Tuesday, February 08, 2005

All or nothing fellowship

Is enjoying the friendship and mutual edification of all of our brothers and sisters in Christ an "all or nothing" proposition? Too many of us seem to think that if we can't approve of all that another brother does, we can have nothing to do with him, "religiously" at least.

This is just not the case, scripturally speaking. How can we change the world for Christ if we don't associate with it, and how can we help reform and refresh the souls of fellow believers if we shun them for disagreeing with us? Mutual edification is a two way street, and is not conditioned upon mutual perfection.

Perfection, in fact, is the enemy of unity, just as perfection, when it comes to many of my projects around the house, is the enemy of completion. Sometimes the desire to have something done perfectly keeps us from doing it at all. And so we demand perfection and full agreement with another believer before we can even consider him a brother, much less show up at his meeting place on occasion to encourage him in his walk.

But the Christian walk is not an all or nothing proposition. We are all at different places in that walk, with different life experiences, religious training, and exposure to the inspired Word. That shouldn't keep us from sharing our mutual faith in the Son of the God of this universe with each other.

A passage in Amos has been commonly misconstrued to mean that we can't walk together with a brother unless we agree with him:

    Amos 3:3 - Can two walk together, except they be agreed? (KJV)
The true meaning is so obvious that I can't believe now that I misread it for so many years. The context has nothing to do with agreement on anything except the fact that they have agreed to walk together. It is a rhetorical question whose answer is self-evident: Can two walk together unless they agree upon a time to do so? Can two go for a walk unless they've made an appointment? I think it's about time we look in our individual lives and start making appointments. Only then will it be possible to walk together and edify each other.

The fact is that we don't live in a perfect world, we live in a fallen world. It is made up of humans who are prone to error--yes, including us Christians. But embracing our brother doesn't equate to embracing his error.

Instead, we should seek to encourage the redeemed wherever they are without insisting on perfection in them before we do so. What is the point of trying to encourage someone who is already perfect? Our mutual lack of perfection gives us an equal, shared need for the grace of God that was shown in the sacrifice of His Son on the cross.

Does that mean we can't express disagreement with Christians who differ from us? Of course not. Our example is that of Paul, who, in the same letter, praised his brothers in Corinth where praise was due:

    1 Corinthians 11:2 - Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you. (NKJV)
and "praised them not" in the areas where they needed to be nudged back on track:
    1 Corinthians 11:17-18 - Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse. For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. (NKJV)
We should praise our brother for what he does well, and offer a better way in the areas that may need work. God knows, and hopefully we ourselves know, that we all need work in some area or another. Our strengths may work out to fill in their weakness. Unless we really think we are the strongest Christians out there, we better also be open to the possibility that we may be the beneficiaries of their strength.

Don't cringe, shake your head, or clam up when someone you don't necessarily consider to be a "faithful Christian" quotes scripture. Use it as an opportunity to express common ground. Surely if Paul could acknowledge common ground with the pagans gathered on Mars Hill, a place designed for the worship of false gods, we can acknowledge the common ground that exists between believers in Christ who are of different statures in their Christian growth. Be happy that God's word is shared, just as Paul was happy that the gospel was preached, even if by those with bad motives. Work from that point to add to their knowledge. That is non-sectarian, non-denominational Christianity at its best.

If someone says or does something against scripture, look for opportunities to bring them to a better knowledge of the Way. But don't think for a minute that if you don't agree with all that they say you can have nothing to do with them. With that "all or nothing" view of Christian fellowship, we can only have a brotherhood of one. And that's not much of a brotherhood, is it?

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