Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
November 26, 1964
NUMBER 29, PAGE 2,6b,8c-9a

Disfellowship Among Churches (II.)

Ralph D. Gentry

Having defined the terms and discussed the basis of all fellowships in the first article of this series, your attention is now directed to a study of what authority there is for the practice of one church in disfellowship with another church.

Necessary Inference

It is generally recognized among us that scriptural authority is established by one or more of three ways, vis., command, example and necessary influence. Frankly, I know of no specific command directed to any church as such to disfellowship another church. Neither do we read of it having been done during apostolic days. If such a practice is scriptural, it must be established by necessary inference. Consider these syllogisms:

1. A church in its teaching and practice can become scriptural or can apostatize (I Cor. 5:6; Heb. 3:6; Gal. 5:8, 9; Rev. 2:1-5).

2. We must not fellowship such digression (Eph. 5:11; 2 Jno. 10-11).

3. Therefore, the Bible teaches we may disfellowship an apostate church.

1. The Bible teaches by commands, examples and necessary inference.

2. We are not taught by commands or examples to withdraw from a church.

3. Therefore, the Bible, by necessary inference, teaches to withdraw from an apostate church.

The positive has a negative. Any way in which there can be fellowship is also a way in which there can be no fellowship. We need only to learn the way one church had fellowship with another church and the circumstances and conditions that provoked and warranted such fellowship in order to learn the way one church may refuse this fellowship when the circumstances are reversed. Necessary now is a study of the various relationships in which fellowship is exercised by churches and Christians.

Commands And Examples Of Fellowship

1. The church at Antioch sent support to churches in Judea (Acts 11:29, 30).

2. The churches of Macedonia and Achaia sent aid to the church in Jerusalem (Rom. 15:26; 2 Cor. 8:1-4; I Cor. 16:1-3).

3. One church sent a preacher to another church to labor with it for an indefinite time (Acts 11:22).

4. One church had fellowship with a member of another church (Phil. 4:14) II Cor. 11:8; Rom. 16:1, 2).

5. One church received Christian individuals into its membership (Acts 9:26-28; Acts 18:27).

6. One individual endorses a church (Rom. 16.5, Col. 1:2-4; Rev. 3:7-10).

7. One Christian supports another Christian (3 Jno. 8; Gal. 6:6).

The negative of fellowship in these relationships is recurred when error breaks the bond of spiritual fellowship. If one church may in any way aid another church when that church is worthy of support, it may, yea, it must, refuse such aid when the work of the receiving church is unscriptural. To argue otherwise, is to maintain the support of error is wrong in one place and right in another place.

Recently, I witnessed the elders of one church admitting that the practice of _______church was unscriptural and that they would not have either endorsed or accepted such in the church where they oversee. Yet they have persistently refused to withhold cooperation between the two churches on the claim of justification that "There is no example in the scriptures of one church disfellowshipping another church." Their attitude is one of sympathy toward error and their action that of compromise, both of which brand them as partakers of that which they profess to be unscriptural.

Just what, specifically, is included and excluded in the action of disfellowship among churches?

Specific Action

One church as such (that is in its congregational activities), will not fellowship, (i.e., extend endorsement to and support of) to the other church, as such (that is, in its congregational activities). There will be no support in any way so as to encourage the other in its present course, such as: Announcing their meetings; sending of funds or sending a preacher whose sermons and presence will be regarded as endorsement by the sending church. (Note: The action of several churches supplying speakers to an unscriptural church is having fellowship with that church. And if not endorsement, what action could not be taken if a lack of fellowship is to be manifest? If neither fellowship nor disfellowship, how was there cooperation?). In short, whatever cooperation that is otherwise permitted between autonomous congregations is now excluded altogether. Note: This is not disciplinary action upon the part of one church toward another or any of its members. But, merely, the exercise of the right of one independent congregation to withhold or refrain from entering into and/or supporting the activities of another congregation believed to be persistently and impenitently engaging in sinful practices. One church will, in keeping with Romans 16:17, 18, Eph. 5:11; etc. and the obligation of edifying itself, instruct its' members to act in harmony with this church action. That is, in their individual activity, they should not extend that which they as a group could not extend, namely, endorsement of and cooperation with the other church. They will not attend the meetings (except for the purpose of teaching said congregation of its error, should such an opportunity arise) or in any way individually lend support to the group activities of the other church.

One church will not receive into its membership a member of this other church who is guilty of the sin of that church and who remains impenitent. Neither will such an one be used in the public services and thereby giving endorsement to him and of the congregation where he holds membership (Rom. 16:17, 18; 2 Tim. 9:14, 15). One becomes guilty of the unscriptural teaching and practice in a congregation when one neither protests against such nor removes membership. The Lord said some were guilty because they suffered sin to exist unreproved (Rev. 2:20).

Members of the scriptural church will be admonished to attempt to teach, as opportunity is presented, any member of the other church who might be in ignorance of the sin being tolerated and encouraged in that church and to admonish them to purge themselves from iniquity (2 Tim. 2:19-21).

Appeal To Logic

According to Webster, a syllogism is: "A logical analysis of a formal argument, consisting of the major premise, the minor premise, and the conclusion. The conclusion necessarily follows from the premises, so that, if these are true, the conclusion must be true." Consider the following:

1. A church can apostatize Heb. 3:6; I Cor. 5:6; Rev. 2:1-5; I Tim. 4:1-4).

2. The Bible does not teach us to disfellowship a church (some say this).

3. Therefore we can fellowship an apostate church.

Churches are either in fellowship or they are out of fellowship. If there is no authority to be out of fellowship, then, there is authority to be in fellowship. To argue that there is no authority for churches to be out of fellowship is to argue for the fellowship of all churches regardless of how and to what extent some of them are apostate. Surely, what proves too much, proves too little. Such would place one in the position of absolute silence toward error, lest his practice and teaching be diametrically opposed.

When one church has a split and there is now two congregations, is there fellowship between them now? Is one church withdrawn from the other in fellowship? It would be foolish indeed, to affirm there was now fellowship between the two churches. Assuming one group was scriptural at the time of the split, is such now a scriptural situation? According to I Cor. 11:19 and Rev. 18:4, it is. Disfellowship between churches, then, is both scriptural and necessary.

When is the function of a church such as to necessitate disfellowship? Of what sins must it be guilty before loyal churches refuse to recognize it as a scriptural church? Frankly, I know not how to classify sins as big and little, important and unimportant or worthy of being fellowshipped and disfellowshipped. Brother, name me some excusable sins, please! Another syllogism, please:

1. The church is built according to a pattern (Heb. 8:5).

2. Deviation from that pattern is unscriptural and sinful (I Jno. 3:4; 2 Jno. 9).

3. Therefore, a church not built according to the pattern is unscriptural and its practices sinful.

And another:

1. The church is built according to a pattern (Heb. 8:5).

2. The pattern requires discipline among its members: Reproof and rebuke (I Tim. 5:20; I Thess. 5:14); Effort to restore (Ga1.6:1); withdrawal from the impenitent (I Con 5:1-13; 2 Thess. 3:6, 14-15).

3. Therefore, lack of this discipline makes an unscriptural church.

I read occasionally of some brother wanting to know what we shall make a test of fellowship. I did not know we could do that. The scripture is the test of fellowship and the Lord has made it. Are we to become judges of the law rather than keepers of it? We do not make tests at fellowship unless it is our prerogative to make laws where God has not made them. It is our responsibility to recognize the test of fellowship which God has made and to abide by it. The Lord has declared there is to be no fellowship between "darkness" and "light." And we must not, at any time or place, in any circumstance, "be partakers of other men's sins" (I Tim. 5:22).

— 620 Bowen Street Dayton. Ohio