Passages concerning breaking fellowship

March 26, 2009 Matthew Keedy Clifton Fellowship

When speaking on any issue concerning the church, the Bible must be our only guide. In discussing the fellowship issue, it is important to establish a baseline for exactly what we are talking about. In a previous article, I mentioned three concepts found in scripture that must govern how we view fellowship. Now I would like to list some important passages regarding the breaking of fellowship. These passages can help us understand when and why Christians should separate from a brother who is sinning, and should serve as the basis for a biblical understanding of fellowship.

  1. Matt. 18:15-17. This passages gives us the teaching of Jesus on conflict resolution among the people of God. Jesus said that if someone sins against you, go to him and tell him his fault. If he hears you, you have “gained your brother.” If he does not, there are further steps to be taken. First one or two witnesses are to be taken, and finally the matter is to be brought before the church. If no resolution is found, Jesus says, “let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” This means there would be a separation between the two, such as Jews had with heathen and tax collectors. In this way, someone walking in unrepentant sin is separated from other Christians.

  2. Romans 16:17-18. Paul writes here to “note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.” The definition of “divisions and offenses” will be key in understanding who Paul has in mind. Obviously, however, it would be teachings that were contrary to the teachings of the church.

  3. 1 Cor. 5:1-13. Having a man in their midst committing gross immorality, Paul tells the Corinthians to “deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh.” The apostle says he had written to them not to keep company with sexually immoral people (1 Cor. 5:9), but now he writes also that they should not keep company with “anyone who is 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” (1 Cor. 5:11).

  4. Eph. 5:11. Paul says here we are not to have fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather to expose them. What are “unfruitful works of darkness?” Is not anything contrary to the teachings of God “unfruitful” in His eyes? We will look closer at this passage, however.

  5. 2 Thess. 3:6-15. Some of the Thessalonians were in the habit of not working for their own keep. Paul said this casts a bad light on the church and is contrary to the teachings he had handed down to them. Therefore, he says, they were to withdraw from anyone who refuses to work for their own living.

  6. 1 Tim. 1:20 and 2 Tim. 2:17. The Holy Spirit here records that Paul had mentioned Hymenaeus and Alexander as being ones who had rejected “faith and a good conscience,” and suffered a “shipwreck” of faith (1 Tim. 1:19-20). Hymenaeus is mentioned again in 2 Tim. 2:17-18, where Paul says Hymenaeus and Philetus were teaching that the resurrection had already happened, and were destroying the faith of some. This is a clear indication of a false teacher being marked.

  7. 1 Tim. 6:1-5. There is much to discuss in this particular passage, but Paul gives a list of behaviors that indicate that a man who is not consenting to “wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness” should not be fellowshiped. Timothy was urged to separate from such men.

  8. Titus 3:10. Paul speaks here of rejecting a divisive man after the first and second admonition. Evidently, there is again the thought of unrepentant sinning being a cause for separation and withdrawal.

  9. 1 John 1:6-10. John writes that having “fellowship with one another” when we are “walking in the light.” The definition of walking in the light will be important to the discussion. John says God is light, and in Him is no darkness. If we practice things outside of Him (His will), then we are not walking in the light.

  10. 2 John 9-11. This passage clearly shows that there are teachers who are not to be heard or bid “godspeed.” These would certainly include those saying Christ did not come in the flesh (2 John 7), but also seems to include those not walking in His commandments (2 John 6). I will discuss this passage more in future writings.

This cursory overview of some fellowship passages will help direct my future study here. Using this as an outline, each of these passages will be discussed, and hopefully arrive at a conclusion of what sort of sins are causes for “disfellowship,” using the Bible as our only guide.


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