Fellowship Matters And Questions
Introduction: Fellowship exists in primarily two areas: in general and in the special relationship situation that we call the local church (I Jn. 1: 3, 7, 2 Jn. 9-11; Acts 9: 26, 27, notice that John states that he, apostles, had fellowship with those to whom he wrote, even though they were manifestly not members of the same local church; fellowship can be more direct, but still not involve the local church, as seen in the matter of 2 Jn. 9-11; and then there is fellowship within the local church). Scriptural fellowship is participation in spiritual matters and approval (2 Jn. 10). First, one should determine if the church being considered for membership is, in fact, the Lord's church (Matt. 16: 18, I Cor. 1: 2). Local churches were careful regarding whom they fellowshipped, as "walking in the light" (conforming to the teaching of the scriptures) was a prerequisite (I Jn. 1: 3, 7; 2 Cor. 3: 1, Rom. 16: 1, 2).
(The following questions are not being presented as being definitive or creedal, but rather they are suggested because they are both probative and revealing. These are questions that I have composed after about 35 years of preaching, preaching with and without elders, and also serving as an elder. They are also questions for both the individual seeking to establish the desirability of a local church with which to be identified and churches relative to receiving a prospective member. It should be conceded and understood that fellowship can be both sinfully withheld and extended, 3 Jn. 9; 2 Jn. 9-11. In the climate of asking fellowship determining questions, it is understood that there may or may not be elders overseeing the considered church. In the absence of elders, the individual is faced with questioning the men of the local church.)
I. The following are probative questions for the individual to ask
1. What is the church doing in terms of edifying the saved and reaching the lost?
A. The work of the local church is chiefly that of edifying the saved and preaching to the lost (Eph. 4: 16, I Cor. 14; I Tim. 3: 15). Hence, the question should reveal not only the work in which the church is engaged, but their attitude toward such matters.
2. What are some special focuses of the pulpit, eldership, and the church?
A. This question seeks to expand on matters prompted by question one. The responsive answers and comments should tell much about the elder/or men of the church.
3. Does the preacher preach on issues?
A. Inspired preachers addressed issues and present dangers and needs. Their preaching was not abstract and inapplicable (compare John's teaching found in I John 4: 1-3, 2: 3-6 and the Gnostics of John's day, the anti-Christ (I Jn. 2: 22).
4.What kind of fellowship is practiced by this church?
A. Listen to see if they distinguish between the physical and spiritual, conditional and unconditional matters pertaining to biblical fellowship. A stronger church will respect and obey 2 Thessalonians 3: 6.
5. How is the treasury of the church used?
A.The money must only be used for authorized work (cp. I Tim. 3: 16, 3: 15, not abortion clinics, homes for unwed mothers, etc.). Also consider how much (percentage) is being spent for the preaching of the gospel (I Cor. 9: 14).
6. Does the church practice discipline?
A. Discipline is to be both preventive and purifying (I Thes. 5: 14; 2 Thes. 3: 6). Some local churches have never withdrawn from those who "walk disorderly."
7.What is your understanding of unity?
A.Their answer should not be, "we have agreed to ignore our doctrinal and moral differences and exist together in peace" (see Eph. 4: 3-6).
8. Does Romans 14 accept doctrinal and moral deviations from the word?
A. Romans 14 only pertains to matters morally and doctrinally indifferent (Rom. 14: 14, 20, 17). In other words, local churches are not to be havens for sin and sinners.
9. What do the scriptures teach and you practice regarding marriage, divorce, and remarriage?
A. More and more churches are ignoring Matthew 5: 32, and 19: 9.
10.What is your understanding and practice regarding the role and work of elders?
A. Elders are not to be dictators or attempt to legislate laws (I Pet. 5: 3). They are, though, to rule and have leadership features (I Tim. 5: 17, 3: 4, 5).
11.What is being done about the future appointment of elders (if no elders are present)?
A. A local church without scriptural elders is lacking and incomplete (Tit. 1: 5, Phili. 1: 1).
12. Does the influence and example of the preacher and elders encourage reverence and a worship atmosphere for the assembly?
A. The conduct of the leaders as well as their dress is important in maintaining a serious climate. The way the members act and dress in the assembly is also of consequence (cp. I Tim. 2: 8, 9). A casual environment usually bespeaks spiritual indifference, laxity, and softness.
II. The following are questions to be asked by the receiving church (usually the elders or if none are present, by the men of the church).
1.Where were you last a member?
A. A person could have been withdrawn from by another church and need to return to correct matters. Checking is vital to knowing those whom a church may receive and fellowship. No doubt, the "letters of commendation" served this purpose. More churches today need to supply such letters with faithful members who leave their fellowship in good standing.
2.What do you expect and want, as far as a local church is concerned?
A. Carefully observe how this question is answered. Allow them to fully express themselves because their answer is revealing. They should want a scriptural church in which to worship and serve God, edify and be edified.
3.What is your understanding of fellowship and edification?
A. Some view "fellowship" as a big continuing party and "edification" as only praise and commendation. These are people with "itching ears" that will only lead to problems if accepted (2 Tim. 4: 2-5).
4.What kind of preaching do you want?
A. Preaching is in the forefront in the local church. The potential member's attitude toward preaching, then, is important and demonstrative (2 Tim. 4: 2-5).
5.What do you understand is involved in the command, "obey them that have the rule over you?" (Heb. 13: 17, 7).
A.More and more today are unwilling to submit to a scriptural eldership.
6.What is your family status (number of children, location if not at home, etc?
A. At this point, the marriage status and history of the prospective member(s) will usually surface. If not, inquire more specifically.
7.What may we expect out of you as a member of this church?
A. Matters such as attendance, support of the work, etc. should be introduced in the supplied answer.
8.What do you believe to be the application of the principles found in Romans 14, do you understand that moral and doctrinal considerations (practiced false doctrine and sin) find a home and protection in Romans 14?
A. The way in which this question is answered by the member want to be will usually tell the person's love of truth and convictions in general.
Conclusion: Placing membership and receiving others (in the case of the church) is a serious and important matter that is too often played down or ignored altogether. The practice of the church saying, "John Doe just mentioned being a member and so he is accepted, we will get to know him later" is without scriptural precedent and authority. Elders should take the time to ascertain if one is "walking in the light" by checking with the elders of the church they left before they extend fellowship. One major source of internal corruption is the practice of unconditional fellowship. Just because a person has been baptized does not mean that he is automatically a member of all local churches. Yet, some manifest this thinking, both as individuals and as churches (cp. Acts 9: 26, 27). Churches that are simply "number hungry," soon totally cease to be the Lord's church (cp. Rev. 2: 5, 3: 1). Just as the church should gather information about a possible future member, so should the individual do some research. Some times the best information is negative or unfavorable ("they do not want people," may only mean, "they practice biblical fellowship"). Both the individual and the receiving church should be honest and disclose all applicable information. Each needs to know exactly what to expect from the other. This is also of growing legal concern. For instance, the receiving church needs to make it plain that they practice discipline regarding those who walk disorderly (2 Thes. 3: 6).
In the real world, there are cases where the individual Christian decides he should not and cannot fellowship the considered local church. There are also instances in which the church must refuse to extend fellowship. I personally have been involved in cases where it had to be said, "we cannot accept and fellowship you because ." In some of these cases, the people repented and were restored. In other cases, they simply went across town and placed membership with no questions asked. Lack of practiced scriptural fellowship does a severe disservice to both individuals and churches.