Proper Respect Between The LORD’S Churches
Elder O. B. Mink
Now In Glory
“Salute you one another with an holy kiss. The churches of Christ salute you (Romans 16:16).
The last sentence of this verse will be our text for this message, “… The churches of Christ salute you.” This salutation to the church at Rome was not merely Paul’s or restricted to him personally. It was also from the church he was presently with, and from those he was accustomed to visit. Yea, the salutation was from the churches of Christ. The salutation was not empty speech, but carried with it an affectionate and prayerful concern for the overall well being of their sister church at Rome. In each of Paul’s personal greetings to the churches of Christ, we find these words, “Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.” All of Paul’s church epistles begin with this loving and God honoring salutation, i.e., Romans 1:7.
The church which I pastor, and represent as editor of this paper, salute the churches of Christ, and all that call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. We greet you with affection, and prayer for your continued health, that we all may be living exhibitions of divine love and grace.
Commonality of purpose and doctrine genders in us concern for our sister churches, this concern leads to communion with them, from which we derive many spiritual benefits. Where there is lack of respect between churches, communion suffers, sometimes to the point of abbreviation, and in some instances to the point of abrogation. We do not mean to imply that communion between churches should never be broken, but we do say without fear of contradiction, every church should do all in its power, this side of a compromise of truth, to maintain fellowship with every other New Testament church.
CONTROVERSY IS NO STRANGER TO BAPTIST CHURCHES
Controversy is bound to come up in each church, and often between churches, but controversy can be resolved without the sacrifice of respect. The first Baptist Church in Jerusalem was no stranger to controversy. It was controversy in this church that gave birth to the office of Deacon. The account is recorded for us in Acts 6. “And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians*against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word. And the saying pleased the whole multitude …” (Acts 6:1-5). A solution was arrived at, and all involved were pleased with it. (*Hellenistic Jews, not Greeks by ancestry, but by language).
Controversy is healthy where the spirit of conciliation prevails, but controversy with an antagonistic spirit can reduce a great church to such a low that it can never regain its effectiveness and harmony. This is true with a particular church, and it is also true relating to churches in their sister relationship. Paul said to the churches of Galatia, churches plural mind you, “For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another” (Galatins 5:13-15). The devil is delighted when two saints in the same church are bitter toward one another, and he must be ecstatic when two of the Lord’s blood bought churches are trying to undo each other. Therefore, a double portion of humble pie should not be too much to eat in order to defeat the waster of churches.
THE GENTILE MEMBERSHIP CONTROVERSY
There arose controversy in the first church concerning the baptism of Gentiles into the church. Peter was led of the Holy Spirit to preach the gospel to the household of Cornelius. They repented of their sins, then Peter asks, “Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord … And when Peter was come up to Jerusalem, they that were of the circumcision contended with him, saying, Thou wentest in to men uncircumcised, and didst eat with them. But Peter rehearsed the matter from the beginning and expounded it by order unto them … when they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life” (Acts 10:47-48,11:2-4, 18). Those who contended with Peter over this matter had only heard part of the account, but Peter rehearses the whole matter in their hearing, filling them in on the details, and refers to the six brethren who accompanied him to the Gentile household. Then the contenders held their peace and glorified God for what had been done.
The problem was solved by the church coming together in a proper attitude, with proper respect for one another. Most of the internal problems which confront the church could be settled by the church coming together in a worshipful attitude, airing the problem in the spirit of love, and keeping in mind that the chief purpose of assembly is to worship God. Wedding and funeral services in a New Testament church are under the authority of the church and not under the authority of the bride or bereaved, thus it is they should be designed so as to worship God. This being true of wedding and funeral services, how much more should the business meetings of the church be significant regarding the worship of God in them? One of the indispensable questions every applicant for membership should be asked is: Are you willing to be bound by the majority rule of this church? A clear affirmative should be the only acceptable answer. Recognizing the authority of the church, having respect for one another, and a heart determined to worship God is the effective formula in resolving problems in the local church. With this kind of attitude one can pray at the close of the business meeting, “Lord, bless those people I voted for, and those I voted against.”
THE JERUSALEM AND ANTIOCH CHURCH CONTROVERSY
“And certain men which came down from Judea (unto Antioch), taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. When therefore, Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them they (the Antioch church) determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question” (Acts 15:1-2).
The Jerusalem and the Antioch churches came together, and those who contended for circumcision had their say. Then Peter, who was a member of the host (Jerusalem) church spoke. At the conclusion of Peter’s comments, “All the multitude kept silence (manifesting respect) and gave audience to Barnabas and Paul” (Acts 15:12). After that, James, who it is believed was the Pastor of the host church spoke saying, “That we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God” (Acts 15:19). Having rooted out the circumcision error, concord was restored between the two churches, and the Jerusalem church decided to write letters unto the other churches stating their position as to circumcision. The conference is brought to a close and two brethren (Judas and Silas) hand carry a letter from the Jerusalem church to the Antioch church. “So when they were dismissed they came to Antioch: and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the epistle: Which when they had read, they rejoiced for the consolation … And so were the churches established in the faith …” (Acts 15:30-31; 16:5).
In Acts 15 we are given a record where two Baptist churches settled a dispute between them in a God honoring way, and the New Testament churches of today are equally capable of settling disputes which may arise between them, seeing they are indwelt by the same Holy Spirit as the apostolic churches.
Respect for sister churches is imperative in resolving hurtful differences between them. The absence of respect gives way to dishonor, and dishonor brings a hurried death to the once cherished sister relationship. Thus, it behooves the Lord’s churches to do all in their power to preserve respect for sister churches.
A CHIEF CAUSE OF CONTROVERSY BETWEEN CHURCHES
Receiving into membership people who have been excluded by a sister church is one of the main causes of controversy among true churches today. Every controversy which arises in a local church is not going to be settled peaceably, and the exclusion of irreconcilable members is inevitable. And I want to add for emphasis sake, sentiment should never be a deterrent to this necessary action.
Immediately following our text wherein. Paul says, “The churches of Christ salute you” he says, “Now I beseech you brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them” (Romans 16:17). Verkuyl says the term “avoid them” used by Paul in this text means, “keep away from them.” Which meaning would certainly bring a cessation of church intercourse for the excluded member.
The purpose of excisive discipline is to recover the erring so as he may be “sound in the faith” (Titus 1:13). Once a member has been justly excluded from the church he has but one honest recourse. That is, to own his error, repent of it, and seek the forgiveness of the church from which he was excluded. This action by the penitent results in a joyous welcome by the church with all rights and privileges of membership restored.
The law of courtesy, love, and respect for the sister church invoking excisive discipline should serve to deny membership to the excluded person in any of the Lord’s churches prior to restoration to membership in the disciplining sister church. If the disciplining church has gone out of existence, the excluded person may be received into another church by confessing his error, and being sorrowful for it. To neglect these conditions in restoring the excluded is to make a farce out of church discipline. Nevertheless, a sad and true commentary could be written regarding the deterioration of respect between churches regarding this matter. A church that takes into its membership a person justly excluded from a sister church shows disrespect for the sister church, and nullifies the discipline of the sister church. Moreover, the receiving church makes herself a candidate for stern rebuke from the Head of the church, Jesus Christ. In plain language, it is a dangerous practice, and should be avoided for the sake of the disciplined member, for the sake of one’s own church, for the sake of the sister church, and above all for the honor of Him Who bought the church with His own precious blood. To be justly excluded from a true church is to be out of fellowship with that church, and to be out of fellowship with the church is to be out of fellowship with the Lord. To be out of fellowship with the Lord is to be out of fellowship with all the Lord’s churches. Therefore, to receive the justly excluded person into membership would be an affront to God.
A child, being justly disciplined by its parents, may become angry, leave home, go to the home of its mother’s sister, and ask to take residence in her home. A wise and concerned aunt would counsel the angry child, and send it home to her sister and its loving parents. We need to understand that spiritual relationships are vitally more important than temporal earthly relationships, and are to be handled with the utmost care, for they have eternal consequences connected to them.
Church independence and autonomy does not grant the right for one church to cancel the proper action of a sister church. Yet, some inconsiderate person will remonstrate by saying, “No church has the right to tell another church who or who not to take into its membership.” That point is well taken, but there is another side to it. Every New Testament church has the same commission from the Lord. That commission is to observe all things whatsoever the Lord has commanded, and to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth. It cannot be honestly denied that the receiving of a person into membership who has been excluded by a sister church nullifies the disciplining power of the sister church over that person, and greatly impedes the power of the sister church in carrying out the commission assigned her by the Head of the church. The Lord endowed His churches with power to attract, and power to repel. For a church to disregard the exercise of the repelling power of a sister church is to incur the disfavor of God, for in so doing the receiving church diminishes the efficiency of the sister church. A church would have to be ultimately naive not to be grievously affected by some sister church taking into membership a person who has been excluded from her membership. For the excluding church not to be grieved would show a critical lack of informed judgment. Furthermore, for either of the churches involved to think fellowship can continue between them as before is to be self deceived and the most destructive lie is the one a person tells himself.
True churches should not receive people into their membership who are under the disciplinary action of a sister church. The question may be posed, “How about when a church errs in the discipline, and unjustly excludes a member, can we not receive them?” It is possible for a church to err in its discipline of a member, but not very probable. Then too, who is better qualified to judge in this matter, the church or the excluded person? When it is ascertained that a church erred in excluding a member, and is not willing to rectify the situation, then the excluded person may be, and ought to be received into one of the Lord’s churches. Yet, it remains where there is a question as to the propriety of the action of the sister church in excluding the applicant, the church whom the excluded person makes application for membership, should contact the excluding sister church about the circumstances leading up to the discipline. Such action is bound to serve the good of both churches, and tend to reconcile the disciplined person and the excluding church.
Where these steps are neglected and a sister church receives into her membership one who has been excluded by a church, gives the disciplining church a basis for a just grievance against the receiving church. The offended church would be within its rights to restrict fellowship with the receiving church. Yea, they would be just in formally breaking fellowship with the inconsiderate church.
May God grant us the grace to continue respect for our sister churches, and to help them in bringing honor to our God.
Return To O.B.Mink Page
Return To PBC Home