What Exactly Are & What Exactly ARE NOT "THE TEST(S) OF FELLOWSHIP"?

Discussion in 'Baptist Theology & Bible Study' started by wpe3bql, Jul 26, 2015.

  1. wpe3bql

    wpe3bql
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    [NOTE: Maybe this should be moved to another BB forum--and if so--you moderators and/or administrators can move it at your discretion.]

    While I've seldom heard this topic publicly discussed from the pulpit, every so often when pastors (or evangelists) gather together, I'll hear "Pastor X" tell those around him that "such-&-such" doctrine or teaching or practice, to him, either is or is not a "test of fellowship."

    I suppose "Pastor X" is entitled to his opinion(s), but, OTOH, I've never come across a so-called Official List that delineates exactly what are (&, by default, what aren't) THE "Tests of Fellowship"

    Not having a detailed list of THE "Test(s) of Fellowship," just how exactly is a person supposed to know what these so-called "Tests" are?

    It's been my experience over my almost 50 years as a lay Christian that maybe there really isn't a precisely detailed and very specific list of these so-called "tests"; instead, it seems as if it's really up to the individual pastor to determine exactly what he considers to be (and, again, by default, what exactly are NOT) THE tests of fellowship.

    To this lay Christian, that can make deciding which local Baptist church he ought to visit/attend when he's vacationing in an area that is far from his home area a very confusing set of circumstances. I would want to honor God by attending a very "sound" Baptist church, regardless of whether or not I'm "at home" or vacationing some place that's located several miles from home.

    It'd sure make it a lot easier for a lay Christian person like me to know which churches I ought to attend when I'm "on the road," and also which church(es) I need to avoid at all costs.

    So, what exactly are the so-called "Test(s) of Fellowship" by which a Baptist lay person can know at which churches he'd be welcomed---and at which local churches he needs to avoid at all costs?

    Your input on this would be greatly appreciated....However, I'm looking for very detailed, specific information, not merely a generalized statement such as, "Look for a church that follows the Bible." After all, most conservative, evangelical Baptist churches will all claim to be following the Bible, won't they?

    Thanks in advance for whatever help you can give me on, IMHO at least, a very perplexing problem for a lay Christian such as I am.
     
  2. Martin Marprelate

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    The 'Tests of Fellowship' will vary from church to church, depending on the sensibilities of the person making the test and the sort of fellowship being contemplated.
    Some Baptists would not have fellowship with Paedobaptist churches; others will do so. Someone on this board has described what he calls 'replacement theology' as a heresy, so presumably I won't be welcome at his church. For my part, I have no such scruples about Dispensationists and they are more than welcome round at my church, though possibly not to preach there.

    When it comes to supporting persecuted Christians I make no distinctions, because the persecutors tend not to distinguish between Protestant or Roman Catholic.

    As a member of Gideons International I fellowship with my fellow Gideons regardless of denomination. All Gideons:-

    - believe in the Bible as the inspired, infallible, inerrant word of God.
    - believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the eternal Son of God.
    - have received Him as their personal Saviour.
    - endeavours to follow him in his daily life.
    - believes in the eternal punishment of unrepentant sinners.
    - is a member in good standing of a Protestant church.
    - is not a member of a secret society (eg. Freemasons).

    On those bases I find that I can have good fellowship with other Gideons, and I have never suspected that a fellow-Gideon wasn't saved, though I am glad that one or two of my colleagues don't go to my church! Some are very badly taught, but the work we do together (giving out Bibles and N.T.s) does not require us to be great theologians or united in every doctrine.

    I hope that is some help to you.
     
  3. plain_n_simple

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    You might google search first the area you are going to. Look at demographics on wikipedia for instance. Then do a detailed church search for the same area (Baptist-Reformed-Freewill-etc.) Then look for facebook links to each church and read their comments, concerns, the latest series. The church website can give you a generalization of what you want. Listen to a couple sermons. You can also search the pastor and others for events they might of been involved in, newspaper articles, TV spots, city awards, etc.
     
  4. wpe3bql

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    I appreciate both the two responses that are posted above. Both proved to be somewhat helpful, but they still don't go into as much detail as I would like to see.

    I realize that one church may not have exactly the very same set of "Test(s) of Fellowship" that another might have. Moreover, how strong a church might adhere a particular "Test" can also vary from time to time or from one set of circumstances to another.

    Here's some off-the-cuff examples:

    1) One church is adamantly KJVO...And I do mean ONLY! Another church may not be so much KJVO. Maybe it's not that strong in it's KJVO-ism, or maybe it's more KJVP, or maybe it's "any 'good' version will do.

    Will any one of these churches receive a member on promise of a letter from his/her former church? Or, in the case of the first example, do they tell a prospective member, "It's 'OUR WAY' or the highway! And don't let the door hit you on the way out, you heretic of heretics!

    2) One church practices open communion. Another one practices either close or closed communion. Who's right, and who's wrong?

    Would the differences between these two kinds of communion be sufficient enough so that they wouldn't accept a member on the promise of a letter from a church that practices a different kind of communion than the original church?

    3) Many things can--and have--split "good, sound" churches. EX: CCM vs. "Hymns-only"; "cell-based" churches vs. Only pastor-led corporate services that usually occur only twice on Sun. & once on Wed. Which one's the ONLY Bible-based one, &, therefore, which one's inherently unscriptural?

    4) There can be other factors as well. One thing that I've come to notice in a few cases is the way by which a church decides whether or not a belief or practice should be considered (or rejected) a "Test of Fellowship."

    Just WHO makes this apparently decisive decision? Is the final decision left up to the entire voting-aged membership? Or is it left up to, e.g., the deacons or elders? Or is it solely left up to whoever happens to be the pastor?

    I can't find anything specific in the NT that comes right out and plainly tells me which person or group of persons should be given the sole authority to determine for the entire church membership--regardless of age or position, etc.--what belief(s) and/or practice(s) ought to be (or what ought not to be) a "Test of Fellowship."

    EXAMPLES: Jesus tells us the procedures a church should follow in the matter of church discipline in Matthew 18:15-17. But that doesn't seem to be the way(s) by which some belief or practice ought to be considered as a "Test of Fellowship."

    In Acts 1:15-26 we're told how the early church went about selecting a "replacement apostle" for Judas Iscariot. But that doesn't seem to address the question of who should have the overarching authority in a local church to determine what practice(s) or belief(s) are to be considered as "Test(s) of Fellowship."

    In Acts 6:3-6 we're told how the Jerusalem church chose what we now call deacons, but, that shows how men were chosen for this office, not who has the final say-so in determining whether or not a particular belief or practice should--or shouldn't be--a "Test of Fellowship."

    In several other Acts' accounts, we read how Paul ordained certain men to be elders in various churches in parts of ancient Greece and/or in Asia Minor.

    It doesn't always tell specifically how these men were chosen, or why other men weren't chosen, but simply that some men were ordained to be elders. These instances aren't talking about belief(s) and/or practice(s) at all...they're referring to men being ordained.

    To summarize, I find no specific passages that give the one and only procedure(s) by which a particular practice and/or belief should, therefore, be (or not be) considered as a "Test of Fellowship."

    It's quite possible I've overlooked some NT passage(s) that address this situation. If I have, I'd certainly want to know where I can find these passage(s).

    Then too, if the final decision is the sole prerogative of the pastor, what happens if:

    A) A pastor comes to a decision that he was wrong in assuming a certain belief or practice that he--and, therefore, the entire church--held to in the past? IOW, once he thought that being KJVO was the only position that was orthodox and all other positions on Bible versions were absolutely heretical. Then he has a change of heart on this issue.

    Does he then say to all who will hear him that, "I was wrong, or misled, on believing what I did concerning Bible versions. Therefore, I no longer will consider any non-KJVO positions to be unbiblical....From now on, this church will be more open to allowing its members to 'fellowship' with those who aren't died-in-the-wool KJVO advocates!" So then must the entire church immediately change its criteria about Bible versions to accommodate the pastor's new position on Bible versions? Will the church now re-admit members who were dismissed on grounds of heresy if they weren't "KJVO-ists," charged with "sowing seeds of discord among the brethren"?

    B) What happens if the current pastor leaves his current church to assume pastoral duties/responsibilities at another church? Must the pastoral "search committee" be beholden to every belief or practice that the church's former pastor advocated? Or, are they "at liberty" to possibly consider a man who, for example, is somewhat more receptive to some kinds of CCM rather than just "Hymns-Only"?

    If that's the case, are they, by so doing, telling the entire church that possibly "our beloved, but now departed, former pastor" was WRONG in his stance regarding what is "appropriate" worship music (and, hence, what isn't "appropriate" worship music)?

    That could possibly open up a can of worms come time for the entire church membership to vote on the candidate that the "pastoral search committee" presents to the entire congregation, couldn't it?
    ------------------------------------------------------
    I'm not a pastor, nor have I ever held any "official" position in any of the churches in which I've served in my almost 50 years of being in God's family here on earth. But I still firmly believe that every church needs to conduct her business in a decent, orderly, and most important of all, a strict Bible-based way.

    I don't believe any church needs to base its preaching or teaching or how it deals with not only her own members, but also how it deals with other churches "of like faith and order" merely on some manmade emotion(s) or customs or tradition(s), especially if they're not clearly supported by the NT's example(s), command(s), or precept(s).

    "Human traditions," as good as they might seem, have ABSOLUTELY NO PLACE when it comes to dealing with either individual, personal matters of conduct, or, more importantly, how a church corporately deals with both her internal matters as well as dealing with her external matters.

    Didn't Jesus Himself condemn the self-righteous folks when He said, "But in vain they do worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men" (Mt. 15:9)?

    If we as NT Christians can't find a clear NT command, example, or specific precept to back up our conduct, then maybe we need to reexamine our ways. If our ways are clearly in line with the NT, then they probably are fine. But, OTOH, if our ways cannot be supported by a clear NT command, example, or precept, maybe we need to re-think them. Maybe we're operating more by our limited human attitudes and customs than what God would have us to do.

    Perhaps some of you may have just read my post(s) in this thread and come to the conclusion that I spend my time "Majoring on the 'Minors.'" Why am I seemingly getting bent out of shape over things that matter very little to you? But, just because something may have little importance to you, or your church, that doesn't mean that they should be ignored.

    Let's take the Bible's example of leaven. A little drop or two at first may not seem to be much, but if a person allows leaven to remain, it'll wind up ruining the whole loaf (1 Cor. 5:6, Gal. 5:9).

    Is that what you'd want to have happen to you personally, or to your church corporately? I don't think so.

    So, what's my point?

    Many of you BB readers are pastors. If you've served in any pastoral position for some time, I imagine you've seen what were once "good, sound churches" split or completely cease existing over what may have originally very petty, childish matters (the color of the carpet, where the piano and/or organ is placed, what size/color the drapes ought to be, etc.).

    Yes, they are ridiculous and shouldn't have any place among otherwise mature Christian people, but yet when we yield first to emotions or family ties, what happens?

    Then we wonder why the non-believing world sees us as a bunch of babies pouting because "I didn't get my way!"

    Do actions/attitudes as this glorify God? They don't, and you KNOW they don't!
     
  5. Reformed

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    The difficulty in determining a "test of fellowship" (TOF) is its subjective nature. It begins first with you. What are your non-negotiables? You mentioned visiting a church on vacation. Subjectively speaking, the TOF in that situation would not be as critical as it would if you were considering membership.

    When my family and I vacation we travel to an area where Reformed Baptist churches are not plentiful. We decided to attend a Baptist church that holds to a high view of scripture and is more traditional in their worship style. It is important for us to be with God's people on the Lord's Day, even if we disagree with some points of doctrine. OTH, we do have a line that we will not cross. That line is completely subjective based on our theological convictions.

    Joining a church is a different matter altogether. Unless we are faced with "the only church in Mecca" scenario, we once again need to determine our non-negotiables. For instance, I would have a very difficult time considering a church that does not hold to the Doctrines of Grace. I would drive an extended distance to find a church that is Reformed or Reformed-leaning. For another person worship style may be a non-negotiable. I have dear friends who are into the Family Integrated Church movement. For them churches with youth groups or age segregated Sunday school programs rise to the level of breaking fellowship.

    The fact is that every local church will require some degree of compromise on our behalf. In my case, I just relocated from up north to a Southern state. There is a church nearby that holds to the doctrines of grace, but is also dispensational. Odd bedfellows to be sure, but it is a choice between that church, a 90 minute drive one way to a Reformed Baptist Church, or attending a Presbyterian church. We have not joined yet, but we are probably going to join the Calvinistic Church that holds to dispensationalism. I will be up front with the pastor and deacons about my exception to their doctrinal statement and see whether that is acceptable to them. If not, we will have to re-evaluate our options. So, I am willing to bend in some areas for the greater part of worship and fellowship.
     
  6. Iconoclast

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    very helpful response Reformed....

    wpe3bql

    This might be a good read to start to examine what might be at issue;

    http://founders.org/library/dagg-vol2/ch2/
     
  7. wpe3bql

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    Bro. Ref.---

    I completely understand from where you're coming and appreciate the fact that, as you posted, there are some doctrines/practices over which you will not compromise--especially those involving the Doctrines of Grace.

    I'm with you on that, but even though I also believe in the Doctrines of Grace, there have been a couple times where I was faced with the dilemma of, while personally holding to the Doctrines of Grace, it was either that or joining a church that didn't major on them, but neither did they denounce them, or joining no church at all.

    Here's one that faced me some 40+ years ago when I was only a 3YO "babe" in Christ:

    While there were other so-called Baptist churches in the area that claimed to hold to "the whole counsel of God," I could easily detect that, so to speak, their "walk didn't match up with their talk"; IOW, what they said they believed was quite different from how they practiced their supposed doctrinal position(s). I won't go into detail about this, for you probably already know exactly what I mean about things like this.

    I told the pastor exactly where I stood concerning the Doctrines of Grace, and he openly admitted that he too held to four of the five "TULIP points--the "L" was the only one about which he had problems.

    I told him and the deacons who were in attendance that I had no intention of carrying on a crusade to sway anyone in their membership (or even any visitors) to believe in the "L," or any other doctrine/practice that I held that differed from what this church practiced and what I personally believed. [There were a couple other practices over which "we" differed, but to me, they weren't "deal breakers."]

    With both parties having aired their position(s) on what potentially could be "problem areas," I was voted in as a member of this church. I served in several of its ministries (visitation, bus ministry, AWANA's, substitute SS teacher, sound system operator, and student in its "Bible Institute") during the four years that I lived in that area.

    If individual people asked me about my personal convictions concerning a particular doctrine/practice, I'd tell them what and why I believed, even if it varied somewhat from what that church believed/practiced. But, OTOH, I never encouraged anyone in that church to break away from it and start up a new church based on what I personally believed/practiced.

    That sort of thing is not what God called me to do. I would never join any church with the intention of coming into her membership just so that I could divide her membership over differences that I personally believe/practice that may differ from that particular church.

    IMHO, that is equal to someone bent on sowing "discord among brethren" (Prov. 6:19b)--something God hates (Prov. 6:16).

    I have enough to deal with concerning other shortcomings I have that create challenges in my walk with God. Adding to that something that His Word openly tells me is something He hates will definitely not make my responsibilities as His child to live a life that honors Him any easier.

    Having said all of that, maybe you could PM me over what you personally consider to be the "bendable" areas as well as the "non-bendable" areas.
     
  8. Thousand Hills

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    As always well said, but I got to ask what's the deal with all youse guys moving south? :eek:
     
  9. Iconoclast

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    wpe3bql


    Here's some off-the-cuff examples:


    If a church says they are KJVO.....flee away it has a 90% chance of being a legalistic church with carnal legalists in control. The teaching will be shallow.


    Reformed gave good advice....search the scriptures on each issue, find an assembly who seeks to obey.



    This is why a confessional church has great advantage. They show up front what they hold and what you can expect...
     
  10. Iconoclast

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    We have to set things right.....your groceries go in a shopping cart,not a buggy. :eek::eek: Can anyone find a good bagel recipe? :rolleyes:
     
  11. The Biblicist

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    There are three essential Biblical based principles for determining fellowship.

    1. Everything the scriptures explicitly state are absolutely essential must be regarded as essential.

    For example, Jn. 14:6; Acts 4:12; Jn. 3:3-6; Gal. 1:8-9; 2 Thes. 3:6; Rom. 16:17-18; etc.

    2. Everything essential to distinguish New Testament Christianity from other world religions and predicted characteristics of apostasy.

    For example, The Biblical doctrine of God (Jn. 7:3), the Person and redemptive work of Christ (Jn. 14:6; Acts 4:12). The scriptures as final authority for faith and practice (Isa. 8:20; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). Prophetic charcteristics of apostate Christianity ("another gospel, another Jesus, another spirit - 2 Cor. 11:4). Forbidding of marriage and dietary laws (1 Tim. 4:1-6). Separation from a "brother" who violates such essentials (2 Thes. 3:6; 1 Cor. 5:11).

    3. Everything the Bible demands to be essential to perpetuate New Testament Christianity until Jesus returns.

    For example, the Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20). For example, the New Testament church institution with its qualified ministry and ordinances (1 Tim. 3:1-15; Eph. 3:21). For example, the perpetuation of the Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:16-17; Isa. 8:20).

    Finally, there should be room for differences among brethren on things the Bible does not explicitly define. Successfully marriages are not based upon uninamity of opinions, but only upon agreement upon essentials. No two people see everything alike. However, for fellowship or unity to exist there must be agreement on the above three principles in regard to explicit or necessarily inferred truths.
     
  12. Van

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    Lets put some flesh on the bones of John 14:6, No one comes to the Father except through Me. This says all non-Christian religions may offer wisdom in this life, but only offer eternal punishment in the next.

    So do we separate from those that say we must be tolerant of other religions, especially Jewish and Muslim.

    If we look objectively at the body of Christ, we see dozens, if not hundreds of differing local churches, all holding to doctrines that are distinctive. So rather than looking for TOF, perhaps we should define the Spirit of Unity?
     
  13. Martin Marprelate

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    I don't know whether this will be helpful, but my church, in the UK, is affiliated to the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches (FIEC). It is largely composed of churches that have left the British Baptist Union because of its doctrinal drift, but with many other free churches as well. Here is its doctrinal statement.
    https://fiec.org.uk/about-us/beliefs
    If you click on the 'Gospel Unity' link, you will also find the FIEC's position on that subject. It may be a good starter for a discussion. In the UK, there is an organization called Churches Together. Churches of all denominations join C.T.- Anglicans, Roman Catholic, Methodist, Quaker, Baptist- and in my town every other churches is tied in with it so that all inter-church cooperation goes through it, but of necessity there is no doctrinal statement other than that Jesus is Lord. We feel that this is not a sufficient basis for unity and stand apart.
     
  14. Deacon

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    First of all we're Baptists - it's fellowhip if food is served!

    ... it's good fellowship if it's barbeque chicken.

    Rob
     
  15. wpe3bql

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    Bro. Icon,

    If a church claims to be KJVO, that per se doesn't mean she is either legalistic or has shallow teaching. Maybe she does, but maybe she doesn't.

    In my nearly 50 years as a born-again believer, I was a member of 4 different churches that had in their Statements of Faith a clear indication that essentially "only the KJV will be used in all treaching/preaching times." FWIW that would have been 80% of all the churches in which I held membership, from 1966 to the present.

    For maybe the first half-dozen years as a child of God, the 3 churches (30% of my Christian life) to which I belonged claimed they were KJVO, but very little was said about that at any of their corporate services. IOW, a person would hardly know that church was KJVO unless he asked the pastor.

    Maybe it was because the particular church chose not to make KJVO a hobby-horse, choosing to focus on other more important matters such as reaching out to the lost people in their areas; maybe it was because it just wasn't "a hill on which that church chose not to die."

    These 4 churches were neither "legalistic," at least they weren't so according to what I considered to be "legalistic." Some people have differing ideas about what is "legalistic" and what isn't, but that's a subject for another thread, not this one.

    Moreover, all 4 of these churches had very excellent, deep levels of teaching. I learned about as much--if not more--in the half-dozen or so years I was in their membership ranks than any other 6-year period of my Christian life.

    Possibly your experiences with KJVO churches have been different than mine, but that's been my experience .

    Any church can over-empathize a doctrine or practice that, in itself, may be good and quite Biblical. I know of such happening.

    Thankfully, God never led me to a church like that!
     
  16. salzer mtn

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    My full fellowship with others is based on what their doctrinal viewpoint is about God and Christ. Do they believe the God of free will ? if so, how can two walk together except they be agreed. To view and teach God to be something he is not is high treason. It is the same to me as a Christian cannot stand to be around conversations of the wicked when they take the name of the Lord in vain. If someone was to misrepresent your earthy father and tell lies about him would it not upset you ? Could you have fellowship with them if they continued to do this ? If the Lord is dear to you, you cannot tolerate a injustice to him.
     
  17. Rebel

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    And what will you do in heaven, if you make it there with your present mindset, when you find yourself in the company of non-Calvinists?
     

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