1. I have heard it said that once a believer is baptised into Christ, they are always in Christ and since one cannot be ‘un-baptised’ they can never be out of fellowship with God. Is this correct?

Baptism is a public identification with the principles of the Lord’s death and resurrection together with a commitment to die to sin and live to righteousness (Rom 6:3-7; Col 2:12). It was a form of obedience from the heart, leading to the remission of sins (Rom 6:17; Acts 2:38). Those who are baptised into Christ have put on Christ and have become heirs according to the promises made to the fathers (Gal 3:27-29; Eph 3:6). As such they are “in Christ” and this means that whilst previously they were once afar off from God, they now have been brought nigh (Eph 2:13).

It is possible, however, to “put on Christ” and be “in Christ” in name only. Simon was a case in point (Acts 8:13-24). The apostles constantly exhorted the believers to “put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness” (Eph 4:20-24). “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord” Paul wrote, “so walk ye in him” (Col 2:6). “In Christ” must become “abide in Christ.” Hence our Lord warned his disciples, “Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away.” He further said, “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered” (John 15:2,6).

Our relationship with God is contingent upon maintaining our walk of faith and love: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Rom 8:1,4). The Apostle John consistently spoke about the need to keep our Lord’s commandments and thereby truly abide in him (1 John 2:6,24,28; 3:24; 4:15).

Whilst no one can take away the memory of our baptism and the wonderful sense of being at one with the Father we experienced at that time, it is possible to undo all that good by casting off our first faith and stepping back into the darkness (Luke 11:34-35; 1 John 1:6; 2:9-11; Jude 11-13).

  1. A brother who was not coming to the meeting any more argued that his fellowship was between himself and his God and was not dependent on attending the meeting. How do you view this stand?

This question does not relate to brothers and sisters who are unable to meet others because they are living in isolation. It is referring to those who can attend meetings but choose not to and justify their absence by claiming that fellowship is a matter between themselves and God only. The question assumes that a private relationship between oneself and God is not dependent on our association with each other. This viewpoint cannot be sustained by Scripture.

Under the Law of Moses a pattern of worship was established to publicly and joyfully give to God according to the blessing they had received in company with each other (Deut 16:10-17; Psa 107:32). Hence in the future age these assemblies will be resumed (Isa 2:3; Zech 8:21-23).

God expected the faithful to speak one to another (Mal 3:16) and indeed go beyond that and “have love one to another” (John 13:35; Rom 12:10; Eph 4:32) and “minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1 Pet 4:10). This cannot be done in isolation.

It was the expectation of our Lord that the faithful gather together: “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt 18:20). Hence the apostolic practice was to come together to break bread (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor 5:4; 11:17-20,33; 14:26; Acts 2:44).

Paul’s use of the word “together” highlights the need for mutual growth and edification: “Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do” (1 Thess 5:11); “In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit” (Eph 2:22). This cannot occur in isolation. Indeed, those who are rejected by our Lord are those who did not minister to the needs of their brothers and sisters (Matt 25:34-46). Their neglect of the other members of the body was their downfall. Loving God cannot be accomplished if we are not loving our brothers and sisters as well (1 John 4:11-12).

Paul styled the ecclesial body “the house of God” and “the ecclesia of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15). It is a corporate entity upholding and supporting the Truth. If we choose deliberate isolation from that work, we are no longer participating in that support. Fellowship involves participation. It is a living experience designed to strengthen us and enable us to “follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Tim 2:22).

In that context of considering others, Paul commands us about “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Heb 10:25). How much more significant are those words today.

  1. Judas was at the table of the Lord and partook of the emblems. How then can we prevent others who are not in fellowship from partaking of the emblems?

Judas was present at the Lord’s Passover feast (John 13:26-27). But it is significant that there were no women present, neither were there any of the hundreds that followed him present either. Gentiles were absent too. This means that we cannot take every little detail that occurred that night and project them into our memorial feast.

What occurred that night established a general pattern for the future. Sometime later (most likely during the 40 days he was with them after his resurrection) our Lord instituted the key requirements for participating. They are described in 1 Corinthians 5:8: “Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”

The reference to leaven is doubtless a connection with the events of deceit and lies associated with that feast (Luke 22:1-3). When the Lord laid a foundation of sincerity and truth as the basis for participating in the feast, he was repudiating people like Judas, not supporting them.

  1. Where is the scriptural authority to exclude from the emblems of Christ those members from whom fellowship has been withdrawn?

To eat the bread and drink the wine at a memorial meeting is to enjoy the privilege of fellowshipping the body and blood of our Lord (1 Cor 10:16). It is therefore no ordinary meal. To participate is to unite ourselves with the principles of the Lord’s death and resurrection and to unite ourselves as one body (1 Cor 10:17).

In Corinth three evils connected with the memorial feast were apparent:

  1. Believers were partaking of the meat sacrificed to idols during idolatrous temple feasts and then participating in the bread and wine at the memorial meeting (1 Cor 10:20-21).
  2. Believers were counting the bread and wine as mere common food (1 Cor 11:20-22).
  3. Believers were fellowshipping a brother at the memorial feast who was committing a gross sexual offence (1 Cor 5:1-2).

In each one of these circumstances his counsel was clear:

  1. You cannot fellowship idols and then partake of the memorial feast (1 Cor 10:20-21).
  2. To treat the bread and wine as mere common food was to become “guilty” of treating the sacrifice of God’s Son with contempt (1 Cor 11:27-29).
  3. Purge out the evil from your midst (1 Cor 5:7).

It is in connection with this third example where we have the scriptural injunction to exclude unworthy members from the memorial feast. Paul’s command was:

v2 – “he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you”

v5 – “To deliver such an one unto Satan”

v9 – “not to company with fornicators”

v11 – “not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat”

v13 – “Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person”

The evil of leaven needs to be removed and replaced with sincerity and truth (v7-8) and evil brethren were to be excluded from participating in the memorial feast because their behaviour undermined the principles of sincerity and truth demanded by the holiness of the Lord’s sacrifice.

A similar point was made by Paul in Romans 16:17, “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.”

  1. In Australia, our fellowship is based on the BASF in harmony with the explanations outlined in the Australian Unity Agreement. Why is this different from other countries?

The basis of association and fellowship amongst Central Fellowship ecclesias worldwide is the BASF.

From an historical perspective, brethren in Australia in the late 1800s through to the early 1900s were constantly engaging in discussion concerning the nature of Adam when created, the effect of sin upon him, and the work of Jesus Christ in relation to man’s redemption. This led to ecclesial division in this country on these subjects.

When the opportunity arrived to heal the rift in the 1950s, it was natural that these topics needed to be resolved and that the truth of the matter needed to be expressed in clear and unambiguous language. An addendum was suggested which would allow a restatement of doctrines outlined in clauses 5 and 12 of the BASF.

Whilst this restatement of the meaning of these two clauses in the BASF was relevant to the Australian drive for unity, it was not a major point of dispute in other countries. Brethren in other countries did not struggle with the language of these two clauses and hence there was no need to restate their meaning.

This, briefly, is why Australia has an Addendum and other countries do not. It doesn’t mean that Australia has a different basis of fellowship from other countries. It simply allows our ecclesias to meet without contention on issues that previously divided us.

  1. Aren’t the BASF and CC Addendum man-made documents which carry no real weight in the matters of fellowship?

Whilst it is true that our statements of faith are man-made, we should not perhaps hold such a low opinion of the labours of faithful brethren in summarising the core beliefs of our faith.

Brother Carter made this comment about the subject:

“What are the essentials of saving truth? We have generally recognised that these essentials are formulated in the Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith. Not that other Statements may not also give a true outline, but the Birmingham Statement is the one most widely known. It is recognised by all in what we call the Central Fellowship and in the recent discussions in Great Britain it has been acknowledged by both Central and Suffolk Street groups of ecclesias as the one to which all could subscribe as setting out the First Principles of the One Faith. A Statement of Faith is essential for any community of believers to define their beliefs to ensure harmonious working together and consistent testimony to those without. To decry a Statement as man-made and to speak of the Bible as alone sufficient reveals a marked failure to perceive the problems of ecclesial life and its duties. All the sects of Christendom claim to base their beliefs on the Bible, a fact which in itself demonstrates the need for a Statement of what we understand to be the teaching of the Word of God” (Unity Book page 9).

  1. Wasn’t the CC Addendum written to facilitate the merging of two different views and therefore today it can accommodate alternative views?

From time to time this claim—about the Addendum being written to cater for two divergent views on the nature of man and the introduction of sin into the world—surfaces. Historically, it has been raised by those whose views conflict with the BASF. One example was in 1987 when a group of brethren claimed that the Addendum did not require brethren to believe that a physical change took place in Eden resulting from the first sin, and that it did not exclude the belief that flesh was not inevitably “given to sin.” The group claimed that the Addendum was simply a memorandum of understanding which brought diverse views together.

This claim was refuted at the time. The following evidence was presented:

Brother George Darke (Snr) who was chairman of the Unity Committee stated emphatically that there was no allowance for separate interpretations or understanding of clauses 5 and 12 of the BASF in the context of the Unity Agreement at any stage of the deliberations.

Brother Eric Ritchie (a member of the Unity Committee) wrote: “There is absolutely no evidence in my mind, remembering back over 30 years ago that the addendum, or Bro. Carter’s words or his attitude indicated in any way a compromise so that two divergent views on the Atonement, the nature of Adam and Jesus, could be held within the framework of the Accepted Basis of Unity.”

A report issued to Reunion ecclesias in August 1959 by the Burwood (NSW) ecclesia states the following under the heading: Basis for Reunion: “The Basis for Reunion in Australia required the acceptance of the B.A.S.F. without reservation and fellowship restricted to those sound in the One Faith. The Cooper/Carter Addendum forms part of that basis and it has been alleged that the Shield ecclesias added this Addendum in order to permit the retention in fellowship of brethren and sisters who could not endorse the B.A.S.F. … Investigations have proved that such a charge is utterly false, and that the Cooper/Carter Addendum was added, not to be a reservation of the B.A.S.F. but merely as an explanation of how clauses 5 and 12 of the statement are to be understood.”

The Addendum was a clarification, not a vehicle permitting accommodation of different views.

  1. I have heard it said that a simple assent by brothers and sisters to the words contained in the Unity Agreement without further explanation or addition is a sufficient basis for fellowship. How do you view this statement?

Genuine unity cannot be achieved on the basis of solely reading out words in a statement without engaging the understanding. As Brother Carter wrote: “Unity is a unity of faith, however, and that involves agreement on essentials” (Unity Book page 10).

The Scriptures constantly emphasise the need to believe, understand and articulate our faith:

“For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed” (Rom 10:10-11).

“I give thee charge in the sight of God, who quickeneth all things, and before Christ Jesus, who before Pontius Pilate witnessed a good confession” (1 Tim 6:13).

“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (1 Pet 3:15).

True unity is characterised by a common understanding, not a casual assent without real knowledge. Hence fellowship of the spirit is preserved when we are likeminded (Rom 12:16; 15:5-6; Phil 2:1-2; 2 Cor 13:11). A superficial reading of a statement of faith cannot produce that like-mindedness.

This is why understanding the Truth is constantly emphasised in the Scriptures:

“And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true” (1 John 5:20).

“Through faith we understand…” (Heb 11:3).

“Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things” (2 Tim 2:7).

But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it” (Matt 13:23).

“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee” (Hos 4:6).

“Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men” (1 Cor 14:20).

“Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures” (Luke 24:45).

May it be that we all fulfil the apostle’s desire to be “filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding” (Col 1:9).