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New Wineskins February Edition – Fellowship: Who’s In, Who’s Out and Who Decides

February 13th, 2012 · No Comments · Uncategorized

New Wineskins has posted the February edition and it is all about lines of fellowship. It is a very interesting and somewhat controversial topic. There are articles from Al Maxey, Jonathan Storment, Keith Brenton, Jay Guin, Adam Gonnerman, Brian Mashburn, Gary Holloway, & Royce Ogle. If this topic interests you, you will want to read some of these articles.


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  • hank

    Just curious, but did any of those articles clarify the subject in your opinion? I didn’t read all of all of them, but what I did read gave me the impression that those brothers are pretty confused themselves. The consensus seems to be that only God gets to decide who is in (which is certainly true), but the writers seem to all believe as though God never really decided. I have read several of those same writers in other places flat out deny the plainest of Bible verses/teachings. But, that doesn’t mean I’m saying that they are necessarily “out” because of it….

    • mattdabbs


      I appreciated what Jonathan had to say. I thought he had a really good attitude and spirit about what he wrote. He didn’t get into all the nitty gritty of it but it was still really good stuff. I didn’t write an article for NW this time but I did put this on facebook:

      “It would be interesting to read the entire New Testament looking for “lines of fellowship.” I would bet that there are almost zero that have to do with doctrine. The only doctrine I can think of that is a fellowship “test” is whether or not Jesus is Lord. Other than that all I can think of are moral issues where people have unrepentant sin, even when confronted with it. I need to read the NW this month as this has probably been said many times already but if we are going to draw lines at least let them be lines the apostles were willing to draw themselves…What is crazy is people are more quick to draw lines over doctrine than they are over immorality. If you were to ask the average church member who they would fellowship and you put up any pet doctrine vs any given unrepentant sin, which do you think they would choose? Some don’t bat an eye that people live together before marriage as long as they have the right doctrine on various issues. That’s just messed up.”

      To which John Alan Turner replied,

      “the NT seems to give three reasons for withdrawal: (1) if you deny Jesus’ full deity/humanity; (2) if you add works to grace for salvation; (3) blatant, public & continued immorality that brings the church into reproach. those are the only boundaries i can find.”

      He pretty much summarized what my view would be based on what I remember from the New Testament and all the examples I can think of. We want to shy away from lines of fellowship because they are often used and abused but that doesn’t mean there are no reasons to remove fellowship from someone. The baby gets thrown out with the bathwater rather than finding the biblical answer to the question. Paul obviously found lines of fellowship during his ministry and he was right. Peter and John did as well and they were wrong (the Mark example and Galatians example). There is still a right time to do it. It does require a lot of care, concern and prayer. It is not that there is no such thing as a line of fellowship it is just that we must draw them in biblically warranted places.

      Just my 2 cents. I would be interested to hear your thoughts.

  • hank

    Well, I guess we first need to determine of whom it is we are speaking. You seem to have in mind actual Christians, members of the church who may have various doctrinal beliefs and/or who may be involved in particulars sin(s). Which is an interesting and difficult subject.

    But much of the the brothers in NW seem to wondering and questioning is where are the lines in terms of the church itself – which is an entirely different matter (and one far less difficult to determine). Of course, the Bible plainly teaches that ONLY those penitent believers who are immersed into Christ, are members of the church. And yet I know for a fact that several of the writers mentioned in the latest NW either challenge or even flat out deny as much. They believe and argue that certain lost sinners today (which have never been immersed) can (and should be) fellowshipped as actual brothers IN Christ. And that is an entirelly different matter. I mean, how is a person going to be able to explain when and where to draw lines of fellowship between Christians if and when they do not even know who it is that even are Christians to begin with? I don’t mean to sound unloving and/or judgmental, but it seems as though this is becoming an end ever increasing problem. Does that make sense?

    (and should be) fellowship

    • hank

      My bad, the bottom line (wth the parenthesis) should not be there. My phone is tricky at times 🙂

    • mattdabbs

      So what you are observing is an attitude that is questioning the traditional and biblical markers of the people of God?

      In regard to your second sentence I would ask, are they “actual Christians” if they have willfully stepped outside the lines of fellowship as laid out in the New Testament?

      • hank

        Glad I checked the blog here, I missed you last reply (I thought I was set up to get an email notification of such). At any rate, you asked:

        “So what you are observing is an attitude that is questioning the traditional and biblical markers of the people of God?”

        Yeah. I mean, several of the writers in the Feb NW under discussion blatantly deny the meaning and purpose of immersion. I know you know (and have written many times here), that according to the Bible, baptism:
        1. Is “for” (in order to obtain) the forgiveness of sins
        2. Is the means by which one is placed into Christ and added to the church, the body of the saved
        3. In a very real sense, saves us
        4. is part of the formula by which one is born again, etc.

        And yet, several of the latest NW writers repeatedly argue that a sinner today can obtain forgiveness, be added to the church, be saved and born again before and without even being immersed. They deny what the Bible plainly teaches. In regard to baptism, they are false teachers.

        You also asked:

        “In regard to your second sentence I would ask, are they “actual Christians” if they have willfully stepped outside the lines of fellowship as laid out in the New Testament?”

        Whenever a penitent sinner is genuinely baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of sin, that person is born again, saved, and added to the church by God. If such an individual steps “outside the lines of fellowship as laid out in the NT” (whether willfully or by the deceitfulness of sin), they will have thusly wandered from the truth and would be in need of restoration. Like in Jas. 5:20. A Christian, a brother or sister in Christ, will only remain forgiven provided they walk within the light. I know you know all of that too. But, if/when a Christian wanders from the truth, it does not mean they are no longer a member of the church. Such a person would still be a brother or sister in Christ. To be restored, such a person would not need to re-added to the church, or be born again again.

        I believe that is why we have differing instructions regarding our relationships with non-Christian unsaved sinners and that of unsaved sinners who are brothers in Christ. So yes, I would say they are “actual Christians.” I know you know that there are many teachings in the scriptures that explain how that within the church, there are both saved and unsaved. Good fish and bad. Useful vessels as well as dishonorable ones.

        And for whatever its worth, I know that at least one of the writers in the latest NW would also deny that if one is ever, at any point, an “actual Christian” – they could ever even wander from the truth. You know, “once saved, always saved.”

        You know I love and greatly respect you brother. In many ways, I need to be more like you. (in fact, I said that before and my wife said “amen”, lol) But, I do believe that the above truths should be upheld and defended. And I believe that those who teach so many people otherwise, should be opposed (at least, their false teachings).

        What do you think? Do you agree with the points I have made? Am I missing something? If so, I promise to honestly consider whatever it is you have to say.


      • mattdabbs

        It is hard to respond without specific examples of what is being said. To me this is an issue we need to have both certainty and humility on. We need to have certainty that God really means what he says and we need to have humility that God is free to be God. God makes exceptions in scripture but that doesn’t mean we make exceptions the rule and that doesn’t mean we can pinpoint when, how and to what extent God will make an exception on a given matter and when He won’t. When we make definitive statements about which exceptions God will and won’t make we are stepping on dangerous ground. That does happen in these discussions and that is worrisome. I just don’t think I am smart enough to put words in God’s mouth.

        What can we say about the exceptions God did make from scripture? I can list exceptions from the Bible, you already know them. A few would include Ruth and Rahab who weren’t part of the covenant and yet they got brought in in very graceful ways. You have God’s grace on the repentant Ninevites. You have the unauthorized Passover celebration of 2 Chron 30 where God accepts it even though it broke the rules and the authorized ways of celebrating Passover. Does that mean they do it again that way the next time? Of course not. But it does show that God told specifically how to celebrate it and they did it another way due to the circumstances, and God made an exception.

        I am not saying we make exceptions the rules because that would be very disrespectful to God’s stated wishes in scripture. However, these examples and others we could list show us that God is the one who makes the ultimate call on what He accepts and what He doesn’t. So I have certainty in what God has said and am called to live by it and call others to it. I also have humility enough to say that God gets the final say on every and all matters.

        Your thoughts?

  • hank

    I’m not sure I totally follow you thinking regarding humility and allowing God to make exceptions to what he has specifically taught as the truth. Especially, in terms of what the Bible teaches as truth regarding who it is that is a Christian. Namely, all penitent sinners who have been baptized into Christ and added to the church in so doing. I know we both agree that the Bible clearly teaches as much? Now, does being humble require me to refrain from teaching that as an exclusive truth? Must we say, “sure, that is what the Bible teaches as truth, but we must not argue that whoever has not repented and been baptized is NOT a member of the church?”

    If so, where would that end? Would we have to leave room for exceptions on everything (to be humble and let God be God)? Take Jn 14:16 for example. If we say that the ONLY way to the Father (without exception), is through Christ… does that mean we are not being humble and not allowing God to be God? In which cases should we say, “this is the truth and anything different is not true”?

    But to my original point, some of the brothers mentioned in the NW do not merely argue for room for exceptions, but the make contradictory argument to the Bible altogether.

    • hank

      Personally, I believe that whatever God has clearly taught as truth should be taught as the truth without exception. And anything that is being taught OTHER than what is clearly the truth, should be considered false and even opposed.

      If God does eventually choose to save some who did other than the truth, then that’s up to him. Personally, I believe that that is the more humble position because it shows armour willingness to just accept his teachings as exclusive. Surely, he wont fault us for teaching what he teaches as exclusive and without exception. Its when we mix in our thoughts and opinions (and leave rroom for exceptions) that I believe we are lacking humility.

      And, considering who we consider as Christians (draw lines) is a lot simpler. Because, if we “allow exceptions” we will never have any idea insofar as who are our brothers in Christ. Unless, someone has the inside knowledge to explain where the exceptions would end.

    • mattdabbs

      I am not saying that humility opens the door to make exceptions all over the place. I am saying that humility says that you recognize that God can and does make exceptions. We just can’t always pinpoint where, when and with whom. That is why I say it takes humility because some teach as if they know on exactly what issues God will make exceptions. I am not willing to go there.

      Let me give an example that might be helpful to you to see what I am saying here and why I keep saying this whole topic is humbling.

      God gave explicit and repeated instructions on how to take the Passover. He left no doubt as to what He wanted and laid out severe consequences for disobedience:
      – Exo 12 gives instructions and says that those instructions weren’t just for that day but were to be a “lasting ordinance for you and your descendants” (12:24). Moses also says there are conseuqences for disobedience, that anyone who eats yeast on those days will be cut off from the people (12:20).
      – Lev 23 gives instructions for the Passover including exactly when to celebrate it (23:4) on the 14th day of the first month.
      – Num 9 – God gives explicit instructions regarding an exception with Passover. He says in 9:13 that those who are eligible to take the Passover but who do not are to be cut off from the people = consequence.
      – Deut 16 – God gives the instructions over again.

      But in 2 Kings 23:22 we find out that from the time of the judges through the kings (up to Josiah) the Passover had not been appropriately celebrated. Would that then mean that every person during those times would be cut off from the people as Moses said in Exo 12:20? That is exactly what God said he would do. Did he? Doesn’t seem God did that even though it had been a lasting ordinance for all of those people (Exo 12:24)

      Then in 2 Chron 30 we find out that they had not observed the Passover properly because the priests had been unclean. God never authorizes an exception for postponing and rescheduling the Passover due to uncleanness of the priests. Yet, they did it on the 14th day of the 2nd month instead of the 1st (Lev 23:4 vs. 2 Chron 30:2, 15). It says in 30:5 – “It had not been celebrated in large numbers according to what was written.” Not good. By the law, God was not to accept this Passover. By the law these people were to be cut off from the people. By law Hezekiah, the priests and all the people were condemned.

      The question is, how did God respond? If we tried to determine God’s response by the truth laid out in all the scriptures and all the repetition he gave in teaching about Passover the answer is clear. There is no doubt these men stood condemned and cut off from God’s people for their disobedience of both not taking it when they were supposed to (which God clearly said he would cut them off for) and for taking it at a time they were not supposed to. It would seem God had to cut them off from the people and reject their sacrifice because that is the truth of what He said He would do. He told them that over and over and over. Would/could God do otherwise? The answer is yes.

      “But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, “May the LORD, who is good, pardon everyone 19 who sets their heart on seeking God—the LORD, the God of their ancestors—even if they are not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.” 20 And the LORD heard Hezekiah and healed the people…The priests and the Levites stood to bless the people, and God heard them, for their prayer reached heaven, his holy dwelling place.” (30:18-20, 27).

      That in no way means God wasn’t serious about his instructions and about the punishment He laid out. That also does not mean that His instructions weren’t true. That is a critical point that God can both speak truth in the instructions and still be able to make exception when He wishes without making the instruction itself untrue.

      Now, should the Jews have decided the next year to do it again in the second month? Should they make the new way a lasting ordinance because it worked last time? Of course not. God commanded it a certain way and if they love and respect God they will do it that way. God accepted their offering because of their contrition. True contrition won’t allow you to do it that way the next time. You will be so convicted the next time around that you will do it according to God’s command. God made an exception but there is no guarantee he will do it the next time or on the next issue.

      So God’s Word is truth and we are to follow it. We are to teach it. We are to live by it. We are to teach that baptism results in forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit, etc. We have to see those who haven’t done that just as God said they are, condemned (Mark 16:16). However, God can and will do what He decides is best and I am not going to stand in His way. Obviously, I am not implying that you would or are standing in God’s way. I will say He can and will make exceptions…just when, how and on what issue and with who I have no idea about and won’t try to arm chair quarterback. That is up to God and not up to me. That is why this whole issue takes humility and people get into dangerous territory when they start trying to figure out any potential exception. In many cases, exception looking, actually speaks to a heart that is out of tune with God because it shows that we don’t respect what He has taught us on an issue.

      Hope all that rambling helps.

      • hank

        Fair enough. And so long as we agree that we must see the people that haven’t done as God has said to be saved (genuinely repent and be baptized) as lost (not knowing of any sure exceptions), then I am with you.

        My problem is with those who are treating as saved those who have not done what God has said to be saved, by banking on an unknown exception. And even more with those who straight up deny and change what God has said. Those who teach that baptism has nothing to do with obtaining forgiveness and becoming a Christian. As some of the aforementioned NW writers repeatedly do.

        Love you bro…

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