"I WILL PLACE UPON YOU NO OTHER BURDEN"
A Scriptural Appeal to the Christadelphian Brotherhood
This article is a scriptural appeal to the Christadelphian Brotherhood, to objectively examine the collective attitudes of our several communities toward our "other" Brethren and Sisters elsewhere, with whom we may have little, or nothing, to do.
The following comments are not a personal attack on anybody, anywhere. Neither will it be the purpose of this study to examine the rights, or the wrongs, of any case of withdrawal or dis-fellowship that has taken place in the Brotherhood over the last 150 years. Those actions are now history, and sadly the sum of them form the basis of many of the internal and political divisions within the whole Christadelphian community. As a consequence, such decisions can now really only be assessed truly objectively by the One whose penetrating gaze we are all to stand before in the very near future, cp Rom 14:10. It is not to the past that we look, but to the present, and to the future. In fact, Christ makes it obvious, that if any insist on living in the past, then such may well be their destiny, cp Luke 13:24-30; Rom 2:1-12.
It would appear that there is operating among our several fellowships and meetings today, a grave misunderstanding as to the real origins of the Apostasy in the early centuries following the hard work of the apostles on Jesus' behalf, to establish the true believers in the one true Faith. So great is this misunderstanding in certain quarters, that many Brethren and Sisters despair today, believing that the Ecclesia (collectively) is heading down the same road of Apostasy or "falling away" again.
And perhaps the Ecclesia is, but maybe not in the way that we have been led to believe for so long!
before you is not radical. Neither are the ideas expressed in the following
pages new. Much of the supporting material is in the form of direct quotations
(in context) from our Pioneer Brethren. This article has been compiled
with the intention of challenging many of the modern, scripturally unsustainable,
yet firmly entrenched attitudes, behind our continuing actions towards
those "other" Brethren and Sisters whom Christ has
also called to Him, but whom we may refuse to recognise as bona-fide,
cp Rom 14:4; Luke 9:49-50, 54-56.
As a consequence, many Brethren and Sisters are sincerely fearful that the Truth is once again heading for Apostasy in these latter days, because of the materialism of the age, coupled with the general apathy and lack of commitment that is evident in society all about us. And as a result of this fear, there has developed a very real concern in several Christadelphian "fellowships," that history is in the process of repeating itself, and that the "Truth is going down the drain." When this fear is coupled with the keen responsibility that we all feel, for the need to maintain the Truth as a heritage for our families and future generations, then certain phobias and a degree of paranoia becomes evident in our midst. This paranoia becomes understandable when we realise that we have been taught over the past 40-50 years, that there can only be a small "Faithful Remnant" on the Earth when our Master returns.
This understandable phobia and paranoia has given rise to quite a number of Brethren subscribing (wittingly or unwittingly) to a modern phenomena of thought, which has been dubbed by some, "The Noah Doctrine." As we shall see, this teaching actually becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.
"THE NOAH DOCTRINE"
"The Noah Doctrine" is a school of thought based upon the following reasoning. Because we "live in the days [that are like the days] of Noah" (cp Luke 17:26), then there can only be a few saved at Christ's second coming, for "are there not many called, but few chosen"? cp Matt 20:16; 22:14. [compare Amplified Version.] Though perhaps not voiced openly, the impression given by those who support the "The Noah Doctrine," is that there may only be a very few Ecclesias saved, perhaps as few as eight, .....or is that only eight families? or could that be... just eight individuals? (cp Luke 18:8-14 with the Diaglott's footnotes for this passage; see also Amplified Version). Quite apart from the ample Biblical evidence that is available to dispel "The Noah Doctrine," there is simply no evidence anywhere in the scriptures to support the consequent fuzzy thinking of "Salvation by Association" that invariably accompanies this teaching. Our salvation does not depend upon our belonging to the "correct" Ecclesias. The God of Grace is able to save to the uttermost all those who are His true Sons and Daughters wherever they might be found, cp Heb 7:19,25.
Such passages as Matt 25:1-13; 1 Cor 15:51; 1 Thess 4:15-17; Ezek 47:22-23; Isaiah 65:23, and Revelation 7:9, indicate quite clearly that there will be a considerable number of Brethren and Sisters who will have remained faithful until the return of Christ, (see next paragraph for the explanation of this bold assertion). In many cases, this happy situation will be in spite of the preponderance of negative exhortations and Bible classes that those Brethren who subscribe to "The Noah Doctrine" feel compelled to deliver as spiritual fare for their Brothers and Sisters.
Those who are described in the Word as "the seed of the blessed of the Lord" (cp Ezek 47:22-23 & Isaiah 65:23) can only be the mortal children of the faithful Saints who "are alive and remain" when our Lord returns, cp 1 Thess 4:17. Obviously these children are too young to have been baptised at that point in time, but they are numerous enough to be constituted as if they are a Tribe of Israel, complete with their own special Portion in the Land, cp Ezek 47:22. It appears that these offspring of the faithful will be granted an opportunity to live out their mortal lives under the idyllic conditions of the Millennium, along with an elevated status, that of being counted as though born of Israel in the Land. Paul describes the parents of this special "blessed seed" as those faithful Brothers and Sisters "who, because they are alive and remain" at the point of Christ's return, "shall not sleep, but they shall be changed [from mortality into immortality] in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye" before they enter into God's glorious Kingdom of Grace, cp 1 Cor 15:51. These Brothers and Sisters, then, have obviously remained faithful, along with their young families, despite the persistent prophecies of Ecclesial doom and gloom in the last days. The Spirit, through the Word, indicates that there will be far more than a mere 'feeble remnant' remaining faithful when our Lord returns. The crisis which precipitates Christ's return from heaven is not revealed anywhere in Scripture as being the feebleness of His faithful remnant. The number of His "called out ones" has always been feeble when compared with the world's teeming millions. More to the point, the crisis precipitating Christ's return is clearly revealed as belonging to that modern, yet ancient nation of the Covenant, Israel. At a time subsequent to Christ's return and revelation to His household of faith, Christ and His Immortalised Bride Army become manifest to modern Israel at the very point where the continuance of that nation's future hangs in very severe doubt, cp Zech 14:1-5; Ezek 38; Psa 102:13.
"Some Questions to Consider Before Christ Returns"
The fact then, that Christ's heaven rending appearance could occur at any time now, should cause us to pause, and to ask ourselves some questions:-
These are important questions to examine, and to answer. The answers to these questions will probably determine whether we are actually found to be promoting a modern apostasy, or speaking, and teaching, and most importantly, taking action, against a modern falling away from the Faith.
The Spirit That Formed the Original Apostasy From the Truth
By carefully weighing up the Spirit's warnings throughout the Scriptures, Bible students have found that there is some overwhelming and interesting evidence presented to us concerning the original Apostasy. For example:- the powerful, yet subtle, effects of Judaism and Pharisaism within the body of believers, became the very vehicle which formed the initial Post-Apostolic Apostasy, cp Matt 16:6-12. In other words, Christ's warning to us is that Apostasy is bred primarily from within the Household of Faith, and not external to it. And as we shall see, it is bred through apathy and indifference. But apathy and indifference to what?
As we proceed, we shall attempt to answer this and other burning questions like, "How does this 'falling away' start? And how does it continue? And how can it be prevented?"
We will pause here, and offer a definition for both Judaism and Pharisaism so as to be able to clearly recognise each of these spirits in our modern circumstances. [The bold print in the two paragraphs following, is an attempt to flag the similarities between these ancient, yet ever modern, influences within the Ecclesia of God].
One does not need to be a rocket scientist to see just how closely the Spirits described in the previous two paragraphs are paralleled within certain sections of the Brotherhood today.
"The Spirit of Judaism After the Exile From the Garden of Eden"
The twin problems of Judaism and Pharisaism are as old as Human Nature itself. Adam initiated the Spirit of Judaism when he and Eve attempted to cover their nakedness and shame with devices of fig leaves. Cold, useless, and lifeless. The invention of fallen man. Altogether profitless devices to cover over the problem of separation from God. And this is a problem native to us all! The twin evils of Judaism and Pharisaism, manifest themselves in their grossest form, when individuals take it upon themselves, to rule over their neighbours as Lords, and to assume the right to dictate for others, just what God's standards of righteousness really are. Is not this what the Serpent had successfully done with Eve? By adopting the Serpent's reasoning, both Adam and Eve had allowed another, other than God, to have dominion over their minds. And God's righteousness was called in question in their minds.
And the problem perpetuated itself in the next generation. Remember how, in Genesis 4:2-8, Abel demonstrated to his brother what was the way of righteousness? Cain on the other hand, wanted to dictate, (just as the serpent had done), just what he thought were the terms of Divine acceptance.
It is, however, simply the carnal way of dealing with any controversy between our Brethren and Sisters, cp John 8:44. If you cannot persuade your brother ["opponent"] to think your way, then you "cut him off" or "cast him out," cp John 9:22,34-35; Acts 7:54-60; 14:19; 22:20-23; Gal 2:12-14. And that has always been the modus operandi of those who can be identified scripturally as the "circumcision party," right down through time. For example, look at Acts 10:45; & 11:2, where the RSV translates the KJV "circumcision" as 'circumcision party.' Hence, Paul's poignant words in Gal 5:12, and John's searching words in his 1st Epistle 3:11-15; 4:17-21.
By Divine arrangement in the beginning, it was God who had put Abel and Cain as brothers together, that they might develop Godly characteristics. Just as He also put Esau and Jacob together for the very same reasons. And Joseph and his brethren! Granted, these sets of Brothers had little other choice within the Divine arrangement of the time. However, in the wisdom of God, they needed each other, just as we all need each other, to fully develop our characters. The first pair of brothers had obviously been counselled that it was their duty to each be shepherds to the other within that initial arrangement, hence Cain's rhetorical question in Gen 4:9, "Am I my brother's keeper?" The answer to which question is, of course, a resounding "Yes"! Just as it is for all of us today! For all our Brethren, wherever they might be!
Brother Abel's fellowship with God was not interrupted, or impinged, or compromised, in any way by his association with Brother Cain. Abel continued to demonstrate the right way for his Brother to walk, and he allowed God's Word to intervene on behalf of the Truth, cp Gen 4:6-7; 1 John 2:9. The difference between these two Brethren's relationship to God is basically the difference between the way of "Truth" and "Religion" in general terms today. Religion has become man's attempt to rebind him-self back to God, and as a consequence there are hundreds of "Religions," none of which are effective for salvation, because they ignore the Father's simple instructions for induction into His Family. The "Truth" or "the way of Faith" on the other hand, is powerful and simple. So simple, in fact, that it is a constant puzzle to men like Cain, who wish to tinker with, and even reject, the terms of Gracious Divine acceptance into His Divine family, cp Luke 15:28; Acts 15:14; Eph 2:4-9,14-19.
Notice also, that though Abel was murdered, God saw fit to preserve His (God's) way in the earth, cp Gen 4:26. It is His Truth, and He will protect it as necessary. It is our duty to live the Truth individually in our own lives day by day, and thereby demonstrate God's character to others by the way we live, and by drawing them into "the way of life," share the Glory of God forever, cp Jer 9:23-24; Micah 6:8; Mal 3:16; John 13:4-15; 2 Tim 2:19-26.
It was God who dealt with Cain, cp Gen 4:12. And it is God's prerogative, not ours, to banish individuals into permanent exile. This must be so, because God alone can behold the hearts of men and see their end from their beginning, cp Isa 46:10. As we know, Cain became the ancestor of that monstrous animal, Lamech the Evil, who took it upon himself to avenge his rights "seventy times seven," cp Gen 4:24; Matt 18:22. And he achieved this, by Lording his way over others, and by cutting them off from the land of the living, cp Gen 4:23. That same high handed, and self willed spirit continued after the flood, through the wicked man Nimrod, who became the Father of the original state run religion and the forebear of Roman Catholicism, cp Gen 10:9.
When God called a man to come out from the false religious system centred on the Moon Goddess that had been established by Nimrod and his wife Semiramis in Babylonia, He chose the man Abram and his family, (including Lot and his wife). God then set out to develop within that man and his vast congregation, [probably numbering in excess of 2,000 people, cp Gen 14:18], the principle of Divine acceptability on the basis of faith demonstrated in action. Indeed, Divine approbation has never been based merely on the keeping of laws and traditions, cp Rom 3:20-28; 4:3-16; Heb 7:19; Gal 3:21-29. It has always been on the basis of Faith developed in Him, for "without faith in God, it is impossible to please Him," cp Heb 11:6.
Centuries later when God called the Children of Israel out of Egypt, He gave them their several communal and sacrificial laws to guide them to the way of faith as demonstrated in action in Christ, cp Galatians 3:19-24; 1 Timothy 1:3-11. Of course, the Law of Moses was also given to establish once and for all, that the righteousness of God cannot be gained by simply multiplying laws and adding legislation, cp Rom 3:20-28; Heb 7:19. Even Moses, the Law giver, could not gain entry into the Land of Promise by that Law, but died in full strength outside the borders of the land. Only through the Grace of God, will Moses be able to ultimately enter that Land. And yet, the leaders of Israel's religious system, over the long period of their national history, were responsible for creating a religion of "righteousness" based upon ritualistic, and often hypocritical, observance of laws and traditions which had nothing at all to do with preserving the purity of the Truth in the earth, cp Matthew 23:2-4; Luke 11:37-52; Isaiah 1:10-15; Isaiah 58. [Give careful attention to verses 6-12 in Isaiah 58]. See also Ezek 13:19,22; 20:13-14,22-24; 33:17,20,31-32.
The Father, through His Spirit Word, is most scathing towards these false shepherds, the leaders in Israel. These were they, who in the name of keeping the purity of the Truth, fouled the very waters that God's national flock was to drink from, cp Ezek 34:18-19; John 10:1-16. Just look at the individuals that these zealous "protectors of the flock" cast out of their midst, so as to keep their system of truth "pure!" There was Lazarus in John 12:10; the man born blind and his parents in John 9:22,34-35; Christ in Luke 4:28-30; Matt 26:3-4; Zacharias the son of Barachias in Matt 23:35; the disciples in Mark 7:1-2; the woman who anointed Jesus' head and feet in Luke 7:36-39; the lepers in Luke 17:12; the Samaritans in John 4:9; the woman taken in adultery in John 8:4-5; and finally, the Brethren in 3 John v10.
And it really begs the question of us today:- "Would we have David in fellowship? Or Samson, or Rahab, or Ruth, or Elijah, or Obadiah the servant of Ahab, or John the Baptist, or even Christ Himself?" "Would we be prepared to break bread with all of the above?"
And don't answer automatically, 'Of course we would!' Think about it for a while! If any of those just mentioned were to appear at the door of our Ecclesial hall incognito, what would we do with them? And more importantly, what would we do to them? cp Matt 25:42.
In most instances, our various ecclesial rules and regulations governing mere "externals" would bar all of the above (if they were not introduced to us first), from even getting inside the door of our hall, let alone to be able to break bread with us. Which means, that if we are prepared to fellowship these individuals after we find out who they are, then we have "respect of persons," cp James 2:1-10. And such an attitude is not of Faith, but of Flesh. It is not of Christ, but of the Diabolos within our very natures. It is not of Grace, and it most certainly is not how we would like to be treated ourselves, cp Luke 6:31-38.
'Testing the Fellowship of Some Who have Gone Before'
Let each of those just mentioned, step up to our Ecclesial door now, one at a time as it were, so that we can assess their suitability for fellowship with us. Let us assume that we know that they are all Christadelphians, (for that they are), but their actual identity is concealed. We know a little about their past, but not their name. So we will proceed to examine and question each one in turn. And as we do, remember that these Brethren and Sisters have all sinned - just as we ourselves have in so many ways. They all have a "past" - just as we do - yet look at how God viewed them.... and wonder about the treatment we mete out to certain bona-fide Brethren and Sisters who we feel do not "make the grade" in our eyes.
Yet all of these are Brethren and Sisters who are mentioned in the Father's Honour roll of the Faithful who will enjoy eternity together, cp Heb 11. Of course, we are not condoning excessive hair length for Brethren, nor marriage outside the Faith, nor untidy and unkempt appearance when presentation can be otherwise. Neither are we condoning immoral and unruly behaviour within the Household of God.
But can we see the difficulties that we create for ourselves when we insist on external presentation, rather than internal characteristics, to be that which determines whether one is in or out of our Ecclesia. But wait! It is not our Ecclesia, it is Christ's! This "native spirit" of determining Divine acceptability by outward criteria, is described in Zech 5:5-11, as "a woman in an ephah being borne to the land of Shinar," or Babylon, from whence we know that it developed into full blown apostasy in Post-Apostolic times, cp Eureka Vol 1.
"Tracing the Apostasy Through the Letters and Epistles"
All through Paul's epistles, he constantly warns against those who would arrogate power unto themselves, and who would ultimately undermine the Truth in its simplicity, by formulating Judaistic style Laws, which do nothing to help Brethren and Sisters in Christ live the Truth, cp Acts 20:29-30; 2 Cor 11:3-4, 12-15; Gal 1:6; 2:11-14; 5:12; Phil 3:2. In fact, Paul brands that 'spirit' as "seducing doctrines," cp 1 Timothy 4:1-3; 2 Timothy 4:3-4.
When we arrive at the Spirit's final message in Revelation 2 + 3, we find that the 'spirit of Judaism' was busy doing its work, just as Christ and Paul and Peter and Jude and John had warned that it would, until finally it developed into the Roman Catholic Apostasy. We will let Christ describe this "spirit from the land of Shinar" in His final message to the One Ecclesia that He, through His Apostles, had established in seven representative locations throughout Asia Minor, cp Eph 4:3-6.
To His beloved Brethren in the city of Ephesus, in Rev 2:1-6, Christ observed, "thou hast left thy first love," cp Acts 15:19-32. Ritualistic law keeping and tradition observance was now in danger of replacing the simplicity of "the way of Truth as it is in Christ," as they had learned it from the Apostles, cp Acts 19. The Ecclesia in Ephesus has been given the epithet by some, "the Hard Ecclesia". When Christ wrote to them, there were some in that meeting, who had succeeded in making "the way of Truth" harder, by adding elements that are not necessary for salvation. There were certain Brethren in Ephesus who had been successful in advocating a departure from the Apostle Paul's simple message of "the faith," cp Acts 20:28-32; 2 Timothy 1:15. These Brethren had succeeded in turning life in the Truth, from being a joy, into a burden grievous to be borne, cp Matt 23:4; 24:11-13; 1 John 5:3-4 with Rom 14:17. Even today, there is very little joy evident throughout some meetings. No wonder many Brethren and Sisters become depressed, and find the road to the kingdom a seemingly pointless exercise in self flagellation.
But Christ pointed out, however, that amongst His Brethren in Ephesus there was one redeeming feature. There were true Brethren in that very Ecclesia, who "hated the deeds or works of the Nicolaitanes," which deeds Christ also hated. The pro-noun "Nicolaitanes," [Grk. "vanquishers, or wasters, of the people, or laity"], aptly describes the beginnings of a clergy having rule over the laity, or ordinary Brethren and Sisters. To fully appreciate those "Nicolaitane deeds" that Christ hates, compare Prov 6:12-19; Luke 11:37-52; Luke 22:24-28; Matthew 5:20; and Matthew 23.
There were two groups in the Ephesus Ecclesia. Just like there are two groups in practically any gathering of human beings, anywhere. In this case, one group was hard and spiritually insensitive, cp Matt 19:8. And they believed that their way was the only way to protect the Truth. We saw them described earlier as the "Circumcision Party," cp Acts 11:2. Here Christ describes the same spirit as "Nicolaitane". The Brethren with this spirit today still consistently believe, and act, as if the Institution has more importance than the Individual whom Christ has called. The other brethren, in opposing the modus operandi of these Nicolaitanes, would have been accused of taking a soft compromising line, as happens even today.
Encouraging His Brethren in Smyrna, cp Rev 2:8-11, Christ identified the growing problem of Judaism in the midst of that Ecclesia as "the synagogue of the Satan," cp 2 Cor 11:13-15; 2 Thess 2:3-13. The 'spirit, or influence,' of this Judaising element had gained the ascendancy in the Ecclesia at Smyrna, and Christ warned His Brethren about those who had assumed power unto themselves as Lords over His Ecclesia, cp 1 Peter 5:1-9. This group were actually an "Ecclesia of Evil," though they were in the midst of the general body of "called out ones" in Smyrna, and therefore Christ considered them to be of "the synagogue of Satan," cp Matt 13:24-30; Matt 7:21-23. The progression toward Apostasy in Smyrna had advanced one step beyond that which was evident in the Ephesus meeting. These "workers of iniquity" had insinuated themselves into Christ's Ecclesia quite "unawares," just as Paul, and Jude, and Peter had warned that they would! The fact that Christ points to this group amongst His Brethren, as being of a "synagogue," obviously reflects their Judeao-Pharisaic roots, cp Matt 10:17; Matt 16:6-12; Luke 12:1. Thus the Spirit gives us an unambiguous clue as to the true identity of the developing apostasy within His Ecclesia.
His Ecclesia in the city of Pergamos, cp Rev 2:13-17, Christ sympathised
with the "Antipas" Brethren who had been cast out and persecuted
by "the synagogue of Satan." Within the Brotherhood in Pergamos,
the "Nicolaitanes" had progressed yet further and had established
a firm "seat" [Grk. "throne"]. They had now created
an Ecclesial hierarchy and they taught, and enforced, the "traditions
of men" to be as important as "doctrine." And these traditions
they had added to the commandments of Christ, cp Isaiah 29:13; Matt 15:7-9;
Mark 7:5-9. Christ's encouragement to the 'Antipas' Brethren in Pergamos,
was to continue to hold fast to "my name." That is, He exhorted
His faithful Brethren to hold fast to "that way of life" which
they had learned from Himself, and from the Apostles also, cp Luke 18:8;
John 14:6; Acts 2:38; Acts 4:12. Christ placed upon these Brethren, "no
In His message to His beloved Brethren in Thyatira, cp Rev 2:18-29, Christ commended the faithful who resist the "depths of Satan," and He "placed upon them no other burden," cp Acts 15:28. Obviously, to resist the "depths of Satan," it was necessary for those Brethren "who have not this doctrine," to speak out against, and to challenge the growing problem of 'INSTITUTIONALISED HYPOCRISY' headed up by the power-drunk "Jezebel" class. To quote Brother Thomas again in Eureka Vol 1, Page 329, "The Judaising and Gnostic clergy were actively working the Mystery of Iniquity into authority; they had organised it into a synagogue, and were privily insinuating it into the elderships...."
At this point, it is worth observing that in every instance of Ecclesial Censure described here in the Apocalypse, it is Christ who says that He will deal with the problems of error in the midst of the Ecclesias, as it is "He who walks in the midst of the Lamp-stands." Nowhere does Christ command His Brethren to act as the rulers did in John 9:22. Or as Diotrephes did in 3 John v10. Such actions belong to the "old creation". Even when the Spirit focused on Laodecia, though many there were naked in their shame, (like Adam and Eve after the fall), Christ chose not to banish them from His "Garden." Instead, He invited them to be clothed by Him and to buy the eysesalve of Grace so that their "eyes might be opened" to their real needs, and so that they ultimately might become part of the "new creation of God," cp Rev 3:14. It is Christ who chooses our Brethren and Sisters, not we ourselves, cp John 6:37,44-45. Christ is greater than us all. He knows what is in the heart of each one of His Brethren, cp John 6:63-71. And He knows how to preserve the way of the Truth in the earth, cp Rev 2:5,16,23; 3:16. Surely this should teach us, that the only way we can deal with error in our midst in our time, is to diligently, and individually, apply the commandments and teachings and ways of Christ to all our own Ecclesial situations. Of course, this is most powerfully done by personal example, cp Mark 9:41-50. A fundamental first principle of the Christ life is to be tough on yourself, but be generous toward your Brethren. But, as with most of Christ's commandments, we have largely managed to get this one back-to-front too!
And where do we learn of Christ's mind in those matters? Of course, it is in the record of His life and works in the first five books of the New Testament. The strength of the Truth lies in the lives of Brethren and Sisters of Christ who live the Truth, and who demonstrate God's righteousness in love by faithful example, cp Deut 10:12-13; Jer 9:23-24; Micah 6:8; Matt 22:36-40; 1 Cor 13. We must be doing as Christ and Paul did. They were vigorous in expounding the word, and in encouraging the Brethren and Sisters to remain faithful and diligent to the simple life in the Faith, cp Phil 1:8-18.
It is plain throughout the Word, that when Brethren remove their "aprons," and cease to be the "servants of the Ecclesia," and put on "crowns" instead, seeking to be "Lords over the flock," that they fall into the "depths of Satan." The power of God's Grace toward His Sons and Daughters, and the prospect of Divine approval through that Grace, not the power of Judeao-style Ecclesial Legislation, creates the motivation within individuals to strive to keep the purity of the Truth in their lives. The joy of living the Truth and sharing the Grace of the Truth with others, far transcends the agony of having to police futile, and never ending rules and regulations, cp Gal 5:22-23; Philippians 4:5-9; Rom 12:9-21.
In His exhortation to His Brethren in the region of Sardis, cp Rev 3:1-5, Christ commented upon an Ecclesia that had all the "right" outward show, but within they were "dead," cp Matthew 23:27. Some in this Ecclesia had adopted external "works" as their measure of the Man of Christ, and Christ pleaded with them to return to the basic simplicity of the Truth, and to walk before Him in Faith and Humility, cp Matt 24:42-51.
Concerning the attempts by some Brethren to justify wholesale disfellowship of entire Ecclesias, Bro Islip Collyer wrote, "...it has been suggested...that, although we are not informed of such a move, it may be assumed that after reading the Spirit's letter, the faithful few in Sardis would withdraw from the dead majority. But even if they did with-draw after hearing the Spirit's judgement, would that justify us in withdrawing before any [such] judgement has been passed?
"For our own part we will not venture to judge that any who hold the One Faith are dead or unworthy. If any man sins, we will accept the judgement of the majority of his Ecclesia as to whether he should be rebuked or cut off from fellowship, but even in the latter extreme we should have his ultimate salvation as a main object and so be ready to restore him 'in the spirit of meekness'. As for wholesale condemnation of an Ecclesia as 'dead', we would not venture so to judge even those which appear most negative. Christ has not [yet] passed judgement on the Brethren of the latter days. When He does give His verdict, undoubtedly there will be some dreadful surprises." (Islip Collyer, "A Pure Fellowship," The Christadelphian, Vol 68, #807, page 410).
In His discourse to His Brethren in the city of Philadelphia, cp Rev 3:7-12, Christ addressed the "synagogue of Satan" once more, and warned them that their high handed treatment of their Brethren had placed their own salvation in jeopardy, cp Isaiah 66:5 (Please read this Isaiah passage very carefully, and identify the various parties spoken to). We have attempted to do this for you in the following paragraph:-
"Hear the word of Yahweh, ye that tremble at His word (cp v2); [Note:- the 'ye,' 'you,' and 'your' in this verse all relate to the Humble, Contrite Ones of v2 who think nought of themselves, and who 'tremble at God's Word'], your brethren [the "synagogue of Satan" who take it upon themselves to do God's work for Him] that hated you, that cast you out (cp John 6:37; 9:34-35) for my [Yahweh's] sake, said, Let Yahweh be glorified [in other words, "Let us keep the Truth pure! And let us 'cast out', or 'cut off', all those who refuse to see things the way we say they should be seen," cp v3+4). But He [Yahweh] shall appear to your joy, (cp Mal 3:15 - 4:3), and they [i.e. 'the synagogue of Satan' or your Brethren who 'cast you' out] shall be ashamed." (cp Matt 25:40,45, 10:42; Mark 9:38-42; Luke 6:22; Rev 3:9.)
And so Christ spoke finally to His Brethren in Laodicea, cp Rev 3:13-22. And in this address, He revealed the utter disgust that He has for the ultimate development of the "seducing Judaeo-Pharisaic spirit," as it had now developed within His Ecclesia. Thus, the actual development of the Apostasy is traced for us, step by step, as it grew toward its maturity in these seven congregations throughout Asia Minor. How do we identify Christ's revulsion for this 'spirit'? Firstly, notice in Rev 3:17, that He castigated the Brethren responsible, for thinking that they were "rich and increased in goods, and had need of nothing." In reality, they had need of "all things," especially the Grace of God, and He who can see into the hearts of men, revealed that they were in fact, "blind and wretched and miserable and poor and naked," cp John 2:25; Isa 11:3. They were in a similar state to Adam and Eve in the garden after the fall, though Adam and Eve's "eyes had been opened," and they were fearful, cp Gen 3:7-10. The "Star Angel" [leaders] in the Laodicean meeting had no such fear. They were confident that they had "got it right," and that Christ was obligated to approve them for preserving "The Truth" in the earth, cp Matt 25:25; Luke 19:20.
As Bro. Thomas notes in Eureka Vol 1 page 450, "in contemplating this Laodicean institution, the spirit of pure and undefiled religion, which is unspotted by the world, is not seen. Pompous apparatus, augmented superstitions and unmeaning forms of piety, much show and little substance appear."
"Spiritual Blindness - What it is and How to Recognise it"
I invite you now, to take a pen and paper, and with a concordance, carefully note the passages in scripture where Christ, and the apostles, deal with "blindness," ...and you will observe an interesting pattern emerge.
Christ only ever called one particular class of people blind! In Matthew 15:14, He identified the Pharisees as being the "blind leaders of the blind, who shall [both] fall into the pit," [or "depths"], cp Psalm 119:85. In Matthew 23:16,17,19,24,26, Christ upbraided the Pharisees for being "blind hypocrites" [or 'pretenders'] who sought to rule as Kings over their Brethren. He pointed out to the rulers of Jewry in His day, that they were attempting to establish "righteousness by legislation," cp Matt 23:4-5; Isaiah 29:9-24. An impossible task!!
Furthermore, He revealed that their treatment of the Fatherless and the Widows was totally contemptible, cp v14. And He explained concisely how their material advantage came at the expense of the "poor and needy" who could not defend themselves against these unscrupulous beasts, cp Luke 20:45-47; 2 Peter 2:12; Jude v10; 1 Cor 15:32. Which is the way it always is with perpetrators of Abuse... be it sexual, emotional, physical or spiritual.
In fact, of all the social ills and injustices rampant in the days of our Lord, only one cultural issue gained our Master's attention to create a platform for action. In an era when there was slavery, militant terrorism, economic abuse, class warfare, abortion, infanticide, down treading of minority groups, racism and a whole host of other issues, that even those in power today see fit to give their attention to, the only social ill addressed by Jesus was...Abuse... Spiritual Abuse! He hates it! Why? Because it is idolatry! When preservation of the system takes on more importance than the individuals who the "system" is supposed to be caring for, then the "system" is worshipping a false God. Or worse still, it has become a false God, cp Matthew 24:48-51.
Jesus demonstrated that the efforts of the religious leaders of the day, aimed at converting others to the "Truth" of the day, tragically resulted in them bringing forth "double children of Gehenna," cp Matt 23:15 ("two fold more the child of hell"). In other words, so grotesque was their belief system, and the attendant life styles and controlling behaviours manifested by the leaders in the nation, that Christ compared any proselytes they might have made, to those poor children who had been offered up in the fires of the false Gods in the valley of Hinnom, cp Jer 32:35; Lev 18:21. The Scribes and the Pharisees had become so grossly disfigured and hideous in their practises and their beliefs, that Christ could not recognise them as His children, cp Deut 32:4-5. As a consequence, their proselytising efforts were tragically bringing forth "Sons of Hinnom twofold," not "Sons of Abraham". These preservers of the "system" were "the workers of iniquity" that Christ refers to during His ministry, cp Matt 7:23; & Luke 13:27; with Psa 28:3; 94:4,16; & Prov 10:29.
In John 9:39-41, Christ leaves us in no doubt as to the true identity of those whom He regards as "blind!" John 9 is a whole chapter devoted to explaining the cure for "blindness." (The cure, incidentally, comes by listening carefully to the instructions of Christ, and then following all those instructions carefully. In other words, spiritual blindness can only be properly cured by seeing things Christ's way, which is God's way, not man's way). In John 9:34-41, Christ identified those who would "cast out" the very ones whom He Himself has chosen, as "being blind indeed," cp John 6:37; 9:35. Christ called them "blind," because they could not understand unconditional love, and because they refused to recognise their own sin, and their need for the cleansing, and purifying influence of the Word in their own lives, cp Luke 5:17; 7:30. And they had no fear or idea even, of what the Lord will do to them because of their ill treatment of His Brethren. Was this Laodecia's problem too? I believe it was, cp Rev 3:17. See also Jude vv10-12.
at what Peter also says in his 2nd Epistle 1:9. In this passage, in the
context of developing the virtuous character of Christ in individuals,
[cp v3-8], Peter states plainly that "he that lacks these qualities
[that is, the Divine qualities of diligence, faith, virtue, knowledge
of God, self-control, stead-fastness, Godliness of character, brotherly
affection, and self sacrificing unconditional love], is blind, and spiritually
short sighted, and has become oblivious to the fact that he was once cleansed
from his old sins." (Amplified Version). How was he so cleansed?
By Grace. Why? It certainly was not because he was deserving of that Grace!
Far from it!
(you say)... "I don't hate my Brother! I really do love him, even
though I do all that I can to avoid having any contact with him! I am
just doing this to help him....believe me!" Then, perhaps, you should
be prepared for Christ to ask you very soon..... "Explain to me who
gave you the authority to cut your [my] Brother off and cast him out?
And now you will have nothing to do with him. Because, like the "bully"
in the playground, you have forced him to "stand over there",
having first smitten him with your 'verbal fists'. Or maybe you have even
vigorously applied the 'velvet clad, iron fist of Ecclesial censure',
[ie. "withdrawal or dis-fellowship] cp Matt 24:48-51; 25:45-46, Isaiah
58:4,9. (Perhaps you have even extended that same "bully boy spirit"
to include others who have been reluctant to go along with your extreme
form of censure). Don't you realise that I [Christ] died for him also?
And now you refuse to wash his feet! Why?.... I have washed your feet!
And look where they have been! You cannot wash your Brother's feet if
you have "cast him out" and pushed him "over there,"
(wherever "there" might be)! And you tell me that you will have
nothing to do with him! How will he ever learn My ways, if you won't help
him bear his burden in a spirit of meekness? Have you forgotten the Golden
rule of Life? To treat others the way you would like to be treated yourself!
And do you need to be reminded that, 'there but for the Grace of God,
go you or I." cp Matt 11:28-30; John 13:15; 15:12-14; Rom 14:10-13;
Gal 6:1-6; 2 Tim 2:24-26.
But no! The invitation to Moses, and to all of us by extension, is to "stand by me, upon that large rock," and to learn that our Father is Merciful, and Gracious, Longsuffering, and Abundant in Goodness and Truth. And we believe that the Father is going to exercise His Character toward all of us. Why is His Character "Merciful" first? Why is not His Character described as "Truth" first? It is because we all need His Mercy and His Grace and His Longsuffering, - everyone of us! If His Truth were first, not one of us would ever receive the reward of Immortality. We would all be continually and forever out of fellowship with Him and His Son, without ever having reached first base! But by the Grace of the Father, He has offered to us an endless Hope - not a Hopeless End. It makes no sense at all, to spurn the Grace that God has offered to ourselves by ungraciously refusing to have anything to do with the other members of His Household, cp Luke 15:28.
And we are not saying, that God's Truth is not important! It most certainly is! But His Truth is far more than a mere theory to be contended for. It is a way of life, to be lived out within the context of the family of Brethren and Sisters that God has graciously given us, so that we might develop His character, cp Matt 12:48-50; Heb 2:11-17; Jude vv3, 20-25. Just as in a natural family we cannot dictate who we can have as sibling brothers and sisters, so also in the Divine Family it is not our prerogative to choose who will, (and who will not), be our Brothers and Sisters in the Lord. Christ makes it very plain in Matthew 12:50 that "whosoever shall do the will of [or act like] my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother," cp Luke 15:11-32; Jer 9:23-24; Matt 5:48.
"To Fellowship...? or Not to Fellowship...?"
Paul only ever counselled the administration of the ultimate Ecclesial censure [twice in all of his epistles] for extreme circumstances, cp 1 Cor 5; 2 Cor 2:5-10; 1 Timothy 1:20. And that Ecclesial censure was advised for the purpose of reclaiming the individuals involved. It was never for the purpose of for-ever denying fellowship within the body of Christ. And it was never recommended by Christ, or the Apostles, to advocate the disruption of relationships between different meetings, no matter what their Ecclesial differences were. Surely this must be a powerful example for us, even though judging from our modern viewpoint, there were plenty of opportunities to implement the practise of Ecclesial, or "Block Dis-fellowship" based upon "Guilt by Association" in the days of the Apostles, cp 1 Cor 6:1,6; 15:12; 2 Tim 2:17-18; 1 John 4:1-3; 2 John.
his counsel in the same spirit as Paul and Christ, showing that those
who refuse to receive the Word of Grace in Truth will ultimately, and
individually, make up their minds to "go out from among us, because
they are not of us" cp 1 John 2:19; see also John 13:30; Rom 16:17-18;
2 Tim 4:10,14; Jude :19; 3 John v8-11. And even in these cases, it is
our collective individual duty as our Brother's keeper, to expend the
utmost energy to reclaim those who are so lost, cp Matt 18:12-14; Luke
15; Isaiah 58:6-7; Gal 6:1-4.
'Only The God of Grace Has a Total Monopoly on Truth'
In reality, not one of us has a monopoly on Truth, cp Isaiah 40:13-14. And as we all appreciate, from our meditation in God's Word... "there, but for the grace of God, go you and I." And in the end, the Word of God's Grace is clear. The burning issue at the Judgement Seat of Christ will not be, "Have you or I kept the Doctrinal purity of the Truth in its entirety?" Rather, it will be, "Have we manifested the Grace of God's Truth that we have learned, faithfully and in love in our individual lives toward our fellows and before our God?" cp Matt 7:15-23; Rom 2:1-11. It has been plainly revealed to us that the way that we have treated our Brethren and Sisters during our probation is going to be a large factor in determining our ultimate destiny, cp Matthew 24:49-51; Matt 25:40,45-46; Luke 12:42-48. As He said in Matt 7:2, "with what judgement ye judge [others], ye shall be judged, and with what measure ye mete [out to your fellow], it shall be measured unto you," cp also Luke 6:31-38.
That is why Peter says, "Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the Truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned ['without hypocrisy'] love of the Brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently: being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God, which liveth and abideth forever.
For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away, but the Word of the Lord endureth forever. Wherefore lay aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and evil speakings, and as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word, that ye may grow thereby, because ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious!" cp 1 Peter 1:22 - 2:3.
If we would truly allow the Spirit Word to motivate us individually, then we shall preserve the Truth in our own lives, and hand it on as a precious heritage to our children.
In no way, have we indicated in the foregoing, that the Ecclesia is to tolerate the active promotion of blatant false doctrine, or immoral practise in the Brotherhood, without Scriptural and Christ-like censure. To do so, would make us a "Fellowship of Iniquity" as Brother Thomas styles it. However, whatever censure is deemed appropriate, it must be based solidly on the clear teachings and practise of the Lord Jesus Christ, and not on our own narrow minded fearful view of the situation. In the overwhelming majority of cases, it is far better to teach the problem out, rather than push it out, or thump it out with the clenched fist of Ecclesial Censure concealed with the velvet glove of dis-fellowship. Patient and forthright teaching was the way of Christ, when he dealt with the Pharisees, with the Sadducees, and with the "Synagogue of Satan." It was the way of the Apostle Paul, along with James and Peter, John and Jude. It was also the way that Brother Thomas established the Truth in his day. The loving and active contention for the "way of the Truth," though unpleasant sometimes in its activity, is greatly beneficial to spiritual development and scriptural understanding. And the amazing thing is, when Christ reviewed the response in His generation, and Paul in His, they felt that their efforts had brought forth little fruit. Who are we then, in an attempt to improve on their experiences, to add our petty little rules to their wise, and obviously God ordained way of producing results?
The great challenge that we face then, is to balance Ecclesial Autonomy, which is a paramount principle governing Ecclesial life, with the individual responsibility we all have, to manifest God's Holy Character. We must have as our prime motivation, an attitude of mind that approaches Christ's toward all His Brethren, everyone whom our God hath called, and given to us. Above all, we must resist the movement toward Authoritarian Ecclesial Hierarchies which has been allowed to develop within our communities in these last days. The "Doctrines and Deeds of the Nicolaitanes" will drag the way of the Truth down, and reduce it to merely frigid and lifeless formalism. This Nicolaitan spirit will profit absolutely nothing in the end, but will see those who perpetuate such pseudo-righteousness, "cast out" of Christ's presence with the dreadful words ringing in their ears, "Depart from me, ye workers of iniquity, I never knew you," cp Matthew 7:21-23; Luke 13:23-30; Isa 29:20. This fearful announcement, and tearful event, is reserved for those who have "done despite unto the Spirit of [God's] Grace," cp Heb 10:29-31; Rev 3:16.
"Institutionalised Hypocrisy Receives Christ's Greatest Censure!"
Unfortunately many Ecclesias are being encouraged to cling to much of the "institutionalised hypocrisy" which has become so much a part of modern Ecclesial life, through a strange sense of "Fear" that has been fed into our community from certain quarters within the Brotherhood. As has often been pointed out, "Fear" is a poor motivator in the Truth, and even a dangerous one, when it comes to reflecting the Character of the Great Creator who has called us all to Glory in His Kingdom, cp Gen 3:10; Luke 12:32; 19:21-27; 1 John 4:18.
As you will appreciate, one of the main foundation planks many Brethren have stood on for years, has been the belief that if they did not uphold the doctrinal purity of the Truth in the earth, and contend earnestly for the faith, who would? Now, that sounds convincing, and it is correct to a degree. However, God's Truth has survived for 6,000 years before we came along, and it will be around for a long time yet. For eternity in fact!
And yet, we will only share eternity, if we learn to "Live God's Truth by Grace" properly in our lives, and show that we are living it through our dealings with our Brethren and Sisters. God will preserve His Truth. That is His work. It is His Truth after all, and He has successfully preserved it right down to our day, through death, and torture, inquisition and even Apostasy. And all without our help!
Now, once again, we are not saying that we are to passively tolerate the active promotion of immorality or blatant wrong doctrine in our community. We have a duty to win over those individuals who are walking contrary to the Commandments of Christ, cp Matt 18:15-17; 2 Tim 2:24-25. We must then, only act in the way that Christ would approve, cp 1 Cor 13:2-7. However, in upholding the way of the Faith, let us not beguile ourselves, with the thought that our individual presence is so indispensable, that without us, the Truth would surely fail. The Truth will never fail, and neither will the love of Christ fail us, provided we remain within the ambit of Divine Grace, cp Rom 8:35-39; 1 Cor 13; 2 Cor 5:14; Jude v21.
Brethren and Sisters have come to appreciate, is that in "contending
earnestly for the Faith," we ought to be concentrating primarily
on developing the Character of God and His Son in all our dealings with
our fellow Brethren and Sisters, cp Jude v20-25; Jer 9:23-24. There is
most certainly a breadth of tolerance in God's Truth which we seem to
be prepared to extend to others overseas in the mission fields for example,
which we will not extend to our very own kith and kin on our doorstep
But we have no problem expending ourselves for "ignorant" souls in the mission fields! Could it be that we have "mission fields" right here on our own doorstep with a great work to do - (though, quite understandably, certain within those "local fields" might not want anything to do with "us" because of "our" attitudes toward "them" in the past.)
We really ought to be doing everything that we can, however, to strengthen the hand of all of our Brethren, and young people in the Word, cp Matt 24:45-47. As our Lord Himself taught, "He who is not against Him, is for Him," cp Luke 9:50; Matt 12:30. And it is impossible to communicate any meaningful message across a gigantic "Berlin Wall" of our own building and maintaining. It is a shameful thing, that we treat many of our Brethren as "second Class," almost "Untouchables," to the point that to have any contact with "them," is seen as "watering down the Truth." As if the Truth can in some way be defiled by those "other" men and women whom Jesus has graciously chosen to call to His Family. And as if we ourselves provide a sanctifying and purifying influence to the Body of Christ! Why, even leprosy and death itself, cannot defile our Lord and what He stands for! He died for all these Brethren, just as He died for you and me! Who are we then, to judge another man's servant? (cp Rom 14:4,9-13.) And we even dare to do that, when we claim to be His servants ourselves!
We are certainly not a people given to loving the whole Brotherhood of Christ. In fact, our collective Ecclesial attitudes could well be described by that "selective love" that Christ Himself spoke of in Matt 5:47; Luke 6:31-40. It is the attitude of those who say, "I will love you, so long as you see eye to eye with me. But the moment I find that you believe something different to me, or I find I cannot get along with you, I will cut you off, and have nothing more to do with you." Whilst that attitude feels good to us naturally, it does nothing to develop our character, or to help our Brother with his (perceived) problem.
As a result, we spend far too much time in petty personal feuds, and far too little time doing what God has called us to do. That is, to gather people unto Him. Christ is the judge, and the Truth by God's Grace has the power to save "them," whoever they are, as well as ourselves, cp Luke 5:17. We all have feet of clay. We all need Christ to redeem us from these bodies of death, cp Rom 7:24-25. Not one of us will be able to stand before Him and claim the reward of Immortality based upon our labours for Him, cp Matt 7:21-22. If He chooses to reward any one of us, it will be because He is Merciful and Gracious, like His Father, cp Exod 34:5-7. Our catalogue of "good works" cannot earn us salvation in the Great Day. There will be no balance sheet which we can procure for Christ, detailing His obligation to pay us with eternal life because of our "good works". Since our "good works" cannot earn us our salvation, then our "bad works," or "sins," will not prevent God from saving us by His Grace, provided we have truly responded to Him as His Sons and Daughters, cp Luke 15:20-24; Galatians 3:26 to 4:7; 2 Corinth 6:16-18; Jer 9:23-24; Matt 12:48-50. And here is the key. It is primarily a question of "Relationship!" Is God truly Our Father? Are we truly His Children? Are we truly Christ's Brethren? If we are, then we will show that we are, by the gracious way we act towards all of His family in these days of probation, cp John 8:28-29,42; Gal 4:5-9; 1 John 3:1; 4:1.
"Does the Word Teach Ecclesial Dis-Fellowship?"
We are to look now at the scriptures that are often supplied to support the claim that we do have a scriptural warrant to uphold an extreme view of the 1958 Australian Unity Agreement, (which is how this article originally started). Reference is made particularly to Clauses A,B,& C, on pages 14-15 of that agreement, where some propose that Ecclesias have the power, and the right, and even the duty, to dis-fellowship entire "Blocks" of Brethren and Sisters who themselves as individuals are not promoters of error.
At this point allow me to say, that many Brethren have no problem with the Unity Agreement as it is written in plain English, apart from the fact that the Unity it was supposed to achieve, has been severely blemished by certain Brethren insisting that their extreme interpretation of the form of words used in the Unity Agreement is the only interpretation allowable.
We ought to be very wary, nay extremely wary, of allowing a document such as our Unity Agreement becoming a "second Bible" or a "secondary Authority" to us. We slam the churches for their insistence in upholding the authority of the Pope, the Book of Mormon, the Watchtower Society, Buddha, Krishna, Mary Ellen White, etc. And then we refuse to be honest enough to look at the scriptures alone, and to understand any agreements that we might have, in the light of the clear teaching of the Word. Indeed, we ought to be doubly wary, because the scriptural quotations in support of Clauses A, B & C, page 15, actually run out at the end of Clause A! (Check it for yourself, and see!) There is no scriptural support for clauses B & C! Being mere mortals, and not inspired, it is quite conceivable that our Brethren did what they could with what they had, nearly 40 years ago. But their words alone, are not and should not be, the final arbiter. The Word of God alone has that prerogative.
Another thing we ought to be extremely wary of, is the foreign insistence that we have developed amongst ourselves, that any Ecclesia has the right to interfere with another Ecclesia's autonomy. By foreign, I mean this. It is foreign to the true teaching of the Word. Ecclesial autonomy is a scriptural hallmark of our community, marking us out as being quite different from all other religious communities, and it is a valid observation that we only interfere with another Ecclesia's business in proportion as we see the Ecclesia or Ecclesia's to which we belong, as being the last custodians of the Truth on earth, whose job it is to preserve the Truth in the earth on God's behalf! cp 1 Kings 19:10.
As a community, Christadelphians seem to have suffered as a result of a lack of physical persecution from those around us in these last days, (not that we would like to see this situation reversed, thank you)! And so to make up this lack, we have resorted to creating our own persecution from within the Body so that we can fool ourselves, (by so doing), that we are actually "contending earnestly for the Faith." In fact, so good have we become at creating "Paper Tigers" and "Straw Men" that we can produce them in vivid technicolour, to the point that even our young people can describe with "authority" the existence of heinous wrong doctrine and equally heinous corrupt behaviour in "other" Christadelphian communities, though most of them would not recognise it if they fell over it. And much of it is just hearsay after all! But it does make a good story! And it justifies the unjust position of separation that has been enforced so unscripturally for so long.
And that is no reflection on the young. It is a reflection on the Elders, who have painted such terrible mind pictures of the "Sons of the Anakims" who, it is feared, shall have our young people for a prey, cp Num 14:30-31. And yet surprise, surprise, when one actually meets our "other" Brethren from "elsewhere," one finds that they are made of exactly the same stuff as ourselves. (Please excuse the hint of sarcasm here, but we must see what we have done to Christ's community! We have bred a generation that hates....- "they know not what"! But no matter! Whatever "it" is, if "it" comes from "there," "it" not only "must be bad," we must fight "it" every inch of the way! But don't ask why! Because we cannot answer that for ourselves, but "Brother So-and-so" has always said that "they" are the enemy of the faith! So it must be right!).
We have got to get back to "proving all things" for ourselves. Individually! And that may mean, that we might have to agree to differ from each other on some [non-fundamental] things. Maybe we might not all fit into the same neat little "Christadelphian Box" that some have attempted to create for us. However, take heart! Elijah, John the Baptist, Paul the Apostle, Ezekiel the Prophet, and even Christ Himself were all "outside the regular mould, or box," if we can call it that. The Truth allows that latitude, as we develop. Provided, of course, that we adhere to the fundamental First Principles of the Truth! As has been stated already, not one of us has a total monopoly on the Truth! And healthy debate on the Scriptures can only broaden our knowledge of the Word and deepen our Love and respect for the Father. And for each other, too!
"What Saith the Scripture?"
So finally we get to that list of scriptures that was mentioned earlier. Some are obvious, some not so obvious. But none anywhere, teach that any Ecclesia has the right to interfere in another Ecclesia's autonomy and business. In fact, there is a paucity of such scriptural backing as we might like to think would be the right way to treat another congregation.
Indeed, the Spirit teaches us from Genesis to Revelation, that the True Shepherds of the flock stay on in their domicile Ecclesia to effectively combat error from within the fold, cp John 10, Ezek 34, Isaiah 58. In doing so, Brethren will strengthen the remaining things by diligently teaching the error out, assisted by commendable Christ-like works of Faith. (Once again, we refer to Rev 2 + 3 and note, that neither there, nor anywhere throughout any epistle, is there any Divine Unction teaching that whole Ecclesias are to be treated the way that some would sometimes like to see them treated).
It is impossible, as has been tragically proven hundreds of times over during the last century, to effectively assist our Brethren in any of their deficient understandings and practises, by euphemistically "withdrawing from" or "standing aside from," our Brethren and sniping at them from a distance. Jesus described such an attitude Ecclesially, as belonging to Hirelings and Robbers, cp John 10:1-18.
arises, of course, because we have been fed the "party line"
for a long time within Christadelphian circles, that the original Roman
Apostasy developed out of Laodicean apathy, mixed with liberal serves
of Pagan Romanism, and blinding doses of worldliness. But the Scripture
is very clear! The Roman apostasy developed out of full blown Judaism
and ultra refined Pharisaism or legalism, which created a hierarchy which
set themselves up over the people, controlling the people by fear, and
keeping them in check with a multitude of rules and regulations, coupled
with inappropriate threats of excommunication.
There are no problems with the verses that can be quoted from the Epistles that clearly demonstrate appropriate action against individuals who promote and propagate error. Or for those individuals whose moral walk has severely compromised the way of the Faith, and who are likely to effect the walk of others also. Provided, of course, that the motivation for any such punitive action is the Brother's restoration. And not that we are happy to see him go! And that the Brotherhood is well to be rid of him! Remember, Christ died for him too! Never let us forget this fact, that there, but for the Grace of God, go you or I! cp 1 Cor 15:10. And, surprisingly, the Scriptures are remarkably more silent on this matter of punitive restorative dis-fellowship than we might at first imagine, Cp 1 Cor 5:2-5; with 2 Cor 2:6-10; 1 Timothy 1:20. Is Christ more tolerant with "difficult" members of His Family than we tend to be?
There is no verse within New Testament teaching, that allows any ecclesia to deal with another sister Ecclesia in the extreme way that Paul perhaps counsels rare but censorious action against a recalcitrant individual Brother. And the Spirit had ample scope to provide examples of such, if that were the way Christ would want us to so deal with that kind of problem. In fact, on the contrary, the Spirit is at pains to draw out the fact that we are to be knit together in fellowship, despite our petty differences, because fellowship is of the Father and not of ourselves, cp 1 John 1:3-7; Psalm 133; Ephesians 4:1-7.
We must be honest as we deal with the Word. We must try not to make it say what we would like it to say. And above all, we must be led by the spirit of the One who said, "With what judgement ye judge [your brethren], ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete [to your brethren], it shall be measured to you again," and that, very soon! cp Matt 7:1; Luke 6:31-38.
And we need to remember that He also said; "Inasmuch as ye did this (or did it not) unto the least (Grk. "most despised by you") of these my Brethren, ye have done this (or done it not) unto me," cp Matt 25:40,45. And that takes faith. God will preserve His Truth. We must live it! After all, we are not only training to be Kings of the future age, but we have also been called to be Priests, who understand the infirmities of that nature that we all bear, cp Heb 5:2; Zech 7:9-11. Read again the parable of the Good Samaritan, and picture yourself as being each one of the individuals mentioned in that narrative, in turn. It is clear from Christ's words what the Lord thought of that Priest who gathered his garments about himself, lest he be defiled, and who continued on his way to Jericho, not pausing to help one who had been beaten and robbed and left for dead, cp Luke 10:29-37. But we are not guilty of doing that, are we? What do we do then, when we come across one of our Brethren who has been "robbed, and beaten, and stripped, and left for dead" by the biggest robber of all, - KING SIN? Having fallen foul of the diabolos, why do we then give him, or her, an extra shove, just to make sure that they go all the way, by withdrawing any comfort that the Ecclesia might be able to share with them? If we claim to be "Christ's men," then let us demonstrate that we are, by sharing the Grace of God with all our fellows, and treat them the way that we ourselves would wish to be treated, cp Luke 6:31.
The first verse we wish to look at together is Jude vv 3&4. And we note from the outset that Jude points out to his Brethren, that it was needful for them, (and for us also), to "contend earnestly for the Faith once delivered unto the Saints." Now, as has been discussed already, the "way of the Faith" is more than simply contending against false doctrine. Though, it is that too! "The way of the Faith," is actually a whole way of living which is bound up in a Christ-like way of life, complete with attitudes towards our God, ourselves and our Brethren. It is an attitude of Grace which esteems all those who have been "sanctified by God the Father, preserved in Jesus Christ, and called out of darkness into light, as being better than ourselves," cp Phil 2:1-5; 1 Peter 2:9. They may not in fact be better than ourselves, but as we are all moral and spiritual lepers, we ought not to be claiming to be better lepers than our Brothers and Sisters. And everyone of us is totally spiritually bankrupt in Heavens sight, so that not one of us could hope to "pay our own way" to the kingdom by any amount of good works. It is the Grace of God that makes any of us rich toward Him, through Faith in His Son, cp Eph 2:4-9.
So who were those then, "who crept into the Ecclesia unawares," through the side door, as Jude describes them in v4? Traditionally, our community has tended to view these whom Jude describes as "crept in unawares," as being those Brethren who work to break down our self imposed barriers of Ecclesial fellowship and standards. Jude identifies them, however, as those who "deny the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ," cp Jude v4; Isaiah 59:13-15 RSV. (Obviously in this context, "to deny," is to refuse to follow the example of the Lord Jesus Christ). And again, Jude points to a class within the Ecclesia who have the same spirit as Lamech the Ungodly. These Judaising Brethren, (by using the velvet clad, iron fist, of Ecclesial censure?) seek to crush the influence of the Enoch class of Brethren in the Ecclesia. The 'Enoch Brethren' are identified by Jude, as being those Brethren whose appeal is to the Scriptures, cp Jude v14-15. Those "who crept in unawares," are also characterised as "walking after their own lusts" (i.e. "they look after their own interests, being respecters of persons"), "having men's persons in admiration because of advantage," cp Jude v 16. Might not these last words describe the attitude of those Brethren, who feel that they have been appointed by God to some sort of Ecclesial "position of authority," and who engage in Ecclesial politics, instead of obeying the simple Commandments of Christ?
How does one "deny the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ?" Is it possible to define the answer to this question Scripturally? We will let Paul tell us. In 1 Timothy 2:10-13, he told Timothy that, "If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he will also deny us," cp also Matt 10:33, Mark 8:38; Luke 12:8-9. Obviously, to confess Christ and the Father requires more than simply telling people about the Truth. Even a hypocrite can do that! To confess Christ and the Father, is to live ones life so as to be a true reflection of the Glory of the Father's Merciful Character, cp Exod 34:5-7; Jer 9:23-24. So, to deny the Father, and the Son, is to refuse to manifest His Glorious Character in our lives, and by extension, to refuse to display that same Character towards our Brethren, cp 1 John 3:23-24; 4:18-21; 1 Cor 11:27-34; 1 Cor 13; Isaiah 59:13 RSV.
Notice in Jude, there is no counsel to disfellowship either individuals or Ecclesias anywhere in the epistle. Indeed, the example given, is that of no less than Michael the Archangel, who declared that God Himself will sort such matters out in the end, cp Jude v9. In Jude v19, we see, in keeping with John's experience, that "they who are not of the body, will separate themselves," cp 1 John 2:19. Jude's exhortation is specific and to the point in v20-24. "Build up yourselves on your most Holy Faith. Pray in the spirit of Holiness. Keep yourselves in the love of God. Look for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ." Because we all individually need it!
And to help all those who will be helped. And fear not, but rather have faith in God that He will perform all that He has promised, cp 2 Peter 3:9. For Christ has placed upon us "no other burden."
2 Peter 2:1-9
In 2 Peter 2:1, we have a companion epistle supporting Jude that helps us identify the false prophets who would creep into Christ's Ecclesia unawares. Peter adds little in his epistle that is new. However we do note that in v2, he warns that "the way of truth shall be evil spoken of" as a result of these false teachers who will enter the Ecclesias. We make no comment on that in this place, save to ask the question, "Does our attitude toward our Brethren cause the Way of Truth to be evil spoken of?" By our "other" Brethren? And even by those who might look into our community from outside? The only extra testimony that Peter adds to Jude's comments in these verses, is that these "false prophets bring upon themselves swift destruction." There is a noticeable absence of dis-fellowship action mentioned here, as there was in Jude. In fact, the succeeding verses show once again that God is in control and will mete out that judgement that He sees as necessary. For "the Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgement to be punished." cp Matt 13:24-30. And it is He who walks in the midst of the Lampstand communities, with "eyes like unto a flame of fire, and who knows our works [of faith] and our labours [of love]."
1 John 4:1-3
These verses in John cannot apply to whole Ecclesias, but only to those relatively few Brethren who are teachers in the Word, cp James 3:1. In the days of John there had arisen a school of thought that taught that Jesus had not "come in the flesh." In other words, it was claimed that Jesus was in essence God, and that He only seemed to suffer the frailties of humanity and the climactic death on the stake. Such a teaching, of course, makes a total non-sense of the Atoning work of Christ, and has gone on to form the basis of modern Christianity. Perhaps the closest similar example to our own days, would be for an Ecclesia to allow a Buddhist, or a Hindu teacher into our midst, and to encourage him to present his teachings as truth.
John's counsel was for the Brethren to test these travelling teachers, or "spirits," with the Word before inviting them to take an active role in teaching the Ecclesia, cp Rev 2:2. Once again, there is an absence of instruction given to us at this point with regard to any formal dis-fellowship of such individuals. It is likely that these pseudo-prophets are those that the Spirit identifies in 1 John 2:19; Jude v 19. It was up to each Ecclesia to freely test what was being offered in the light of the entire Scriptures, in much the same way that the Christadelphian community has done ever since the days of Brother Thomas, and to filter out Truth from Error. It was Brother Thomas who pioneered this approach to the Scriptures in our modern day. Any Ecclesia faced with one of these "false spirits" would have the task of correcting that teacher's deficient knowledge of the Truth, and diplomatically leading him away from his error, cp Acts 18:24-28; 2 Timothy 2:24-25. And, let's face it, every day of our lives we all read and see and hear many things that require us to filter out Truth from Error.
So the words of John in these verses, simply warn the Brotherhood to test everything that was taught, in the light of the revealed testimony of the Scriptures received, cp Deut 18:21-22. Of course, it only makes common sense, not to invite pseudo-teachers to undertake the task of Ecclesial instruction until such time as the deficiency has been made up, as was the case with Apollos, cp Acts 18:24-28. (Not that Apollos was a pseudo-prophet, but this example is given, to demonstrate the scriptural principle of meekly instructing a valuable, though at that time, uninformed teacher, more perfectly in the way of the Truth).
2 John v 7-11
These verses would have to be the most famous texts in this entire debate on Scriptural Fellowship. Surely John would turn in his grave if he knew just how these few verses in his little exhortation to a very faithful sister in Christ have been maligned over the years.
Before we examine this little section of Scripture in detail, let us pause a moment and take on board the wise words of our Brother Roberts in former days. He wrote, "Fellowship is a friendly association for the promotion of a common object - with more or less of the imperfection belonging to all mortal life. To say that every man in that fellowship is responsible for every infirmity of judgement that may exist in the association, is an extreme to which no man of sound judgement can lend himself. There will be flawless fellowship in the perfect state. Perhaps it is the admiration of this in prospect that leads some to insist upon it now. But it is none the less a mistake. This is a mixed and preparatory state in which much has to be put up with when the true principles are professed." (cp
Bro Roberts 'True Principles and Uncertain Details').
John's words in 2 John v7-9. These verses help us to correctly identify
the problem teaching, namely that which has been spoken of already in
the previous section. The teaching that John warns of, was the false teaching
of the Gnostics, and had nothing to do with Brethren in Christ in that
context. Whilst there are certain principles contained in this section,
John himself does not give us in these verses, a water tight argument
as to how to deal with every Ecclesial or inter-Ecclesial anomaly that
In the early days of spreading the Truth after the ascension of Christ into heaven, the Apostles were reliant on the generous hospitality of those who were sympathetic to the cause of Christ in the locality in which they were preaching the Word, cp Matt 10:11-14; Luke 9:2-6; Acts 13:50-53. Naturally, the same hospitality would also be presumed upon by those who were in opposition to the preaching of the Apostles, as it is evident that they dogged the steps of the Apostle Paul as he moved from City to City, cp 2 Cor 11:1-15; Gal 1:6-9; 3:1-5.
It appears then from this little epistle of John to "the elect lady and her children," that she had unadvisedly opened her house to one, or a number of these travelling pseudo-apostles, and she was thereby assisting the propagation of their error. The word "house" in this context is often stretched to make it read "the house of God" or "the Ecclesia." The word John uses for "house" ['oikia'], is NEVER used anywhere in the Greek Scriptures to describe the Ecclesia of Christ, or the hall or building where such a community might meet for regular communal worship. So John gently points out to this beloved Sister, that her hospitality shown to these Gnostics, was not wise under the circumstances, as she was thereby actually assisting in the promotion of their false doctrines. As a widow, it was also not advisable for her to expose her (young?) children to the specious wrong teachings of those who could become a Father figure to her bereft offspring. And John concludes his gentle appeal to our beloved Sister with the words, "for he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds," cp Prov 15:1. It is worth noting, that John pronounces no ecclesial discipline against the Sister if she did not heed his warning, or if she continued her practise of hospitality. Neither does John level any censure against those who might be compliant with her, in continuing to extend such hospitality. It was a particular situation that was not in the best interests of her family for her to keep offering such hospitality to such individuals.
John's mind on the ungracious treatment often levelled against true Brethren is expressed very clearly in his next little letter. When writing to Gaius, in his 3rd Epistle, he said of "Diotrephes, who loveth the pre-eminence among the Brethren, that he himself receiveth not the Brethren, and he forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the Ecclesia."
This must surely be the ultimate in Ecclesial absurdity, when an individual, or worse still, when an Ecclesia claims the right, (on the basis of 2 John v10-11), to be able to ostracise or "cast out," those who fail to "cast out," all those whom it has "cast out" of fellowship. (If "cast out" is too strong a word for you to use in that last sentence, you can read "withdraw fellowship from" instead. It matters not what you call it, the end result is the same).
"Neither Bid Him God-Speed"
The term "neither bid him God speed," has become one of the greatest causes of contention within the modern Brotherhood. What does it mean? And why does John use it?
The problem in a single-minded reliance on this passage in John to justify Block Dis-Fellowship and Guilt by Association, is manifestly evident when the effects of these five words are fully considered. Any interpretation of this verse that "proves" too much, actually proves nothing at all - and if that be so, then there is surely something wrong with the interpretation. Can any, who wish to use this verse to prove such a vital matter as Guilt by Association, or Ecclesial Dis-fellowship, actually prove such a position from Scripture without this verse? As Brother Thomas would say, "I trow not!" Christ never placed upon us so great a burden as this!
If merely to refuse to punish error or "harbouring" an errorist, is "bidding God speed" to that error, then Christ must also be a "partaker of the evil deeds" of the adulteress when He said to her, "Neither do I condemn thee," cp John 8:11. Or of Judas, as Christ "harboured" one who was a thief and a betrayer within His little band of close disciples, to the point that even none of Judas' fellow brethren knew of His true character, until the very end. Was Jesus guilty because of Judas' sins, though He knew them fully? Were the Apostles guilty because of Judas' sins, though they did not know them fully? Let us follow this line of reasoning just a little further. Even if the Arranging Brethren of a democratically run Ecclesia should choose to tolerate the continuing membership of one, who some might say, believes false doctrine, it cannot be said that all the members of that Ecclesia who continue to use every opportunity to expose and correct that Brother's deficient knowledge are "bidding him God speed" or "partaking of his evil deeds." To claim that they are, is a travesty of language and justice. Neither are they in fellowship with that false doctrine, if their efforts are to oppose it, and they do not believe it themselves. Brother Roberts explained the situation well when he wrote, "If men lend themselves to the evil projects of others and wish them well in them, no doubt they are [then] as responsible for those projects as if they actually promoted them with their own personal labours. This is the principle to which John gives expression when he says, 'He that biddeth him, (ie. the holder of false doctrine), God speed, is partaker of his evil deeds,' " (cp "True Principles and Uncertain Details." by Bro. Robert Roberts)
Consider, for a moment, the following questions:-
If you answered "No," to all of the above questions, then why insist that our Brothers and Sisters elsewhere be judged according to the sum of all the worst parts of all the weakest Brethren in his Ecclesial associations? If you answered "Yes" to any of those questions in the box above, can you furnish the scriptural proof? And are you prepared to stand by it when examined by your interrogating angel at the Judgement Seat? cp Matthew 12:36-37; John 5:30; James 2:12-13.
We comment on this chapter, only because it has been included in a list of verses supporting the proposition that Ecclesias have the duty and the right to practise Ecclesial Dis-fellowship if that said Ecclesia chooses to harbour an "errorist".
There are a number of points to note concerning this chapter. Firstly, it was part of the Law given by Moses to Israel, to regulate the lives of upwards of 3,000,000 people in the land. With that number of people in any one nation, anything can happen, and anything did happen. So God gave just laws to regulate the lives of the lawless, cp Gal 3:19; 1 Timothy 1:9-10.
Though called of God to be His chosen people, only very few actually responded to the call of the Truth through Grace, and lived by faith. Nothing much has changed really. We too are called to live by Faith through Grace, but there are those in our day who still find security in creating laws and rules that have little to do with real life in Christ. In fact, those same laws often cut right across the clear commandments of Christ, which are the only "laws" to which any of us are really bound to uphold. The laws that were given to Israel are not binding upon us, especially if Christ or the apostles have not endorsed those laws as applying to Ecclesial life amongst the Gentile nations, such as we experience. If we call upon the laws in Deuteronomy 13 to support our case for Ecclesial Dis-fellowship, then we are indebted to do the whole law and guilty if we transgress any part of it, cp James 2:10-11; Gal 3:1-12.
And finally, in Deut 13, those who were on the receiving end of the censure handed out for departing from the Truth, were actually to be stoned to death, or put to the sword, and their cities burned with fire! And no-one would seriously suggest that this is how we ought to deal with fellowship matters in our days! The Spirit has not placed on us so great a burden today.
before us now takes us to more familiar ground. If only Matthew 18 were
followed faithfully in spirit and in letter as to be the guide to correct
Scriptural procedure in difficulties, there would be no need to be discussing
this topic of inter-Ecclesial harmony!
Notice that Christ does not say, if after fruitlessly pursuing steps one and two in the process of gaining thy Brother, you have reached the point of informing his Ecclesia, that you are at liberty to inform the Ecclesias (plural)! If, having bowed out of the matter personally, his Ecclesia can do nothing to help him, Christ says, "Let him be unto thee (you personally) as a heathen man and a publican." And what is the point of that? Just this. It is so interesting that we find this form of words used only in Matthew, and he had been a publican, cp Matt 9:9; Mark 2:14. In Scriptural parlance, a "heathen man and a publican" is an object of pity, and a subject of grace, in the sense that he is one who needs to be won over to the Truth, cp Prov 18:19; Matt 18:11; Luke 5:27-32; 15:1-2; 19:2-7; Eph 2:1-8. Never does that term ever mean that we are to do everything we can to avoid meeting that Brother anywhere, either in the street or Ecclesially! Such a Brother as this needs personal help to regain his spiritual balance, not a push to send him off forever, cp Gen 4:9; Gal 6:1.
This is a strange verse to include as proof that we ought to dis-fellowship, or "withdraw from," or "stand aside from," any who do not uphold the purity of the Truth. Firstly, no such instruction is given in this place, and secondly the verse before us simply tells us what were the activities of the new and very zealous Brethren and Sisters in Jerusalem. "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine, and in the fellowship, and in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers." Again, we come face to face with the case of a verse proving too much. If this verse is meant to support our attitude toward our Brethren, then surely it is found in the phrase, "They continued steadfast in the apostles doctrine." The Apostles doctrine was the Doctrine of Salvation by the Grace of God, cp Acts 20:32; 1 Tim 2:4. Search the scriptures, and you will not find a shred of evidence amongst the writings of the Apostles to support the modern practise of Ecclesial Dis-fellowship, or Guilt by Association. This burden of separating the "wheat from the tares" is not our duty. It is Christ's alone! cp Matt 13:39-43. (Also see comments by Bro. Thomas in summary section, page 30).
Again, we have a very strange passage of scripture put forward to bolster the view of our obligation to Dis-fellowship whole Ecclesias. It is yet another scripture that proves too much. The entire lesson that is contained in the description of the Tabernacle in the wilderness, whilst too large a subject to cover here, must prove that the Ecclesia of Christ is One in all its parts, and that every part fitly joined together makes up the whole, which is Christ. He alone is the Master Builder who has the prerogative to include or to cast out, the materials that have been brought unto Him, cp 1 Cor 3:11-17; 2 Tim 2:19-21. The exhortation here, is for us personally to make sure that we individually purge out from our own lives those iniquities and defects of character and practise which will have us dismissed from our Lord's presence at His return, cp 1 Tim 5:22; Eph 5:7-13; Matt 7:15-23; Luke 13:24-30; Prov 16:6.
1 Cor 5:11
Again, another verse that proves too much. The instruction of the Apostle Paul is to deal in an appropriate manner with the man who was an incestuous fornicator. But the Apostle is silent as to what the other Ecclesias in Greece and Asia Minor were to do with the Corinthian Ecclesia in this particular case. And he is also silent on the matter of those who might continue to eat with those he has so described in 1 Cor 5:11. We might assume, what they were to do! But then, we might be wrong! There are no instructions given here, or else-where, as to any action that ought to be taken against those who might continue to have an ordinary meal with those described in v11. Obviously Paul is not here counselling us to turn a blind eye to immorality within the Brotherhood. Such situations must be correctly handled, so as to reclaim from the diabolos, those who have faltered in their walk of Faith. Paul placed upon them no other burden!
2 Thess 3:13-15
Here is a situation that does not actually describe those who were teachers of error. In fact in 2 Thess 3:6-10, Paul describes those who had become loafers and idlers, and who refused to work on account of their conviction as to the nearness of Christ's return. Paul's advice to the Ecclesia was to avoid the example or the "ways" of these Brethren. "Have no company with" surely means:- "Do not join in the idle ways of these Brethren. By shunning their ways you will express your dissatisfaction and perhaps they, by being thus shamed, will be reformed."
Certainly the counsel to "count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother" does not speak of a vigorous censorship, or discipline, or dis-fellowship, but rather, a gentle entreating to "occupy till He come," as was the custom taught by the Apostles them-selves, cp 1 Thess 3:8-9; Luke 19:13. The problem that Paul addresses in this letter is a local problem, and does not give any scope at all, to a wider application of Ecclesial withdrawal for "disorderly walk." There is absolutely no suggestion that Ecclesias which fail to act as severely as some imagine that Paul commands here, should themselves be disfellowshipped en masse by any, or all other Ecclesias. Paul does not place upon us that burden.
1 Timothy 6:3-5
This verse does not counsel Timothy to "withdraw" or "stand aside" from any Brethren. Paul is instructing Timothy to withdraw himself from such ideas as love of gain, and strifes of words, and perverse disputings. As he says in v11, "Flee these things" and again in 2 Tim 2:22, "Flee youthful lusts, and foolish and unlearned questions avoid." So it is not the Brethren that Paul is warning Timothy to avoid, but rather the accepting of those wrong ideas into his own belief structure. There is a dearth of instruction here in the context once again, as to what ought to be done with "any man who teaches otherwise and who consents not to these wholesome words." Certainly, Paul does not instruct Timothy to dis-fellowship them, neither does he call on any Ecclesia anywhere so to do. Obviously Timothy was to faith-fully, patiently, and meekly, instruct those who were found to be opposing themselves, cp 2 Tim 2:24-25. This is the "burden" of Christ and the Apostles.
Here is another section of scripture akin to that which we have just examined. Again the counsel of the apostle is to "avoid" the "divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned," not the Brethren who have so faltered in their walk to the Kingdom. Would you want the Father to "avoid" you each time you failed to get it just right? No? Of course not! That is not the Divine Family Characteristic, cp Prov 24:16-17. Then don't avoid your Brother either, when he has fallen and needs your help! Perhaps if there are Brethren to be avoided in this verse, they are the "heretics" described in Titus 3:10-11. Certainly not those who stand for Christ! Again, Paul placed upon the Brethren, "no other burden!"
So we have come a full circle, as it were, and we have arrived back at our original problem. The Judaiser! Paul's advice to Titus was that the mouths of these Judaeo-Pharisees must be stopped so that the true spirit of the Truth could shine through. But how do you stop the mouths of those who are forever pushing a Judaising spirit? That is a challenge that constantly faces all the True Brethren of Christ wherever they are to be found, and in any age. It is God's work! And we in faith must allow His Word to work the work, that we with intellect and argument might be powerless to perform. Once again, this section of the Word here in Titus does not advocate the dis-fellowship of anybody, but rather the pro-active, and positive promotion of the principles of the Truth within the Brotherhood in a forthright and vigorous manner. The Father has placed upon us "no other burden."
The word "heretic" here is an unfortunate translation, as it really means "to be of a party spirit." It is an extraordinary irony that those Brethren who feel that they are the most scrupulous at resisting "heretics" (ie. by which they mean, "doubtful Brethren"), with their absolute separation, and meticulous "cutting off," are themselves guilty of being "heretics" (schismatics) in the true Scriptural sense of the word. Their actions towards their Brethren mark themselves as being of a particular "separatist party spirit" and thus they are self condemned, if unrepentant! These "heretics" are usually quite easy to distinguish within the Brotherhood. Their prime concern is always for "the INSTITUTION and not the INDIVIDUAL for whom Christ died." In fact, often their attitude is "that it is far better that the individual be sacrificed as a political pawn," than that the problem of "INSTITUTIONALISED HYPOCRISY" be effectively addressed with the candour required of all the True Brethren of the Lord Jesus Christ, cp Matthew 16:6-12; James 3:14-18.
A Final Word
Congratulations, if you have made it this far, and have not just jumped straight here from the beginning, to find out what the "bottom line" is! Perhaps it would be a good idea now, to go back through the article one more time, and carefully check every Bible passage that has been referred to. In this way, it will be God's word speaking to you, and not simply the reasonings of [an imperfect] man who keenly feels the sword of the Spirit opening him up, to examine his own life, and attitudes, towards his Brethren.
A final observation if I may. Those Brethren who have interfered in some way in the lives of their fellow Brethren and Sisters, to the point that families have been divided across the Brotherhood, are not one whit "more pure," or better off Spiritually than those who they have separated from.
And how do we know that? For a start, every Ecclesia is made up of the same basic raw material - Human Nature, just like yours and mine. And even the most stable Ecclesia will wax and wane, just like its spiritual counterpart, the moon. Because people come and go, troubles ebb and flow, and no Ecclesia today, is exactly what it once was. And as no individual short of Christ has all the answers, and no Ecclesia, or Fellowship, short of the Kingdom has a monopoly on the Truth, it must be far better to graciously work with those who love the same Truth, and who belong to the same Divine Family, rather than to be found to be a self destructing community, "biting and devouring one another, and in the end, being consumed one of another" cp Gal 5:14-16. Christ placed upon us "no other burden," cp Matt 11:30.
"It is natural to have care for those who are the objects of our especial regard, and to be indifferent to all others. Of course, there will be special friendships in the Brotherhood, with different degrees and even different kinds of love. This is inevitable, and not at all incompatible with true fellowship. It is well to understand the distinction between the two words.
Friendship is individual and peculiar. You cannot have ten thousand close friends. Fellowship is collective, and comprehensive. You can be in true fellowship with any number. Friendship is at liberty to make selection of special companions. Just as a man in the Faith is at liberty to marry who he will, "only in the Lord," so is he at liberty to choose his special friends, assuming, of course, in both cases, that the desires are reciprocal and that the choice is in harmony with the other commands of the Lord.
Fellowship does not give us such liberty. We fellowship each other on the basis of the One Faith, and this may draw together men and women who are utterly different in taste and temperament. These differences will inevitably affect our choice of special friends, but they ought not to affect our "care for one another" in the fellowship of the Gospel. The question as to whether Brethren attract us, or repel us personally, does not in the least degree affect the truth of their being members of the One Body, and we ought to have the "same care one for another," because of our fellowship in the Truth, unaffected by affinities and preferences which belong to human personality."
(Bro Islip Collyer, Principles and Proverbs, pp 48-49.)
Following are a number of major keys, or touchstones if you like, that may be helpful for the Bible student to keep in mind whilst dealing with this important subject of Brotherly Ecclesial Relationships.
"What Constitutes a Faithful and Wise Servant?"
great Day so soon to dawn, may the God of Mercy pardon all our iniquities
[cp Matt 6:14-15] and pour out His compassion upon us abundantly, casting
all our sins into the depths of the sea, to remember them no more against
us, cp Psa 103:1-17; Micah 7:18-20; Luke 6:31-38. Not one of us has any
more right to His saving Grace than another. Not one of us can earn God's
Grace which He has offered to us. We are all creatures of the dust, though
created by Him through His power and for His pleasure. He can do with
any of us what He will. But it is His good pleasure to give those whom
He chooses to save, that Kingdom, which He has prepared from the foundation
of the world, to all those whose relationship with Him is as their Father
indeed, cp Rev 4:11; Romans 9:11-23; Luke 12:31-48; Matt 25:34-40. Even
so, come soon, Lord Jesus. Shalom.
This page was last updated November 2003