Yes, God cares very much who we fellowship. We are given very specific commandments and instructions regarding who we are not to have fellowship with. But the actions we are to take are passive. That is, we simply cease to have any relationship with Christians whom the Bible tells us we cannot fellowship. The Bible makes use of specific language to describe not having fellowship such as “mark” and “avoid”, “not keep company with”, “from such turn away”, “reject”, and “receive him not neither bid him God speed”. However, we are not to withdraw fellowship from a Christian for every sin. The situations and conditions for withdrawing fellowship are limited and specific.
Romans 16:17 states: “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned: and avoid them.” Clearly, we are to have no fellowship with those Christians who choose to teach and practice those things which are not found in the Bible or that are in direct conflict with the commandments and examples found in the Bible. We see this so clearly in regard to religious organizations that we consider being far off the mark. They may not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. They may worship on a day other than the Lord’s Day. Or, they may have a hierarchy of leadership which cannot be found in the Bible. Of course we would have no fellowship with such individuals.
But what about members of the Lord’s Church who may have one cup with the fruit of the vine and one loaf of unleavened bread in communion and they have no Sunday School and no instrumental music? They may have these things but they have chosen to add things which the Bible does not authorize or they have changed things so that they are not teaching or following the commandments and examples as given in the Bible. Indeed, there are some members of the Lord’s Church who no longer even believe that the Bible is a pattern for living and worship. The answer is clear regarding doctrinal error. They are teaching and practicing things that are contrary to the doctrine and we are to mark and avoid them. In plain terms, we are to have no fellowship with them.
I Corinthians 5:9-13 lists a number of specific sins which, if a Christian commits and does not repent, confess and ask God’s forgiveness, we are not to have fellowship with them. Specifically, Paul lists the sins of fornication, idolatry, being a railer, being a drunkard, or being an extortioner. Paul commands us not to keep company with them and goes further to make it crystal clear that this even and especially includes not eating with them. What is the point here? It is simply to convey to that Christian that they are in error and sin and that we will have no relationship with them as long as they continue to practice such sin. Why is this so important? It is because this will hopefully lead the person to turn from that sin. It was effective with the man in I Corinthians 5 who had his father’s wife and he was restored to being a faithful Christian after he repented and abandoned this sin.
In I Timothy 6:3-5, Paul writes: “If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; he is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.” Here, again, is a clear commandment to withdraw or have no fellowship with anyone who teaches something other than what we find in the Bible and who will not comply with the doctrine that we do find in God’s Word. Paul lists all kinds of problems and trouble that comes from tolerating such false teaching. We must prevent this from happening. And the Bible way for preventing this is to have no fellowship and no relationship whatsoever with this erring Christian.
II Timothy 3:1-5 tells us: “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.” Here a very long list of behaviors is provided regarding Christians who are no longer faithful. We are to turn away from these erring Christians. Again, we are to have no fellowship or relationship with them. They may appear to be religious, but they have ceased to obey God and keep His commandments.
Titus 3:10-11 tells us: “A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject; knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.” The first question to answer is “what is a heretick?” That person is simply one who does not conform to the doctrine of Christ and does not submit to the truth. We are certainly to try to reason with them. But there is a limit to this. Paul requires us to admonish them twice. After that, we are to have no fellowship with this heretick.
Finally, in II John 10, the Bible states: “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: for he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.” First of all, what does it mean to bid someone God speed? It is simply wishing them good luck and success in whatever they do. Thus, if someone is teaching something that is contrary to the doctrine found in the Bible, we are not to invite them into our homes and we are not to wish them well. If we do, we are no better than they are. In fact, we would be partakers in the very sins that they are committing. The result is that we would be just as guilty as they are.
There is a clear pattern here in the things that require a Christian to withdraw fellowship from an erring Christian. First and foremost, those who practice or teach doctrinal error requires us to withdraw fellowship. Secondly, those who continue in the practice of certain sins require us to withdraw fellowship. Finally, those who cause divisions and strife in the Lord’s Church require us to withdraw fellowship.
The natural question is at what level is fellowship withdrawn? Clearly, fellowship is withdrawn at the individual level. That is, an individual faithful Christian withdraws fellowship from every individual Christian who is guilty of one or more of the specific sins listed which requires it.
The next question that many ask is about withdrawing fellowship from an entire congregation that is guilty of one or more sins listed in the scriptures above. That is, can one congregation withdraw fellowship from another congregation? First of all, no congregation has any authority over any other congregation. That is, we recognize the autonomy of each and every individual congregation. As such, the Bible is silent about one congregation withdrawing from another and thus no Bible pattern is provided. The result is that a faithful congregation does not withdraw from another congregation that is in doctrinal error.
But the question is really a moot point. The fact is, if every faithful Christian withdraws from every erring Christian who commits one or more of the sins that requires withdrawal of fellowship, then there is no need for any other action. God’s will has been accomplished. The fact that faithful Christians are all members of one particular congregation and the erring Christians are all members of another particular congregation is of minor consequence regarding withdrawing fellowship.
Further, if a member of an erring congregation left that congregation and repented, confessed their sin and asked God’s forgiveness and then joined themselves with a faithful congregation, no further action would be required for that Christian.
Conversely, if a faithful Christian decided to join themselves with a congregation of erring Christians and began to tolerate, teach and practice doctrinal error, then faithful Christians would, from that time forward, withdraw fellowship from that Christian who is now in error.
This Biblical approach and response to such sin and error would address the additional problem of erring Christians who go “church hopping” in hopes of finding another congregation that either does not know about their sin or is simply willing to tolerate such sin. If faithful individual Christians would consistently withdraw fellowship from such erring Christians throughout the brotherhood, then Biblical discipline would be appropriately and correctly meted out. Then, our desire and prayer would be for each erring Christian to see their sin and other faithful Christians’ response to that sin in the withdrawal of fellowship. Then they will realize that what they are doing is not acceptable and that the Lord’s Church will not condone nor tolerate their sin. Thus, by their rejection by faithful Christians, the erring Christian can reflect upon their sin and, hopefully, repent, confess and ask God’s forgiveness and then be restored. This is God’s pattern for withdrawing fellowship.