Category Archives: 2019 – Mar/Apr

A Bookish Faith — Dewayne Bryant, Ph.D.

Christianity demonstrates many distinctive features when compared with other world religions. One of those features is its “bookish” nature (a term frequently used by New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado). Early Christians valued texts more highly—and used them much more often—than any other religion at the time except Judaism. It is perhaps because of Christianity that we tend to identify religions according to their sacred texts, which was virtually unheard of in antiquity.

Roman religions focused on activities or performances, usually consisting of making offerings or sacrifices to the gods. People liked receiving divine favors, and they thought of their gods as enjoying gifts provided by their worshippers. If people wanted to express thanks for something the deity had done, they might leave a gift (such as a votive object) in the temple to show their thanks. Religions also featured temples, altars, shrines, sacred places, and images of the gods. Texts made little if any contribution to the worship of the Roman gods.

Early Christians emphasized texts. This has caused some scholars to question whether Christianity could even be called a “religion” by Roman standards. While they practiced religious activities such as baptism and the Lord’s Supper, they did not have other items traditionally used by other religious groups. Biblical Christianity has no altars, temples, shrines, and the like. Unlike their pagan counterparts, Christians regularly read texts as part of worship. The only other group to do so were Jews in the synagogue (cf. Luke 4:16-21; Acts 13:14-15; 15:21).

The production of texts can only be described as impressive. Other religions had myths concerning their gods, but virtually nothing we would call “scripture.” Mithraism, for example, is a Roman mystery cult which appears in the historical record shortly after the founding of the church. It has almost no textual or inscriptional evidence, leaving scholars to wonder about a great many things the early worshippers of Mithras believed and taught. In contrast, Christians wrote voluminously. In the first three centuries of the church, believers had authored over 200 different compositions. Only a select portion produced by the inspired writers would be counted as Scripture, but it does highlight the textual nature of early Christianity.

The production and dissemination of texts further show the interconnectedness of Christians. While different versions of gods might be worshipped in various locations, the early Christians seem focused on the importance of consistent belief (2 Tim. 1:13-14; 2:24-26; Tit. 1:9-11; 2:1). The apostle Paul required faithful Christians to transmit sound doctrine accurately (2 Tim. 2:2). Not only did it properly equip the faithful (2 Tim. 3:15-17), it communicated the means of salvation (Eph. 1:13; 1 Tim. 4:16). Further, the biblical authors instructed their fellow Christians to earnestly contend for the faith (Jude 3), because any tampering with the truth would lead to dire consequences (Rev. 22:18-19; see also Deut. 4:2; Prov. 30:6).

The books of the New Testament were given to many different churches for reading. Paul tells the church in Colossae to share his writings with the church in Laodicea and vice versa (Col. 4:16). He sends his epistle to the Galatians not to one congregation but the “churches of Galatia” (Gal. 1:2). Paul may have intended his letter to the Romans to include more than one congregation (Rom. 1:7). Most famously, the book of Revelation was meant to be read by the seven churches of Asia (Rev. 1:4). This emphasis upon sharing texts seems to have been intended not only to foster a sense of community but to ensure that Christians had a consistent doctrine.

A particularly interesting feature of the New Testament books is their sheer size. Letters in the ancient world could be quite short. The longest letter composed by the Roman orator Cicero’s is 2,350 words, while the Roman philosopher Seneca’s longest is 4,134 words. Both of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians exceed these lengths, with his letter to the Romans consisting of an impressive 7,101 words. Even the relatively short letter to Philemon was quite long by Roman standards. This probably explains Paul’s comment about others considering his letters to be “weighty” (2 Cor. 10:10)—it was probably a comment more on their size than their contents. While philosophers did use letters to communicate their teachings, no other individual or group did so like Paul and the other New Testament authors.

Finally, passages in the New Testament make it clear that the books carried authority. Paul intended his letters to serve as authorities when he could not be present himself (1 Cor. 14:37-38). The apostle Peter included a reference to the authority of Paul’s letters, placing them in the same category as “the other Scriptures” (2 Pet. 3:15-16). When using this term, New Testament authors generally refer to the books of the Hebrew Bible. In other words, within his lifetime Paul’s writings had been accorded the same status as the books that God-fearers had considered inspired for many centuries.

Unlike other world religions of the time — and even some today — Christianity has always been a faith concerned with Scripture. The value that Christians ascribed their texts is indicated by the massive number available in light of the time, effort, and expense involved in copying these documents. In spite of the substantial cost, believers reproduced these texts because of their central importance to the faith. This should impress upon modern believers a sense of awe at the very fact that Bibles are so readily available to Christians in the West. It should also concern us whenever someone emphasizes opinions or feelings over the Word of God. Christians considered their Scriptures indispensably precious for life and faith. So should we.

Dewayne is a minister at the New York Ave. Church of Christ in Arlington, TX.

Withdrawal of Fellowship — Adam Orr

It is the most heart-wrenching, gut-churning, hand-wringing, tear-filled process a congregation of the Lord’s church will endure. One should not be left to wonder why so few leaders of the church will fail to go to the lengths of withdrawing fellowship from a wayward Christian. The truth of the matter: This is tough!

With that being said, elders and leaders of the Lord’s church are without excuse for not obeying one of the clearest commands in all of Scripture. “But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the traditions which he received from us” (2 Thess. 3:6, emp. mine). The apostle Paul made it clear this was a direct command, not from himself, but from the Lord Jesus Christ. It is important in approach of this subject, as with all others, that we remove the emotions attached and simply strive to obey the Lord. Let’s allow the New Testament to be our guide on this specific issue.

The Problem

The problem can only be understood after some underlying words are given their definition and certain issues are clearly understood. For example, for one to understand what it means to withdrawal fellowship, one must first understand what it means to be in fellowship. Spiritual fellowship can be best defined with the words, association, joint participation, partnership, or sharing. It is seen on display in the very infancy of the Lord’s church in Acts 2:42-46 with the words of Luke describing the fellowship of those who “gladly received his word” and were baptized. The nearly 3,000 souls added to the church that day were said to “be together” and “have all things in common,” “continue daily with one accord,” and “break bread from house to house.” This is the picture of fellowship. However, this fellowship is not only between people as brothers and sisters in Christ – it is fellowship between God and those who are His people. “He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and Son” (2 John 9).

When fellowship needs to be withdrawn from a Christian brother or sister in Christ, it is because fellowship has first been broken with God. This is the problem that needs to be addressed. Because one has chosen to go beyond the doctrine of Christ, they do not have God (2 John 9). If they are not in fellowship with God, their brethren have the responsibility to withdrawal from them. What needs to be made very clear is withdrawal of fellowship is not to be mean or unloving. It is simply to demonstrate to an erring brother or sister that they are no longer in fellowship with God and this is a problem that must be corrected before it is eternally too late!

“This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth” (1 John 1:5-6). This is not an issue that we can fail to address or take too lightly. The problem is that one is outside of Christ. If not corrected it will keep them from going to heaven.

The Purpose

Withdrawal of fellowship is a command to be obeyed for the purpose of helping a brother or sister realize they are not in fellowship with God or with His people and that repentance must take place. Because there has been a lack of teaching or practice of withdrawal of fellowship, some are tempted to say that this practice is cold-hearted and may only serve to drive someone further from the Lord and His people. Before undergoing the process in withdrawing from an erring brother or sister, it is needful to state that this process is driven only by love for the Lord and the soul of the wanderer. Parents discipline their children not to drive them away or to be cold-hearted, but because of the love they have for them. The same is true with God and His children. “For whom the Lord loves He chastens” (Heb. 12:4).

In a healthy church family, the desire must be for what is best for each member. The loving thing to do for those who are walking disorderly is to help them to see the error of their choice. This is done not to separate the family, but actually to keep it together. The purpose of going through the process that might lead to withdrawing fellowship is to get the attention of the impenitent sinner. Their best interests out of love for their soul is the primary motivation in going through the process that was put in place by the Lord.

The Process

Please be reminded that the withdrawal of fellowship by a congregation toward a wayward Christian is a process. Jesus gives the first step in Matthew 18:15: “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother” (emp. mine). Go first and try to get the attention of the one who has sinned – alone. If your brother or sister is in sin, let them know of their sin and give the one you love the opportunity to repent. If they are willing to repent, there will not be a need to withdraw fellowship!

However, Jesus continues with the second step in the process if the erring brother or sister is unwilling to repent: “But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established” (Matt. 18:16). This step in the process is for the same result as the first step – to get the attention of the one who has sinned and to strive to keep the family together and not separate. If the one in error is now willing to repent after this step, there will be no need to withdraw fellowship!

The third step in the process outlined by Jesus is to take the matter before the church if the first two steps are unsuccessful in turning the erring one from their sinful behavior. “And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church” (Matt. 18:17a). Can you imagine if all brethren would call, write, or show up on the doorstep of their brother or sister to beg for their repentance? All too often the focus is on the final step of the process and not enough given to the first three steps. Withdrawal of fellowship should be painful to the impenitent! If the brother or sister is willing to repent after their brethren are informed, there will be no need to withdrawal fellowship from this Christian.

Jesus takes it one more step. “But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector” (Matt. 18:17b). This final step is to help the erring to again see the very serious nature of their sin. Jesus makes it clear that because spiritual fellowship is broken physical fellowship is broken as well. This means we are no longer going to invite them into our homes for common meals (2 Thess. 3:14), out to eat, to go hunting, fishing, shopping, out to ball games or over for game nights. Social media status is going to change. Does the New Testament say this final step is for the purpose of being hateful and unloving? The purpose of following the prescribed process is to help rescue a soul from eternal destruction (James 5:19-20). Paul would make it clear the one withdrawn from should not be treated as an enemy, but admonished as a brother (2 Thess. 3:15). Continued admonishment comes in conversation that must always center on the sinner repenting.

In addressing an impenitent sinner in the congregation at Corinth, Paul scolded the Christians for allowing the sin to persist in the church. The sin was very open and “in your face.” Paul said that it was time to “deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor. 5:5).

The Product

The church plainly understands the problem, purpose, and process of the withdrawal of fellowship from an erring brother or sister. It all boils down to the desired product or result of withdrawing. The Lord has made this command to keep the church pure (1 Cor. 5:6-7) and ultimately help all family members get to our heavenly home. It seems that the brother withdrawn from in Corinth was willing to repent, to which Paul said, “This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man, so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort him…I urge you to reaffirm your love to him” (2 Cor. 2:6-8). May God help us to properly practice this command to help members of the church stay home! This will help the church to be closer to one another and ultimately closer to God.

Adam works with the Westside Church of Christ in Midland, TX.

Fellowship and the One Baptism — Will Hester

One major point of contention in the religious world is how is one to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. One might ask you, as they did on the day of Pentecost, “Men, and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37) There are so many responses to this question in the twenty-first century that it is no wonder why people question what is true. How is this question to be answered? Are we to just assume that Peter was wrong in his answer?

Mode of Salvation

At the heart of the question of salvation is the mode to which we are to adhere. Many believe that to become a Christian you are to state a prayer and “accept Jesus into your heart.” Is this a correct reading of the New Testament? What are we to do about passages that directly speak to baptism?

The origins of the sinner’s prayer are uncertain. The man that is normally given the credit for originating the skeleton of the modern day sinner’s prayer is John Bunyan. In his book Pilgrim’s Progress which he wrote in 1678, one will find his version of the sinner’s prayer. He states, “God be merciful to me a sinner, and make me to know and believe in Jesus Christ; for I see, that if his righteousness had not been, or I have not faith in that righteousness, I am utterly cast away. Lord, I have heard that thou art a merciful God, and hast ordained that thy Son Jesus Christ should be the Savior of the world; and moreover, that thou art willing to bestow him upon such a poor sinner as I am—and I am a sinner indeed. Lord, take therefore this opportunity, and magnify thy grace in the salvation of my soul, through thy Son Jesus Christ. Amen.” The words sound good on the surface; however, can there be saving power in them?

A question that should be raised to the proponents of the sinner’s prayer is, “Why aren’t they all the same?” If the sinner’s prayer is the way of salvation found in the Bible, then why aren’t they all the same across the spectrum? What is the reason that they are not the same? The sinner’s prayer is not found in Scripture and is not of God.

What is the correct mode of salvation? Acts 2:38 states, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” We must see the verse for what it says. “Repent” carries the idea of making a radical change in life to be able to be prepared for the new life you will receive (Rom 6:4). Repentance might be the hardest step of the entire process of becoming a Christian. Satan loves to make sin look good and feel good, but for us to truly change we must turn away from the temporal and turn to the eternal.

“And let every one of you be baptized” is change from the singular of repentance to the plurality of the all listening and reading. This means that we are ALL commanded to be baptized into Christ! What does baptism truly mean? The Greek word used in Acts 2:38 is a form of the verb βαπτίζω (baptizó). This verb carries the idea of being immersed, submerged, or dipped into water to wash away sin in a person’s life. We are buried in baptism, to die to sin, and to rise in resurrection of a new life (Rom. 6:4).

Baptized Into One Faith

When baptized, are we added to one fellowship or a multiplicity of fellowships? Many would say that when you are “saved” you should join a church of your choice. Others would say that once you become “saved” you are to adhere to the creed of that particular church. What does the Bible say on the matter?

Ephesians 4:1-6 states, I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” Notice that there is reference to only one body! There is not a multiplicity of bodies that make up a collective. There is also only one faith and one baptism. After we are baptized into Christ, we are added to a single body, in a single faith.

Luke would write in Acts 2:41-47, “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.  So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” Notice that the Lord added those who were being saved to the church, not churches. It is a far cry from what the religious world would have everyone believe.

Conclusion

Christ would say in Matthew 16:18b, “…and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” Christ has only built ONE church and we are baptized into that one body. Our salvation rests in Christ and what He did at Calvary. Our lives and worship are in one body. We must strive to be Christians according to the New Testament. If we get salvation wrong, then we are jeopardizing our souls and those who we teach. We want to have the home that is being prepared for us (John 14:1-4), but we must be baptized into the body of Christ and stay faithful to the end of our lives. Our prayer should be that every soul comes to a saving knowledge of Christ before they die!

Will is the minister of the Pleasant View Church of Christ in Bradford, TN.

Old Testament Insight Into Fellowship — Travis Main

The word fellowship is not something you will quickly find in the Old Testament. Psalm 94:20-23 is likely the verse you will find: “…Shall the throne of iniquity have fellowship with thee, which frameth mischief by a law?”

The thought presented in the verse is an interrogative statement. It is asking a rhetorical question to make the point that God cannot fellowship sin. When leaders use their power to sin, God will not be in association with those individuals. The same is true of all men. God will not recognize someone as His own if they engage in sin. To underline this point consider the words of Isaiah: “Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear” (Is. 59:1-2).

When sin is present there is a separation that exists between the one carrying sin and God. “Separation” and “fellowship” stand at opposite ends of understanding. They are akin to unity and disunity. When individuals or groups are in fellowship with each other they have a common sharing. They stand together, not apart.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). Everything was good because it was in harmony with the Word of God. However, when the day arrived in which man disobeyed God and ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, sin entered the world. The fellowship of God and man separated. Of course, long before the formation of the heavens and the earth God had a plan of unity through the blood of His Son. This is widely believed to be shadowed in the wording of Genesis 3:15 and it becomes clearer as the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament are laid down. This article will now examine a few Old Testament examples to better demonstrate how God views fellowship. Remember, the writings of the Bible prior to the covenant in Christ were recorded so that we might learn from them (Rom. 15:4).

Genesis 6 records a timeframe in man’s history in which nearly everyone had turned their back on God. Yet there was one man, a preacher of righteousness, who did not. Noah was that man. He walked with God (6:9). If God viewed the worldly walk of man the same as a righteous walk, then there would have not been a flood. However, God saw the wickedness and suffered grief over creating them (6:7). This was not what He wished for man. He wanted them to choose to be something better. Noah had chosen better. So God instructed Noah to build an ark. There was not one instruction which Noah did not obey. When all of mankind were drowning in the waters brought on by their own sinfulness, the love of God kept Noah alive. God does not fellowship sin.

In Leviticus 20:24-26, Moses is providing instruction to the people of Israel for when the take the Land of Canaan. In Genesis 15 God told Abram that the iniquity of the Amorites (people of Canaan) was not yet full. By the time Israel came to the land, God was ready for the people of Canaan to be destroyed. Their cup of sins was full to the brim. God does not fellowship sin. God had separated the people of Israel from those of the world. God’s desire was that the people be holy, pure, and devoted to Him. God even provides an example for them in a type. They were to be aware of the difference between clean and unclean animals and avoid the unclean. Clean and unclean, holy and profane, pure and worldly cannot unite.

Ezra 6 records the decree to allow Israel to leave captivity in Babylon and return to build the house of God. They speedily work and build the temple “according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the commandment of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia” (6:14) They put in order the service of God for the temple and the priests offered sacrifice for the sins of the nation. They did so according to the Law of Moses. “…all such as had separated themselves unto them from the filthiness of the heathen of the land, to seek the LORD God of Israel, did eat and kept the feast of unleavened bread seven days with joy” (6:21-22) Notice the people sought after God by separating themselves from those of the world. They understood what fellowship means. The people of God cannot embrace sinfulness. God does not fellowship sin.

Ezra 9:1-2 records the same timeframe. The people thought they had separated themselves from the heathen. However, that was not the case. The people still had marriages from the people of the land which were against God’s will. Ezra upon hearing this tore his robe. Other God-fearing men trembled over this sin. Ezra prayed to God for forgiveness of the people for this sin. Then in Ezra 11 the transgression was made known to the people of Israel and they separated from their wives – even the wives with whom they had children. Why? God does not fellowship sin. God had commanded them and they feared disobeying Him. They had just spent 70 years in captivity for sin. Nehemiah 9 and 10 cover this same time frame and the repentance of Israel over their sinfulness.

So that the impression that God only cared about Israel is not given, consider the books of Jonah and Nahum for a moment. Jonah was instructed to go to Nineveh.   There he was to tell the people to repent of their sinfulness. Nineveh was the capital of the Assyrian empire and the people were not the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They were not Israel. Yet as with the Amorites before Israel came to the promised land, God did not want Nineveh to live in sin. How many other prophets did God send to sinful nations? We have no record. God does not want man to perish (2 Pet. 3:9)! We do know that Israel was to be an example unto the nations. We also know that Nineveh would be an example. As Jonah called for the wicked nation to repent, the preaching and sign of his resurrection from the deep convicted them. They repented, from the king downward, crying unto God and changing their lives. God does not fellowship sin. Sadly, a century later, sin would again reign in Nineveh. God had given that people a chance. They did not heed the warnings of the generations before them. The book of Nahum speaks of the might of God – His power, justice, patience, and love. Yet, it also speaks of the coming judgment of God and the fact Nineveh would be an example of how God feels about sin.

In the New Testament the man Apollos was able to teach Jesus using only scriptures we know as the Old Testament (Acts 18). He looked at the things written beforehand to convict men. Certainly, we can look to the Old Testament examples to teach about fellowship. Does God want us to yoke ourselves together with the world? No, he does not. As Moses wrote, “O that there were such a heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children forever!” (Deut. 5:29)

Travis has been a minister in the Lord’s church for over 15 years. He attends and teaches at the Eastside Church of Christ in Mt. Vernon, OH. He is the creator of churchofchristarticles.com.

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