Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
July 22, 1971

The Question Of Endorsement And Fellowship

J. N. Armstrong

When one considers the subject of fellowship and endorsement one is met with serious difficulties. It certainly is not easy to decide where the "line" should be drawn. Great students of the Bible "among us" have disagreed about it and have not always given their consent to endorse the same individuals. Since we are all so defective, imperfect, and full of our shortcomings, it behooves us to be very careful, longsuffering, and merciful; lest we become self-righteous and discriminate unjustly against brethren. It is a very grievous sin to mistreat children of God. So grievous is it that Jesus says: "Inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these my disciples you have done it unto me." When Saul of Tarsus was persecuting the Church of God, Christ charged Saul with persecuting him. So we cannot lightly deal with this difficulty. It is a grave matter.

On the other hand we must not be partakers of other men's sins and this we certainly are, when we fellowship and endorse one in his wrongs. There are two grave sides to this question. Paul said to Timothy: "Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men's sins; keep thyself pure." If this be an admonition in matters of discipline, Paul cautions Timothy to steer clear from erring on either side. Evidently one could be hasty, severe; then, he could be too merciful. There is a danger on either side.

Great men have disagreed where the line should be drawn. I remember when I was a boy in the Nashville Bible School, now David Lipscomb College, Brother David Lipscomb, an elder in the South College Street Congregation, with the other elders associated with him, invited Brother John Sweeny of Kentucky to hold a meeting for that congregation. Brother Sweeny was associated with our digressive brethren, among the worst church dividers we have had to deal with. Still this faithful church invited him to hold a meeting. That church and especially Brother Lipscomb was severely criticized for this step. Brother Lipscomb explained their action by saying they thought it might help Brother Sweeny and he thought it could be done without harm to that church. Anyhow it was done. I could not have done it.

Again, at one time the Nashville School was needing a teacher. Hall Calhoun was a prospect. Brother Lipscomb wanted to secure him, but Brother Harding objected on the ground that he had been working with a Christian church, I believe, at Pulaski, Tennessee. For several days it was discussed between and by these faithful men, but Brother Harding was strong against it and it was not done. Brother Lipscomb argued that we might save Calhoun to the simple way.

There is no end to the evidence to establish the fact that the question of fellowshipping, endorsing, and encouraging others is no small matter and that none of us are "sound" on the subject, or know just where to draw the line.

But through these years we have been kind to one another in our disagreement about where to draw the line. True, we have criticized, but we have tried to leave one another to exercise his own conscience in the affair. At least, there has been no disfellowshipping of one another, so far as I have known, because of our failure to agree about whom to fellowship or endorse, or about when the time had come to disfellowship or to refuse to endorse, one. We have left ourselves pretty free in this matter of judgment.

Brother Showalter has endorsed and fellowshipped preachers through his paper, giving their reports, that we have refused to endorse. Their names could not get into our paper at all, because we could not conscientiously endorse them. We believe we knew too much, I think he has made serious mistakes at this very point. But it has never affected our fellowshipping or endorsing him. He has been a hearty supporter of us and our work always and we have tried to reciprocate his goodness to us.

The Gospel Advocate over at Nashville has done the same thing. Men whose names we could not give to our readers in an approving manner and could not give reports of their work to our readers, the Advocate has been endorsing in this way. Again, we knew too much to endorse them, or we thought we did. But we have not withdrawn fellowship from the Advocate or the brethren who are responsible for it, because they have done so. The Christian Leader has done the same things.

On the other hand we have not asked any of these brethren whose reports we could give, or whom we could fellowship, or endorse. We have made out our programs for speakers without consulting them about. it. We have invited whom we wanted and whom we thought to be good to lecture or preach. We believe this to be our right. We have left other brethren free to act accordingly, and have not disfellowshipped them or blackmailed them, when they didn't please us.

Neither do I mean that we accept every peculiar and particular position held by every one that we invited to preach, or lecture, for us.

Really it is a late suggestion that a church is supposed to accept every position occupied by the preacher it may invite to speak for it. All these years brethren, churches with which I have been associated in the work of the Lord have been paying no attention to the peculiar or particular positions occupied by the various preachers and lectures.

As a consequence we have had brethren speak for us that were war-brethren, Sunday-School brethren, literature men and non-literature men, and non-elder and elder brethren. (I do not like any of these terms but I am trying to be understood). Though we have made no discrimination of brethren because of these matters we certainly didn't understand that we were endorsing all these various positions. We have even invited men to speak on our programs that opposed Bible colleges and they have spoken. This has always been our attitude to these matters and our way of dealing with them. We have never had trouble, strife, alienation over doctrinal differences where I have lived. We have been pretty free to teach "our positions" and they have been many, ring-streaked and striped — all kinds. Nobody has even been forbidden to teach in a kind and respectful way what he believed to be his duty to teach, in the congregations and sections of country where I have lived. I have never lived in a congregation where, if faithful members had been asked not to teach on such matters, there would not have been all kinds of trouble over the prohibition to teach. There are individuals who would have been so intolerant as to forbid teaching on some lines. But they were trouble makers. Two or three times in my life, maybe more, I have "felt" the intolerant spirit around me about some teaching I was doing. For instance, the Christian's relation to civil government and to war, God's care for his children, Sunday school question, "sect-baptism," and giving are some unpopular subjects that I have had to teach. Trouble could have come overnight had my honest convictions to teach on these matters been contravened.

May the Lord help us to be patient, longsuffering, and forbearing with one another. We who teach even with emphasis the unity of God's people ought to know how to maintain peace and good working spirit among ourselves. Let us remember that this is never done by intolerance. Men have been persecuted, imprisoned, fed on bread and water, and burned at the stake for teaching their honest convictions but their doctrine has lived on. Persecution, unjust discrimination, and other unmerciful treatment of teachers who are honest and devoted will never help, but such a course will be fuel to flames of strife, alienation, and divisions of which we have all too much.