This writer, with the uninhibited zeal of youth,
felt for a number of years that he knew all that was worth knowing about
“fellowship”. But changing circumstances provoked a serious and
prolonged re-examination of the foundations of his “pure fellowship”
position, and he was led at last to conclude that there is a “better
way” consistent with the commandments of Christ. He now holds a different
understanding of “fellowship”, with not quite the certainty of
earlier times, but rather what he believes is a more realistic awareness of the
imperfection of all things human (including this book!).
Some of the results of those studies are now
offered to the brotherhood, with the prayer that they might somehow encourage
brethren of all “fellowships” to embrace the true
“purity” that is never distinct from “peace”. May the
Lord when he returns find his disciples endeavoring, in all humility, to keep
the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph.
Certain chapters in this study were first
published as articles in The Christadelphian, The Testimony, The Logos,
and The Tidings. They are now somewhat modified for inclusion
I wish to express my gratitude to the many
brethren whose thoughts and expositions appear herein. I have tried always to
give references, so that verification and further study may be possible. (In
this connection, the student should find useful the index of quotations from
Christadelphian writings, located at the end of this book.)
Several articles are worthy of special
1. Robert Roberts: “True Principles and
Uncertain Details; or, The Danger of Going Too Far in our Demands on
Fellow-Believers”, The Christadelphian, Vol. 35, No. 407 (May
1898), pp. 182-189. This article has been reprinted at least twice in the same
magazine: by C.C. Walker (Vol. 60, No. 708 — June 1923, pp. 248-256) and
by John Carter (Vol. 92, No. 1097 — Nov. 1955, pp.
2. Robert Roberts: A Guide to the Formation
and Conduct of Christadelphian Ecclesias (commonly referred to as The
Ecclesial Guide), published in several editions. Of particular relevance are
Sections 32 and 36 through 42.
3. Islip Collyer: At least four articles are
a. An Appeal to Christadelphians,
published in booklet form by the Christadelphia
b. “True Principles Governing
Fellowship”, The Christadelphian Vol. 61, No. 721 (July 1924), pp.
c. “The Scriptural Principles Governing
Controversy”, The Christadelphian, Vol. 61, No. 722 (Aug. 1924),
pp. 342-345. These last two articles are also reproduced in the book
Principles and Proverbs.
d. “A Pure Fellowship”, The
Christadelphian, Vol. 68, No. 807 (Sept. 1931), pp. 408-410. This article
was reprinted in Vol. 95, No. 1128 (June 1958), pp. 258-260.
4. Alan Eyre: “Problems of Fellowship in
the First Century Ecclesia”, The Christadelphian, Vol. 108, 1971.
This is a series of five articles commencing in the January
5. The Committee of The Christadelphian:
“Fellowship: Its Spirit and Practice”, The Christadelphian,
Vol. 109, No. 1291 (Jan. 1972), pp. 7-13. This is also available separately
in pamphlet form from The Office of The Christadelphian.
6. H.A. Whittaker: “Block Disfellowship: Is
It Taught in the Bible?”, The Testimony, Vol. 43, No. 512 (Aug.
1973), pp. 310-313, and No. 513 (Sept. 1973), pp. 340-345.
The above articles, as well as all the others
cited in the body of this book, should be read in their entirety if
In truth, however, we must realize there is only
one authority in spiritual matters; it is only insofar as the writings of
brethren illuminate the principles of God’s Word that they are useful.
Otherwise, they may become a snare; today, we are confronted with a sad
spectacle: We see almost a dozen mutually exclusive “pure”
fellowships, each appealing to the names of the same “pioneer”
brethren almost as though they were inspired prophets. Thus they seek to justify
their separation from the other eleven “groups”, but especially from
the “Central” or “Reunion” Fellowship.
In arbitrarily choosing the Scriptures to be
emphasized in any study, the writer leaves himself open to the criticism of
being less than objective. This charge may be inescapable in a subject as
volatile as “fellowship”. How does one walk the
“tightrope” between an intolerable leniency on the one hand, and the
vehement censure of any and every deviation on the other — a habit that
has become all too common among us? I ask you, the reader, to give due weight to
every relevant passage, and balance all arguments according to their Biblical
evidence. Perhaps if we approach the Word of God as we should, humbly,
prayerfully — and with just a hint of godly fear — then we will
achieve that balanced approach where justice and mercy, goodness and
severity, patience and action walk hand in hand.
I have attempted to consider, as far as possible,
only the Scriptural aspects of “fellowship”, and not the
circumstances of the many previous divisions. These would themselves constitute
material for a sizeable volume, but in my estimation this would not be nearly so
profitable a study. No “fellowship” of today is precisely what it
once was. And experience shows us the impossibility of judging perfectly even
present-day situations. How much less can we be certain of all our
“facts” (i.e., motives and circumstances) in a 50- or 100-year-old
controversy? It is next to impossible to know the circumstances as they truly
existed at the time of these divisions, or the minds of the brethren involved.
Therefore, it would be very difficult for us to make an unbiased judgment as to
the particular fellowship issues as they may have existed in their days. A
little more Christadelphian humility in such matters might very well be the
wisest course for all of us.
What does require further investigation is
the very concept of “first principles”: What precisely are
“first principles”? And how can they be Biblically
determined? These are important questions because, no matter how well
Biblical principles of fellowship may be understood, there is still the matter
of where and how they should be applied. And being able to draw clearly defined
and consistent lines between first principles and matters of lesser importance
is crucial in this process. It is my hope to deal with these important but
difficult matters in a further work — to be published, God willing, within
the next year or so.
It is to the Bible that we turn, then, to
determine the responsibilities of true “fellowship”, both individual
and ecclesial, in our present-day circumstances. And yet is not
“fellowship” distinctly more than a mere
“Truly our fellowship is with the
Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write unto you,
that your joy may be full” (1 John 1:3,4).