Fellowship with its blessings, and bad fruits of what we call unionism, are evident already in the Old Testament. In Genesis 12, the Lord told Abraham to leave country, relatives, and home because of the idolatrous practice in Terah’s house. It was surely a difficult thing for Abraham, but he left. He was blessed in his obedience. The history of Israel is replete with instruction from the Lord not to intermingle with the heathen and to avoid the gods of the heathen in the land in which they lived. They disobeyed and suffered the consequences.
It does not matter if the error is considered by man to be great or small. Whether the errors are many or few is of little consequence. When it is evident that false doctrine has gained a foothold in a church, Christians are to avoid it. That means avoiding the error and those who proclaim it. We do not sit at their feet to be taught; we do not enter into spiritual fellowship with them through prayer or support! We read, “Mark those who cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which you have learned and avoid them” (Romans 16:17). We are to have no spiritual fellowship with the error or the errorists! The Christian will be careful not to jump to conclusions. He must be sure in his own heart what He believes and that what he himself believes is indeed Scripture truth. He will want to be sure that he has understood what a church or its teachers are saying. When he recognizes that error is more than a mis-speak but is defended, promoted, and taught he will “avoid.”
The present state of the church in the world is a good example of why the Lord gives the instruction that He does. Because the church in the world has not applied Romans 16:17, it today harbors doctrines of all kinds, disagreement in doctrine, different concepts of truth, and a spirit of unionism that is undermining the understanding and faith of many. The church is like Israel of old. Israel flirted with the world and heathenism, and soon became part of it. Many churches within the pale of Christianity today are going the same route. They have succumbed to error so that many no longer can distinguish between truth and error. They have made Jesus’ warning, “Beware of false teachers” (Matthew 7:15) meaningless; if any teaching is acceptable then there can be no such thing as a false teacher. While the consequences of entertaining error are all about us, unfortunately the ultimate consequence will not be known until it is too late, when at the day of judgment people who have lost their faith, having been deceived, will lose eternal life. Error is that dangerous!
That brings us to the very heart of why the Lord speaks as He does in Romans 16:17. The Lord does not tell us to avoid error because He is mean and cruel. He does so because He loves and cares for those for whom He died. He does not want to see a single soul lost. The Lord quarantines error and warns us to stay away, as surely as we will stay away from a communicable disease. Romans 16:18 says, “For those who are such, do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly (base desires), and by good (smooth) words and fair (flattering speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.” False teachers sound dangerously like the true ones. The simple, that is the inexperienced, do not expect to be deceived. They cannot always distinguish between the Word of the Lord and that which sounds like the Word of the Lord.
Elijah was told to slay the false prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18). The Lord does not tell us to slay false prophets and deceivers in the New Testament. For our protection and for their admonition He does tell us to avoid them. Further He says that we should not lend them support (2 John 10,11). The enclosure that the Lord has built around His people is for their protection. We breach it only at peril to our soul.
Practicing what we believe in this regard is not easy. We become the butt of ridicule, and are subject to the accusation of lovelessness and pride. Some leave us. Some who visit us do not come back. Nevertheless, it is God’s Word. We ask Him to give us the strength that he gave to Daniel’s three friends who would not fall down to Nebuchadnezzar’s gold image. They said, “No.” Furthermore, they felt no necessity to justify their action before the King. They said, ” O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case (that they would be cast into the fiery furnace), our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you. O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up” (Daniel 3:16-18).