Category Archives: 2019 – Mar/Apr

The Relationship Between Love And Unity — David Bragg

Many people in the Lord’s church today have a presence on Facebook and other social media. It can be a helpful way of keeping in touch with friends, literal, and “friends” of a less personal nature (they have no interaction outside of the online community). Part of our online presence is, on Facebook at least, often summed up in a single word: single, engaged, married, separated, divorced. One of the relationship options is “widowed.” That single word, according to an article dated December 29, 2017 on Daytona Beach News-Journal Online, raised the suspicions of Florida authorities leading to the eventual charges against a man accusing him of attempting to murder his pregnant wife.1

There were other clues. Among them, according to reports, the 32-year-old man warned his estranged wife to not allow a child to touch the knob on her front door. When his wife mentioned this odd request to her step-father, he went over to her house to investigate. After looking over the scene the woman’s step-father contacted police who discovered a battery charger connected to the inside knob of the front door in such a way that to insert a key into the lock would complete the electrical circuit sending a shock through the person seeking to unlock the door and enter the home. Another hint: the accused had changed his Facebook status to “widowed.”

Relationships are important, especially when it comes to Christian fellowship. Healthy, scriptural fellowship in all its various facets is the result of the careful balance of two vital traits that lays at the heart of New Testament Christianity: love and unity. This precarious balance can be clearly seen in John’s portrait of Jesus. In John’s gospel account, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23, 19:26, 20:2, 21:7 and 21:20) provides his readers with a unique look into Jesus as He interacts with His disciples on a level not pictured in the synoptic Gospels. John describes in depth Christ’s words to the chosen twelve on His final night with them prior to His arrest and execution. Part of that final conversation included Jesus’ prayer. High among the thoughts occupying the Lord’s mind on this agonizing night was the idea of unity (John 17:20-26). It is vital to keep in mind that in this portion of Jesus’ prayer, our Lord was praying for us, the then future Christians who “will believe in Me through [the apostles’] word” (John 17:20). What we learn from Jesus is crucial in establishing and maintaining fellowship.

Love for Christ produces unity. As Jesus’ thoughts progress in His betrayal night prayer from the chosen twelve to the multitude of yet unborn believers it becomes clear that the unity of this body will rest in their mutually shared love for Christ. The very basis for a single body of believers stretching across the centuries is their love for and obedience to Jesus Christ. Listen to His words: “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:20). It is the mutually shared faith in Jesus as the Christ, the God ordained Savior and the God appointed Head of the one true New Testament church that provides the very basis of our unity in the church of Christ.

Jesus prayed specifically “that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us” (John 17:4). That same love which eternally exists between the divine Father and Son must also exist between believer and Lord (14:15 and 15:14). It is on this very basis that unity among believers of this common faith is possible: “that they may be one just as We are one” (17:22).

Love for the truth protects unity. The events of the closing chapters after Jesus’ prayer for unity (John 17) move quickly. In just the next chapter Jesus is betrayed and arrested, brought before Annas (a former yet still influential High Priest; 18:13), denied by Peter, taken before the current High Priest Caiaphas (18:24) and then He was finally brought before the Roman Governor, Pilate (18:28). Forced to hear the case against Jesus (John 18:29-32), the reluctant judge questions Him. “Are You the King of the Jews?” (18:33) “My kingdom is not of this world” (18:36). “Are You a king then?” (18:37) This last question prompts this response: “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice” (18:37).

It was this final declaration that elicited the infamous response by Pilate, “What is truth?” (John 18:38) We know the truth to which Christ referred. In fact, it is that “truth” which protects the church from the eroding influence of division. We have that truth preserved for us in the inspired New Testament (“Your word is truth” —17:17). This powerful Word of God protects the body of believers by laying down the boundaries of the apostles’ doctrine (Acts 2:42). Preserving our unity in Christ goes hand in hand with keeping or obeying God’s Word (John 17:4).

Love for our brethren preserves unity. The preserving effect of love is powerfully declared by Jesus as He concluded His prayer in John 17:26: “that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” When the church’s fellowship is infused with a love “like” God, the love of Christ will sweeten that fellowship. However, when that fellowship is broken we can be assured that someone’s love for God has faltered. A failure to love God, His Son, and the inspired Word of God is certain to create the fissures of division of which Jesus, who prayed that we be one (John 17:21), and Paul, who condemned division in the body of Christ (1 Cor. 1:10), warned.

Love is indispensable to unity. Unity is impossible without love. Yet when these two qualities are properly balanced fellowship is enriched and God is glorified. Maintaining that balance is crucial in our efforts to evangelize. In His prayer, just hours away from the cross (John 17:4), Jesus emphasized the opportunities for outreach, evangelism, love and unity will create (“that the world may believe that You sent Me” — 17:21; cf. 17:23).

On May 11, 1811 twin sons were born in Meklong, Siam. These were no ordinary twins. The brothers were tightly joined together as few brothers could experience. They were literally connected at the chest by a narrow band of flesh. Coming to America in their late teens, the brothers, whose original birth names are lost to history, toured North America as Chang and Eng Bunker (Chang was the Chinese word for “left” and Eng meant “right”)2 and would become known as the original “Siamese twins.”

After touring for years with P. T. Barnum, the brothers met and married sisters in Wilkes County, North Carolina, where they would retire and raise large families. Although the brothers sought to be surgically separated, their wives were opposed to the idea and convinced the brothers to not undergo the surgery.

The families eventually settled in Surry County, NC. Chang became addicted to alcohol and, in early January 1874 contracted pneumonia. On the night of January 17, 1874, Eng awoke to find his brother dead. There are conflicting stories about what happened next. According to one account the family summoned a doctor to the farm to perform an emergency surgery to separate the brothers. But by the time the doctor arrived Eng had died. Another account claimed that Eng refused the families’ pleas to be separated and, knowing death was quickly approaching, stood vigil next to his brother’s corpse until he died three hours later. The brothers are buried in the White Plains Baptist Church cemetery near Mount Airy, NC.3

Regardless of which account squares with the truth, the reality is that on that January night one thing was clear to everyone involved, the death of Chang Bunker was a death sentence to Eng Bunker. While he remained connected to his twin brother it was certain that Eng could not continue living. The same thing is true regarding the relationship between love and unity within the New Testament church. They are inseparable. The death of one spells certain death for the other.

Dave serves on the board of directors for the Carolina Messenger.

1 Seth Robbins, Palm Coast man rigs door to electrocute pregnant wife, deputies say, Daytona Beach News-Journal Online, Dec 29, 2017.
2 Chang Chun Bunker, Eng Chun Bunker, http://www.geni.com, Burbank, CA. The information used in this article is not endorsed by or affiliated with Geni.

3 Eng and Chang Bunker, The Original Siamese Twins, Surry Arts Council, Mount Airy NC, 2018; http://surryarts.org/siamesetwins/index.html

What Is Fellowship? — Michael Grooms

Mention the word “fellowship” to many Christians, and images of sliced ham, fried chicken, green beans, casseroles, and a table full of desserts enter the mind. The term “fellowship meal” has been coined to refer to a congregational meal where members enjoy food and social interaction. While it is appropriate to use the word “fellowship” in such a way, the word means much more and has many more applications than enjoying food or social activities together.

The word fellowship is translated from the Greek word koinonia in the New Testament. The exception to this is in 2 Corinthians 6:14 (KJV) where the Greek word metochē is translated fellowship. Paul asks the question “What fellowship has righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness?” (emphasis mine) The King James translators used the word “fellowship” for the Greek metochē and the word “communion” for the Greek koinonia. Other translations such as the ESV and NASB translate metochē as “partnership” and koinonia as “fellowship.”

Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon defines koinonia as fellowship, association, community, communion, joint participation, or contact. In the New Testament, the words used are mostly fellowship and communion. Biblical fellowship denotes the interaction that Christians have with each other and with God, both in social interaction and in worship. Paul gives a working definition of fellowship in Colossians 2:2 when he speaks of Christians having their hearts “knit together in love.”

Fellowship has an essential role in the church as a congregation, and in the lives of individual Christians. Paul wrote to the Christians at Rome that he desired to see them and impart a spiritual gift to them so that they may be established, “That is, that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me” (Rom. 1:12). Paul expressed a desire to establish others in the faith and to be encouraged by them in the faith they shared in Christ. This scripture is an excellent illustration of the purpose of fellowship. To share something mutually is to have fellowship in it. Christians need each other to establish and encourage each other in the faith. There is a very real danger of individuals and congregations leaving the faith because of the lure of the world and the danger of false doctrines. It is essential to our spiritual welfare that we edify each other with a mutual faith based on the truth of God’s word. In writing to the Ephesians, Paul states:

But, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head–Christ– from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love” (Eph. 4:15-16).

Fellowship is an integral aspect of our worship. This fact has been established in scripture both in terminology and in principle. Koinonia is used in scripture relative to various aspects of worship. In other aspects of worship the principle of fellowship is present, though the word may not be present. Hebrews 10:24-25 is often used to show that God commands us to be present with the assembly of the saints, and rightly so. However, this passage also demonstrates the importance of our fellowship in the assembly. There are two phrases in this passage that contain the principle of fellowship. The first is “Let us consider one another.” The second is “exhorting one another.” It is this fellowship in the assembly that underlines the importance of each member’s presence at all assemblies of the saints. Thus we help each other as we “provoke unto love and good works” and maintain faithfulness. The principle of fellowship in worship is present not only in the generic sense but also in each item of worship.

The Lord’s Supper is often referred to as the communion. The word “communion” is itself a term for fellowship and is translated from the word “koinonia.” The scripture states, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” (1 Cor. 10:16) In the above text, the word communion is translated twice from the Greek koinonia. Paul states that when we take of the cup (fruit of the vine), it is done in communion (fellowship) with the blood of Christ. When we take of the bread, it is done in communion (fellowship) with the body of Christ. This is in reference to the crucifixion of Christ that is commemorated in the Lord’s Supper. When the child of God understands that the taking of communion is having fellowship with Christ in His crucifixion, it will add greater depth to that aspect of worship.

The collection of money for the work of the church is a part of worship. This process is usually called the “contribution.” That word is a translation of the word koinonia in this text: For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem. It pleased them indeed, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things” (Rom. 15:26-27).

The word “contribution” is rendered from koinonia in verse 26. In verse 27, the word “partakers” is rendered from koinoneo, which means, “To enter into fellowship, join one’s self to an associate, make one’s self a sharer or partner” (Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon). The contribution is a process through which one is in fellowship with the work to which that person contributes. This fact should make all Christians aware that if one contributes to a work, they are in fellowship with that work, whether good or bad.

The preaching of God’s word takes place during worship. Paul thanked the Philippian church for their “fellowship in the gospel” (Phil. 1:5). The word “fellowship” here is a translation of koinonia. When one supports the preaching of the gospel in any way, that person is in fellowship with such preaching. When the preaching is the pure word of God, such fellowship is commendable and spiritually uplifting. When the preaching is in error, the one who supports it is a partaker of that error.

When Christians sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs together, they are fellowshipping together in that practice. While the word koinonia is not used in reference to singing, the principle of fellowship in that act is demonstrated in scripture. In the context of Christians singing in worship, the following phrases are used which depict fellowship: “Speaking to yourselves” (Eph. 5:19); “Submitting yourselves one to another” (Eph. 5:21); and “Teaching and admonishing one another” (Col. 3:16). When the church engages in singing songs together, there is a fellowship which occurs between those Christians as they share in worship to God.

Prayer is an essential aspect of the Christian’s daily life and is an integral aspect of our worship. While prayer is often between the individual and God, it is also an aspect of our worship as we pray together. The principle of fellowship is seen in prayer as demonstrated in James 5:16. In this passage, James tells the readers to “confess your trespasses to one another” and “pray for one another.” When this reciprocity takes place as individuals pray with each other and for each other, those who participate in the prayers are in fellowship.

Understanding the nature of fellowship in our walk together and in our worship together will help us to draw closer to each other and as a church draw closer to God. When a person understands the need for fellowship in all areas of faith, that person will be more likely to invest spiritually in the congregation. No one can be an island to themselves and be the person God would have them to be. Fellowship is not a luxury. It is not an option. It is an essential element in our faith. Christians cannot have fellowship with works of darkness, for that makes the person a partaker in that darkness (Eph. 5:11). Let us continue to walk in the light that we may have fellowship one with another and with God, through the cleansing blood of Jesus (1 John 1:7).

Michael preaches in Boiling Springs, SC, and serves on the board of directors for this paper.

Passing Children Through Fire: My Thoughts on Abortion — Jon Mitchell, Editor (Editorial: March/April, 2019)

In the days preceding the writing of this editorial, the New York state assembly with a vote of 92-47 and the state senate with a vote of 38-24 passed a bill that permits late-term abortions to be available to women essentially on demand up to the point of birth. The paradoxically-named Reproductive Health Act, which was signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo on the 46th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade which legalized abortion, also decriminalized abortion, moving it from New York’s criminal code to the public-health code.

In the days following this atrocity, the state of Virginia tried and so far have failed to make into a law a bill that would have reduced the number of doctors required to sign off on killing the infant and expanded the number of excuses for why a mother could choose at the last minute to ask for an abortion. Kathy Tran, the Virginia state delegate who proposed the bill, explained on video how her bill would allow a fully developed baby to be killed even during labor. Virginia governor Ralph Northam defended the legislation in ways that made it sound like he believed a viable infant could be fully delivered before the doctor and mother decided whether it should be permitted to live.

In the interest of balance, it must be acknowledged that some lawmakers in Tennessee at the time of this writing support legislation to ban abortion once a baby’s heartbeat is detected. Some legislators in Iowa are currently trying to amend Iowa’s constitution to state that the state “does not secure or protect a right to abortion.” Virginia delegate Tran now says she misspoke and has acknowledged that her description of the law would have gone against anti-infanticide laws. It’s also true that the number of women who will bring a baby fully to term only to then kill it during the 40th week is very small.

However, it is only small in comparison to the total number of abortions in the United States. The pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute reports that in 2014 (the most recent year for which data is available), 926,000 abortions took place and 1.3 percent — roughly 12,000 — of those were after the 20th week. Guttmacher also reported in 2013 that “most women seeking later terminations are not doing so for reasons of fetal anomaly or life endangerment.” There are currently movements in several states to make abortion legal past the point where the baby could live independent of its mother. According to Tennessee State Representative Sheila K. Butt, eight states now allow abortion at any stage. The United States is currently one of only seven countries worldwide that allows elective abortions after 20 weeks. According to National Review, it’s “unclear how many countries allow abortion at 40 weeks, mid-delivery, but it’s possible that the U.S. and North Korea would be the only members of that club.”

Abortions are legal and widely practiced in America, and our God is very angry about it. I say this because God is our Creator. He formed us while were in the womb (Ps. 139:13-16; Job 31:15). He did not “knit” together a mere chemical activity, cellular growth, or other vague force like pro-abortionists claim the fetus to be. The Hebrew for the “unformed substance” in Psalm 139:16 that God saw has to do with the embryonic state, the first eight weeks after conception. Thus, God knows — and cares — for the infant in the womb long before the mother can even feel life within her. He formed us in the womb, human beings in His own image. Jehovah was and is personally involved in our development while we were inside our mothers. Do you think He is pleased when we go out of our way to destroy the work which He made and for which He cares?

Exodus 21:22-25 gives the answer to that question. God decreed that if a man harmed a pregnant woman who later gave birth and it was proven that any harm came to that unborn child due to the man harming her, that man would pay back wound for wound that was inflicted upon the unborn child. If the unborn baby had died while in the womb and was delivered as a stillborn, that man would pay with his life! “Life for life…” How could God say that if life doesn’t begin until birth like abortion proponents claim? There is life in the womb, before birth. Any taking of that life is an abomination before God. Babies, both while in the womb (Rom. 9:10-13) and after birth (Ezek. 18:1-20), are innocent, and God hates hands “which shed innocent blood” (Prov. 6:17).

Thus, the mass killing of innocent life in our nation today which takes place through abortion is an irreverent assault on the unique work which God performs. He hates it not only because it destroys the work of His hands and the life which He gives, but also because of how it destroys that life.

Imagine a vacuum tube with a sharp blade attached to it, sucking the child from the womb and dicing it up into several pieces. Imagine a loop-shaped steel knife which slices the placenta from the walls of the uterus and cuts the baby’s tiny body into pieces. Imagine an instrument very comparable to sharp-toothed plyers, dismembering the baby part by part until all parts are removed from the womb. Imagine a long needle inserted through the mother’s abdomen into the infants sac where it would inject a solution of concentrated salt which the infant would then breathe in and be poisoned by it as the corrosive effects of the salt burns off the outer layer of the baby’s skin.

How hypocritical is it to find people guilty of crimes for killing infants in gruesome ways outside of the womb…but not if they had hired “doctors” to do pretty much the same thing to those same babies earlier while inside the womb! As we see the video of the applause and smiles on the faces of the New York legislators as they legalize these abominations and as we hear the passionate defense of these murders by women to whom God gave the ability to cherish rather than destroy the lives within them, let us be reminded of Isaiah’s inspired condemnation: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!” (Is. 5:20-21)

Reader, are you outraged by what you just read? Are you sickened? Are you unhappy that you just read of such monstrous acts? I apologize for your unhappiness, but I made the decision to write so plainly about what happens in abortion procedures because so many of us have not truly been told about what happens to a baby when it is aborted. If we are told, it is usually in a way that is extremely edited for content in order not to disgust. This is understandable and necessary in many contexts, but it also results in too many of us looking at the abortions of today in the same way in which we look at the Holocaust of the Jews in the previous century: as a mildly unpleasant historical fact from which we are far removed. If abortion is to stop in this country and in the world, that needs to change. We must hate abortion just as God hates it, and for the same reasons.

What also helps us hate the atrocious deed of abortion like God hates it is when we understand why it happens. James gives us one reason when he said, “You desire and do not have, so you murder…” (James 4:2). What do parents of aborted babies desire that would lead them to murder their children? More financial security? More leisure? More education? More unrestrained sexual activity? More career options? Avoiding a child who may be handicapped? Less hassle for the next 18-25 years?

The statistics imply this. According to the Guttmacher Institute only 0.5% of abortions were done on victims of rape in 2004. 3% were done because of fetal health problems, 4% because of physical health problems, 4% because it “would interfere with education or career,” 7% because of “not mature enough to raise a child,” 8% because the reason “don’t want to be a single mother,” 19% because of “done having children,” 23% due to “can’t afford a baby,” 25% because of “not ready for a child,” and 6% because of “other” reasons. In Florida alone in 2015, .001% of abortions were done to pregnancies from an incestuous relationship and .085% of abortions were done to women who were raped. .065% of abortions were done because the woman’s life was endangered by the pregnancy, 288% because the woman’s physical health was threatened by the pregnancy, .294% because the woman’s psychological health was threatened by the pregnancy, .666% due to a serious fetal abnormality, 6.268% due to social or economic reasons, and 92.330% for “no reason (elective).”

What keeps coming back to my mind is the option of adoption. Statistically, the necessity to take the life of one’s child in the womb in order to necessarily save your own life is so minute, and even then the choice would still be there to put the child’s life before one’s own out of love (John 15:13; Rom. 5:7-8; Eph. 5:2; John 10:11). Adoption is an option for all other cases, including the statistically rare cases of rape and incest in which a mother would understandably not want to keep the child of the monster who had violated her. Since God has provided this clear way of escape (1 Cor. 10:13), why is it not used? The only reason left in my mind revolves around what James condemned.

All of us desire things and have goals, but may we work hard to never be so self-absorbed and covetous that we miss out on — or even purposefully kill — the most important things in life (Heb. 13:5)! When we love the world rather than God (1 John 2:15-17), we follow Satan rather than resisting him (Eph. 2:1-3; James 4:7). So let us work to have a heart that deeply submits to God, a heart which reverences His word and works above all worldly self-enhancement (James 4:6). This will help us look at things differently, react differently, want different things, and hate different things…the same things which God wants and which God hates (Rom. 12:1-2).

The only way this righteous change will come to the hearts and minds of the majority of our society is when Christians care as much (no, I say even more) about the souls of the lost surrounding them every day as they do about the lives of the unborn. The actions of politicians who legalize monstrous deeds take place only because they know enough of the electorate either agree with them or are apathetic about what they do. Thus, Christians should not focus more on working to achieve political gains against abortion than we do on evangelistic gains against all sin by converting more souls to be completely committed to Jesus. Should we be silent about abortion? Of course not, but realize that real progress will be made against the evil of abortion only when we talk even more passionately to even more people about the gospel of Jesus Christ than we do about politics and abortion, and prayerfully and continually use the gospel to change their hearts and minds into Christ’s image. Only then will we be rid of the great evil of the murder of millions of children…when our society sees it as God sees it because of the influence of the gospel!

— Jon