From time to time one receives questions for which there are no easy answers. This is especially true in times like these when there are so many winds of change blowing to and fro, helter skelter in the church for which Jesus gave his last full measure of devotion. At times like these, the hearts of some people are broken when they see that some of the people whom they have loved and appreciated through the years are giving up on the precious teachings of Christ and his Apostles, and are turning to man's interpretations of the Scriptures. These interpretations bring about division, and brethren who were once true to God and to one another, now find themselves on opposite sides of a question, or some interpretation.
We need to make abundantly clear that it makes no difference what any man says concerning the holy Scriptures, the Scriptures are always right, and never wrong because they are "God-breathed." So, in the final analysis, what the Scriptures say is true while all of the interpretations of men may be wrong.
But in times of anxiety, like the ones in which we are living, someone always asks a question that concerns us all. This question is asked in light of Paul's admonition in such passages as Romans 16:17, in which we are commanded to mark and avoid those who cause divisions and sins contrary to the doctrine of Christ. The question often comes in a framework something like this: "I am confused because I do not know who to fellowship, whether to try to fellowship those in error, or to mark and avoid them." There are two or three things that need to be addressed here, and some of these will help us to determine where to draw the line of "fellowship" if one must be drawn. The first thing we need to point out is that what we mean by "fellowship" in such a statement as this is really "association." Fellowship is the joint participation in some activity by two or more people. With whom can one associate, and still be a faithful Christian? This is the question to which we need to direct our attention. But before we do that, we need to point out that no mere man has the right to tell other men whom they may or may not religiously associate with. Popes do things of that nature because they assume that right, but such a right was never given to any mere man, at least not so far as the Scriptures are concerned.
But, is there any help from the Word of God upon this matter? Certainly there is, and as we just noticed from Romans 16:17, there are certain people with whom we cannot associate, and that is with those who are causing division in the Body of Christ. But have we a general principle that can guide us in making decisions regarding this matter of "fellowship," or association? Firstly, let it be pointed out that we should associate with fallen brethren in that we try to get them to come back to the truth of the Word of God. (Galatians 6:1) If it proves impossible to get these ones to return to God, we must exercise the teaching of Romans 16:17, if we are going to be true to the Word of God. Even after "marking" and "avoiding" such brethren, we should constantly remember them in prayer until, like Judah of old, they pass the fail-safe point, and we know that it is useless to pray further. Remember that God told Ezekiel, and Jeremiah, that it was not his will that the prophets should pray anymore for Judah.
In the great one hundred and nineteenth Psalm, at verse sixty-three, we find a general principle which will help us to decide whom we can associate with and whom we cannot. David said, "I am a companion to all those who fear You, and of those who keep Your precepts." It is in this statement that we can find our general personal guideline for determining whom it is that we may associate with, and at the same time remain faithful to Christ. The word "companion" in this passage comes from the Hebrew word "chaber," which means "knit together with." So, David, by the inspiration of God, said that he would be knit together with those who met two criteria. (1) They feared, reverenced, respected the God of the universe, and therefore would not play fast and loose with his Word. (2) He would be knit together with those who keep the precepts (commands) of Jehovah. So, here we find the general principle which very succinctly points to those with whom we may associate in this life. God has the right to demand this principle in our lives. When someone makes a statement, as Red Skelton used to, "no one tells me who my friends are," it should be remembered that God has that right, and he has exercised it in Psalm 119:63! Let us observe God's general principle which is stated in other ways in the New Testament, remembering the advice of Solomon, "My son, fear the Lord and the king; do not associate with those given to change; for their calamity will rise suddenly, and who knows the ruin those two can bring?" (Proverbs 24:21-22).