GUILT BY ASSOCIATION
The Scriptural Argument in Favour
The Bible teaches guilt by association, first, in a general sense. Ephesians 5:3-11 warns against keeping company with the immoral because the reputation as well as the sin rubs off on you. "Therefore do not be partners with them," the apostle says. "Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness."
The Bible applies the principle of guilt by association uniquely to a Christian's relationship with an impenitent and excommunicated former church member. 1 Corinthians 5:9-11 and 2 Thessalonians 3:6 are examples of "shunning" in order to reinforce how serious is willful sin.
The Bible teaches guilt by association especially in the area of religious confession, membership and practice, for what is at stake is: the glory of God, the truth of Scripture, the witness of the church, the integrity of a Christian, and—ultimately—the salvation of the misguided. 1 Corinthians 10:18 asks rhetorically, "Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar?"
The principle of guilt by association is implicit in John's warning against Christ-less religion: "If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work" (2 John 10,11). "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers . . . . Come out from them and be separate" is Paul' s answer to the notion of a Christian holding membership in a pagan lodge (2 Corinthians 6:14-17).
The adult convert Naaman recognized the principle of "theological guilt by association" and wanted Elisha's understanding that playing bodyguard to the king of Syria wasn't a compromise with the king's gods (2 Kings 5:17-18).
The principle of guilt by association underlies St. Paul's counsel to "have nothing to do with him" after warning a heretic twice (Titus 3:10). "Keep away from them" is the apostle's exhortation regarding "those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned" (Romans 16:17). To publicly worship with such people would be to give compromise His truth.
The primary issue, however, is not really guilt by association. Biblical principles always serve people and truth. "Compromise by association" and "contamination by association" are the issue. To hold membership in any church or organization that denies, conditions, and/or compromises Jesus Christ and His Word is to mute, confuse, and ultimately surrender one's Christian testimony. Jesus minces no words: "Whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven" (Matthew 10:33). To participate in, subscribe to, and subject oneself to the influence of spiritual falsehood is to contaminate one's own faith and understanding with error. Paul's metaphor for that demonstrable fact is: "A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough" (Galatians 5:9).
St Mark Lutheran Church - Topic "Church Fellowship # 2"
This page was last updated November 2003