the protection of the Truth
'THE NATURE AND CONDITIONS
OF FELLOWSHIP IN THE TRUTH'
by Robert Roberts
The truth is professedly and confessedly a "narrow" thing. Jesus declares
this in saying "Strait is the gate and narrow is the way that leadeth unto
life". This "way" he afterwards speaks of as "the truth", saying, "Ye shall
know the truth, and the truth shall make you free"; and also, "every one
that is of the truth heareth my voice".
The narrowness of the truth is one of the obstacles to its general adoption.
People do not like to be fettered either in doctrine or practice. It is also one
of the causes of the active tendency to corruption which has manifested it-
self among those embracing the truth from the very day it was apostolically
established at Jerusalem. It is inconvenient to be under restrictions in our
dealings with fellow men in the truth or out of it. If it were a question of
choice, we should all prefer absolute freedom. But no one recognizing Christ
as the supreme teacher can think of freedom in the matter. If we make free-
dom our rule, we can only have the freedom of those who set Christ aside al-
together, saying in the words of the wicked "Our tongues are our own: who
is Lord over us". None who truly know Christ would desire this freedom. All
who sincerely accept Christ will recognize his law as paramount, however
irksomely it may work in some of its present relations.
It is one of the narrownesses of the truth that it demands of those who re-
ceive it that they "contend earnestly for it", even if an angel from heaven
oppose it or corrupt it (Jude 3 ; Gal. i. 8-9), and that they maintain it intact
and unsullied among themselves as the basis and association among those
who profess it, refusing to walk with a brother who either disobeys its pre-
cepts (2 Thes. iii. 14 ; Rom. xvi. 17), or refuses consent to its teachings in vi-
tal matters (2 Jno. 10 ; 1 Tim. vi. 3-5). This policy is so contrary to natural
friendliness that it is easy to drift away from it, and to invent theories that
will relieve us from its unpleasant obligations.
The controversy on inspiration has forced the re-consideration of this ques-
tion upon us. We say re-consideration: for it was considered and debated in
the beginning of things connected with the truth in this generation, and sat-
isfactorily disposed of for a time. The principal cause of our trouble in the
present situation has been the divergence of view that has prevailed at the
bottom on this fundamental question. Many who have allowed the entirely
inspired character of the Scriptures, have not been able to see the necessity
for insisting upon that truth in our basis of fellowship. They have been in-
clined to leave it as "an open question". This is the result of a dim or faulty
perception of the apostolic doctrine of fellowship ( a common sense doc-
trine) which requires agreement on fundamentals as the first condition of
walking together, or co-operating, associating, or fellowshipping together in
the prosecution of the objects of the truth. As a brother writing on the ques-
"There is prevalent at the present time a lamentable looseness in regard to what
must constitute the basis of fellowship. It arises partly from ignorance and partly
from an over anxiety to increase numbers, and keep together divergent elements.
This must inevitably result in serious trouble or general declension. . . The truth's
interest is at stake, and no doubt much depends upon our action, as to whether it
is yet to be maintained in its purity and simplicity, or lapse into laodiceanism.The
crisis is, doubtless, the most acute that has taken place since it was brought to
light in these latter days. It has been brewing for past years. You were reluctant
to believe it, and laboured to stave it off. A too long course of loose discipline and
slackness in dealing with wrong principles in doctrine and practice has, no doubt,
intensified the evil and made it all the more bitter, and grievous and hard to bear.
I am persuaded that good will result in the case of those many or few who will out-
ride the storm by keeping a firm grasp of the anchor of the soul, by coming out of
this ocean of suffering as gold tried in the fire."
With a view to the thorough ventilation and effectual exhibition of the Scriptural
principles of fellowship, we append a double series of propositions in which there
is some attempt to formulate them in their bearing upon the question which has
been troubling the ecclesias.We should be pleased to receive and publish enlight-
ened criticisms that may be offered thereon; or any other capable endeavour to
amplify or illustrate Scriptural principles in the same direction.
THE FIRST SERIES.
I. "Fellowship with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ" consists in
walking in the light, as God is in the light.
II. "Fellowship one with another", depends entirely upon our conformity
to this first and necessary principle of all fellowship,which John so emphat-
ically lays down in Jno. i. 6, 7.
III. "Light" is a figure of speech-a metaphor for divine wisdom, true
knowledge, and accurate understanding.
IV. God is the fountain-head of these incomparable powers. Hence "God
is light, and in Him is no darkness at all".
V. His light is manifested to us in three ways-first, in Christ ; second, in
the Scriptures; and third, in His saints.
VI. In Christ:-"I am come a light into the world that whosoever believeth
on me should not abide in darkness".
In the Scriptures:-"Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto
my path" (Psalm cxix. 105).
In His Saints:-"For ye were sometimes in darkness, but now are ye
light in the Lord ; walk as Children of light" (Eph. v. 8).
VII. These points being hereby established, they constitute a chain conn-
ecting God and man, not one link of which can be removed, or in any re-
spect impaired without endangering the whole sequence and breaking the
harmony of the divine relations to us individually. Take away Christ and
you destroy all possibility of fellowship with God. Tamper with that Bible
which He approved,and you equally render divine recognition of you hope-
less, while you remove the only means in visible existence among men
which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among them who
are sanctified ; you destroy the foundation of the righteous, and dissolve
in so doing the household of Christ.
VIII. "Walking in the light", therefore, means "believing ALL things
that are written in the law and the prophets", as Paul affirmed he did
(Acts xxiv. 14), as well as the subsequent writings in the New Testament :
exercising hope towards God as embodied in "Christ our hope", and foll-
owing "righteousness, faith, love, peace with those that call on the Lord
out of a pure heart".
IX. Without the patient and faithful observance of these things, fellow-
ship with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ is impossible, and in
consequence fellowship one with another is likewise impracticable.
Is it not a commandment of God that we should receive His word- His or-
acles-the Scriptures-as supreme? Does not Christ enforce it in his "Search
the Scriptures" (John v. 39) and elsewhere? Does not Paul teach it in many
ways, in regard to both the Old Testament and the New?
Admitting this unavoidable conclusion and reading it in the light which
1 John ii. 3, &c., throws upon the conditions of true fellowship, namely,
"And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments.
He that saith I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar and
the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word in him is verily the love
of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him". "He that saith he
abideth in him ought himself also to walk so in as he walked". Must we not
exact Christ's estimate of the Old Testament, and Paul's of both the Old
Testament and his own writings, as a necessary condition to be recognized
in our "fellowship one with another", if we wish to secure the end for which
we are working, namely, "fellowship with the Father, and with His Son
THE SECOND SERIES.
1.– In the accomplishment of its mission among men, the truth acts by sep-
aration and association.
(a) It separates men from the world: "Come out from among them
and be separate".
(b) It associates those so separated: "Ye are all one . . . forsake not
the assembling of yourselves together".
It produces these results by the creation of scripturally derived ideas in
the minds of those operated upon. By these ideas they are dominated &
controlled. They become mentally new creatures, and manifest the
change in their altered relations to men and things around them.
2.– But the association of those separated by the truth, is governed by con-
ditions, that sometimes interrupt that association. Hence, "Have no
company": "withdraw": "turn away"- are apostolic commands con-
cerning some who have been actually separated by the truth.
3.– The conditions of association relate to two departments of our standing
in Christ which may be expressed as conviction and character . . . Unity
of conviction and mutuality of conformity to a certain standard of act-
ion, are the two conditions out of which association and fellowship grow,
and by rupture of which, it is necessarily interfered with.
4.– This rupture may be only partial in either department and yet be suffic-
ient to cause suspension of association in fellowship.Apostolic examples:
(a) Refusal to recognize that Christ had come in the flesh was made
a reason for not receiving men who believed in God and the
Kingdom, and a number of other elements of truth.
(b) Idleness was declared a ground of disfellowship where men had
otherwise submitted to the commandments of Christ.
5.– That the first condition of association is the belief of the truth, apart
from the perception and reception of which, there is no basis of fellow-
6.– That the truth forming this basis is made up of a number of items or el-
ements, that are each essential to its integrity as a whole.
7.– That it is a matter of duty to require the recognition of these at the
hands of those claiming association with us in the truth.
8.– That we are not at liberty to receive any one who denies or refuses to
believe any of them, because the receiving of such would open the way
for the currency of their principles among us, with the tendency of
leavening the whole community. The elements of the truth are so mutu-
ally related that the displacement of one undermines the foundation of
9.– A man himself believing the truth, but willing to wink at its denial a-
mong those in fellowship in any of its essential elements, becomes, by
this willingness, an offender against the law of Christ, which requires
the faithful maintenance of the whole. Faithful servants of Christ can-
not unite with such, on the ground that though he hold the truth him-
self, such a man is responsible for the error of those whom he would
admit, and therefore becomes the channel of a similar responsibility to
those who may endorse him in fellowship:-"He that biddeth him God-
speed is partaker of his evil deeds".
10.– That it is the duty of the friends of the truth to uphold it as a basis of
union among themselves by refusing to receive either those who deny
any part of it, or those who would receive those so denying.
11.– Paul commands withdrawal from "any man" who "obeys not his
word", "delivered by epistle". He commands the brethren to hold fast
the traditions taught by him, "whether by word or epistle".
12.– Paul teaches by epistle that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God.
13.– We are bound to hold fast by this, and to refuse association with any
man refusing submission to this apostolic tradition.
14.– The doctrine of partial inspiration is a nullification of this apostolic
tradition; and a doctrine consequently, from the holders of which, we
are bound apostolically to withdraw.
15.– That the highest sanction of reason supports this apostolic obligation,
since logically, the doctrine of partial inspiration, when worked out, de-
prives us of confidence in the only access we have to the divine mind
in our age. -'The Christadelphian', 1885, pages 385-389.