Importance of Spiritual FellowshipStudy No. 136
Some of the most beautiful and majestic passages of scripture describe the fellowship of the brethren in the Church.
Beauty of True Spiritual Fellowship
Psalms 133:1-3, "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity [harmony]! It is like the precious ointment [the Holy Spirit] upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments; As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew [like the Spirit] that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there [within unity lies the power of the people of God] the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore."
Malachi 3:16-17, "Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon His name. And they shall be Mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up My jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him."
Proverbs 27:17, "Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend." [Living Bible: "A friendly discussion is as stimulating as the sparks that fly when iron strikes iron."]
How can such lovely, divine associations be created and maintained? One thing is for sure: Godly fellowship doesn't just happen. Let us examine what the Bible says about fellowship.
What is Fellowship?
What do we mean by fellowship? A dictionary definition is "companionship, a mutual sharing, a group of people with the same interests." Fellowship includes meeting with others for Sabbath and Holy Day fellowship, but there is more. There is religious and personal discussion before and after meetings, contact via letter, phone or visits between services. If you cannot see brethren frequently, a telephone call is the next best form of communication. Letters are much less effective. Fellowship includes a conscious effort to get to know others and establish strong ties so that you can encourage them, have them encourage you, resulting in your growing together to the fullness of Christ. This results in your being able to pray effectively for one another, and to establish strong bonds of lasting friendship.
Beauty of True Spiritual Fellowship
Hebrews 10:23-27, "Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for He is faithful that promised;) And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching. For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries."
Fellowship is so important that rejecting fellowship can lead to the unpardonable sin. On the other side of the coin, fellowshipping with the "wrong crowd" could also cause you to lose your salvation!
A little leaven leavens the whole lump. Bad associations corrupt good conduct. I Corinthians 15:33 (Moffatt), "Bad company is the ruin of good character." Likewise, lack of spiritual fellowship can also ruin good character.
Proper fellowship is a critical area that we need to practice correctly. The closer we get to the return of the Messiah, the more we need true spiritual fellowship.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of independent Sabbath keepers today who literally reject fellowship. There may be many different reasons they give, but basically their problem is one of selfish lust. Anyone who claims to be a Bible believer and does not serve and help others is selfish, deceiving the self, and headed for a spiritual fall, Jude 18-19. The only way we can keep ourselves from falling is to help and serve other people, even those who are spotted with false doctrines, verses 21-24. Separating oneself can well lead to the loss of the Holy Spirit, and as a result be none of His, Romans 8:9.
I have seen time and again the result of lack of scriptural fellowship. False doctrine, even strange and weird beliefs, come naturally when there is no fellowship with iron sharpening iron. The ultimate result of lack of fellowship is apostasy.
Fellowship helps us to build character in ourselves and in others. It helps us to produce spiritual fruit. I Corinthians 3:10-13 shows that what we build in this life will be revealed by fire at the return of the Master. Fellowship can either build us and others up, or it can tear down the Church. What kind of fellowship are we practicing?
True Fellowship is Rare
One of my fondest childhood memories was our family visits with relatives. I enjoyed playing with my cousins, the picnics, fishing, and talking with my uncles and aunts and grandparents. As I grew up, American society became increasingly mobile and self-centered. Family ties with relatives became less and less strong. Now, all that is left of our family ties is an annual "Family Roundup," which I have been unable to attend for years. As my mother has observed, the older relatives still attend, but as they get older and die, she knows that the younger generation will have little or no ties with the relatives at all. With a sister in Boston, ourselves in Missouri, and other relatives in Oregon and Washington, it is difficult for even our immediate family to get together in one place, let alone with uncles, aunts and cousins. Some people don't even care about their kin.
And so it is spiritually. Believers are being influenced by worldly trends, and are establishing at best only loose ties with their spiritual kinfolk. This is suicidal. We are either going to hang together, or all hang separately.
Satanic forces rushing this present evil world to its Armageddon are very much opposed to the fellowship of the brethren because of its commitment and exclusive nature. When true brethren establish permanent, close ties to the exclusion of non-believers, they can be powerful, effective witnesses to the world with the message of the good news of the coming Messianic Kingdom. The demonic force today known as the New Age Movement believes that the only evil is that which causes separation. That is, they are against any group which has definite doctrines, and is not ecumenical, but excludes others from fellowship. As a result of current social trends, and the tendency in most churches toward doctrinal liberalization, true fellowship is becoming a very rare thing today.
In the ideal situation, religious assemblies of true believers are small, meeting in homes, led by kind, ordained elders who set a wonderful example of hospitality and fulfill all the other qualifications of the ministry (I Timothy 3:1-7). Traveling evangelists regularly tour local churches, holding special meetings resulting in numbers of new converts, and strengthening the brethren. Evangelists often stay in an area for a number of months. New members are received into the local churches with open arms. They are taken into homes and lovingly guided into more and more of the truth. There are no heresies in either the ministry or the membership, but a great deal of religious instruction and conversation. The brethren are lifelong friends, close in spiritual worship, social recreation, and often establish firm and mutually beneficial business and working relationships. Talents and abilities abound in the church, and members are given an amazing degree of freedom to exercise their spiritual gifts. Truly, "iron sharpens iron" as individuals with one gift cooperate with other persons with different gifts.
Sadly, this ideal situation, though sought after, is experienced by few, if any, of us. Because human nature is in all too many cases dominant over the earnest of the Spirit in us, we fall prey to devastating problems which make fellowship less than it should be. Fellowship is a doctrine very close to marriage. Marriage should teach us to be faithful and loving to our Heavenly Father. Likewise, fellowship should train us for living together harmoniously in the Family of Elohim for all eternity. If we succeed in marriage and fellowship, we qualify to be married to the Saviour and live in the family of God forever. The strong relationship between marriage and fellowship shows that one does not have to be married in order to build the character and learn how to function in Godís family. The unmarried or widow (-er) believer, through fellowship, can learn the same lessons, build the same character, as the married person can. If we fail utterly in these God-plane relationships, we prove ourselves unfit for the Kingdom of God. While ultimate perfection may not be entirely possible in this life, striving for right relationships in marriage and fellowship are extremely important for us all.
Here are some rules of fellowship:
(1) Be Friendly
Rule number one in fellowship is: be friendly.
Proverbs 18:24, "A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother."
Proverbs 27:9-10, "Ointment and perfume rejoice the heart: so doth the sweetness of a man's friend by hearty counsel. Thine own friend, and thy father's friend, forsake not; neither go into thy brother's house in the day of thy calamity: for better is a neighbour that is near than a brother far off."
John 15:13-15, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you."
Friends overlook and forget one another's faults, are genuinely interested in the other person, strive to build the other up, do special acts of kindness to the other, don't critically judge one another, don't take one another to court, etc. In short, they love one another as Jonathan loved David. It only takes two people to establish a friendship for life. Two dedicated people who want it to happen, and receive the power from the Almighty to make it so. Some people don't become close friends today because they don't want to. In so doing, they are rejecting the way to the Kingdom of God. It takes work to be friendly and establish life-long friendships.
(2) Be Loving
Jesus pointed to one great sign whereby we would know where the true believers are today: "By this," He said, "shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another," John 13:35. Yes, even those outside the faith would know something was different, when they would see people committed to one another in loving, caring, lasting friendships and fellowship. How would it be known? By the disciples laying down their lives in service to one another. Instead of bickering, fighting among themselves, true believers should be visiting one another, working and playing with one another, and together striving to give the Truth to others.
Being friendly and loving one another sounds simple. It isn't!
(3) Be a Peacemaker
It takes "two to tango" in an argument. Likewise, it takes two to maintain a harmonious relationship. A verse I had to memorize in Sunday school applies to fellowship: "Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another," Romans 14:19. If the things you talk about do not lead to peace, then you are a troublemaker instead of a peacemaker. If you know of a subject, religious or personal, that is a source of irritation to a fellow believer, avoid the topic (we are not talking about gross sins infecting the entire group, which must be exposed). It seems that so many folks always want to "be right" and get the "last word" in any discussion. A friend of mine confided to me about another individual in the church who always browbeats him in any discussion, not respecting my friend's opinion, sometimes not even letting him speak.
In marriage, and in fellowship, loving and respecting the other individual is the first step toward a proper relationship.
(4) Be Tolerant
The basis for friendship is respect and trust, which results in tolerance. Have you ever observed a husband or wife who always picks at his or her mate for every little thing? They argue openly about petty matters. Or, haven't you observed super-strict parents who severely punish their children over every little infraction? Or, the reverse case when they ignore their little brats and allow them to do almost anything, even in public? How church members treat their spouses and children is a good indication how they interact with others. After all, fellowship is merely an extension of family life.
Unless there are deep mental and spiritual problems in the family, most of us are rather tolerant over the faults and foibles of those we love. (Sometimes, though, we are overly tolerant.) There are few big issues that should create major problems. We would rather work with a problem child or a problem in marriage, for a long time, before resorting to throwing them out of the family and severing our relationship. So should we conduct ourselves in the Church.
Forced to be Alone
There are some cases where true believers are unjustly thrust out of an assembly. If this happens, the organization from which they were excommunicated wasn't the true assembly of the Almighty, III John 1:9-10.
One should seek fellowship with like-minded believers, even if there are few of them. Fellowship with a handful of sincere and zealous believers is better than fellowship with thousands of lukewarm, watered-down pretenders.
Sometimes, through no fault of their own, true believers find themselves isolated from others. Perhaps they can fellowship only several times a year. In this case, they should make the most of every precious moment, and not fret and become discouraged over lack of fellowship. The Eternal will provide.
A close friend recently told me: "Surely I wouldn't lose my salvation if I fellowshipped with the ________ church, would I?" He recognizes grave doctrinal problems in the ministry and membership of the church group he attends. He knows he needs fellowship. He excuses the heresies of the church leadership by stating, "We all sin, don't we? We cannot judge others."
My friend, you are totally wrong! You CAN lose your salvation by fellowshipping with the wrong crowd. Let us carefully examine the scriptural proof.
Romans 16:17-18, "Now I beseech you, brethren [not just ministers], mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple."
This important scripture tells us to "mark," i.e., to carefully take note of and avoid, those who do two things: (1) those who cause divisions contrary to the true doctrine, and (2) those who put stumblingblocks before those weak in the faith.
We have seen lay people do this time after time. They have a "pet doctrine" that is actually heresy. They must "share" it with everyone the first time they meet them, especially those new (weak) in the faith. It is a grievous sin to offend one of the little ones, Luke 17:1-4.
Romans 16:18 indicates that those primarily guilty are those who deceive the weak by good words and fair speeches. In other words, the ministry! We must take note of, and avoid, those ministers and other individuals who teach heretical doctrines which divide the congregation and destroy the faith of newer converts. You cannot "avoid" someone by worshipping together with them on the Sabbath and Holy Days!
Let's be specific. There are ministers we know that are preaching heresy regarding divorce and remarriage. They are allowing open adulterers to remain in their congregation, not fearlessly proclaiming the truth, and causing many to stumble and remain in their sins, which eventually leads to a loss of their salvation. We are told to judge this situation, Romans 14:13, "Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way."
Yet many personal friends of ours are continuing to fellowship with these heretics who condone adultery. Those desirous of fellowship at any cost are charitable. They "have love" for the sinning brethren and the ministry who condone and allow adultery. After all, we are not to "judge" one another, are we?
It is no different today than it was in ancient Corinth. In the Corinthian Church, a supposedly Christian man was openly living with his father's wife (probably his step-mother). He was guilty of incest, a horrible sin. The Corinthian Church wouldn't judge the situation. They "had love" for this sinner and his "problem," or "mistake." When a sin is not called a sin, but a problem, then that church is departed from the truth. Jesus and the Apostle Paul knew the difference between "judging" in the sense of making a decision, and "judging" in the sense of condemnation to eternal death (John 7:24, I Corinthians 6:1-3, vs. Matthew 7:1). Paul judged this case even though he wasn't there personally. A man guilty of committing incest should be put out of the church.
I Corinthians 5:11-13, "But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person."
Today, however, we are more "enlightened." Those who are divorced and remarried are not commanded to quit committing adultery. They are openly accepted in almost all Sabbath keeping churches. They are not put out of the church.
"A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump," I Corinthians 5:6. Do we understand what this means? Sin is compared to leaven. Even one adulterer, fornicator, railer, drunkard or extortioner who is accepted by the group results in that sin growing in the whole group. It adulterates (corrupts) the whole group. This is a spiritual law that always exacts its penalty.
The usual response is that we all sin, so does this mean that we can't fellowship with anybody? Not at all. The Bible specifically lays out the fact that one should be put out of the church only for open, public, unrepented sins that are persisted in. It even gives several categories of sins that are grounds for dismissal, I Corinthians 5:11. In the case of the Corinthian Church, the incestuous man later repented. The "righteous" Corinthians then became self-righteous and hard-hearted and refused to accept the repentant sinner back into the congregation until Paul admonished them to take him back, II Corinthians 2:1-8.
Those who continue to fellowship with a group that condones and does not preach against divorce and remarriage are guilty of adultery themselves! The leaven of adultery is sown in their own lives and the general membership.
A Command to Withdraw
II Thessalonians 3:6, "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us."
This is a command, not a suggestion. Who are the disorderly? Verses 11-12, those who are lazy and will not work, and are busybodies in other's affairs. Who are those who don't follow the received traditions? II Thessalonians 2:15, those who practice heresies contrary to the Bible. We are commanded to withdraw ourselves from such heretics. Not usually on the spur of the moment, but after applying Matthew 18 and doing our best to resolve the issue.
We are not to receive into our house heretical preachers who are against the doctrine of Jesus Christ. We are not to wish them well or partake of their evil deeds, II John 9-11. Isn't it plain that you should not tithe to such a doctrinally corrupt minister?
The tithing issue is a sore spot, the Achilles heel of many believers. In the United States and several other western countries, paying tithes to a tax-exempt religious organization results in substantial tax savings to the tithe giver. If this were not so, many would not give to an organization or minister about which they had grave doubts. Economics holds many in an unscriptural position. God loves a cheerful giver, but somehow these tithe payers, who are too concerned about a tax deduction, have forgotten that truth. They tithe grudgingly to a group they don't totally support, because of economic advantage. Money is the stumblingblock of their iniquity, Ezekiel 7:19.
Galatians 1:6-9, "I marvel that ye are so soon removed from Him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed."
Isn't this admonition a little too strong? Paul put a curse on those who preach a false gospel. We today would tend to hesitate before making such a "judgmental" pronouncement. Yet, we need to be shocked into the reality that following false doctrine, condoning those who do, results in eternal death. We need to repent of such sins!
Titus 3:10-11, "A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject; Knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself."
You are not to reject fellowship with a heretic out of whim, personality conflict, or over a small reason, but only after the first and second admonition.
What about a minister who does not fearlessly proclaim the truth? What should you do if they do not put the heretics out of the church, and condone those who practice gross sins? Should you fellowship with such a false minister?
Ezekiel 3:17-21 shows that God's watchmen are responsible for warning the people about the result of their sins. If a minister does not preach against sin, but instead condones sin, he will have to answer before the Almighty. Those who support such a minister will likewise be responsible.
Read Ezekiel 14:3-7. Idolatry of the ministry is the stumblingblock of iniquity to some, Ezekiel 44:12.
The Eternal has stricter standards for the ministry then He does for others. Their lives must be blameless. They must be the husband of one wife, I Timothy 3:2-7. A minister must be apt to teach. What if his personal life is blameless, yet he teaches in favor of and/or condones adultery and sexual sins? There are many, many Sabbath-keeping ministers who teach it is alright to divorce and remarry contrary to the Bible. Those who publicly condone and promote adultery are adulterers. Even though they personally may be "clean," they have encouraged others to commit adultery. They are blameworthy and have disqualified themselves from the ministry. By not teaching against the sins of their congregations, they are putting stumblingblocks in the way of salvation for many "little ones." Matthew 18:6 applies in this case.
The Savior told us to beware of the leaven (false doctrine) of the Pharisees and Sadducees, Matthew 16:12. Why bother with putting out physical leaven during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, if you are receiving a weekly diet of false doctrine from a false minister? If a minister preaches heresy, go to him. Take the sin to its source. If the matter is not resolved, admonish him, withdraw fellowship, but don't treat him as an enemy, Matthew 18:15-17. Don't let your brother suffer the results of sin. Go to your brother, Leviticus 19:17.
Judging and Discipline in the Church
Matthew 7:1-5, "Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye."
These verses are often misinterpreted, which results in damaging true fellowship. Is pointing out the sins of others "judging" them, contrary to what the Savior said in these verses? Not at all. Let us understand what He meant.
We are not to bear false witness, Exodus 20:16. A talebearer is strongly denounced by the Bible, Leviticus 19:16, Proverbs 18:8. You should always try to help others overcome their sins, and not expose them unnecessarily. Love covers, Proverbs 10:12. Then what did Jesus mean when He said, "Judge not, that ye be not judged"?
The correct meaning of the word for "judge" in this case is "condemn." Civil judges have the authority from God's word to condemn evildoers to a stiff sentence. Ministers of the New Covenant have the responsibility to teach the right way and command people to repent of their wrong doing.
Hypocritical Pharisees accused, even condemned, others of the very things they themselves were guilty. They had beams of evil in their eyes when they were attempting to get the little specks of wrong out of their brother's eyes. The case of the woman taken in adultery shows that guilty ones with sins are not fit to judge others, John 8:3-10. Jesus could have condemned the woman, but He merely commanded her to go and sin no more.
Human beings, unlike God, cannot read other's hearts and minds. If we first overcome our own major sins and acquire spiritual maturity, we can become qualified to help others in the congregation recognize and overcome their sins. We must clean up our own act first! Mature believers should be able to help weaker brethren overcome their sins by pointing them out and sometimes giving them advice and help in overcoming. Properly done, this is an act of true Christian fellowship and love.
Judging has always been necessary in the Israel of God. Moses was unable to perform all the judging necessary for the millions of Israelites, so he appointed God-fearing men to judge minor cases, Exodus 18:13-26. Whenever the judges of Israel were evil or the people ignored them, there was war and captivity. The major cause for their suffering was that "every man did that which was right in his own eyes," Judges 17:6, 21:25. Acting upon human reason results in disaster, Proverbs 16:25. Israel's folly should be an example for us today, I Corinthians 10:11.
However, some in the church today abdicate their God-given responsibility to judge. Ministers refuse to preach the truth, or point out grievous sins of their membership. After all, the minister might lose his job if he was too pointed in his condemnation of sin! And many members feel that it is not their responsibility to help their brothers stop from sinning. By failing to judge properly, they are going to be guilty of the blood when their brethren fall and stumble.
Judgment has already begun in the Church of God, I Peter 4:17-18. Those who overcome by the Holy Spirit are qualifying to rule and judge in the World Tomorrow, the millennial kingdom, Revelation 2:26-27, 5:10, 20:4-6. Not only will the saints judge the world, but they will even judge angels, I Corinthians 6:1-7. If we are to judge angels, how much more the things of this life here and now? Verse 3.
How does God's judgment work in the church in this present age? The Eternal has given the elders in the church the responsibility to make binding decisions, provided that these decisions are not contrary to the Bible, Matthew 16:18-19. The church should be purged white and clean, to be a spotless bride for Christ at His return, Ephesians 5:25-27. The church cannot be clean unless there is proper judging.
Matthew 18:15-20 is the key. Yet how often has this passage been perverted in application! People naturally lack the courage to go to their brother. Instead, they go to the minister, or forget about it, or worse yet, gossip about the supposed sin to others not involved. This is a sin. Then the minister also sins by confronting the "offender" alone. Most of this could be avoided and peace and harmony would prevail more if we would simply follow this simple three step teaching: (1) Go to your brother first, try to get it resolved. (2) If the problem persists and is unresolved, bring some witnesses. (3) Only after this has been exhausted, should you take it to the church. Then all parties must be present. If the sinning party still refuses to repent, he must be put out of the church. You are not to hate the sinner or hold him in contempt. You must have no fellowship with him, II Thessalonians 3:14-15. Continue to pray for your departed brother, that God will bring him to repentance. The case is closed to further discussion until he acknowledges his error and gives evidence of repentance. Then he should be welcomed back into the congregation with open arms, II Corinthians 2:1-11.
Going to the individual privately and discussing the supposed sin takes courage. One should be very careful not to come to someone else in a condemnatory attitude. Pray about it beforehand. Ask questions of the individual. Try to determine if there is a sin involved, a coverup, or a defiant attitude of justifying the sin. You might be able to get the issue resolved. You might have been mistaken in assuming sin. The offender may admit sin and ask you for forgiveness. In such a case, you have gained your brother.
If the problem is not resolved, then you have another avenue. Find one or two other witnesses of his sin. A witness is not someone who has heard your side of the story. It is someone who knows firsthand of the fact of the offender's sin, and who would have gone to the individual had you not gone first. Bring along these witnesses and confront the guilty party in a tactful way. Again, with the proper attitude of love and firmness, the problem may be resolved speedily. If not, you must take it to the church. This obviously includes the ministry. In come cases, the situation could be handled privately between you, the accused, the witnesses and the minister. If serious enough, the matter should appear before the whole assembly. What should you do if the minister is as defiant and sin-coddling as the offender? What do you think? In this case, Romans 16:17 applies to the minister as well.
What type of sins should you go to your brother about? Matthew 18:15 in the King James was erroneously translated. The words "against thee" are not in the Greek text. It should read, "if your brother sins, go and tell him his fault." Obviously we should not become spies or watchdogs of other church members, staking out their houses to catch them in the act of sin. This is talking of a major, open sin that is in plain view. If you have true love for the brethren, you will help them overcome their sins, to bring them back into the truth. Go to your brother in the spirit of meekness, not in arrogance or a critical spirit, Galatians 6:1.
Why must the rebellious, unrepentant, grossly sinful, and troublemakers be put out of the church? There are at least three good reasons:
(1) For their own good, I Corinthians 5:5, "To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." Once an obstinate sinner is put out of the church, God will permit Satan to afflict him until he repents, if he will repent. God's goodness, even in chastisement, leads us to repentance. Some need to be disfellowshipped, excommunicated, in order to wake them up to the tragedy of their evil course.
(2) Strict discipline is also necessary to preserve the church. Tolerating a little sin leads to more sin. Sin must be nipped in the bud, for, "a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump," I Corinthians 5:6. The church must be purged of evildoers. Open sin must not be allowed in God's church.
(3) God's people must be prevented from becoming careless and lukewarm about sin, which God hates, and the church needs to be protected from becoming infiltrated with sinners and false teachers who would lead others to sin. Love is the basic reason for the necessity for church judging and discipline.
Correct judging and discipline in God's church is strictness with persistent sinners or troublemakers, and mercy and complete forgiveness to those who learn their lesson and repent. I Corinthians 6:1-7 shows that disputes between church members should not be brought before the worldly courts. Wise elders and mature male members, should settle all material and spiritual disputes within the church.
If your "fellowship" consists only of a few contacts with other believers for Sabbath or Holy Day meetings, a few sporadic letters, and even fewer phone calls, you are missing out on what God wants for you. You are no better than Protestants who go to church only twice a year, on Easter and Christmas. This is inadequate fellowship.
Here is another example of poor fellowship: We know of a church group where the minister every so often visits a remote congregation 100 miles away. The minister really doesn't care for the little flock, and when he does come it is to give a quick sermon and leave right after. In this congregation I am speaking of, before Sabbath services, members discuss sports and business events, rather than Bible topics. On Sabbaths between ministerial visits, they do not get together. Here is a flock that has a ministry, a group of people nearby, and yet they do not properly fellowship.
Should You Assemble Without A Minister?
A 1957 article by Herman L. Hoeh entitled "Should You Assemble Without a Minister?" answered the question with a definite "NO" Hoeh says, "Wherever groups gather together a dominant individual inevitably arises. By force of personality others begin to look to him ó even though he may not understand the Bible as well as they. He becomes a leader. Yet he may not be capable of keeping order. He is usually the center of arguments, doubts, and divisions. Dissension and errors gradually arise. Some brethren leave in disgust ó soured on the truth."
The New Testament example is clear. In every church, elders are to be ordained by ministers, following prayer and fasting. The people of God are compared to sheep. The Eternal's way is to provide ordained pastors to lead and nourish the flock, preventing them from being tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine, Ephesians 4:11-14. If brethren could accomplish love and good works (Hebrews 10:24) by themselves, then the Savior wasted His time training individuals to become pastors and teachers. The flock cannot feed itself! Without a true pastor, disunity, contention and error can easily arise. I have seen this happen, time and time again.
Some will point to Matthew 18:20, "For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them." This verse is not talking of little church group meetings. In context, it is speaking of an official meeting for the purpose of solving problems in the church, verses 15-19. Ordained ministers have the responsibility to convene church assemblies (see Leviticus 23:2-4).
Much of what Mr. Hoeh says is correct, providing that there is a true and faithful ministry, and that ministry is available and doing its job. That is the ideal situation. However, in the nearly 2,000-year history of the New Testament Church of God, this has seldom been the case. During almost all of the time, there has been a proliferation of false ministers and false brethren.
Should You Minister Without an Assembly?
Yes, absolutely. We should minister to (the word means "serve") others, even if we do not have a nearby assembly of believers with an ordained faithful minister. Write letters and make phone calls to other believers about spiritual and personal topics. Visit other faithful believers, and discuss important Bible teachings, rather than just the news and sports events. Mr. Hoeh's article has convinced some to avoid all social and religious contact with other believers. This is wrong.
Even though I am an unordained person, I still have the responsibility to teach my family. We have family Bible Studies. Sometimes, when we have guests, or meet with other friends, I may conduct an extended family Bible Study. When we are with others and have such studies, we must be on guard against an unordained individual, even ourselves, becoming domineering, causing arguments, doubts, and divisions.
Ordination does not instantly give a man infinite wisdom about how to keep order in the church. Nor does it mean that he can never apostatize from the truth. Having an ordained minister does not mean that there will never be splits and contentions in the church. Do you know what is the basis for spiritual fellowship that stands the test of time?
What is Spiritual Fellowship?
A true body of believers is not merely people who have joined themselves together or who assent to a certain set of doctrines. It is Spirit-led individuals who are joined to the Messiah. Jesus is the vine, we are the branches, John 15:5. We receive our spiritual power, not from other human beings, but from the Savior Himself. If we individually do not have fellowship with the Father and the Son, I John 1:3, then we might as well forget about having fellowship with other human beings. We need wisdom from the Almighty to discern false brethren and false ministers who say they have fellowship with the Father, and actually walk in darkness, verse 6. "But if we walk in the light [obey the Almighty and follow the Bible], as He is in the light, we [will] have [true, right] fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin" verse 7.
Do we want to have our sins cleansed in the blood of the Lamb? Then if we are in the Light, we WILL have fellowship with other believers. We will expend great efforts to seek out true brethren, and maintain close spiritual fellowship. In order to have real fellowship with one another, we need to first abide in the teachings of our Savior. Proper spiritual fellowship is tremendously important. Let us work harder, with the Almighty's help, in developing and maintaining the fellowship of the believers. W