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The Priority of Fellowship within the Gospel

February 7, 2011

By design, last week’s article was simplistic in its definition and application of the gospel as the definitive factor of our fellowship.  The simplified statement of that truth is designed to give us a clear foundation on which to understand the correct application of a fundamentalists fellowship with other believers.  To restate the point, as fundamentalists we cannot delineate our fellowship based on whether someone else labels themselves a fundamentalist.  Frankly, it doesn’t matter if you call yourself, or someone else calls you, a fundamentalist, conservative evangelical, neo-evangelical, liberal or hootenanny.  What matters is ones acceptance or denial of doctrines crucial to the gospel message.  It is completely reasonable to maintain fellowship with one who calls himself an evangelical and separate from one who calls himself a fundamentalist.  This is true because the basis of our fellowship is our mutual agreement concerning the core elements of the gospel.

The New Testament gives a clear and unmistakable priority to unity and fellowship within the body of believers.  The natural and default position to those who have believed the gospel message is comradery, companionship and closeness.  This default position has been lost.  I am not talking about a feel good kind of ecumenicism in which everyone is buddy-buddy because we all get the same kind of queasiness in our belly when we think about the Divine.  I am talking about a genuine, truth based unity that is anchored to the gospel affirmations.  If someone professes the true gospel, then we must not nonchalantly deny that person fellowship as a brother in Christ.

The sticking point is when we have to sever or curtail fellowship with those who profess the gospel.  We should only deny fellowship with a professing brother when their doctrine undermines or denies a core gospel tenet or when their actions bring shame onto the gospel of Christ.  In Titus, Paul instructs that minister to teach the things which become sound doctrine.  Titus is charged with instructing the church to behave themselves in such a way that the beauty of the gospel is marked out and highlighted.  In Philippians Paul refers to those who by their actions and appetites show themselves to be enemies of the cross.  Our doctrine and our practice both can undermine the truths of the gospel.  When one is in such error, we have a Biblical obligation to take notice of that person and to separate ourselves from them.  The first generation of fundamentalists separated mostly over the doctrinal errors that denied the gospel.  The second generation of fundamentalists separated mostly over the practical errors that undermined the gospel- though in point of fact, it was the new evangelicals who separated themselves from fundamentalists.  Later generations have struggled to consistently apply Biblical separation, and unfortunately many have turned separation into an automatic response towards any one who disagrees with me.  This ought not to be.  The burden of fellowship is on the one separating to show that the erring brother is proclaiming or practicing that which opposes the truth of the gospel.

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