Our Lord has the most beautiful bride in the whole world. She is a “pure virgin” (2 Cor. 11:2) and worth dying for (Eph. 5:22-33). In this latter reference, Paul makes sure that we don’t miss the comparison by noting, “This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:32). That beauty is both showcased and enhanced by the harmony, fellowship, and peace that exists among those who comprise his precious bride.
For this reason, we must work to protect that fellowship from stains and blemishes. Sometimes that means withdrawing fellowship from those who are living in sin and leading “an unruly life” (2 Thess. 3:6; cf. 1 Cor. 5). Such can be painful, but it is always best for the church. As the bride of Christ, the church’s purity and spiritual beauty are certainly worth protecting. At other times protecting that valuable fellowship means confronting, rebuking, and otherwise silencing those whose teachings would undermine that fellowship (Titus 1:10-11; 1 Tim. 1:18-20).
Yet, there are issues, disagreements, and conflicting conclusions that arise when we study Scripture. Some of these disputes have been discussed for years among brethren and some are unique to any given generation. Many of these differences do not constitute marking, silencing, or withdrawing. Sometimes we simply don’t agree on the interpretation or application of a certain passage. While we should be working toward agreement, in these cases the beauty of fellowship should be protected by practicing humility, showing grace, allowing for differences, and giving the benefit of the doubt. Instead, lines are drawn. Sides are chosen. Fellowship is restricted and labels are affixed.
Let’s face it, no one wants to be guilty of those things. No one wants to be called out, marked, or rebuked. No one wants to be considered a stain on the precious bride of Christ and labeled as “unsound,” “liberal,” or “false teacher.” Nor do we want to be known as sympathizers to sin or compromisers of truth. Yet, this very thing happens quickly and often leads to strained friendships and congregational relationships. The strain is made worse by newly developed suspicions and squabbling.
There is a phrase used in John 9 (just after Jesus has healed the man who was born blind) that seems applicable to this discussion. It would appear that the healing of their son had led his parents to believe in Jesus or at the least they were prepared to identify Jesus as the one who did the healing, but they didn’t. Why? The text says, “because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone confessed Him to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue” (John 9:22). Who wants to be put out of the synagogue? Who wants to be labeled a sympathizer? Who wants the moniker of blasphemer?
Friends, the fear of being put out of the synagogue still rests in the hearts of many good brethren because of these same bullying tactics. A threat of withdrawal, a slander of someone’s good name, the dismissal of a life lived in service to God, and an assumed guilt that is broadcast far and wide have bullied many a preacher, elder, and church member into accepting someone else’s conclusions about the faithfulness and soundness of other brethren. Shame on us.
May we all, as the Lord’s slaves, “not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition” (1 Tim. 2:24-25); and remember that love is kind, patient, not arrogant, and rejoices in truth (1 Cor. 13:4-7).