Knowing there are definitely two ditches on both sides, how does one draw a line on who to fellowship with? For that matter, what is fellowship? Do you have to have unity to fellowship? What are the 'fundamentals' for fellowship? Can we really have unity on this earth? What is unity? My brain is starting to hurt. One question always leads to another question. I wish I had all the answers. Let's stop and think about this.
First, what is fellowship? The dictionary describes fellowship as:
the state of sharing mutual interests, experiences, activities;But, the same dictionary gives a second definition:
communion, as between members of the same church.
For a Christian, those are two different definitions. The first is that we are fellowshipping when we share mutual interests, experiences, or activities. The second is if we are members of the same church. A proper Biblical understanding of the the church, suggests that we can only 'fellowship' with our own church according to these definitions. This isn't true!
What is fellowship according to the Bible? Well, its first mention in the New Testament is in Acts 2:42 when those who were saved continued in the apostles doctrine and fellowship. So fellowship here seemed to be amongst those in the same church who had been saved, Scripturally baptized, and were being taught doctrine. 1 Cor. 1:9 says we can have fellowship with Jesus Christ, but 1 John 1:6 says if we walk in darkness we do not have fellowship with Him. 1 Cor. 10:20 reads that we are not to have fellowship with devils, 2 Cor. 6:14 commands we as believers are not to have fellowship with unbelievers, and Eph. 5:11 demands we not only not fellowship with works of darkness, but reprove them. 2 Cor. 8 talks about how the churches of Macedonia fellowshipped in helping minister to the saints. Philippians 2 says if there is to be any 'fellowship of the Spirit,' there must be like-mindedness, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind, seeking the benefit of others; and in context, he is writing to a local church in Ephesus.
So let's review on what fellowship is in the Bible:
1. We can all agree that we are not to fellowship with lost people. (2 Cor. 6:14)
2. Our fellowship should be first and foremost with the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:9) and his sufferings (Philippians 3:10).
3. We know from Acts 2:42 and Philippians 2 that there should be fellowship in the local church.
4. II Corinthians 8 shows us that there can be fellowship among churches, and this fellowship was for the purpose of ministering to the saints.
5. Works of darkness should not be fellowshipped with, but reproved (Eph. 5:11).
Simple, right? Let's see an example of this in action! Aren't you glad the Word of God is the only source and authority we need? AMEN?!
In Galatians 2, Paul is referring to the events of Acts 15 when the church at Jerusalem was dealing with legalism. True legalism is when it is preached and held to that a keeping of some 'law' will provide salvation. In this case in Acts, there were Jewish legalists who were demanding that converts 'become a Jew' in order to be saved. This was to be displayed by being circumcised. Paul, Barnabus, and Titus (who would be exhibit A as he was a convert who was not circumcised) were sent from the church at Antioch to speak to them about this. When they arrived, they first met with the church elders (James, Cephas, and John) who "gave to them the right hands of fellowship." They recognized the truth that salvation was by grace and not of works and that Paul's ministry, though different than theirs, was of God and the Gospel was the same. This led to a fellowship amongst them. Later, Peter came up to the church at Antioch to fellowship with them. There were some men who came who were associated with James. This James obviously held to the side of the Jewish legalists. When Peter saw them, he quit fellowshipping with the Gentiles. Paul "withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed."
Here are two men, two churches, in fellowship; but error WAS NOT IGNORED. Peter's withdrawal was causing a church split (Gal. 2:13). Even Barnabus was being pulled away from Truth. A public debate began, and from the facts that Peter goes on to accomplish what the Lord allowed Him to do, Peter got right that day and the church was united and strengthened.
Today, amongst Baptist, there is a big push to 'fellowship.' Pastors know how to use Scriptures to show the need for fellowship, they endorse the benefits of fellowship, but mostly ignore the foundation for fellowship. It is the contemporary church philosophy of ignoring the 'non-essentials' that is the foundation for most Baptist fellowship today. The falsely practiced general rule for fellowship amongst Baptist today seems to be "lets just encourage one another and never speak about differences we have." There is a fear of division and axe-grinding; which is mostly due to immature pastors who don't know enough Scripture to defend their 'beliefs' or can't defend their carnal ways. We must get back to a Biblical foundation for fellowship.
A Biblical foundation for fellowship is this: We cannot fellowship with unbelievers. Evil communication will always corrupt good manners. Our error in our basis for fellowship today (in not exposing and debating error) has drifted into our soul winning as well. This is why too many do not preach an offensive Gospel that shows the lost they are sinners. Our churches become adapted to carnality and the lost feel 'right at home' in many churches. We cannot fellowship with unbelievers. The local church should be the main source of fellowship. We need the fellowship of our brothers and sisters in our local churches, and this fellowship is to be centered on the Lord Jesus Christ. Churches can/should fellowship together around the ministry of the Gospel. This brings honor to the Lord. Here is where we can support other missionaries preaching the Truth of the Gospel from other churches. We can work with other churches in reaching the lost and fellowship together for strength and teaching. This should all result in a more unified, strengthened local church. This fellowship though is based upon Truth and all works of darkness should be publicly debated, not ignored. Pastors should be able, and willing, to discuss differences according to the Bible. When there is gross doctrinal error that is not corrected after a clear presentation of Truth, there can be no fellowship. Of course, the Biblical example is that when spiritual people do things Biblically and spiritually, error is corrected and churches are strengthened.
I know this sounds radical today; but then again, are our churches being strengthened or are they weakening?
What if a pastor will not discuss these matters with another pastor? Then he is ignoring the Biblical pattern and precepts. Can we fellowship with one who walks not in the light of His Word (Ps. 119:105, 130) and therefore is walking in darkness? We may not have to agree (Paul and Barnabus with John Mark), but we do have to at least discuss it. There will never be perfect unity amongst churches, that's part of being autonomous; but there should be unity in the local church.
So, we need to fellowship, but let's fellowship Biblically!