those who are trying to maintain unity of putting the schism in. It has been ever the way of Satan to do something and then accuse someone else of what he has been doing.
I am aware the views presented above leave one open to the charge of being either naive and gullible or irresponsible. Such an accusation is understandable. There are Christians who believe in obviously unscriptural doctrines which are sometimes even destructive to Christ’s Church. Often these Christians are militantly aggressive in the propagation of their questionable views. It would indeed be irresponsible to allow such to invade a fellowship and destroy it. In spite of such dangers, however, we must be careful not to be pushed by fear into strictly human controls, which as we have pointed out, can be more destructive to spiritual life and unity than the heresies we seek to guard against. If the whole counsel of God in His Word is honored, I believe the Holy Spirit is able to protect His people from error. Indeed, He is the only one who can and He will not leave us at the mercy of false prophets. So long as He has liberty to move in and through every believer and is the recognized authority in an assembly, the Body of Christ is as secure as it can be in this world. Through the gifts He bestows upon individual members of His body such as a word of wisdom, word of knowledge, prophecy and discernment of spirits, He will be able to correct even the leaders of an assembly should they go astray. Thus the Scripture teaches us.. . "All of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility." This admonition leads us to consider Paul’s teaching in Titus 3:9-10 as to who should be rejected. (Yes, notwithstanding what I have said about receiving other brethren, there are some who must be shunned!) But who should be so treated? From the context of this portion of Scripture it is clear only those who have an unteachable, non-submissive and arrogant spirit should be avoided for they resist repeated admonition to desist from their "foolish questions, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law … which are unprofitable and vain." A heretic, contrary to traditional understanding, is not necessarily someone who holds error or does not have the whole truth (for then who could escape the charge), but rather someone who is unteachable and opinionated -- and aggressively so! The Greek word translated heretic (hairetikos) literally means "one who creates or fosters factions." The connotation of the word is "an opinionated person". With this definition it is possible one could hold the truth in arrogance causing factions and so be a heretic even though one is technically right. Conversely, it is clear that a brother may sincerely believe error but, demonstrating a humble spirit, he could not scripturally be rejected as a heretic. The policy of rejecting other Christians because of differing or even unorthodox viewpoints when they are walking with God and seeking fellowship in a submissive spirit cannot be supported with Scripture.
One commandment Jesus gave us -- only one -- and that was to love one another. (John 13:34). It is contradictory to say, "I love you, but get out of here! We love you, but you’re tainted. Stay away from us!" I do not know that kind of love. I do not think God knows that kind of love. He looks at the sinner and He says, "I love you -- come to Me! And let my fellowship purify you."
If we love a brother and he wants to come with a humble, submissive spirit we are to receive him. We say, "We love you", and we trust the Holy Spirit in our midst through our love to purify him and correct him, if necessary. He will never be corrected if kept at arm’s length. It is hard to see the love we claim for him when we say, "Keep your distance. Don’t come into our midst." Such hypocrisy needs to be exposed.
Love one another without hypocrisy, the Bible says (Romans 12:9). Love receives. Love believes all things. Love does not judge. Love does not put down. Love does not vaunt itself. (I Cor. 13). And when I put an anathema upon a man I vaunt myself over him. Love does not bear a grudge. God gives us a practical place to exercise our love so that our love is not just in words but in deeds.
Father, we thank you today for Jesus. We thank you that we can find our center in Him. And that we can love Him, and as we allow His love to flow to us and through us it can splash over on others, on our brothers and sisters. Lord, help us to love the brethren even as you love them -- that we no longer judge one another and be suspicious of one another and put barriers up between one another but that we might receive one another as you receive each one of us. Amen.
Redeeming Love, 1846 Grant Road, Saint Paul, MN 55112
Copyright © 2006 All rights reserved.
Revised: September 16, 2009
For questions or comments on this site contact the web designer.