The Bounds of Fellowship

In response to a recent discussion in our church regarding ecumenism, I have be ruminating on the bounds of our fellowship. We certainly should feel solidarity with true Christians regardless of denominational ties. There is much to be learned from dialog with those who differ with us in the doctrinal details and practical outworking of the gospel. We are together the Bride of Christ, and it is not for us to despise any part of that beautiful Body.  We should feel a fundamental unity with all who share our faith and trust in Jesus’ work of redemption. The bounds of our fellowship should be wide!

But there are bounds. There is a lot of wiggle room when it comes to defining what we can call a ‘credible confession of faith’ — but doctrinally, the deity and lordship of Christ, and practically, a life of humble repentance and obedience come to mind as pretty fundamental.

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.” (1 Cor. 5:9-13)

We have Christian fellowship with other believers because we truly are one in Christ. This passage suggests that we are also to be friendly to those outside the church and love them as those created in God’s image and in need of God’s grace. But there is a dicey middle ground — ‘Christians’ who effectively deny the faith by their actions and beliefs. This is the place for caution and discernment. We are called to judge those in the church. While we are not always in a context where church discipline is an avenue open to us, I think we need to be cautious about relating to such people as Christians.  We may live life alongside them, work with them, buy stuff from them, go golfing with them, and treat them with respect… but participating in joint ministry and commending them to others as Christians seems unwise. Jesus was kind and inclusive to all kinds of sinners, but He was hardest on the Pharisees because they were hypocrites. We do not have Jesus perfect knowledge of hearts, but often there are elephants in the room too large to be ignored.