by Al Maxey

Issue #521 ------- February 14, 2012
We live in a world that has narrowed
into a neighborhood before it has
broadened into a brotherhood.

Lyndon B. Johnson {1908-1973}

Drawing Lines of Fellowship
The Folly of Moving God's Boundary

Accurately discerning the parameters of divine acceptance has always been a concern of devoted disciples of Christ Jesus. At times, however, men have gone too far and attempted to "whittle on His end of the stick," as John did when he sought to hinder a man who was "not one of us" (Luke 9:49; Mark 9:38). Jesus rebuked John's limited view of divine acceptance and taught him a vital lesson on fellowship that day. It is not up to us to draw the line of fellowship with respect to God's Family; that right belongs solely to the Father. Jesus informed the apostle John that he had drawn his circle of fellowship too small; it included only those within his own little group, and excluded all those "not of us." When we (our party, preferences, perceptions, practices) are perceived to be the standard of measurement for fellowship, our circle will always be drawn too small; the line will always be drawn at the border of our own brotherhood (at the feet of our faction). What we fail to realize, however, is that God has already drawn the line, and it is far more inclusive than our limited party parameters. God's circle of fellowship includes ALL who have accepted by faith His gift of grace made accessible by His Son's sacrifice. God drew the line at the cross!

When Paul heard of the factions forming in Corinth, he quickly reminded these brethren that they "were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord" (1 Cor. 1:9). The "our" was intentional, as it suggested the unity of all believers under the umbrella of His grace. Fellowship is based on union with a Person, not uniformity with respect to a pattern or preference or perception (the particulars of which vary significantly from party to party, thus ensuring the further fragmentation of the Family of God). Many today, evidencing the same sectarian spirit, seek to draw the line of fellowship closer to their own convictions than to the cross. Thus, fellowship is determined by agreement with them, rather than association with and acceptance by Him. John, who obviously took to heart what Jesus said to him years earlier, declared his desire to enjoy fellowship with other disciples, yet he hastened to add that he understood where that line was drawn -- it wasn't "in us," but "in Him." He wrote, "We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son" (1 John 1:3). Fellowship is simply people sharing something in common, and the common bond of the Christian is Christ, who broke down all barriers and brought us together as one people at the cross (Eph. 2:14f). No wonder Paul wrote to the Corinthian brethren, who were fragmenting the Family of God, "I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (1 Cor. 2:2). There is no need to redraw the line of fellowship; the need is to recognize the line already drawn!

The sad reality, however, is that we live in a fallen world. Thinking factionally, rather than familially, is far too often the norm among fallen men (and that includes disciples of Christ). The challenge is to redirect the focus of the children of God back to the Father and His Son, a task that can only be accomplished when we submit to the Spirit who indwells us and allow Him to transform us into the image of our Savior. We should never take lightly that our unity, and thus our fellowship, is of the Spirit. Left to our own devices we will only know division; directed by the Spirit we will increasingly realize in our daily lives and interactions the oneness for which Jesus prayed in John 17. At the Jerusalem Council, the apostle Peter challenged those assembled to recognize the line of fellowship God had drawn -- a line that included the Gentiles. "God accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as He did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for He purified their hearts by faith" (Acts 15:8-9). Some were wanting to redraw the line of fellowship around their own religious practices (circumcision, for example), however Peter would have no part in this attempt to redraw the parameters of God's acceptance. "No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are" (vs. 11). God had already drawn the line! It took Peter a while to recognize this line (as per the repeated visions in Acts 10:9f), but he eventually got the message: "I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear Him and do what is right" (Acts 10:34-35). The principle was earlier declared to Peter during his vision, "What God has made clean, do not call common" (vs. 15, ESV). Restated: Christians should fellowship those whom God fellowships, accepting all those whom He accepts!

When we forget this principle, and begin redrawing God's line of fellowship, as Peter did in Antioch (and for which he was rebuked by Paul -- Gal. 2:11f), the Family of God is fragmented and our fellowship is fractured. Too often we seek to determine God's line of acceptance and fellowship by our own doctrinal precepts and traditional practices. Thus, we draw the line ever closer to US, and in so doing exclude those who may differ with us on some patternistic particular peculiar to our party. We draw the line of fellowship at instrumental music, Bible classes, number of cups in the Communion, the version of the Bible one uses, whether or not they eat a meal in the church building, what/who they support from out of the "treasury," their view of the "end times," their understanding of spiritual gifts, and a thousand other matters that are in no way relevant to one's ultimate acceptance by God. Paul dealt with this very matter in Romans 14, informing us that our doctrinal differences are not determinative of divine acceptance. God has drawn the line, not us. "Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has accepted him" (Rom. 14:3). When we redraw God's line, we only exclude those whom He has accepted. Fellowship is not based on uniformity of perception and practice, but union with a Person! You and I may differ on many things, but if we are both "in Him," we be brethren, and, as a result, we are in sweet fellowship with one another, for we share the common bond of Jesus Christ.

Some have asked me over the years, "May I fellowship a Baptist? A Methodist?" I suppose we could also ask, "May a Baptist or Methodist fellowship a Church of Christer?" I believe we're asking the wrong questions. These questions suggest the basis of fellowship is to be found in our understandings and practices and traditions. The reality is: everyone with whom we may have genuine fellowship in Christ Jesus is going to differ with us on any number of matters, some of which we might regard as significant. But God's acceptance of a person is not determined by the level of agreement that person has achieved with my or your views and practices. The real question is: "May I fellowship a genuine believer with whom I may differ on a great many matters?" The answer is YES. I have brethren, with whom I am in genuine spiritual fellowship, who are affiliated with the Baptists, the Methodists, etc. They have traditions and practices and understandings that differ from mine, but these are not what determines acceptance by the Father. They are saved by grace through faith just as I am, and thus we are in fellowship with one another because we each are in fellowship with Him. When we draw the line of fellowship based upon denominational distinctives, we have redrawn God's line. We don't have that right. I'm reminded of the warning in Prov. 22:28 -- "Move not the ancient landmark (boundary line)." God drew the line where He wanted it; it's best that we leave it be!

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Readers' Reflections

From a Minister in Texas:

Dear Brother Al, You don't know me, but I have come to know you through your web site. I am sending you a check for your Study of Revelation CD. I have co-authored a book on Revelation, and I think you'll find it interesting and challenging. I have a lifelong, growing interest in the exact truth of God's Word, and think that the "religious" world has sorely missed so much of it. But "we" have too! After 55 years of preaching I still "work on" every passage with which I deal. I always want to know more, and I know there is always more to know. But I also know that it is dangerous to just assume that what I think I have learned, and what I have concluded, IS God's Word.

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, In receiving your Reflections over the years, I've read so many positive comments about your book Down, But Not Out. I have a dear friend who is going through a divorce, and I'm hoping your book will help her. So, please rush me an autographed copy of your book which I will share with her. Thank you!

From a Reader in California:

Brother Al, You probably won't print all of the emails you get on this one ("Sectarianism's C-ism Schism"), but I'm sure that there will be a barrage of hate mail. Brace yourself. One of the many things for which I am grateful to the --------- Church of Christ where I preached almost 15 years is that they were the ones who helped me to see beyond the "C/c" to a larger fellowship of believers in the Kingdom.

From a Reader in Missouri:

Brother Al, In your last Reflections you wrote 10 paragraphs and never got to the truth of what the Scriptures say one must do to be saved.

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

Al, Remove me from your mailing list. Christ died for the Church; His Church. He did not die for the "universal" church. If we don't stand for His "Word," His "Truth," then we don't stand for Him.

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Al, Quit trashing God's Church!

From a Minister in Tennessee:

Al, I have read your latest Reflections. You've missed the point badly. You have exactly reversed the concept. Little "c" is the church, body, kingdom, family, etc. universal. Yet you insist on capitalizing them and leaving the impression that the big "C" is reflective of the universal church. Cite the passage(s) where church, body, kingdom, family, etc. are capitalized in the NT. I repeat, you have it completely reversed. Read through your Reflections again and see for yourself. Keep thinking and studying, Al, but do so before you keep publishing your indistinct and unbiblical concepts about the NT church.

From a Reader in California:

Brother Al, I've only read about half of your article "Sectarianism's C-ism Schism," but I am emailing it to numerous key people already! I love the way you, as they say in politics, "stay on message" consistently!

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, Thanks for this Reflections. Very good and very useful.

From a Minister in Texas:

Brother Al, A trend that has interested me over the years has been the decapitalization of the first word in the phrase "church of Christ" popularized on letterheads and business envelopes and bulletins, as well as in correspondence, articles, signs, etc. The apparent idea is that a capitalized "Church of Christ" indicates a denomination, and, as we all know, this is not true of us, for we are the one, and only, true church, to the exclusion of all others! Thus, the lower case is not merely preferred, it is imperative, critical and crucial to the proper identification of who "we" are! It strikes me as curious that someone thinks they have successfully UN-denominated themselves by electing to be the "Fourth & Pine church of Christ" (lower case church). Probably nobody outside of our group would ever get the intended subliminal message, nor would they even think it important. More likely, if they had any reaction at all, they would presume that someone had failed to proof-read the draft before sending it to the printer. Although I said that this strikes me as very curious, actually it strikes me as silly at best, presumptuously arrogant at worst.

From a Minister in Maine:

Good Evening Brother Al, I do appreciate the dilemma that you were addressing. I cannot help but wonder if the word "church" itself might not be at the root of the problem, since that word developed within the confines of institutional religion and acquired along the way all the baggage that is now attached to it. In my own thinking, less cobwebs seem to develop in my own mind as I simply seek to be just a Christian assembling with other likeminded believers who are all part of the great worldwide congregation that Jesus said He would gather. My wife and I really do appreciate you, Al, as well as your efforts to honor and glorify our risen Lord. May God give all of us the grace to bear with one another and support one another as we seek to be faithful to our risen Head.

From a Minister in New Jersey:

Brother Al, I was reading your Reflections on C-ism with great pleasure and agreement ... until I saw that you used the phrase "churchianity versus Christianity." I knew I should have copyrighted that phrase and my sermon that I preached back in 1969. My wife and I were attending a small congregation in Kentucky. It was one of three in the town at that time. There were the "premillennial" and the "anti" groups, and then, of course, the "true church" that we attended. It wasn't long, however, before the "true church" split over the selection of elders. One man who was not selected objected to one of the men who was, saying he was not qualified because he smoked. The man selected took this criticism to heart and forsook the use of tobacco in any form, as he understood it was not a good example. That not being enough, the objection was then raised that the selected man lived in another county (although the church building was close to the county line, and the selected man actually lived closer to the building than those who drove from the other side of town -- go figure!). During the absence of the regular preacher, I was asked to preach, and I presented a sermon titled "churchianity versus Christianity." Within two weeks I began getting phone calls and visits from the elders, and then the minister when he returned home. It seems they were not so ecumenical as I, and I quickly sensed that I was not all that welcomed there anymore. As it turns out, that was not the last time my views have been questioned. Preach on, brother. And yes, you may use "my" phrase any time!! Have a blessed week.

From a Reader in Texas:

Brother Al, Thanks for another insightful article! This might sound like a crazy question, but I have spent my entire life affiliated with Churches of Christ. Do all fellowships have strains of this "C-ism" in their bodies, and are there others as bad as ours, thinking, as we do, that they are the only "true church"?

From an Elder in Florida:

Brother Al, The early Church Fathers had the same problem as you discussed in your last Reflections -- they spoke of the "catholic Church" and the "Catholic church." When men stayed with what the Scriptures actually taught, they were the Church (upper case) catholic (universal), but when they began to anathematize others and cast them out, while still claiming to be the catholic (universal) Church, they became the Catholic church (lower case).

From a Reader in Georgia:

Dear Brother Al, Every time a discussion gets going on denominational division, my mind goes back to how C. S. Lewis described a building with many rooms in his book "Mere Christianity." The One Church was the building, and within it were many rooms that people were free to walk into and out of as they chose. I hope that one day there will be a stronger movement in Christendom to recognize the good in what each group (room) does, rather than condemning each other over differing traditions. JESUS should be the foundation upon which we build. Keep the volume turned up on the message!!

From a Minister in Florida:

Brother Al, Your Reflections articles are refreshing to me, and they encourage me. It is so nice to hear someone who is outspoken and thinks much the same way I do. I read your articles and don't feel so alone in my criticism of the denominational nature of the Churches of Christ. Many a "Church of Christer" (that's what I call the legalists) has walked away frustrated because they can't get me to believe that instrumental music is wrong (along with many of the other traditions they believe in). I was recently told by a newer member of my congregation that he tells everyone he meets that the congregation where I preach is the most "liberal" Church of Christ he has ever been a part of, and then he tells them how refreshing this is, and that they need to come and visit. Keep up the good work, brother, and please keep me on your mailing list!

From a Minister in Ohio:

Brother Al, I preach at a One Cup congregation. I really enjoy reading your articles because they provoke me to study. Once in a while I even agree with you! I do agree with your assessment that many One Cup congregations (but not all) are very exclusive, and if I were to fellowship you, they would then disfellowship me. I do not agree with these tactics. If certain individuals and/or congregations would disfellowship me for worshipping with you, or visiting with you, then I consider that to be their problem, and something I can't control. I do not consider myself to be exclusive in this way; I just exclude myself from various practices that violate my own conscience.

From a Reader in Pennsylvania:

Good Morning Bro. Al, I received the 2011 Reflections CD I ordered. Thanks for sending it so quickly. Nothing like good customer service! Anyway, you might get a kick out of this. I ordered the CD thinking that I could listen to your various Reflections in the car on my way to and from work. Well, it didn't work in my car CD player, so I tried it in my wife's car, and it still didn't work. Then I brought it to work and my assistant finally figured it out!! You can tell my age, right?!! Anyway, I am wondering if you have ever considered recording your Reflections for those of us who enjoy audio learning. Thanks for all you do, and for all your insightful Reflections. Best wishes for a great week, and may God continue to bless you and your ministry with His wisdom and grace.

From a Minister in Alabama:

Dear Brother Al, I moved about a year ago and lost my email contacts. Recently you came to mind when someone asked me about getting a tattoo. I remembered I had previously referred a lady in our church to your article about this -- Reflections #438 -- The Great Tattoo Taboo: The Teaching of Leviticus 19:28. This is what brought you to mind again. So, would you please add me back to your Reflections mailing list? I so appreciate your spirit in writing within the stream of the Restoration Movement.

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Brother Al, I have a question: do you agree with Buff Scott's teaching that our church buildings are idols?

From a Reader in Tennessee:

Dear Brother Al, My wife and I have been reading your Reflections for years, and we enjoy your writing very much. We are 63 years old and have been married for 42 years. We met at Freed-Hardeman in 1966, but I left in '67 (much like Leroy Garrett, except for the jail part) and went into the Marine Corps. Upon returning from Vietnam in 1969 we were married. We both have been lifelong members of the conservative branch of the Church of Christ. With lots of study and prayer we now view our salvation in a totally different way, and we attribute much of that change to your ability to communicate through your writings. You helped us study; we did the praying. By the way, please add us to your mailing list for the weekly Reflections. We normally just go to your web site and print them out every week.

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