The exercise of church fellowship manifest in joining in worship, prayer and church work with those of one’s own faith and confession is not understood by many Christians today because it is not taught or practiced by most Christian churches. It is difficult for many of us to appreciate it because there is something about it that sounds so exclusive, and it is characterized as such by those who believe that truth is not as important as getting along.
For the sake of the argument let us respond to the charge of exclusivism. “Concerning Church fellowship” [CCF], (Page 16, CLC-1961) declares, that an exclusive attitude “is in complete accord with the heart of the Gospel. In fact the Gospel of universal salvation for all sinners that is at stake. God’s plan of salvation carried out in Christ indeed embraces all sinners. It is all-inclusive… False doctrine is always a threat to the very universality and completeness of the redemption, which is in Christ Jesus. It is in the interest of the preservation of the Good News that God is so explicit in forbidding fellowship with error.”
The issue is not what we think of other people, or a matter of judging their heart. God is the reader of hearts, and He alone. The issue is simply a matter of truth. What does God say, and why does He say it? That is the issue. What God says is in the Bible, and why He says it manifests His desire for our salvation. But if one exposes himself to error under the delusion that he himself is so strong that he will not lose his faith, how does he explain the fact that God the Father says, “Don’t do it.” Furthermore, what witness does the fellowshipping with error give to those who do not know the truth? That is an aspect of fellowship that is too often forgotten. The fact is that to fellowship with error says to the neighbor, “It doesn’t make any difference what you believe, as long as you believe something.” Who can honestly claim to believe the Word of God and promote the idea it does not make any difference what one believes of it?
Sure, there can be a wrong exclusivity. The CCF says, “Where pride in one’s self or in one’s particular groups is the motive for isolation, this is sinful and shows a grave lack of understanding of the Gospel. Such was the separation of the Pharisees – and they have many followers who by their exclusive policies glorify only men. Any separation in the Church which is not made in the interest of God’s glory and the glory of His Gospel is to be condemned just as much as unionism, the fellowshipping of false teachers” (Page 17).
The understanding of fellowship exercise begins with understanding the purpose of the Church. Scripture calls us to sanctification, and to exercise of faith and love. Such manifestations were evident in the early Church. The Church will be sociable, but its primary mission is not the promotion of social causes. The commission of the Lord is to preach the good news, salvation in Christ Jesus.
Joining with or supporting false teachers demonstrates a loss of focus that undermines the truth of the Gospel. One may say, “But such joining under certain conditions broadens the outreach of the Gospel.” But then the question arises about what the message and the substance of the Gospel are. There is such a thing as preaching “another Gospel” and being deceived by it. This troubled the apostle who said, “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that cometh preaches another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him” (2 Corinthians 11: 3, 4). Their simple hearts would be deceived (Romans 16:18) which is precisely what Satan wants.
If we go with the religious crowd so as to “get along” they will never have reason to ask us of our hope. On the other hand if we confess the Word, live our faith, and practice Scriptural fellowship in the promotion of the Gospel, we will be showing love- love for God, and love for our neighbor whom God loves, and whom He desires to save through faith in Jesus Christ who died for all. In the cause of salvation of souls that can be saved only through the proclamation of the truth of the Gospel, and not through compromise of the truth, exclusivity is not a vice!