This article originally appeared in the January 1917 Christadelphian Advocate and then was reprinted in the July 1930 Advocate.
It has been included in the larger collection recently published titled “Fellowship – A Compilation” and
can be attained through this web site.
Whom may we and whom may we not fellowship in the breaking of bread, in the memorial service of Christ? Is this a matter that is left to our own personal discretion, or are we definitely instructed in the Scriptures what we ought and what we ought not to do? If we are instructed as to our proper procedure, may we lightly disregard our instructions, and yet retain the favor of Him who has commanded us to keep His precepts diligently? (Ps. 119: 4). God knows best what we ought to do, what is conducive to the prosperity of His precious truth, and contributive to His glory. He has arranged the terms and conditions of our service and salvation. “We can do nothing against the truth.” If we are going to serve the Lord, let us not serve Him half-heartedly. If we do His will He is able to keep us and reward us, above what we may ask or think. But if we imagine ourselves to be at liberty to please ourselves and to act upon our own capricious judgment we shall only deceive ourselves and inherit the wind.
What is fellowship? It is companionship, comradeship, partnership. To have any degree of fellowship men must in some measure think the same thoughts and do the same things. It is not only in well-doing that men have fellowship; they may have fellowship equally in wrong-doing. They may have fellowship in right thinking or in false thinking. There is nothing good or evil, no vocation or occupation, no enterprise or activity, no desire or experience, either pleasurable or painful, but what men may have and do have fellowship in it. But the fellowship with which we are concerned at present is what Paul terms “the fellowship of the gospel” (Phil. 1: 5).
The gospel is the truth (Gal. 2: 5). “It is the power of God unto salvation to every one that beieveth” (Rom. ). It is only the members of the “household of faith,” “the family of God”, who have “fellowship in the gospel.” To become a member of the “family of God” one must receive “the spirit of adoption” (Rom. ), be born again by the word of God, and washed with “the washing of regeneration” (1 Pet. ; Tit. 3: 5). Our baptism is a token or symbol of our unity with Christ by faith, a token of our participation in His baptism of suffering (Lu. ), which was the real baptism. Our immersion is not a putting away of the filth of the flesh (1 Pet. ), but a token of our faith in Him who put away sinful flesh by crucifixion. It is a symbol, a beautiful, wonderful symbol, yet only a symbol, though God has predicated our salvation upon its observance (Mar. ; Lu. ). Yet we would not immerse anyone who did not participate by faith in the baptism of Christ’s suffering as an offering for sin. One must believe the gospel before he is a fit subject for immersion, or can be truly baptized. The immersion of a man who has not the “one faith” would be only an empty ceremony—nay, worse, it would be a sinful mockery! To make of an ordinance of such sacred significance an empty formality, a mere pretense! So with the breaking of bread in the memorial service. Partaking of the memorials is only a token of our fellowship with the Father and with the Son (I John 1:3), and with the brethren of Christ. “For He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of One: for which cause He is not ashamed to call, them brethren.” But to continue to partake indefinitely of the memorial bread and wine with any who do not believe the gospel or who do not conduct themselves “as becometh the gospel of Christ,” is to pretend to betoken a fellowship which does not exist, and to reduce the memorial service to an absurdity. Open communion makes an utter stultification of the ordinance.
How then are we to proceed? Receive only those into memorial fellowship who have made a good confession of faith and who have been “baptized into Christ.” Retain only those in fellowship who “continue in the faith,” and “adorn the doctrine of God” by good works. Will not such a course of procedure result in the diminution of our numbers, make it necessary to give up our place of meeting for lack of funds, impair the subscription list to our periodicals? We give no place to such considerations at all. We leave them to a godless, covetous world. We are not a political organization, a commercial system, or a social fraternity, but “the pillar and ground of the truth.” We must hold the torch of truth aloft in a world of darkness. To practice open communion were to be overwhelmed of the surrounding darkness. “Evil communications corrupt good manners;” “a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.” If our course of action appears destructive our motives are not so. Our purpose is to hold, not to lose; to build, not to destroy; to maintain the church - called out ones - of the living God. Our motives are of never-failing love and kindness toward all that is worthy of our love. And when we are dealing with a brother or sister who is sincerely in error, and when we consider how much false teaching and evil influence there is all round, everywhere, every day, detracting and drawing away from the one hope, we can well afford to deal gently, kindly, and patiently. “Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.” Shall save a soul from death, “all that a man hath will he give for his life.” When we remonstrate with the wayward in an effort to reform them, we are engaging in a work of incomparable kindness, and we can let our benevolent intentions shine out in our attitude and demeanor. We are no man’s enemy when we speak the truth, if we “speak the truth in love.”
The New Testament is a unit in precept and example as to what our course of action is to be in the matter of fellowship:
§ “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion bath light with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14). So much for the gospel-nullifying world.
§ “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 go not to eat” (1 Cor. ). So much for the so-called immoral.
§ “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them” - (turn away from them) - (Rom. ). So much for those who teach false doctrine in general.
§ “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, to wit, that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed” (2 John 10). So much for those who are in error regarding the nature of Christ, in particular.
§ “Moreover, if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican” (Matt. -17). So much for a personal or private offense.
§ “Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made a shipwreck: Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme” (1 Tim. , 20. Comp. 1. Cor. 5: 5, 13). So much for the personal action of the apostle Paul against corrupters of the truth.
WHEAT AND TARES
From these and many similar testimonies it would appear that our duty is so plain that “he that runneth may read.” But some have endeavoured to obscure the unmistakable meaning of these passages by quoting from the parable of Jesus concerning the wheat and the tares. Let both the wheat and the tares grow together until the harvest, say they. It is well to understand the Scriptures before we undertake to quote them argumentatively, otherwise we shall only speak our own conceptions, which may be far from the truth. Let us ask ourselves, Who are the wheat? and who are the tares? If the tares are those who openly teach false doctrine or conduct themselves immorally, then we simply have Christ against Paul and against John, and Christ against Himself, and the Bible a contradictory book! If anyone places such an interpretation on the parable of the wheat and the tares, and is content with such a solution, he is to be pitied indeed. Who are the wheat and who are the tares? It is to be observed that the wheat are sown by the Lord, “He that soweth the good seed is the Son of Man.” And the tares are sown by an enemy, “The enemy that sowed them is the devil” (diabolos). No man would deliberately sow tares among his wheat. The wheat would flourish better without the tares. And after the tares have sprung up among the wheat, it is only the impossibility of eliminating the tares without injury to the wheat that prevents an effort at their eradication. But who are the wheat, and who are tares? The Emphatic Diaglott has the following footnote appended to this parable: “Darnel—a plant which bears a striking resemblance to wheat. The following remarks by H. B. Hackett will fully illustrate this: ‘In passing through the fertile country of the ancient Philistines, on the south of Palestine, I asked the guide one day, a native Syrian, if he knew of a plant which was apt to make its appearance among the wheat, and which resembled it so much that it could hardly be distinguished from it. He replied that it was very common, and that he would soon show me a specimen of it. Soon after this he pointed out to me some of this grass, growing near our path; and afterwards, having once seen it, I found it in almost every field where I searched for it. Except that the stalk was not so high, it appeared otherwise precisely like wheat, just as the ears begin to show themselves, and the kernels are swelling out into shape. I collected some specimens of this deceitful weed and have found, on showing them to friends, that they have mistaken them quite invariably for some species of grain such as wheat or barley.’” From this it is apparent that the difficulty in weeding out the darnel arose from the extreme care which must be exercised to distinguish it from wheat. In rooting up the darnel with any facility, a considerable amount of wheat would also be uprooted through mistaken identification. There are and always have been and will continue to be until the coming of Christ two classes among those who are professedly the servants of the Deity. The just and the unjust, the faithful and the unfaithful, the sheep and the goats, the wheat and the tares. It would be impossible at the present time for us to accurately and infallibly distinguish between the two classes, and separate them one from the other, the just from the unjust, the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the tares. Some men’s sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment; and some men they follow after (1 Tim. ). If any man’s sins are open or manifest beforehand, whether sins of faith or sins of works, it is our duty to rebuke them. Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear (1 Tim. ). Rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith. A man that is an heretic after the first and second admonition reject (Titus 1; 13; ). If we have been quickened, if we are alive, if we are sensitive and responsive to the revealed will of God, we will be able to understand, and will not think it impossible to comply with the course of action which God had enjoined upon us. And it is assuredly no part of our duty to supinely allow the introduction and promulgation of doctrines subversive of the truth. We will be judged by our very attitude toward false doctrine. For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you (1 Cor. ). There shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction (2 Pet. 2: 1). Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers. For there are many unruly and vaintalkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake (Titus 1: 9-11). There are those among us who are not of us, “false brethren unawares brought in,” “certain men crept in unawares,” wolves in wool among the fold. Would a faithful shepherd allow wolves to enter the fold unopposed, or having entered, would he allow them to remain and prey on the flock unmolested? No faithful shepherd will do so, but will be on the alert for every indication of danger, from whatever quarter it may approach. The conditions of salvation have not altered. It is just as necessary to believe the truth to be saved as it ever was. There are just as many, both as to number and variety, who oppose the truth as there ever was—vastly more as to number. The same measures are necessary to be taken to preserve and defend the truth as were necessary in the times of the apostles. Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong (1 Cor. ; Eph. )
Men talk of peace and unity. There can be no peace where there is not essential unity. Where there is unity there will be peace. To bring about unity is therefore to bring about peace. The peace of an Ecclesia is promoted by the excision of those disturbers who introduce false teaching. This is one purpose served by their expulsion (Rom. 14: 1; Gal. ). If we cannot have a large number in unity and peace, we may at least have peace among those, the few, who are in unity, by a separation from those with whom they are not in unity and with whom they are not at peace. “How shall two walk together except they be agreed?” “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith.” We strive for peace and unity by all lawful means within our power. But these are conditions too idealistic to be permanently maintained in this discordant world. We have not yet entered into our rest. It is a time of war, and not of peace. We are soldiers of the cross, and must fight the good fight of faith until the Captain of our salvation shall come and give us everlasting victory. There is no assurance of perfect or permanent peace in this militant order of things except the peace and patience which come by faith. “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee.” It is true that the popular churches sometimes appear to maintain an enviable degree of peace, but there is peace, also, in a graveyard, yes, and unity, too.
Our vision would be much clarified, and our course of procedure rendered more evident, we believe, by attaching as much importance to matters of divine quality as to our personal interests. If a man persisted in calling us a liar, we would be likely to exercise some reserve in our dealings with him. The apostle John says, “He that beieveth not God hath made Him a liar” (1 John ). “Let God be true, but every man a liar.” If a man disobeys the laws of men he is shunned. If he becomes a confirmed criminal he is ostracized. Yet with the world it is a light thing to disobey. If we would keep a man-made law blamelessly, how much more carefully and diligently should we keep the laws of Him who is “higher than the highest,” and in whose hand our breath is, and whose are all our ways, from whom cometh “every good and perfect gift.” Our hearts are set upon the service of the truth, and the God whose eyes are upon the truth (Jer. 5: 3), and we cannot countenance any modification of what He has enjoined upon us.
It is far from my purpose to deal, or to cause another to deal, harshly or unkindly with any. There are mitigating circumstances in the case of almost every offender. Let us deal humbly, kindly, justly, sincerely, patiently, with an eye single to the glory of God. But let us not forget that we are not a law unto ourselves, but are “under law to Christ,” and if we love Him we must keep His commandments.