1) How can we truely define who is in fellowship with God?

The apostle John outlined the basis of fellow- ship with God in these words:

1 John 1:3 – “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.”

1 John 1:6-7 – “If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.”

This instructs us that the teachings of the apos- tles (the light, i.e. an account of what they had seen and heard), together with a corresponding walk of obedience in that light, brings us into fellowship with God and each other.

When the Apostle Paul contrasted the life of believers before and after their conversion, he wrote: “That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:

But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ” (Eph 2:12-13). Fellowship and unity with God are only available “in Christ Jesus”.

A believer is only “in Christ” when they have, through faith, obeyed from the heart that form of doc- trine (the gospel) delivered by the apostles in the

Scriptures and have been fully immersed into Jesus Christ (Mark 16:15-16; Rom 5:1; 6:3-11,17).

From these quotations we learn that there are three key requirements to being at one with God and in fellowship with Him, namely belief of the one gospel, full immersion through baptism and subsequent obedience to the commandments of Christ. If any one of these elements is missing then there can be no true fellowship with the Father and the Son.

2) How much truth does someone need to know in order to be saved?

The following Scriptures are all given in a context relating to eternal life and salvation and they help us to identify the essential doctrines needed to obtain that salvation:

Mark 16:15-16 – belief in the one gospel and baptism (the one gospel that was preached to Abraham and is comprised of the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ – Gal 3:8; Eph 4:4-5; Acts 8:12; Gal 1:6-9; 2 Tim 1:10)

John 3:14-16 – a belief in the atoning work of Jesus Christ

John 4:22 – an understanding that salvation is of the Jews

John 5:24 – an understanding of the words of Christ concerning resurrection and judgment

John 6:47-69 – an understanding of the bread and wine and a participation in that feast

John 17:3 – a true understanding of the Godhead of the Sonship of Jesus Christ

Rom 5:6-21 –  an understanding of the salvation from sin and death in Christ’s atoning work and the righteousness imputed by faith and given as a gift of grace

Rom 8:24 – an understanding of the “hope” – described elsewhere as “the hope of Israel,” “the hope of the resurrection” and “the hope of the promise made of God unto the fathers” (Eph 4:4; Acts 23:6; 26:6; 28:2; Heb 3:6)

Rom 10:9 – a belief in the resurrection of Christ

1 Cor 15:1-28 – an understanding of the gospel (the knowledge of God v34) outlined by Paul in this chapter, which included:

  • the significance of the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ
  • the introduction of death into the world by man’s transgression
  • the second coming of Christ
  • the kingdom of God on earth
  • the resurrection of the dead at the Lord’s second coming
  • that Jesus is inferior to and subject to his Father
  • the handing back of the kingdom to God when death is finally removed
  • that Adam was the first man
  • the promise of immortality – life in an incorruptible, spiritual body

Heb 3:18–4:9 – a belief in the “rest” portrayed in the kingdom of God (Note that “unbelief” precludes salvation)

1 Tim 4:1  – a proper understanding of the doctrines related to “devils”1

2 Tim 2:16-18 – that man is mortal and does not possess an inherent immortal soul

2 Tim 3:15-17 – an understanding that the Scriptures are inspired by God and provide the source of the wisdom needed for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus

Another way of determining essential doctrines to be believed is to examine the book of Acts to ascertain what constituted the “apostles’ doctrine” that was being preached as a basis of fellowship (Acts 2:42). These teachings included:

  • the death, resurrection and ascension to heaven of the Lord Jesus Christ (2:23-36)
  • the humanity of our Lord (2:22)
  • faith, repentance and baptism for the remission of sins (2:37-41)
  • the second coming of Christ to judge the world (3:19-20; 17:30-31)
  • the promises made to Abraham (3:25-26)
  • the teaching that there is no salvation outside Jesus Christ (4:12)
  • the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ (8:12,25)
  • the real purpose of the Lord’s sufferings (8:30-38)
  • the sonship of Jesus Christ (9:20)
  • that Jesus Christ is the Judge of the living and the dead (10:42)
  • the promises made to Abraham and David (13:22-39)
  • that God made the heavens, earth, sea and all things therein (14:15; 17:24)
  • that justification comes by grace and not by keeping the Law of Moses (15:10-11)
  • the hope of personal resurrection from the dead (24:15)
  • the hope promised to the fathers (26:6), and y the hope of Israel (28:20)

The details relating to these fundamental doctrines can be found in the Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith (BASF).

3) Can God allow for misunderstanding in those who genuinely seek Him in the churches?

God is conscious of the frailty and weakness of man (Psa 103:14) but at the same time He asks that mankind seek Him and the wisdom that He offers with all their heart (Isa 55:1-7; Jer 29:13; Prov 2:1-5).

However, this question is asking, “Which is more important to God – sincerity, or an understanding of Bible truth? Will God condemn a genuine churchgoer who has an incomplete understanding of the Gospel?”

Once again we let the words of Scripture answer the question. When the Lord was speaking to the woman of Samaria he pointed out a deficiency in her understanding. The Samaritan beliefs were the closest religion to the Jewish faith in the whole world, but he said to her:

“Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit (i.e. sincerity – Josh 24:14) and in truth.”

It was not a matter of sincerity or truth – it was sincerity and truth.

A similar point was made by Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:8 when he spoke about the need to partake of the Lord’s memorial feast in “sincerity and truth”.

There are many sincere people both inside and outside the church. Sadly, those associated with a conventional church have been deceived by the lies promoted by their church. This deception began in the first century and has continued until our time (2 Tim 3:13). The cause of this deception was highlighted by Paul, “because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved”. The apostle went on to depict the rise of the church as the “mystery of iniquity” and taught that it would continue to deceive until its destruction at the Lord’s second coming. He went on to emphasise that those who continue to be associated with this system and its erroneous teachings could not be saved. (2 Thes 2:7-12).

4) God’s plan and purpose is much greater and grander than our relatively small community. Others must surely be involved.

God’s plan is to fill the earth with His glory and to achieve this He has called out of the nations “a people for His name” (Acts 15:14). This calling often excludes the wise of this world because God has “chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty” (1 Cor 1:20;26-27).

In Scripture, large numbers are no indication of acceptance before God. In fact, the opposite is often true. Hence we read of the believers being called a “remnant” (Rom 11:5; Rev 12:17) and described as the “few” (Matt 22:14; Rev 3:4). The Lord taught that “wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matt 7:13-14).

When the Lord returns he will ask the question: “shall he find [the] faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). This question implies that there will only be a small number who still cling to the fait when he returns.

We are not aware of any other community worldwide (and the internet has allowed us to search widely), which holds to our understanding of the Scriptures. That is not to say that an individual or group here and there might discover saving truth for themselves and sometimes, in the providence of God, they are brought into contact with Christadelphians to enjoy a deeper association around the truth of the gospel.

5) Shouldn’t fellowship be based on common ground and not on the negatives we don’t agree on?

The Truth is overwhelmingly expressed in positive terms, however our Lord and the apostles did not shy away from “negative” teachings. For example, the Master often used the word “cannot”. “Ye cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt 6:24). “All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given” (Matt 19:11). On three occasions he stipulated the reasons which preclude discipleship: “Ye cannot be my disciples” he said (Luke 14:26-33). He warned Nicodemus, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). The Lord was quite prepared to teach the negatives as well as the positives.

The apostles taught in the same way. If we take Paul’s first letter to Timothy, as an example, we can see that he raised nine “negative” issues with him (1:6-7; 1:19-20; 2:12; 3; 4:1-3; 4:7; 5:11-15; 6:3; 6:20). The Apostle Peter excluded Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism and Atheism, to name but a few, from giving eternal life when he spoke about the name of Jesus Christ in this manner: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

We have, in our Statement of Faith, teachings that are expressed in both positive and negative clauses. Brother Roberts writes the following on this topic:

“At first sight, it might appear superfluous, and even unwarrantable, to set forth points of non-belief as a basis of faith, but a moment’s reflection will dissipate this impression, and reveal the negative side of faith to be of equal value with the positive. Every affirmative proposition has a converse. Every “yes” has a “no;” and if a man is not prepared to boldly accept that “no,” it shews his “yes” is not worth much. For instance, if a man profess to believe in the God of Israel, he is bound to be able to say that he does not believe in the gods of the heathen. If he were to be timorous about affirming the latter, would it not show that his belief in the God of Israel was no belief in the real sense, but merely a fragment of ancient polytheism, which recognised different gods for different nations? Is it not part of a true profession of faith in God to be able to say boldly that we do not believe in any of the deities of heathen imagination? Would any even “Christian” community recognise the faith of a man who hesitated to commit himself to this negative? Does not the acceptance of any truth involve the repudiation of everything opposite to it? and would not hesitancy to repudiate the opposites, show uncertainty and indecision with regard to the positives?

If a man shrink from the rejection of the fictions of so-called Christendom, it is a sure sign that his apprehension of the verities of the gospel is very weak, if it is not altogether non est. Positive belief—(that is full assurance of faith)—on one side, necessitates and produces positive non-belief on the other. A man heartily believing the truth will heartily reject error; and if he does not heartily do the latter, it is an infallible proof that he is incapable of heartily doing the former. Hence the propriety and necessity of exacting the non-belief of truth-nullifying fables as a corollary to the reception of the truth in its positive form. On this foundation, the Birmingham ecclesia take their stand, and will have fellowship with none who are not prepared with themselves to maintain the purity of the truth.”

(The Christadelphian 1866, pages 180-181)

6) Is a person who still holds our beliefs acceptable even if he goes to a church which doesn’t care about his beliefs?

God wants men and women to come to “the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4) and those who respond to this understanding are invited to come out from the institutions they worship in and be separate in their service to God (2 Cor 6:14-18).

The apostle John wrote these challenging words in 2 John 1:7-11:

“Many deceivers are entered into the world, who confess not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an antichrist. Look to yourselves, that we lose not those things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward. Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.”

In penning these words under inspiration, the Apostle John is informing us that those who do not preach the true doctrine concerning the nature and work of our Lord are deceivers and antichrists. Furthermore, if anyone supports these individuals by receiving them and collaborating with them, then they fellowship their evil deeds. Remaining in fellowship with a church supports their ideals and values and teachings, or in the words of John, “their evil deeds”.

7) There is a vast spectrum of people who might be “in the church” with a range of beliefs that in some cases may be quite similar to our own. How different to our beliefs do they need to be in order to be walking in darkness?

To say that there is a “vast spectrum” of people with a range of beliefs similar to our own is to overstate the case. The Truth consists of a number of key first principles, which when taken together constitute the truth of the gospel (Gal 2:5,14). A number of religious organisations may teach some elements of that truth but we are not aware of any other group who holds them all like we do.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses are one of the few groups who do not believe in a Trinity, but they hold fast to the Lord’s pre-existence and deny that God has any further purpose with natural Israel. The Pentecostal churches believe in the second coming of Christ to the earth, but teach the rise of Anti-Christ when the Lord will reveal himself in Jerusalem. Some fundamentalist churches believe in the inspiration of Scripture, but embrace different forms of evolution. All of the churches, however, teach the immortality of the soul and the pres- ence of a supernatural devil working in the affairs of mankind. Furthermore, none of the churches understand or teach the real truth of our Lord’s atoning work.

The absence of key saving truths and the pres- ence of many unscriptural doctrines means that those individuals, who may hold an element of truth are still in the dark: “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isa 8:20).

We have seen from the answer to question 2 that there are many saving truths that are fundamental to salvation: “Without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh unto God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him” (Heb 11:6). The reward of a life in heaven is not the reward God is offering.

(To be continued)

References

1  The Greek word is demons – Vine: “among pagans an inferior deity, whether good or bad”. “Demons are the spiritual agents acting in all idolatry. The idol itself is nothing, but every idol has a demon associated with it who induces idolatry, with its wor- ship and sacrifices.” This teaching subsequently led to the belief of a supernatural agency that was responsible for promoting evil in people – a forerunner of the modern teaching relating to the Devil and Satan.