Unconditional Fellowship in Churches of Christ
"Problems at the
...church: Every congregation I know in ...(regional area stated, dm) has
a constant influx of Christians from different parts of the world with vastly
different backgrounds. Our policy at ...has been to avoid partyism and accept
all baptized believers, knowing that many have
unconventional ideas. Our hope is that good
teaching will correct whatever is lacking. However, the danger
always exists that some with unorthodox concepts may not receive Bible
teaching and instead may begin to exert their influence on others with
their questionable ideas. This has happened at ....
Our problems revolve around three brethren influenced
by the Pentecostal Movement. One is particularly
friendly and has therefore been able to influence about ten of the new and
weak Christians. I woke up to that fact when they almost succeeded
(when some of us were distracted) in having one of our
new converts give her 'testimony' in front of the
congregation about a sore knee that she felt was
I have been around long enough and due to wide Internet exposure, I am perfectly aware of a too common practice among many non-institutional churches of Christ and that is the practice of unconditional fellowship. I say "unconditional," most do have the condition of baptism, but that is about it. Let me share with you an excerpt from a report on a local work that is reflective of the unconditional fellowship mentality that has invaded many churches and pulpits and the often attendant consequences of this practice (I shall omit particulars such as names):
There are two primary
rationales offered to justify accepting without
question all who have been baptized. First,
there is the Romans 14 appeal. Romans 14 has become the proof text
to endorse every imaginable sin and the position that
a church must accept all and say nothing that pertains
to their particular sins. Stated succinctly and
simply, Romans 14 does not in any way apply to such a scenario. The
special particularity and circumstances of Romans 14
did not involve immediate and actual sin such as
addressed by this article (Rom. 14: 14). Romans 14 is not a haven for
impenitent sinners and a city of rescue and protection for false teachers while
they peddle their damnable beliefs.
The second rationale is, "We just cannot grow unless we are able to take in imperfect people." This article does not advocate simply "turning away people." In the years that I have preached and served as one of the elders at Holly Street in Denver, we have had scores of people to want to place membership. The first thing we do is privately meet with them and urge them to check us out by asking probative questions as to our beliefs and practices and we then inform them that we shall do the same regarding them, even calling the church where they were last a member. Many have left saying, "I will not be subjected to such, I will simply go to....and place membership." They do and we hear, "The Jones have identified, add them to your church directories." In many cases, we have found out that the "Jones" split the church they last attended, practiced and advocated social drinking, or were in an adulterous marriage. We tried to study with them, but they knew they could simply place membership elsewhere with no questions asked. The result? They continue in sin and also involve the church in sin due to
unscriptural fellowship practices (I Cor. 5).
For years, I used to hold my share of meetings across the country. I made it a point to preach on biblical fellowship in one lesson. On many occasions, members of these churches would privately come to me and say, "Don, we have not heard such taught in many years, the church here just accepts all who claim to have been baptized, no questions asked." I also recall on several occasions, the local preacher responding to the invitation, confessing the public sin of teaching and practicing unconditional fellowship. I remember one meeting in which I preached on fellowship where half the church and the preacher came forward confessing to practicing error regarding this matter. Three new families also responded saying, "We should not have placed membership without first repenting of our sins." It was a wonderful meeting.
Brethren, it is time to cease playing around at religion and attempting to build up churches according to man's standards and ideas. Religion has often become a joke, even among non-institutional churches of Christ. We are in it, let's just be plain, for the money, the numbers, and the grand buildings. We preachers have our public relation reputations to protect as "church builders" and we certainly do not want to be known as "church destroyers, this thinking needs to be replaced with biblical thinking."
Do not be fooled for a moment, unconditional fellowship is not the result of love of people's souls. How can it be? If you really love the souls of men and women, you will attempt to lead them and teach them in the way of righteousness. To unconditionally extend fellowship is just to condone them in their sin. "Don, we take them in and then in a loving climate of acceptance, we teach them." I have been told this many times. Let us remember, though, we are to do God's will and not our own. God has set forth the teaching of conditional fellowship. I have asked some of these preachers, "How long has the Jones family been in your fellowship?" Their reply follows along the order, "They have been members now for a while." "Have you had classes with them addressing their particular needs and has there been pulpit preaching that hits on their needs?" The answer has always been, "We are waiting for the right time to start this teaching." "When is the right time?" The answer has been, "When we believe they are mature enough to accept the teaching." I agree that attitudes and spiritual maturation all play a part. However, we are using these matters as a cop out to not do what the scriptures teach. We are corrupting Jesus' church and selling out to the devil. Preachers are learning more about how to do P. R. work then they are gospel preaching (2 Tim. 4: 2-5).
In closing, I call upon all preachers reading this material to repent of the false doctrine and practice of unconditional fellowship. I encourage those who are practicing the truth in this matter to continue and not be discouraged by the personal attacks of the promoters of "...we avoid partyism and accept all baptized believers, knowing that many have unconventional ideas." Preachers, when there is doctrinal weakness in a church, address it and preach the truth on it instead of tip toeing around it. This is what "preaching the truth in love" really is (Eph. 4: 15, 2 Tim. 4: 2-5). We need more who "...declare the whole council of God" and be free of the professional baby sitters among us. (To read more about fellowship, please visit the following: "Fellowship," "An Exchange on the Consistency of the Fellowship Issue."