CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP AND BIBLICAL SEPARATION(I John 1:3-7)
Dr. Don Jasmin, Editor
"That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us, and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ."
For Bible-believing saints, there is nothing more joyful, more blessed or more refreshing than Christian fellowship. Christian fellowship is like an oasis in a dry land. The songwriter aptly captured the truth of this great theme when he wrote: "Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love; the fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above."
Christian fellowship is twofold in nature: Our fellowship is first with the Saviour (I John 1:3) and secondly with the saints (I John 1:7). There are three basic truths regarding Christian fellowship with fellow saints that the Scripture delineates. (a) the bond of Christian fellowship, (b) the basis of Christian fellowship, (c) the breaking of Christian fellowship. Using another alliterative outline, the Scripture teaches (a) the need for Christian fellowship, (b) the nature of Christian fellowship and (c) the nullification, sometimes, of Christian fellowship.
I. THE BOND OF SCRIPTURAL FELLOWSHIP (THE NEED FOR BIBLICAL FELLOWSHIP)
In numerous N. T. passages, the Scriptures describe the important place and key fact that fellowship should occupy in the believer's life: Acts 2:42, Phil. 1:3-5, and Eph. 3:8-9 all stress the vitality of this vital portion of the Christian's life. In Heb. 10:25, the author of Hebrews admonishes and exhorts believers to be faithful in this practice: "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 more as ye see the day approaching." [This passage has reference to the local church.]
The Scriptures speak extensively about this wonderful fellowship including (a) the PROVISION for fellowship-I Cor. 1:9; (b) the PARTNERS in fellowship-I Jn. 1:3; (c) the PLEASURES of fellowship-Ps. 16:11; (d) the PRE-REQUISITES for fellowship- I Jn. 1:7 [more about this later]; (e) the PLACE of fellowship-Heb. 10:25; (f) the PROFIT of fellowship-Phil. 3:10; (g) the FOES of fellowship-Eph. 5:11.
The numerous spiritual blessings that emanate from Christian fellowship could easily constitute a separate article on this subject. The joyous bonds that Paul formed with saints wherever he traveled during his three missionary journeys (Acts 13-14, Acts 16-18, Acts 19-21) constitute a vital part of Paul's apostolic ministry.
II. THE BASIS OF SCRIPTURAL FELLOWSHIP: (THE NATURE OF BIBLICAL FELLOWSHIP)
Scriptural fellowship is based on a four-fold underpinning foundation. It is important to note that the Biblical factors that serve as the basis for genuine fellowship also serve as the same facets for separation!
FOUR CRITERIA FOR FELLOWSHIP
A. God's Character: In Lev. 11:44-45, God declared, "ye shall be holy; for I am holy… .For I am the Lord that brought you up out of the land of Egypt…ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy. The context of this passage declares that God separated Israel from Egypt and pagan idolatry, so that they could have fellowship with Him. This passage from Leviticus is the one to which Peter refers when He re-issues the call to holiness in I Pet. 1:15-16.
It is intriguing to note that the word "holy" means "to cut, to divide" and "to separate," thus intricately binding together the doctrines of fellowship and separation. Genuine fellowship is thus based on the nature of God's holy essence.
B. God's Call: In Ex. 3:8, God stated, "I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them…into a good land." In the O. T., Israel was a "called out" entity as a national body. In the N. T. in Acts 15:14, the apostle James reiterates Peter's words that believers have been taken out from the world so that they can have a distinctive relationship with God: "to take out of them a people for his name."
N. T. churches, then, must be composed of only born-again believers (Jn. 3:3), redeemed saints whose lives have been changed (II Cor. 5:17) and are now separated from the ungodly world (Eph 2:2-3) with whom they formerly communed, but are now in fellowship with God and each other (I John 1:3 & 7).
C. God's Covenant: This is not what is known as "Covenant Theology," but God's covenant with believers based on the shed blood of Christ. Heb. 8:6-10:22 is a lengthy passage that delineates this new everlasting covenant (testament/agreement) that grants all believers entrance into the holy presence of God the Father, via the completed atoning sacrifice of Christ's blood shed in His death on the cross.
Genuine saints, then, cannot experience true spiritual fellowship with unbelievers who reject this atonement or have never experienced this salvation that is common (Jude 3) among all believers.
D. God's Command: For saints who have been united together by the blood of Jesus (Heb. 9:14), the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God (Rom. 8:9), and the fellowship of local N.T. churches (Acts 2:42, Heb. 10:25), God's command is that believers separate themselves spiritually from all apostasy and compromise in this wicked world (Rom. 12:2, II Cor. 6:14-18, James 4:4.)
THREE GROUPS FROM WHICH BELIEVERS MUST SEPARATE
Believers are commanded to spiritually separate themselves from (a) Defiled Sinners-Eph. 5:7 & 11; (b) Deceitful Seducers-Gal. 1:8-9; and (c) Disobedient Saints-II Thess. 3:16-14, Matt. 18:15-17. Disobedient saints must be clearly distinguished from newly born saints and uninformed saints.
THREE ACTIONS SAINTS SHOULD TAKE WITH REGARD TO FELLOWSHIP
The Scriptures are abundantly clear regarding the steps that that discerning mature saints should take with regards to new believers and weaker believers: (a) Woo/win a brother, (b) warn a brother and (c) withdraw from a brother when it is scripturally imperative.
(a) Wooing a Brother: In dealing with new/weaker brothers/sisters in Christ, the Scriptures clearly delineate in Rom. 14:1-12 that mature saints must carefully distinguish between personal preferences and plain principles in matters regarding Christian fellowship.
Older Christians must not impose upon new converts personal preferences that may have taken years for them to develop. Christian maturity must never be mis-identified to mean Christian fellowship. While all genuine converts should exhibit signs of spiritual life, we must help take off the grave clothes from new born saints-Jn. 11:44. This process takes time and differs with each new convert.
The apostle Paul's exegesis in Rom. 14 is that in debatable areas of conduct where the Scripture does not clearly speak, believers should not be judgmental toward each other, but manifest charitableness and grace toward other saints. Fellow saints may not always agree on every precise action regarding conscience and conduct.
(b) Warning a Brother: While not necessarily breaking fellowship, mature saints may be required to warn naïve and weaker saints about vital issues: In Acts 20:31, Paul indicated this was his pattern among the Ephesians saints: "Therefore watch and remember that by the space of three years, I ceased not to warn everyone night and day with tears."
These timely warnings should have positive spiritual maturational purposes like Paul described in Col. 1:27 when he stated, "whom we preach [Christ], warning every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus." Speaking about the eternal precepts of God's Word, the Psalmist declared in Ps. 19:11: "Moreover by them [The precepts of God's Word] is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward."
(c) Withdrawing from a Brother: The plain teaching of II Thess. 3:6-14 is that Scriptural fellowship must be withdrawn from a fellow believer when there is continued disobedience without repentance. For those who allege that this passage only refers to "lazy" believers, it should be clearly noted, that in this chapter, the Apostle Paul takes an eternal Scripture principle and applies it to a specific unwholesome practice. This eternal principle is relevant to all saints who "walk disorderly" concerning the faith.
III. THE BREAKING OF FELLOWSHIP: (THE NULLIFICATION OF FELLOWSHIP)THREE MORE GROUPS FROM WHICH BELIEVERS MUST SEVER
The Scripture plainly declares that we cannot fellowship with the following groups: That we are Biblically bound to separate from the following individuals/groups/things: (a) We must separate from those who deny the faith-II Tim. 2:16-18; (b) We must separate from those who would deceive the followers of Christ-II Cor. 11:13-15; (c) We must separate from that which defiles the flesh-II Tim. 2:19; (d) We must separate from those who are disobedient to the faith-II Thess. 3:16-14.
There are several reasons the Scripture delineates why this precious bond of fellowship must be sometimes be broken. In this regard, we cannot use human made distinctions between primary separation and secondary separation, between lst class, 2nd class and 3rd class, between major separation and minor separation. The obedient saint is under divine obligation to obey God's Word, regardless of the persons or parties involved.
UNDESIRABLE ACTIONS THAT CAN DISSOLVE SCRIPTURAL FELLOWSHIP
(a) Unresolved Problems between brothers/sisters in Christ can produce separation-Matt. 18:15-17. In this passage, Christ gave divine guidance in dealing with unresolved personal grievances between fellow brethren. This passage does not deal with doctrinal differences or matters of unscriptural alliances and should never thus be misapplied. As a last step, the local church, as a corporate body, withdraws fellowship when a disaffected believer refuses to respond to Biblical appeals.
(b) Unrepentant Perversions can cause fellowship's severance-I Cor. 5:11. In this case, when the facts are clearly discerned, a long period of time should never elapse. The spiritual health of the corporate body-the local church-is at stake. This separation, imposed by the local church, must have positive purposes  to maintain the purity of the church body and  to hopefully eventually restore the offending party. In Corinth, the church's action produced both effects-II Cor. 2:5-11.
(c) Unscriptural Priorities can result in separation-I Tim. 6:3-11. When a professing Christian preacher/teacher's goal is obviously not maturational godliness, but monetary gain, the Scriptural response of withdrawal is clear and plain. Believing saints must not grant fellowship-via their pocketbooks-to unprincipled TV beggars who mislead their naïve followers.
(d) Unbiblical Precepts pose legitimate reasons for breaking fellowship-Rom. 16:17. In this passage, the apostle Paul strongly admonishes believers to mark and avoid those who create division and strife based on the deceptive unscriptural doctrines they peddle. Once again, Paul commends obedience as the scriptural response-Rom. 16:18.
(e) Unorderly Practices form a valid basis for nullifying fellowship-II Thess. 3:6-14. The unorderly practices can not only involve idle saints, but also disobedient saints with unscriptural ties to apostasy and compromise that they adamantly refuse to sever.
(f) Unequal Partnerships are condemned in Scripture and constitute a valid basis for separation-II Cor. 6:14-18. A business partnership composed of a saint and a sinner is an unwholesome bond from which the believer should free himself. Professing Fundamentalists should break unscriptural yokes with apostates with whom they may have been cooperating in ecumenical evangelistic campaigns.
While the Bible makes it plain that genuine saints should not enter into marital bonds with unbelievers, the Scripture also declares that if such a bond has been formed, the believing saint, while maintaining personal separation in heart and godly conduct, should not dissolve the marital bonds but seek to win the unsaved spouse by Christ like attitudes and actions-I Cor. 7:10-16, I Pet. 3:1-7.
CONCLUSION - Someone has aptly stated that Christian fellowship is "two fellows in the same ship." Scriptural fellowship is a blessed relationship that should be heart-benevolently entered but heart-breakingly exited. Concluding thought: Biblical fellowship is our delight, while Biblical separation is our duty.
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|Editorial – June-July 2006 The Fundamentalist Digest; Permission granted for reprint, so long as proper credit is given.|