Jesus ate with sinners at times (Matt. 9:11). Jesus fed thousands and ate with them (Mark 6:37-43). Jesus preached in the synagogue (Matt. 4:23). Jesus permitted Judas to work with Him during His personal ministry knowing he was a devil (John 6:64, 70). Jesus worked with the 12 who never did understand the nature of the kingdom of God (Acts 1:6). All these things were fellowship in a sense.
But the word fellowship has been used loosely in our brotherhood today. When we eat with someone this does not mean that we are in agreement with that person when it comes to serving God. When we give to the poor this does not mean that we go along with them when it comes to Bible teaching and doctrine. When we preach on a lectureship and there are false teachers on the program this does not mean we are in fellowship with them. Jesus preached in the synagogue but this does not mean He was in fellowship with the scribes and Pharisees. We must understand the word fellowship and what constitutes the wrong kind of fellowship. Let us notice the different kinds of fellowship.
(1) There is business fellowship. This takes place when two or more people are in business together—they are partners. (2) We have fellowship when we have others to come and eat with us in our homes. (3) We have fellowship when we have others to come and play games like Rook with us. (4) We have fellowship when we sing together. (5) We have fellowship when we go places with others.
The word fellowship can be used in a number of different ways. It certainly can be used when it comes to religion. Many brethren in our age have misunderstood Christian fellowship and this has brought on division that should not have been and such still exists in our brotherhood. Christian people need to know when they cross the line of biblical fellowship. When do Christians transgress God’s law on Christian fellowship? It is done in two ways: (1) When Christians commit themselves to false doctrine in word, they sin. (2) When Christians involve themselves in sinful deeds they cross the line of Christian fellowship. So one must commit himself in word or deed when it comes to Christian fellowship.
We have non-believers to come to our worship services. They sing and pray with us but we are not sinning when we let them sing with us. Non-believers often give to the church contribution and they in so doing are fellowshipping with us but such is not unscriptural. Christian fellowship involves a number of things. Let us notice some of these things. (1) It involves Christian growth. When people become Christians, they enter the church as newborn babes (I Pet. 2:1-2). They are to grow in Christ (II Pet. 3:18). Should we fellowship newborn babes in Christ even though they may believe much error? (2) Christian fellowship involves the grace of God. Does God strike down Christians every time they err in their beliefs? There were some in the early church who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead (I Cor. 15:1-58). (3) Christian fellowship involves the seriousness of the error involved. There is a great difference in a member of the church living in adultery and a church member that does not take the Lord’s Supper as seriously as he should. (4) Christian fellowship involves time. We must give members of the church time to grow up and set things in order. They sometimes need a space of time to repent (Rev. 2:21). Some brethren are so quick to cut the erring brother off. Circumstances control the time space of withdrawing fellowship. There is no place for one to be mean to and curt with a brother who has gone astray. We do not treat our children in the flesh in a disorderly fashion when we discipline them (Eph. 6:4). We must remember the Lord’s Word when we deal with one who has so conducted his/her life in such a way that disfellowshipping them is demanded of God (II Thess. 3:15). We are convinced that the spirit of some brethren has been wrong toward a withdrawn-from brother or sister. By all means we through loving care should do all within our power to get the disorderly church members back into faithful service of Jesus Christ. (5) Christian fellowship involves the attitude of the erring brother. If the brother displays his willingness to study the issue that brought about the withdrawal of fellowship, then we need to be longsuffering when it comes to settling the matter and of course such should be settled by the Sacred Scriptures. If a withdrawn brother shows resentment toward and an unwillingness to reason about the matter, then certain steps must be taken. We have come to the conclusion that one is always right when he stands for Bible doctrine in word and in deed. There must be a commitment in word or deed when it comes to the Christian fellowship issue. The issue of Christian fellowship is sometimes very difficult to understand. The brotherhood now faces this issue. It is one of the big issues before us today.
—Malcolm L. Hill January 12, 1934- June 26, 2012