Having the Right Attitude Regarding Fellowship
There are two extremes being played out in the brotherhood today. On the one hand, you have individuals who have almost completely abandoned any meaningful concept of doctrine. These accept any and every doctrine that men may teach including: the use of instruments in worship, divorce and remarriage for any cause, salvation based upon faith or grace only, compromises in church organization, acceptance of Mosaic law as binding on Gentiles, compromises respecting moral issues, etc. The extreme of allowing any and every doctrine and practice to enter the church and be accepted as legitimate, Jesus calls “lawlessness” (Matthew 7:21-23). The apostle John sets forth this thought as the defining characteristic of sin (1 John 3:4) taught and practiced by early libertine Gnostics. This attitude is wrong and sinful and we ought to oppose it with every fiber of our being.
On the other hand, you have individuals who have almost completely abandoned any meaningful concept of love. These seek to purge the church of all elements which display weakness, ignorance, frailties, and foolishness/stupidity. These have forgotten that Christ died for an imperfect people whom he desperately loves and for whom he was willing to sacrifice all that they might be saved (Ephesians 5:25). Yes, it was and is His desire to perfect the church. However, that perfecting process involves patience, longsuffering, forbearance, and love. That process recognizes that individuals and churches need to grow and mature in Christ (2 Peter 3:18) and that no one person, other than the Lord, has so lived as to claim perfect maturity.
In that regard, we ought to realize the beautiful reality that is the church as the bride of Christ. Let us consider our own marriages. Do we constantly berate and criticize our spouses when they make mistakes or commit errors? I hope that is not our common practice; that would make for a miserable marriage indeed. Moreover, when our spouses make such mistakes, do we immediately threaten with the dissolution of the marriage? Of course not, we give time and opportunity for them to consider the situation and make correction or perhaps, consider ourselves whether our expectations are unfair or our criticisms too harsh. And when we do consider dissolution of marriage it is only for the gravest of offenses and those conducted by an impenitent heart (Matthew 5:32, 19:9).
If we consider that there is any meaning to the relationship set forth by Paul in Ephesians 5:32, that the relationship between Christ and the church is like the marriage relationship, then we ought to consider that it isn’t for just any old reason that Christ would cut off a member of his body, that he would divorce himself from his spouse, the church and her members. That is not to say that there is no reason to ever do such, but rather, that such an action is so drastic that it is reserved for only those offenses so rank and grave and which are intentionally and knowingly committed. What compels us not to cut off otherwise? Is it not the principle of love for our brethren? Is it not the hope that a soul may so grow and learn so as to adjust behavior and one day be saved?
Having this attitude and knowing the process of Christian growth, we recognize that there are those who are trying to live the Christian life and who fail to do so perfectly (1 John 1:7), but that nevertheless, such individuals ought not to be carelessly subjected to the last and final form of church discipline, namely, the withdrawal of fellowship. One who is seeking to live faithful and obey the Lord ought to be encouraged to grow and mature instead of being censured for his weaknesses, ignorance, frailties, and sometimes stupidity/foolishness. Yes, he has a responsibility to learn and repent, but he needs to be allowed to personally work out his own salvation (Philippians 2:12), not as a result of collective pressure placed upon him by external forces; otherwise, there is no growth. We should note that we are not discussing matters that would compromise the Lord’s worship, organization of the church, or the Lord’s plan of salvation. Neither are we considering sins done intentionally and knowingly by individuals seeking to undermine the doctrine of Christ (Hebrews 10:26).
In this regard, please consider the wise words of brother Guy N. Woods, who in a sermon titled, “The Security of the Believer” said the following:
. . . we read in first John two and one: “My little children, these things write I unto you that you sin not.” Observe that this is an admonition against sin – instruction to us to avoid it to the extent of our ability. But the verse continues, “If any man sin, he has an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” There our Lord is said to be our advocate and an advocate is a pleader, signifying about the same as our English words lawyer or attorney, the function of which is to plead one’s case. This represents our Lord as our heavenly lawyer, there arguing our case not, of course, upon our merit, but upon his. And further, had John here intended to look at the matter as an overall act and as sin continuously, then the verb of the passage would not have been in the aorist tense, but it is in the first John two passage. And what it says in effect is this. “I write to admonish you against a life of sin, but in the event (and I would insert parenthetically that this is not to be intent[ional] or by premeditation, but growing out of ignorance or weakness or stupidity) if one sins he has an advocate.” And “sins” there suggest a single act. And so what is said here is, that in the event of such for the faithful Christian, then there is the advocate provided.
Take a look with me please at what I regard as the single most wonderful thing for the Christian taught in the Bible. In first John chapter one verse seven, “If we walk in the light as he is in the light we have fellowship one with another and the blood of Jesus Christ his son cleanseth us from all sin.” . . . Walking in the Bible is a very common figure for Christianity and a very fitting one because walking suggests an unwearied approach to a goal. And that is exactly what Christianity is; it is a walk from earth to heaven and the goal is eternal life, but that walk is circumscribed, it’s not anywhere, everywhere; it is in the light. Light is a synonym for truth as its opposite darkness symbolizes error. Hence to walk in the light is to live by the truth, of course, the truth of God’s word. For those who so do, the blood cleanses.
Number one, that teaches us that the faithful child of God is not condemned. Did you observe that I said, “Faithful child of God?” You are not to understand these remarks to apply to apostates. You are not to understand me to be talking about one who deliberately pursues a course of sin. I am not. I am talking about people just like us who want to go to heaven, who are trying to go to heaven, but who because of our weaknesses and frailties, imperfections, our ignorance and often times our stupidity, we make mistakes. What is our first proposition? The faithful child of God is not condemned.
So what John says here is that those who walk not after the flesh, which means a carnal fleshly ungodly existence, but who [are] guided and directed with the Spirit, these are those who have the assurance of the passage. What’s the similarity between Paul’s condition and John’s? What was Paul’s condition? “Who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” What was John’s condition? “Who walk in the light as Christ is in the light.” What do those statements mean? Exactly the same. One is a commentary on the other. And both of them mean to live as best you can by his word. What results for those who thus do? The blood cleanses. If we walk in the light the blood cleanses. If we keep on walking in the light, the blood keeps on cleansing.
If the Lord can be patient, forbear, and have love for us enough so that even when we sin, albeit through weakness, frailty, ignorance, foolishness/stupidity, his blood continues to cleanse us of our sins and he continues to be our advocate before the presence of the Father, then may we not maintain such an attitude toward our brethren and maintain fellowship with them?
We must not compromise doctrine. However, at the same time, we must be patient, loving, kind, considerate, forbearing, merciful, and tender when it comes to the practice of that doctrine. In so doing, we may extend fellowship to those who have committed sin unintentionally, through ignorance, as a result of weakness, due to frailties, or even on account of foolishness or stupidity with the knowledge that our Lord covers such sins through His blood (1 John 1:7), provided that that individual is not seeking to abandon the truth and walk in rank darkness. May God help us to exercise compassionate judgment when dealing with our brethren for with such standard we judge, we shall be judged (Matthew 7:2).
 Warren, Thomas B., Marriage is for Those Who Love God – And One Another (Warren Publications: Fort Worth, 1962) p.73.
 Woods, Guy N. “The Security of the Believer.” Available online at: http://www.wsoj.net/librarymGNWa.htm. Note, due to considerations of space, the entire sermon cannot be reproduced here. We encourage the reader to listen to the entire lesson as presented by brother Woods.