Does Fellowship Mean Endorsement
Some questions can be settled, once and for all; others must be settled by each man, in his own conscience, and in the light of his own understanding of God's word. We publish this week an article by the late J. N. Armstrong which appeared in "The Living Message" of August 21, 1924, and which was re-printed in the Firm Foundation of June 15, 1971. We take the article from this latter source. Brother Lemmons, Editor of the Firm Foundation comments that this article has "special significance for our age — an age fraught with brethren seemingly anxious to rip each other to shreds over the question of whom shall we fellowship, and insisting that fellowship included endorsement of everything one might believe or teach."
We believe the article has much merit. And if its teaching had been followed these past few years, there is considerable likelihood that the tragic division now existing between "conservatives" and "centralized cooperatives" would either be non-existent, or else far less traumatic than is the case. For it must be evident to every percipient student of events these past twenty years that the real division came when brethren attempted to shut off discussion of the differences and compel the dissidents to go along with the promotional projects. In hundreds (no, thousands) of congregations brethren who on the grounds of conscience and conviction were opposed to church support of secular projects (orphan homes, hospitals, colleges, etc.) had their pleas and protests IGNORED, and were compelled either to violate their conscience by continuing to lend their monies, their influence, their moral endorsement to that which they felt to be wrong, or else remove themselves from the congregation. It happened in so many places that the real cause of the division became obvious and undeniable — the determination of certain brethren to FORCE acceptance of their projects, regardless of the consequences.
Fellowship — endorsement; Where does one draw the line? Where is the distinction to be made? Can we "fellowship" a man whom we do not endorse? whose convictions we do not believe to be in harmony with the Scriptures? The answer is "Yes — to a point." And Paul defined that "point" in Romans 14. If a man has a certain belief which you do not share, you can hold him in full fellowship and in complete fraternal affection as a fellow-Christian so long as he holds his "faith" between himself and God.
"Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God" (Rom. 14:22.) But when he compels others to abide by the decisions of his "faith" he clearly violates the law of God.
To illustrate the point, let us imagine a congregation (it ought not to be too hard) a majority of whose members have a strong desire to introduce instrumental music into the worship. The elders are quite in favor of the idea, and announce that for the next three months one-half of each Lord's day's contribution will be set aside for the purchase of an organ. You, as an informed and faithful disciple of the Lord, can NOT in good conscience contribute your funds toward that project. So what happens? You go to the elders, explain your opposition, and ask them NOT to go through with the proposed action. They, in turn, tell you that you are an "anti," that the progress of the gospel will be hindered if they do not get an organ ("all the other churches have them!"), and that you must contribute your usual amount each week, and say nothing to disturb the peace of the congregation!
You know what would happen. You would be compelled to leave that congregation and worship elsewhere. This is an exact picture of what has happened in the "church supported orphan home, Christian college, youth center" controversy. Faithful Christians have been forced out of "fellowship" with the more liberal groups.
But suppose, on the other hand, the majority of the members in this hypothetical congregation, plus all of the elders, were fully convinced in their own minds that instrumental music in the worship was perfectly acceptable to God, and that church funds COULD be rightly used to purchase an organ — BUT, being aware of your conscience in the matter, they refrained from purchasing the organ or using it in their worship at all!
Could you fellowship such brethren and continue to worship with them? Of course, you could — and should. For they are not in any way coercing your conscience. Would you "endorse" as sound in the faith? Obviously not. They are not taught, and do not understand "the way of the Lord." We believe many situations might exist in which there could be fellowship without endorsement. But in any situation in which some brethren try to FORCE other brethren to conform to THEIR "faith," trouble is inevitable.