In Part 1 of this two-part series, I pointed my readers to Lionel’s (from “A Better Covenant“) post called “There’s Fellowship and Then There’s Fellowship.” Lionel suggests that a three-tier fellowship (some closer than others) will create or demonstrate unity among believers.
My desire in this series is to consider the boundaries to these different levels of fellowship or relationship. At the end of my previous post, I asked these questions:
Do we set the boundaries [of fellowship or relationship between us and other people]? Should we set the boundaries? Do other people set the boundaries? Should we allow other people to set the boundaries? Are there boundaries beyond our control? How do these boundaries aid or hinder unity among the church?
To begin with, we should recognize that some boundaries are completely beyond our control. For example, I have never met most of the people that are alive today in the world. Therefore, I cannot have a relationship with them at any level. However, I believe that according to Scripture the love of God compels me to be ready to begin a relationship with anyone that God brings into my life.
Also, some people will not allow you to build a relationship with them. We cannot control what other people do or don’t do. We have neighbors that we’ve tried to get to know. We’ve invited them to our house, invited them to their favorite restaurant, and talked with them while we’re all outside. But, they do not want to get to know us better. We can’t control this. However, once again, we can be open and ready to build a relationship with them (and others) whenever the opportunity arises.
For the most part, our concern should not be with those relationships that are “fenced” out due to reasons beyond our control. What about other relationships?
First, there are legitimate reasons for refusing to have fellowship (or build a relationship) with someone. We see some of these in Scripture. For example, if someone calls himself (or herself) a brother (or sister) in Christ and yet lives a consistently immoral (and unrepentant) life, then we are to refuse to fellowship with them. As Paul says, “Do not even eat with that person.” Similarly, if someone denies the gospel, the deity or humanity of Christ, refuses to work to support him- or herself, or is acting divisive toward other believers, then we should refuse to fellowship with that person.
Are there other reasons to refuse fellowship with someone? This is the crux of the issue. Is it valid for us to choose whom to fellowship with and whom to refuse to build a relationship with based on other factors (that is, factors that are not listed in Scripture).
If someone were to suggest that race, economic status, educational level, ethnicity, or nationality were a reason for choosing to withhold fellowship (or refusing to build a relationship), most Christians would disagree. Yet, we often choose to withhold fellowship for other reasons. For the church today, the biggest reasons for withholding fellowship or choosing not to build a relationship would be organizational membership (“church membership”) and doctrinal differences, especially related to salvation and the end times.
Are these valid reasons for creating boundaries… either boundaries for starting relationships or allowing relationships to deepen?
At this point, I would argue that these are not valid reasons to withhold fellowship. However, I will also admit that I don’t know what it would look like to build relationships with those who differ from me in many of these areas. I welcome these types of relationships, primarily because I think they would be beneficial in helping me live for Christ. I also think that fellowship between people who are different from one another would better demonstrate to the world the love and acceptance of God in Christ Jesus.
So, what do you think? Besides the scriptural reasons that I listed, are there other valid reasons for withholding fellowship (or building deeper relationships) with someone? How do we decide what those valid reasons are? How do we decide that those reasons are valid?