Over the last several weeks we have been studying about why authority is important in our Sunday morning sermons. I have discussed/plan on discussing a variety of issues that make the church here different than most denominations in town. As I have tried to state each time we gather together to discuss these issues, we have looked at the fact that having the same standard is necessary for unity. Today, I want to expand upon that idea.
Amos 3:3 “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” The implication here by Amos is no. Two people cannot work together unless they are in agreement. A marriage is never successful when the husband and wife don’t agree on how to raise the kids, where to live, how to spend the holidays, what “religion” they are going to be, and so on. Likewise, members of a church cannot find a way to work together unless they are agreed. What if person A believes that salvation is made possible when a person says a little prayer, person B believes that salvation is given unto all men freely because Jesus died on the cross and person C doesn’t believe salvation is granted unto man until he washes away his sins in baptism? How could they sit in the same room and try to teach the alien sinner who knows nothing about God? The answer is they can’t.
Gal. 2:9 “and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.” James, (the brother of our Lord), Cephas (Peter) and John (the son of Zebedee) extended a hand of fellowship to Barnabas and Paul upon hearing about the good work they were doing among the Gentiles in and around Antioch. They felt that the good work that Barnabas and Paul were doing among the Gentiles was to be commended, so much so that they agreed to let Paul continue focusing upon the conversion of the Gentiles, while the three of them focused upon taking the Gospel unto the Jews. This extension of fellowship was made AFTER hearing about what they were teaching, what they were doing. They couldn’t agree to work together until AFTER it was learned that they were in agreement in teaching and doctrine.
I Tim. 5:22 “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure.” Here Paul warns Timothy to be careful about who he endorses. The act of laying on of hands was not an act that God created in New Testament times. It was a common practice during the 1st century to show one’s approval of another. A king might have his predecessor lay his hands upon his head in a showing that this will be the next king over a country. In I Tim. 5:22 I think Paul is talking about anointing (or appointing) elders in a church. Timothy should not too hastily appoint men to serve as elders. Why? For starters, Timothy needed to be certain that these men were qualified. But, as Paul points our here, Timothy’s reputation is at stake. If he appoints a person that is full of sin, then Timothy will be looked at as a person who didn’t have an issue with this elder’s actions. (Even thought he would clearly take issue with the sin). Likewise, when we say that we are going to work together and we are not in agreement, we risk appointing a person that teaches, practices, or behaves in a manner that others attribute to ourselves. For instance, when I first started preaching I recall having a conversation with a middle aged woman on salvation. I learned as a result of the conversation that she had previously attended a church of Christ in her youth. One she turned in her visitors card, the person replied with “Don’t you know you cannot go to Heaven if you’re a Baptist.” It didn’t matter what I said to her, or what I should her in the scriptures. She assumed that all churches of Christ and the members thereof think alike, teach alike and believe alike.
So, what does all of this mean concerning the right hand of fellowship? I believe the scriptures teach that without being untied in belief that it is not possible to work together or worship together. I believe that this means that conversation need to be had in order to accept a person’s request to be made a active member of a church. Great dangers can occur when a person goes out and begins teaching falsehoods in the name of our church. In Acts 15 the church in Jerusalem felt the need to correct some damage that had been done. Certain persons, who had not been extended a hand of fellowship, claimed that they had and were upsetting the faith of the Gentiles in and around Antioch. I think it is prudent to best avoid these types of issues by coming to terms with whether or not we can work together.
Grinnell church of Christ
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A Right Hand of Fellowship
Volume 7 Issue 45