In the first place, it is my view that we have misunderstood fellowship. We have viewed it as a commodity that we extend to or withdraw from brethren based upon whether or not they agree with us on select disputable issues. It’s our unwritten creed, so to speak, although we inconsistently assert that we have no creed but Christ. Fellowship is a state into which we are called by the gospel, and it is God’s doing, not ours. Then we have deemed our interpretations and alleged knowledge more important than brotherhood in Christ.
Secondly, giving impetus to the above misunderstanding of fellowship has been our legalistic motivation or thrust. We have viewed the new covenant scriptures as a legal code while being fearful and suspicious of grace. We have built a theology that limits the role of grace saying that grace “kicks in” to make up for our shortcomings in works. Legalism has caused us to be arrogant and proud of our alleged soundness, while seeing others as not respectful of the authority of God, compromising, and weak in faith. We have built ourselves up by putting others down. It has caused us to be caught up in perpetual controversy, being continually occupied in finding fault with others and exposing them. Such a condescending mind cannot grant others have any truth or virtue, and threatens ostracism of those who might reveal the fact that we are not doctrinally or morally perfect. Any deviation from orthodox practices or thought is viewed as threatening, and the powers that be quickly react with tactics to keep people on the prescribed straight and narrow.
The bottom line, which is the basis or foundation of both of the above is that we have ignored and de-emphasized the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives, preferring the party spirit. Generally those of the Churches of Christ tend to be uncomfortable with the subject of the Holy Spirit because it does not fit into our modus operandi. Some even say that the indwelling of the Spirit is simply our knowledge of the Spirit-inspired written word and therefore the more scripture one knows, the more of the Spirit that person has. Satan knows a lot of scripture.
I think that Barton W. Stone was right when he said that the great secret to unity “is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in each believer”. Stone believed that unity will occur only when the Holy Spirit works in human hearts instilling a divine love in them, and transforming people into God’s new creation. As I have indicated above, over the years believers in the Churches of Christ have not been open to the working of the Spirit and even had and have tendencies to quench the Spirit, especially as manifested in our many divisions. The Spirit gives spiritual discernment, understanding, and wisdom, as well as joy and peace and many other blessings to Christians, both individually and collectively. Until we develop a sense of God being in us and with us, we won’t really be open to Him and truly attune ourselves to His will so He can change us. Patterns of behavior we should have learned in Jesus Christ that affect fellowship will continue to be overlooked. We need to really trust Jesus Christ rather than to rely upon our own abilities in a legalistic manner motivated by the party spirit.