That the Churches of Christ have misunderstood fellowship is evident in some of the expressions we have used over the years. Brethren speak of fellowshipping cups, classes, instrumental music, etc. Fellowship is a word like friendship. Do we say thing like “Jim friendships cups.” No! Then brethren ask, “Do you fellowship so-and-so?” This is equally wrong usage. Fellowship is also a word like companionship. We don’t say, “Do you companionship so-and-so?” We have tended to use the word as a verb and it is a noun. We have tended to treat it as a commodity that is ours to give and take rather than a relationship or state established by and prevailed over by God’s Spirit. It is the Spirit’s fellowship, not ours. Philippians 2:1 speaks of “the fellowship of the Spirit.” Fellowship is a relationship or state into which we are called by the gospel. If the Spirit dwells in a person he is in the fellowship. Everybody in whom the Spirit dwells is in the fellowship together. We are to “receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God. (Romans 15:7).
This has not been acceptable to many in the Churches of Christ over the years. They infringed upon God’s prerogative and divided His fellowship into numerous fellowships of their own, establishing allegiance to unwritten creeds relative to disputable issues as the criterion of being in the fellowship. Obviously the warring fellowships couldn’t admit to the fact that those not in their exclusive fellowship were a part of God’s fellowship, so the various fellowships made it known that their group constituted the faithful, loyal, only, true fellowship – one Body of Christ. In reality, they were/are sects of a denomination.
Brethren, motivated by the party spirit made fellowship a matter of agreement in doctrinal interpretations, especially with regard to those that identified the party. They equated fellowship with endorsement. They made it a matter of knowledge rather one of faith or trust in Jesus Christ. They took it upon themselves to determine the parameters of fellowship in Christ contingent upon agreement in matters of interpretation and opinion, but God has indicated in His written word that agreement comes as a result of our fellowship. We have had the cart before the horse. We have made our own personal interpretations and opinions of greater importance than the fellowship of God’s dear Son. We have sacrificed brethren for whom Christ died because of inferential understandings. What love!
Relative to fellowship and unity Alexander Campbell once wrote:
A deep and abiding impression that the power, the consolation and joys – the holiness and happiness of Christ’s religion were lost in the forms and ceremonies, in the speculations and conjectures, in the feuds and bickering of sects and schisms, originated a project many years ago for uniting the sects, or rather the christians (sic) in all the sects, upon a clear and scriptural bond of union . . . making faith in Christ and obedience to him, the only test of Christian character, and the only bond of church union, communion, and cooperation.
We have had within the Churches of Christ for over a century the same situation as among the sects of Campbell’s day that instigated the American Restoration Movement. Let me conclude my answer to this question with something David Lipscomb said when asked about fellowship relative to those with whom he disagreed. He said that “we are never willing to give a man up finally until he has committed the sin unto death.” He said that he would recognize such a brother “so long as a man really desires to do right, to serve the Lord, to obey his commands we cannot withdraw from him. We are willing to accept him as a brother, no matter how ignorant, he may be, or how far short of the perfect standard his life may fall. Why should I not, when I fell so short of the perfect knowledge myself? How do I know that the line beyond which ignorance damns is behind me, not before me?”