Joe R. Price

Fellowship implies common interests and describes mutual agreement. It is to participate together toward common interests or goals. In this light, husbands and wives enjoy "fellowship" in the oneness of marriage (Gen. 2:24). The church and Christ are "one" and Christians have fellowship with Christ as they keep His commandments (Eph. 5:31-32; 1 Cor. 1:9; Jno. 14:21-23). Only if we walk in the light of truth are we assured of being in fellowship with God (1 Jno. 1:1-7). To go beyond the doctrine of Christ forfeits one's fellowship with the Father and Son. Consequently, our fellowship with that person is restricted (2 Jno. 9-11). We are commanded to not have fellowship with darkness and its works, but to instead reprove them (Eph. 5:11; 2 Cor. 6:14-7:1).

Over the past several years some brethren have made a defense of having fellowship with false teachers and others whose lives violate scripture. Clarity of the Bible subject and the honesty of the person's heart have been advocated as the defining marks upon which fellowship can be had. Pleas of "tolerance" and "acceptance" toward false teaching and practice on "matters of serious moral and doctrinal import" are becoming more vocal. The mistaken notion is being advanced that Romans 14 instructs us to "receive" brethren with doctrinal and/or moral deviations. We are being told that if we can judge a brother to be honest in heart (he has a good conscience) and we judge that the clarity of the Bible teaching in question is sufficiently lacking, we have a basis for maintaining fellowship over differences of faith (please note the completely subjective, human judging processes being advocated in this approach to fellowship - jrp). This is an abuse and misapplication of Romans 14. The context of Romans 14 establishes its arena of application to be matters which are indifferent before God (i.e., the eating of meats, the observing of days). In such things we are to "receive" and not to condemn each other, since God receives both parties (v. 1-4). When matters of opinion and moral indifference are handled as outlined in Romans 14:1-15:7, peace among brethren results. The body of Christ will be edified and Christ is glorified.

It is a gigantic and unscriptural step to go from these inspired guidelines about fellowship pertaining to morally and doctrinally indifferent issues and start applying Romans 14 to topics which do have moral and doctrinal import. For instance, the religious homosexual has long appealed to Romans 14 as justification for receiving him into the fellowship of the church since "God hath received him" (cf. Rom. 14:3). The denominations race to Romans 14 to justify a multitude of doctrinal differences. Yet they maintain fellowship among themselves where obvious doctrinal (and sometimes even moral) differences exist due to a misunderstanding and misapplication of Romans 14.

Now, brethren are using the same reasoning. Fellowship with brethren who are teaching and promoting doctrinal and moral error is being justified on the basis of Romans 14! (Some examples are marriage, divorce and remarriage, institutionalism, the social gospel, women preachers). Will we never learn? Will we be slow of heart to believe what the Bible teaches about fellowship with sin?

Read 1 John 1:1-7, Ephesians 5:7-11, 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1, 2 John 9-11 and Romans 14 again. Fellowship with sin and error is forbidden. But Romans 14 encourages fellowship among those who differ. Unless we are ready to pit scripture against itself we must acknowledge two different areas of application for these passages: one in which doctrinal and moral error cannot be fellowshipped (matters of revealed faith), and one in which differences are allowed (matters of indifference). We must not try to accommodate or tolerate error and sin. It costs us our fellowship with God and with His people.