Dear members of Good Shepherd Evangelical Lutheran Church,
Since questions have been raised regarding the doctrine and practice of our congregation related to church fellowship, I thought it best to clarify the teaching of Scripture on this subject with a number of statements so that all may know and understand where we must stand on these issues and avoid the sinful practices of syncretism (joining together in worship, prayer or religious activities with those of other religions and lodges who do not worship and serve the Triune God of the Bible or proclaim salvation by God’s grace alone and through faith alone in Jesus Christ) and of unionism (joining together in worship, prayer or religious activities with other churches and denominations which err in doctrine and do not teach in full accord with the Bible).
1. The Bible teaches that it is every Christian’s duty to do the following: a) “Beware of false prophets” (Matthew 7:15ff.); b) Mark and avoid those who cause divisions and offenses in the church by preaching false doctrine, advocating a sinful lifestyle or teaching and insisting on points not commanded in Scripture (Romans 16:17f.); c) Admonish and rebuke sin and error (Matthew 18:15ff.; Titus 3:9ff.; Ephesians 5:8-14); d) Refrain from joining together in fellowship (through prayer, worship, Communion, mission work, etc.) with those who persistently hold to false doctrine or live in open sin (Ephesians 5:8-14; 2 John 8-11).
2. It is a sin to add to the teaching of Scripture or take anything away from it. Thus, it is wrong to reject what the Bible clearly teaches, as many teachers and churches do even though they bear the name Christian, or to add to God’s Word and insist upon human views, interpretations or applications of Scripture, such as did the Jews with their traditions received from the elders (Deuteronomy 4:1ff.; Isaiah 8:20; Matthew 15:1ff.; Mark 31ff.; 1 Timothy 6:3-5; Revelation 22:18-19).
3. The Lord’s Supper is to be observed according to Christ’s institution with neither the elements or words changed nor the meaning of Christ’s words altered or changed. All who partake of the true Lord’s Supper receive not only bread and wine but also partake of Christ’s sacrifice for the sins of the world; that is, His body and blood which were given and shed for all for the remission of sins (Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:19-20, 1 Corinthians 10:16ff. and 11:23ff.).
4. Since St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 11 admonishes believers to examine themselves before partaking of the Lord’s Supper and rebukes them for their abuses, Christians who wish to partake of the Sacrament are to be instructed in Biblical doctrine and in what is offered and given in the Lord’s Supper and are not to partake of the Lord’s Supper lightly but are to examine themselves before coming to the Lord’s Table, confess their sins to God and receive God’s absolution and forgiveness in Christ Jesus.
5. Since St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 10 plainly states that when we eat of the bread and drink of the cup we are one with the altar, partaking of the altar in the Lord’s Supper is a profession that we agree with what is being taught and offered and given from that altar. Christians are not to partake of the altar of the Lord and then also partake of the altar of devils by joining together in idolatry, false teaching or sinful worship (such as attending or partaking of the Lord’s Supper in churches which err in doctrine and often err also in the doctrine regarding the Lord’s Supper).
6. Based on 1 Corinthians 10 and 11, Christian churches and their pastors have a duty to practice close communion (as opposed to open communion in which everyone is invited to come forward), and only those who profess the true and Biblical doctrine and who have examined themselves in accord to God’s Word are to be invited and welcomed to the Lord’s Table. Those known to be living in open sin and impenitent or who are spreading false doctrine or supporting the spread of false doctrine (often by membership and contributions to churches which err in doctrine) must be denied the privilege of partaking of Christ’s Supper unless and until they repent.
In summary, this means that God, for our own good, commands that we hold to the true and faithful teaching of His Word and reject what is false. That we join together with those who hold to and teach the truth of God’s Word and that we take note of and avoid those who persist in doctrinal errors or live in open and impenitent sin.
We go to church and join together in worship and prayer, the hearing of God’s Word, and in the reception of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper only in those churches which faithfully adhere to God’s Word and rightly administer the Sacraments. We take note of and avoid those teachers and churches which preach false doctrine or mix human errors and opinion with the truth because we realize that every error has its origins in the lies of the devil, who seeks to lead us away from Christ and the comfort and assurance of the Gospel (cf. John 8:44).
To help explain this teaching of Scripture, I will include below my signature the short and hopefully simple explanation of this article of faith from my book, A Simple Explanation of Christian Doctrine. I also ask any who have questions or concerns to contact me.
How should we practice church fellowship?
Since Jesus commanded us to disciple the nations by going, baptizing in the name of the Triune God and teaching them to observe all which Jesus taught and commanded (Matthew 28:18-20), and since Jesus warns against false prophets who come to us in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15-23), we, as Christians, are to discriminate between churches and teachers which are faithful to Christ and that which is taught in His Word (orthodox churches and teachers) and those which are not faithful to Christ and His Word (false and heterodox churches and teachers) and to practice church fellowship (joining together in those things which one would do with fellow believers, such as worship, prayer, reception of the Lord’s Supper, evangelism, mission work, etc.) only with those who are faithful to Christ and His holy Word.
Jesus said: “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32). For this reason, the early church “continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42).
That we not be led astray from the truth, the apostle Paul warned: “If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; he is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself” (1 Timothy 6:3-5).
Thus, we see that we are commanded to continue in Jesus’ word and doctrine – the teaching of Holy Scripture – and to avoid and withdraw from those who teach otherwise and do not consent to the words of our Lord Jesus and the teaching of the Word of God.
So serious is the threat of false doctrine and the deception of the devil, God’s Word warns us: “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1); “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Ephesians 5:11); “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18); “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple” (Romans 16:17-18); “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: for he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds” (2 John 9-11); and “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us … And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed” (2 Thessalonians 3:6,14).
Christians, like the believers at Berea (Acts 17:11), compare what is taught with the Word of God and reject those churches and teachers who remain unfaithful to the Word. They condemn as sin the unionistic practices of our day in which church fellowship is practiced and church union is sought without regard for full adherence to the Scriptural Doctrine.
And, a church’s faithfulness to Christ and His Word is to be judged, not only by its acceptance of and subscription to an orthodox creed or confession but by what is actually taught and practiced in the church.
As the apostle Paul warned, errors in both doctrine and practice will continue to trouble churches in this world (Acts 20:28-32; 1 Corinthians 11:19). But those churches which are faithful to Christ and His Word will, through Scriptural admonition and discipline, continue to combat and remove such error from among themselves and be faithful to Christ (Matthew 18:15-18; 2 Timothy 3:13-17; 4:1-5; Titus 3:10-11).
Christians remember that every lie and false teaching is of the devil, the father of lies (John 8:44), and the devil’s intent is to mislead God’s elect and weaken or destroy their faith in Christ Jesus. Therefore, Christians cannot and do not view doctrinal errors and teaching which is not in full agreement with the Bible as a trivial thing which can be ignored or overlooked. They use God’s Word to expose it, reprove it and remove it. And, if a church or teacher rejects the sound teaching of God’s Word on a matter, Christians are commanded to reject and avoid the church or teacher until there is repentance and a return to the truth. And not to do so could even give the devil the opportunity he seeks to lead people away from faith in Christ and destroy their souls.
This is a most serious matter and yet many laugh and scoff and say it’s only a little thing, a minor point. But, how many of you would drink water from a well which was poisoned even if the amount was small? What might not immediately kill you could do damage over time. So also with false doctrine; it is never harmless and, over time, it will weaken or destroy faith.