Can fellowship be denied?




Where is the Bible passage that authorizes you to deny me fellowship as a member of the church when I acknowledge Christ and have been baptized? is there an ugly little secret that only those whose baptismal outlook is baptismal regenerationist are recognized? Apparently my belief that my sins had been cleansed is not enough.

In case it is not clear, the person making above statement denies that baptism is necessary for salvation. He was baptized, but not for the purpose of having his sins forgiven. He is upset that the church will not accept him as a fellow Christian despite a clear difference in our views.

There are several Greek words which are sometimes translated as "fellowship." The word sunetheia refers to a mutual custom or habit, an acquaintance or a friend. Metoche is a partnership, a sharing, having a common interest or a common participation. Finally, koinonia refers to a communion, an association, a partnership, or a sharing, such as contributing to a common cause. A fellowship is a group of people who enter into an agreement and share a common goal. They work together to obtain that goal, pooling both their resources and efforts in striving for the goal. A local congregation ideally illustrates this meaning. A congregation is a group of Christians working together to accomplish the commands of God. Hence, they worship together, work together, and share their resources. They are partners in a common effort to be pleasing to God.

All faithful Christians are in fellowship with God. "That which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ" (I John 1:3). Our fellowship with God extends to the Jesus' apostles who taught us about the Father and the Son. Hence, we read, "they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship" (Acts 2:42). Nor is the Holy Spirit excluded from this fellowship. "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen" (II Corinthians 13:14). Since each Christian shares a bond with God, their fellowship extends to those of like faith. "If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another" (I John 1:7).

This fellowship is not just a simple declaration, but it is seen in the behavior of those in fellowship. Fellowship is a working relationship. "We are God's fellow workers" (I Corinthians 3:9). Christians work together in working with God. It may be shown in a specific locality, but that fellowship can also extend to Christians separated by many miles. When the Macedonians sent aid to Christians in Judea, Paul said, "For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints" (II Corinthians 8:3-4). Christians had agreed to pool their resources to accomplish a common goal of aiding needing saints in Judea; thus, these Christians were in fellowship as demonstrated by their common action.

Fellowship can also be seen in a shared belief. Paul looked forward to meeting the Roman Christians, "that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me" (Romans 1:12). The faith that Christians mutually share is not only between brethren, but it is also a faith they share with their God. Hence, fellowship is not just the things that we do, but it is also our common set of beliefs gained by holding to the same truth.

Therefore, fellowship is not predicated simply on whether a person was baptized. Baptism does add a person to the church (Acts 2:40-41, 47). However, having experienced baptism is no guarantee that a person will remain in fellowship with his God or with his brethren. Sin can erect a barrier between brethren. Unfortunately, many Christians are reluctant to acknowledge this problem. Even though a brother has begun following Satan, they are reluctant to sever ties. Such was the problem in Corinth. They had in their midst a brother who was committing fornication (I Corinthians 5:1-2). Rather than sadden by the misbehavior, the Corinthians continued to welcome the man into their assembly. I just imagine them saying, "Yes, I know he is living in sin, but aren't we all sinners? At least he is still coming to church." Their tolerance of sin did nothing to bring the man out of his sin. Instead, their tolerance encouraged him to remain in his sin. "Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us" (II Corinthians 5:6-7). To tolerate sin is to corrupt the church. They needed to sever their ties with this sinner so that he might be saved and so that their worship would remain pure.

Corinth was not the only church with the problem of tolerating sinners in their midst. "But I have a few things against you, because you have there those who hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality. Thus you also have those who hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate. Repent, or else I will come to you quickly and will fight against them with the sword of My mouth" (Revelation 2:14-16). The church in Pergamos had members who were teaching false doctrine, yet the false teachers were allowed to remain. Jesus demanded that they repent of their sin or lose Him as an ally and face Him as an enemy. It is our duty as Christians to oppose those who deviate from the Way, whether it is by deed or by teaching.

The church in Thyatira represents another case. "Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols" (Revelation 2:20). This congregation was harboring an unrepentant sinner. As the Corinthians were warned, this woman's sin had spread to other members of the congregation. It was an infection out of control.

Tolerance does not spread Christianity, it destroys it. Welcoming those who deviate from the truth ruins congregations. Churches who fail to discipline members might attract more people, but they fail to produce more Christians. The only way fellowship can remain is when Christians uphold the truth. "If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin" (I John 1:6-7).

Fellowship is not an option. It must be extended to those who are Christians. That means it is given to those who have heard and believe "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6). They also must have repented of their sins. "That they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance" (Acts 26:20). They must confess that Jesus is their Lord and Savior. "Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God" (I John 4:15). And, they must have put on Christ in baptism. "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Galatians 3:27). In other words, Christians must offer fellowship to those who are in fellowship with God. "He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son" (II John 9). It is our closeness to God that draws us close together. "I am a companion of all who fear You, and of those who keep Your precepts" (Psalm 119:63).

Yet, ties of fellowship can be broken when someone refuses to remain in the truth. This is why the Corinthians were told to hand the fornicator in their midst over to Satan (I Corinthians 5:5). Some have destroyed their faith. "This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, having faith and a good conscience, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suffered shipwreck, of whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme" (I Timothy 1:18-20). Some who fall away do learn from their mistakes and return. "Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins" (James 5:19-20). Others, though, are never rescued. "For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame" (Hebrews 6:4-6).

Fellowship cannot exist between the faithful and those who retain ties to this world. There simply is no common ground upon which they can share. "Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people." Therefore "Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you." "I will be a Father to you, And you shall be My sons and daughters, Says the LORD Almighty."" (II Corinthians 6:14-18). Think about it. As a Christian keeps his language pure, the foulness of those around him becomes more noticeable. As a Christian learns to be sober-minded, the child-like behavior of those around him becomes difficult to ignore. Behaviors that formerly had gone unnoticed, now become an irritant to the one who has changed. We cannot leave this world, we still must interact with worldly people, but it doesn't mean we have to enjoy what they do. Nor should we tolerate worldliness in the fellowship of the brethren. "I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner--not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore "put away from yourselves the evil person."" (I Corinthians 5:9-13).

This all may seem obvious, but this demarcation extends to those who do not teach the truth. "Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds" (II John 9-11). We are commanded to remove our fellowship from anyone who will not teach the truth. "Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned" (Titus 3:10-11). False teaching divides brethren and we cannot have fellowship with those who cause divisions. "Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple" (Romans 16:17-18).

Since you insist that baptism is not necessary for salvation, despite know that the following verses exist:

"Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you--not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience--through the resurrection of Jesus Christ" (I Peter 3:21).

"He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned" (Mark 16:16).

"Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38).

"And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16).

"Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin" (Romans 6:3-7).

"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word" (Ephesians 5:25-26).

Denying that God said baptism is necessary for salvation is false teaching. Hence, we cannot extend fellowship while the difference remains.

July 2, 2013