Full Text for The Scriptural Principles of Fellowship (Text)

CONCORDIA THEOLOGICAL QUARTERLY Volume 51. Number I JANUARY 1987 Contemporary Christian Music: An Evaluation ... . . .. . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . e m Preus 1 Parables of Atonement and Assurance: Matthew 13:4446 ........................... Jeffrey A. Gibbs 19 The Scriptural Principles of Fellowship.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . T o t h y D. Knapp 45 Book Reviews .... ....... . .. .... .. .. . ...... . .... . ...... . ..... .. . . ..... . .... 53 Indices to Volume 50 (1986) Author Index.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .69 Title Index. .. . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .73 Scripture Index.. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .75 Subject Index. .... . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . . .. . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..77 The Scriptural Principles of Fellowship Timothy D. Knapp The question of how Christians can demonstrate their unity under Christ is becoming increasingly important. There is a rising tide of ecumenical ac- tivity in our circles which threatens to swamp those who carefully try to ply these troubled waters. The pressure to be a part of these endeavors often sweeps aside a reasoned understanding of how God would have us react to those activities which compromise our confession as it embodies word and deed. True fellowship must be based on the words and teachings and life of Jesus Christ. Our Lord Himself insists on that. The implication is present when He commands His disciples to "make disciples of all nations, baptiz- ing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" (Matt. 28:19-20). Christ here is not speaking a word of law, but a word of Gospel. His concern is for salvation, not damnation. "Everything I have commanded you" is the criterion of fellowship with others. It is unthinkable for a follower of Christ to purposely sacrifice "everyting I have commanded you" or even anything He has commanded us on the altar of church fellowship. Jesus is the "light of the world" (John 8:12); whoever follows Him will never walk in darkness. By following Jesus, by "obeying all I have commanded you" churches will inevitably be able to join in true fellowship. Christ Himself said to the Jews who believed Him, "If you hold to My teaching, you are really My disciples. Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free" (John 8:31). Although the Scriptures never present a systematic body of doctrine, there is always the asumption that true and false doctrine do exist and that believers should stand guard against false doctrine. Christ opposes the false doctrine of Satan in Matthew 4:4 with the Word of God. Later, Jesus warns His followers concerning false prophets who are like ravening wolves amongst the flock (Matt. 7:15-20). Jesus' intent is to keep the flock separate from false teachers, not to unite with them. Jesus warns His disciples specifically about the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees" (Matt. 16:6, 12) which was antithetical to the teachings and purposes of Christ. When Peter introduces his version of false doctrine (Matt. 16: 21-22), Jesus totally rejects Peter's suggestion and corrects the situation: "Out of my sight, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men" (Matt. 16:23). 46 CONCORDIA THEOLOGICAL QUARTERLY There is yet another principle for fellowship put forth in the gospels. Jesus demands not only that His followers know and hold to His teachings, but that they acknowledge and confess them before men. Christ expects those who believe in Him and His teachings to bear witness to the same. Matthew records these words of Christ, "Whoever acknowledges Me before men, I will also acknowledge him before My Father in heaven. . ." (Matt. 10:32). Jesus makes similar statements in Mark 8:38 and Luke 12:8-10. If we are to be in fellowship with others, that fellowship, according to Jesus' will, must be based on agreement on all He has commanded. Christ has commanded not only aaxptance of Him and His teachings but also a confession of those teachings before men. This confession is not simply a verbal proclamation but, as becomes evident in the epistles, involves a confession through lifestyle also. The apostles, Christ's appointed spokesmen, went on to say much more regarding fellowship with others. The Galatian judaizers, the Corinthian h e , the Ephesian threat (Acts 2& 29-30), and many other challenges to the teacbgs of Christ in the pastoral and general epistles prompted "fellowship" directives from the apostles. They never hesitated to identi@ false teachers for the sake of the flock. They never skirted the responsiiity of denying apostolic fellowship to those groups whose teachings were perverting the faith. Equally, they often wrote warmly of those teachers and prophets who were emksaries of the Gospel, calling upon the congregations to welcome them. In this way they continued to live up to "all I have commanded you." The early Christians recagnized the authority of the apostles as Christ's messengers (Acts 2:42). The apostles themselves claimed to be teaching "all I have commanded you." The Apostle John writes, "we proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with His son, Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:3). Fellowship is based on what the apostles have seen and heard. Paul boldly pro- claimed "all I have commanded you," as is stated in Acts 20:27, "For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole counsel of God." Paul calls upon the church at Rome, by virtue of the grace of God given to him, to remember certain points (Rom. 15: 15-16). As one rereads the book of Romans, Paul's "certain points" are The Scriptural Principles of Fellowship 47 not simply a short shopping list, a Gospel stripped to the lowest common denominator, but a sweeping view that begins with God's wrath for fden man and continues through righteousness by faith, life through Christ, future glory, and present sanctification. Paul . . later warns the Chnstlans at Rome: "Watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them" (Rom. 16:17). Paul urges the Christians to separate from those who cause dissensions or divisions concerning any of the teaching they have learned. Since Paul teaches the "whole counsel of God," this command makes sense. Any teaching that departs from the whole counsel of God is an inven- tion of man and will serve only to confuse or contradict the "one true teaching." R.C.H. Lenski writes: "Paul's injunction is not to keep away only from total rejectors of the Gospel. What Christians ever needed such a warning? His injunction to keep away from believers who are errorists and teach falsely."' Paul's injunction to avoid such men is meant to be rigorous, be-cause "a little leaven leavens the whole lump" (Gal. 5:9), as Paul had already seen in Galatia and Corinth. The basis for church fellowship must be the whole counsel of God. Paul's advice to Lutheran pastors would be the same as it was to Titus and Timothy. Paul tells Titus to hold firmly to the trustwor- thy message as it has been taught. The result will be that Titus can encourage his flock with sound teaching and refute those who o p pose the trustworthy message, in season and out of season, in o p position to the teacher who rejects sound doctrine (1 Tim. 4: 14). Titus is called upon to defend the faith against false teachers. He is to warn divisive people twice, then separate from them if they remain in their error (Titus 39-1 1). What kind of errors constituted an offense worthy of separation in the early church? The following list of some of the offenses con- demned will give us an idea: 1. Insisting on circumcision (Gal. 2:l-5). 2. Engaging in sexual immorality (1 Cor. 5:l-7). 3. Engaging in other forms of immorality (1 Cor. 5:ll-13). 4. Denying the resurrection of the dead (1 Cor. 15). 5. Proposing that the resurrection of the dead has already oc- curred (2 Tim. 2:18). 6. Denying the Redeemer (2 Pet. 2:1, Jude 4). 7. Denying Christ's second corning (2 Pet. 3:34). 4 8 CONCORDIA THEOLOGICAL QUARTERLY 8. Denying God's Word (2 Pet. 3:34. 9. Disregarding the words and writings of the apostles (2 Thess. 3:1415). 10. Denying Jesus is the Christ (1 John 222-23). 1 1. Changing the grace of God into a license for immorality; de- nying the third use of the law (Jude 4). From this list it is evident that errors beyond denial of the Gospel in the narrowest sense may be reason to avoid fellowship with an individual or denomination. It is also evident that errors in practice as well as in teaching constitute an offense to the Christian com- munity. As Lutherans try to understand the scriptural principles for joining in altar and pulpit fellowship with others, the following points are clear: 1. Jesus demands obedience to His word (i.e., the entire Scripture). 2. Outward unity among Christians must consist of both teaching and practice. 3. False teachings and false teachers do exist and are to be avoid- ed by Christians. 4. False teachers may not necessarily be rank pagans. Scripture employs several key words which compr- the tatality of the faith. These words in their contexts provide us insight as we try to determine what is nemsary to altar and pulpit fellowship with others. We will limit ourselves to those contexts that have a direct relationship to the scriptural criteria of fellowship. Much current discussion has centered around the word "gospel" or euaggelion. The Gospel in the narrowest sense is the promise of forgiveness of sins and justification through Christ. Yet the Gospel in this sense is not the sole basis of altar and pulpit fellowship with others. The Word of God also employs the term euaggelion in a wider sense. Jesus sees Himself and His words as the content of the Gospel. Although the term euaggelion is used sparingly in the gospels, it ap- pears that John used the term logos in its place. In John 8: 31-32 Jesus promises the believing Jews that, if they hold to His words, they will know the truth and the truth will set them free. Later, in His high priestly prayer, Jesus calls upon His Father to sanctify the disciples in the word of truth that Jesus has entrusted to them. Paul talks frequently of the euaggelion entrusted to him. In Paul we see the vast scope of doctrine subsumed in the Gospel. Although Paul does not include an ordered outline of his Gospel, he does apply that word specifically to the following teachings: The Scriptural Principles of Fellowship 49 1. The Trinity. 2. The two natures of Christ. 3. The resurrection of the dead. 4. Justification by faith for Jesus' sake. 5. Election to salvation. 6. The Davidic ancestry of Jesus. 7. The fulfiUment of the Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. These points all appear in Romans 1: 1-6. Elsewhere Paul's gospel includes a recounting of the events of the crucifixion and the resur- rection (1 Cor. 15) and the return of Christ for the final judgment (Romans 2:16). In the broad sense it appears that Paul's Gospel also includes the proper use of the law (1 Tim. 1 : 1 1). In all cases the Gospel is in harmony with the word of God. It is through setting forth the word of God plainly, without distortion, that the gospel in all its richness and fidhess is revealed (2 Cor. 4:1-6). Again, a . . . - mmnmhtlc view of the term "gospel" as the basis for altar and pulpit fellowship is not supported by the Scriptures or euaggdon. The Greek word didache also has import in regard to fellowship. Only rarely does didache appear to reIate to one teaching (instances appear in Hebrews 6:2 and 13:9). Instead, the usual sense of didache is the whole of Christian doctrine. The word is used in this sense of Jesus' teaching (Matt. 728, 2233; Mark 4:2; 11:18; 12:38; esp. John 7:1617; 18:19) and the teaching of the apostles (Acts 2:42; 5%; 17:19; Romans 6:17, 16:17). With this usage in mind Karl H. Rengstorf writes: When the Synoptists speak of the didache of Jesus. . .they do not mean a particular dogmatics or ethics, but His whole didaskah, His proclamation of the will of God as regards both form and content. In John, too, ~Ydache comprehends the whole didasktin of Jesus and does not merely denote a com- pendium of His individual statements. Similarly, Matt. 16: 12: he didache ton Phmbion kai Saddoukaion has in view the whole of what the Pharisees or Sadducees didaskousin or Acts 2:42 the whole of what the Apostles adidaskon. Paul follows the same usage when he employs didache both for the totality of his didasktin and for the didaskein that might be necessary in individual cases (1 Cor. 14:6, 26).' Connected with this view of didache is the concept of didaskda and Scripture in 2 Timothy 3:16. Paul writes that all Scripture is 50 CONCORDlA THEOLOGICAL QUARTERLY useful for instruceion. One would surmise that all of Scripture con- tains the didache, the teachings to which Christians are to cling. It is through the Scriptures that men are thoroughly equipped. The word hetaodidaskalm gives us a further glimpse of the sense and importance of didache of Scripture. Rengstorf writes: The word presupposes a hderodidaskalos which is not men- tioned in the N.T. though the persons conmed are often pre- sent. The nearest approach to the term is Paul's description of the "gospel" of the Galatian Judaizers as h e o n e o n ho ouk estin d o : the name is wrongly claimed for their preaching because there is only one ewggelion and this is pro- claimed by Paul, any other being no gospel. It is in this light that we are to understand hetero in heterodidaskalein. It car- ries with it the proclamation of a hetera didaskaLia which is a perversion and is thus to be rejected.3 The occurrence of pseudodidaskalos in 2 Peter 2: 1 also carries the strong condemnation of any teaching that differs from the didache of Christ and the apostles as a false teaching introduced by false teachers, both of which should be rejected. Finally, pi& and homolqgia are closely related to each other and to the proper understanding of a basis for the external unity of the church. Pistis is used in various senses in the Scriptures. For pur- poses of this discussion pist& as "the content of faith" will be the matter to be explored. Galatians 123 uses pistis as the faith in a broad sense. Paul now proclaims the pisLis he once tried to destroy. This pLFtis is identical to Paul's maggeLion (discussed previously) and his didache, as he writes to Timothy: "If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, brought up in the truths of the faith and the good teaching you have fol- lowed" (1 Tim. 46). To fall victim to error is to abandon the faith (1 Tim. 41), to reject the faith (1 Tim. 1 : 19), or to wander from the faith (1 Tim. 6:21). HomoJqgia and p* become closely related to each other in commands to express the church's faith in confes- sion. Our active confession of the faith is implied in Jesus' words concerning the witness of Christians in Luke 12:8-10, Matthew 10:32-33, and Mark 8:38. This is a confession of the faith, of the teaching, of "all I have commanded you," of the Gospel. Faith and confession are intimately tied together in Romans 10:PlO and 2 Cor- inthians 4: 13-15. That which is held to be true is to be confessed The Scriptural Principles of Fellowship 5 1 before men. Again, in Hebrews 414, the church is told to hold firmly to the faith it professes. This confession may not be silenced but must contain the faith, the body of doctrine, for on it the true unity of the church rests. We are "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ Himself as the chief cornerstone. In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit" (Eph. 2:2@21). It is certain that Christ and the apostles placed the highest priority on the conservation and promulgation of the faith. Those congregations and individuals who held to the one true faith banded together in a visible, unified manner, always under the authority of the apostolic teachings. Those who misunderstood the faith or aspects thereof (Acts 1824-26) were corrected and, upon exchanging error for truth, restored to the community (Acts 18:27). Those who persisted in false teachings (e-g., 2 Tim. 2:16-18) were noted and avoided (Rom. 16:17-18). Lutherans today have the same privilege and obligation to conserve and promulgate the apostolic faith as did our predecessors. Where we joyfully and in unity of faith can join in common worship with others, we do it with vigor and enthusiasm. Where the faith calls us to reject common worship and substitute correction or rebuke, we do it with love, sobriety, and solannity. In any event, as we are faced with the temptation to ignore or compromise the faith, we must remain first and foremost people who hold to "everything I have commanded you." Endnotes 1. R.C.H. Lenski, The Intapretation of St. Paul's Epistles to the Romans (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1%1), p. 918. 2. Karl H. Rengstorf, 'Didache," in T h a o l ~ ~ c a l Dictionary o f the New Testament, ed. C k r h d Kittel, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, I1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1%4), p. 164. 3. Karl H. Rengstorf, " H e t ~ k a l a o , " in Wogid L M b n w of the New Testament, 11, p. 163. The Rev. Timothy D. Knapp is a pastor of Ascension Lutheran Church, St. Louis, Missouri.