“ These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the ecclesia of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” 1 Timothy 3:14,15

In England recently different religious groups decided they would take steps to bring about greater unity among themselves. To do this they invited young people from different groups to join together in a ‘soup kitchen’ to serve the poor and needy in their local area. The objective was that through social co-operation they would see there was re­ally no difference between them. They were all Christian and really nice people. The differences they held about the Scriptures was not so important that they should not co-operate in this and similar ways. There was a conscious and deliberate deci­sion to exclude older members because of actual or perceived ingrained dislikes they had for each other. In other words doctrinal differences were to be ignored for the sake of unity. In Sydney this year the Uniting Church invited the local members of the Jewish Synagogue to join with them in a venture similar to that in England. Together they provided meals for the poor and needy in Ashfield. The objective was to get around the differences they had by an activity of a non- provocative type which would not put any doctrinal pressure on either group. In this way a trust would develop with the prospect of a deeper unity. These two situations all amount to the same thing—a desire to put aside differences of under­standing on what the Scriptures teach about God, His purpose and way of salvation, in favour of a social friendship based on mutual toleration. Is this the way to build the temple of the living God?

Can we Fellowship Other Religions? This may seem a bizarre question and we can easily push it aside as not worth considering. The answer is obvious. No! If we stopped reading now and wrote down the reasons you would give to young people in your meeting or to an interested friend who wants to know why we do not fellowship other religions, what would you write? The answer to the question about fellowshipping other religions can at least come within the following broad headings:

  •  What is an ecclesia?
  •  What is fellowship?
  •  Why is belief important?
  •  Why do we read the Bible year after year?

What is an Ecclesia? • The Bible Uses the Expression “the House of God” Every household has a starting point and the foun­dation of the ecclesial house has been laid by God Himself. The expression “house of God” is used in Hebrews 3:4–6 where we learn that we belong to the household of Christ, providing we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end. What does that mean? As brethren hardened their hearts in the days of Moses and departed from the living God, so those in the first century were exhorted to take heed not to depart from Jesus Christ because of the prevailing climate in their day. Verse 12 states: “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God”. They were to hold fast to what they had in Jesus Christ and the hope that was contained in his sacrifice. They were to rejoice because in Christ Jesus is eternal glory, forgiveness, and acceptance with God. This is the house they belonged to. They were to be encouraged and to encourage each other to hold fast to what had been made possible in Christ Jesus. We need a fellowship of men and women who encourage this and not some other confidence and rejoicing which will never be realised. In 1 Timothy 3:15,16 Paul speaks further about the household of God. He explains that certain behaviour is expected in the house because it is not just any household but one that belongs to the living God; or since the definite article is omitted before “living”, it is the ecclesia of living God. In other words God lives in it. How does He do this? By the way His teachings influence the hearts and minds of those in His household. The list of qualities that explains the secret of godliness is given in verse 16. These aspects are more than statements of belief. They are intended as a consequence of belief to change our attitude, behaviour, and lifestyle. The trust and hope we have, and importantly, the strength of our trust and hope, will influence the direction of our life and determine the kind of temple we become.

• The Bible Describes Believers as “the Temple of God” A temple is a building that is usually constructed for the purpose of worship. It has a foundation and pillars. The temple Paul refers to in Corinthians and in Ephesians is ourselves. Within ourselves we worship God because our hearts and minds dwell upon the will and ways of God, which in turn have become our will and ways. We are the temple of God only because that which inhabits us is the at­titude shaped and fashioned by reasoning upon His Word. We, through His Word, are allowing Him to determine our course in life. We are the temple of the living God in so far as His mind and ways are determining our course in life. The expression “temple of God” is used in 1 Corinthians 3:16–17; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:21. Each of these quotes demonstrate the way God views us. In 1 Corinthians 3:16,17 we read : Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are”. We are the temple of God only because the spirit of God (the attitude that is shaped by the Word of God) dwells in us. We are not to accommodate in our midst that which would destroy the holiness of God. We, as individuals and as an ecclesia, are to be an habitation of God—a holy temple set apart for God’s purposes. To introduce into our midst teachings contrary to the holiness and love of God is to destroy God’s influence. The fact that God will destroy those who defile His temple shows the seri­ousness of the matter. How then can we fellowship those whose belief is unsound in relation to Christ. We are to build the temple of God not destroy it or cause it to be unstable. In 2 Corinthians 6:14–18 Paul presents some startling contrasts: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what com­munion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty”. The temple of God is a separate group of people who are God’s people. God will receive those who come out from unbelief, turn their back on dark­ness, and no longer follow unrighteousness. This is not an elitism built on superiority. It is rather a separation based on God’s holiness. To be a son or daughter of God causes us to avoid certain relation­ships and encourage those relationships that make us God’s people. God is to inhabit the temple. This makes the temple holy. The temple is to be built on the teach­ings of the apostles and prophets (Eph 2:19–22). This defines for us why the temple is holy. Jesus Christ forms the significant part of the temple as his life has become to us the centre and power of our faith. What we believe about His work and the work that is ahead of him ensures that the structure of our belief, hope, and love is sound and well founded. We are fellowshippers with the saints because of the work of Jesus Christ and our heartfelt thankful­ness for that work. How can other religions with their false views concerning Christ bring about a healthy household, where all members strive together? What kind of spirit would exist in an as­sembly of people where a mixture of true and false views were promulgated? Could there be anything more debilitating and destructive?

• The Bible describes believers as “the body of Christ” A body is one unit which consists of many parts working in unison for the benefit of the whole body. We become part of the body of Christ when we are baptised into him as a result of faith and repentance. We are encouraged to abide in him (John 15:5), to hold fast (1 Thess 5:21). The expression “body of Christ” is used in Ephesians 4:12–16, 1 Corinthians 12:27 and Ro­mans 12:5. Speaking of the purpose of the spirit gifts to the Ephesians, Paul sees them as contributing to unity among brethren, that they might be of the same mind, and edified so as not to succumb to the deception of others who through specious arguments could lead believers into opposition to the will of God itself. Rather they were to speak the truth in love, looking on the eternal interest of others and causing the body to grow through a good understanding of what it is to be in Christ. To understand how salvation is made possible in Christ and what that involves is an important aspect of “the knowledge of the Son of God”. So an ecclesia can be described as a house, tem­ple, or body. It is an amalgam of men and women who through faith and repentance have been bap­tised into Jesus Christ and who seek, through the Scriptures, to allow God to be in their thoughts and life. They abide, and remain, in Christ by seeking God to influence their way of thinking by what He has revealed in His purpose, power, character, way of salvation, and His wisdom. They are an assembly of people who seek to encourage each other in the attitude, behaviour, and activity that is relevant to a life in Christ and is consistent with the eternal purpose of God.

What is Fellowship? It is basically a sharing of the same things. The things that are shared determine the kind of fel­lowship enjoyed. We are in fellowship because we share a common faith in what God has revealed about Himself which includes His power, purpose, way of salvation, character and wisdom. We have Jesus Christ as our head. Fellowship is about encouraging each other to seek first the kingdom of God (Matt 6:33); to con­tinue in the apostles’ doctrine, fellowship, breaking of bread, and prayers (Acts 2:42); to share the fruits of the spirit (Gal 5:22–26); to develop personal re­lationships (Col 3:12–16); to attend to the spiritual, physical, mental, and welfare needs of others (Matt 25:34–40, Acts 4:34–35, Phil 2:19–24, 1 John 3:17). It is impossible for the churches to meet the first three requirements because their doctrinal position is contrary to the fundamental teachings of the apostles. By believing in a false hope they place themselves outside the way of salvation. To join with them places us in the same pathway. Practical fellowship can be illustrated by Paul’s writings. Some of the brethren were eating in the idol’s temple. They saw no harm in doing so. To the general population it was a place where the idol was worshipped and because an idol was nothing they believed that they were quite entitled to eat there. In 1 Corinthians 10:17 Paul informs us that fellowship occurs when we participate in worship together. The object of worship determines the kind of fellowship. Sharing in worship constitutes a form of religious worship with the object of the worship, whether it be Yahweh or an idol. So eating meat at an idol’s temple meant that they were in fellowship with what the idol represented, notwithstanding their belief that an idol was nothing. Fellowship with an idol actually occurred, because the worship was based on a recognition of the idol and what it represented. This is made quite clear in verse 20. Some might argue that this does not apply to other Christian religions but to non Christian groups.

To this we would reply that the beliefs held by other religions are throw-backs to pagan teachings and their worship is a denial of the revealed truths of God and about God. Paul concludes from his arguments that to fellowship those who teach another form of worship is to provoke the Lord to jealousy.

The apostle John wrote in 2 John 7–11 that any person who arrived teaching that Jesus did not come in the flesh was not to be welcomed into the meeting house—it was common in the first century for meetings to be held in houses. Here we have a case where fellowship was to be denied because of an incorrect view about the nature of Christ. To accommodate such teachings was to be a partaker or fellowshipper of the evil deeds that would arise. In the context of this article we are not to welcome in fellowship those people who believe doctrines contrary to the Word of God.

Why is Belief Important?

Every teaching in the Bible which shows the thinking and response of God is a revealing of His character. The Bible reveals the teachings of God and the teachings about God. The teachings of God, of necessity, must be consistent with what He claims about Himself. For example God is truthful, faithful, holy, righteous, longsuffering, loving, gra­cious, merciful and so on. He is delighted to have this claim put to the test. How do we do that? We do it by looking at what the Scriptures show God has done in response to the attitudes, behaviour and ways of man.

If, for instance, a person believed that his reward is an immortal soul living eternally in heaven, then that person would be denying the truth of God, and the faithfulness of God. It would be a denial that God keeps His covenants. He covenanted with Abraham to give him a possession in the earth, that he would be an heir of the world. So, a belief that a person lives eternally in heaven means that person is unwittingly and ignorantly denying that God is faithful and true to His covenants. How many other ways does such a false belief corrupt the character of God? Too many ways to include in this short article. Do a person’s good moral and social habits override what one believes about God? We can conclude from the matters raised in this paragraph that the answer is a resounding No.

To worship God in spirit and in truth means exactly that.

Why do we Read the Bible Year After Year?

We are conscious of the fact we are human, with a constitution that has a bias towards pleasing itself. Through neglect our thinking resorts back to its animal outlook. We read and re-read the Scriptures in order to ensure that we do not lose sight of the eternal purpose of God, the character of God, the power of God and the way of salvation. A spiritual mind can only be developed by constantly attending to the spirit Word.

We read the Bible because the counsel of its teachings produces profitable marriages, abates depression and loneliness, encourages trust, truth­fulness, and those attitudes which help us to focus on the immediate and the eternal purpose of God. Without the influence of the Word we neglect the power of God unto salvation.

In summary, we cannot fellowship other reli­gious groups! To do so is to partake of their evil deeds. God seeks people to worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). Our doctrines are distinc­tive because they are based on Truth and this means that we cannot worship with a church group, or share with idolaters in an idol’s temple and then partake of the memorial feast.

The reason and purpose of a meeting determines its viewpoint and takes precedence over the indi­vidual views of its members. If a meeting believes that eternity will be spent in heaven, then if you join with them you are fellowshipping those views, irrespective of what you personally might believe. If a church meeting believes in a supernatural devil, then that becomes the basis of its fellowship and if you participate you are embracing the same doctrine. We cannot claim that our personal belief cancels out the wrong views of this kind of meeting. It does not.

Fellowship is based on walking in the light. This implies that we understand the light of God’s Word and we are prepared to walk in its path. Failing to grasp both these principles means that we will end up walking in darkness, having no fellowship with either the Father or the Son. Let us appreciate the need for holiness, knowing how to behave ourselves in the ecclesia of living God.