The preamble to the Basis of Fellowship set out on pages 13–15 of the Unity Book includes the following : “… a clear basis for ecclesial unity has now been formulated… The basis arrived at and which is offered as a means to ecclesial association is as follows”. We should not be surprised that at that exciting time of reunion those terms “ecclesial unity” and “ecclesial association” should figure so prominently. The Basis of Fellowship included firstly “General Beliefs”, a positive statement of the elements of fellowship, including the Scriptures, the Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith with “the explanations provided by Brethren Carter and Cooper” (the Carter- Cooper Addendum). Secondly under the heading “Fellowship” were set out the circumstances where disfellowship of an individual, or dissociation from an ecclesia would be necessary.

The first clause under this head reads:

“(a) Where any brethren depart from any element of the One Faith, either in doctrine or practice, they shall be dealt with according to the Apostolic precept and that extreme action would be ecclesial disfellowship of the offender.” (Matt 18:15–17; Titus 3:10–11)

In their letter to the 1956 Adelaide Conference, brethren Cooper and Carter pointed out the responsibility of individual ecclesias in the matter of fellowship. They described “an ecclesial responsibility to the Lord” and added that “that responsibility is ours in our own ecclesia”. Christ gave clear instructions on dealing with matters of “trespass”. Where an offending brother will not respond to personal and private entreaties, his ecclesia must become involved. Then “if he neglect to hear the ecclesia, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.”

Since matters of doctrine were at issue at the time of re-union, it is natural that the fellowship clause would speak of “doctrine and practice” inthat order. Titus 3:10 is quoted: “A man that is an heretick after the first and second admonition reject.” The apostle Paul follows the spirit of Matthew 18 in requiring earnest efforts at recovery before disfellowship. And the wording of the fellowship clause, “that extreme action would be ecclesial disfellowship” carries the implication of strenuous efforts at recovery before an ecclesia will take such a step.

The second of the fellowship clauses reads:

“(b) If it is established that an ecclesia sets itself out by design to preach and propagate at large, false doctrine, then it would become necessary to dissociate from such an ecclesia.”

The clause is carefully worded, its proscriptions bearing the influence not only of what is Scripturally proper, but of Brother John Carter’s experiences with re-union in North America and the UK prior to his visit to Australia. Some, with understandable zeal, have felt that where an ecclesia fails to meet the requirements of the first of these fellowship clauses, and retains in fellowship a brother teaching wrong doctrine, that other ecclesias ought to withdraw fellowship from that ecclesia. This approach has been described as ‘block disfellowship’. Our Unity Agreement in these fellowship clauses does not countenance such action. Our Lord’s words to the failing Sardis ecclesia are pertinent: “Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy” (Rev 3:4).

It is not enough for one, or even a few in an ecclesia to be doctrinally in error. Dissociation from an ecclesia will apply only when the ecclesia as a whole actively teaches and promotes that error.

Finally the third of the fellowship clauses reads:

“(c) The course of action necessitated by the above clauses (a) and (b) will be regulated by the principles of the Scripture and follow the spirit of the Ecclesial Guide, Sections 32, 41 and 42.”

All of us want to be treated with love, mercy and compassion. So ecclesias will likewise exercise these qualities in deciding fellowship matters. But a failure in response must be met with resolve to “purge out the old leaven”. Brother Carter sternly urged such action where necessary. A review of the Ecclesial Guide sections referred to will be profitable for all. The sound Scriptural wisdom displayed therein by Brother Roberts is the reason ecclesias have seen fit to adopt the Guide as a basis for ecclesial arrangements and relationships for over a century.