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How can we be in “Fellowship” with Those in Error? (or How can we not be?)

10649504_10152396630845878_3341349315020260479_nDevotional Thought of the Day:

51 When the days were coming to a close for Him to be taken up, He determined to journey to Jerusalem. 52 He sent messengers ahead of Him, and on the way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make preparations for Him. 53 But they did not welcome Him, because He determined to journey to Jerusalem.54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” 
55 But He turned and rebuked them, 56 and they went to another village.  Luke 9:51-56

2  Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. 3  Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. 4  For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. 5  There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6  and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all. Ephesians 4:2-6 (NLT)

15. The Church recognizes that in many ways she is linked with those who, being baptized, are honored with the name of Christian, though they do not profess the faith in its entirety or do not preserve unity of communion with the successor of Peter.14* For there are many who honor Sacred Scripture, taking it as a norm of belief and a pattern of life, and who show a sincere zeal. They lovingly believe in God the Father Almighty and in Christ, the Son of God and Saviour.15* They are consecrated by baptism, in which they are united with Christ. They also recognize and accept other sacraments within their own Churches or ecclesiastical communities

But as the words of this decree show, the apostles did not want to impose an ordinance on the churches. For they say that no one should mind if his brethren do not correctly compute the time in celebrating Easter. The text of the decree is preserved in Epiphanius: “Do not calculate, but whenever your brethren of the circumcision do, celebrate it at the same time with them; even if they have made a mistake, do not let this bother you.”….  44 The apostles wisely admonished the reader neither to destroy evangelical liberty nor to impose a necessity upon consciences, since they tell him not to be bothered even if there has been a mistake in the calculations.

I have had to walk a few people through the same question in the last few weeks and to be honest, I have struggled with it as well.

If they are in error, do we separate ourselves from them (i.e. kick them out)?  Or who are we “in fellowship” with, and how much should that concern us.  For that matter, is fellowship something that is able to be constrained within a man-made,, man-defined organization?

And into that equation today is thrown a few more things to consider.  Two scripture passages, a quote from Vatican Council II’s Lumen Gentium, and a quote from the Lutheran Confessions.

All point to something we need to remember, fellowship is defined by God, as being united, first and foremost with God.  There is only one church, one body of Christ.  Paul is explicit in the quote from Ephesians, as he is in First Corinthians.  We are united to Christ, that is what defines us as the ecclesia, those called, those drawn into Jesus, and united to Him at the cross.

That’s why the Roman Catholic Council notes that there are many ways we are linked, including in our baptism, that we are honored by being called Christian. Even though we don’t agree with all they profess, and we don’t recognize the Pope as the successor of Peter.   That’s why the Lutheran Confessions clearly point out a time when the church chose unity over what had been declared doctrine, and praise and encourage loving our brothers enough to celebrate God’s grace, even if they are mistaken about the day and date.

Can we be comfortable with error?  Is there a point where the links are no more, where what binds us together is severed?  I suppose that if what bound someone to Jesus were severed, then the link between would be cut as well.  But the work of the church, even then, is to reconcile the one severed from Christ because of sin back to Christ.  There is still a link there, just as there was with the prodigal, though the prodigal didn’t know it.

And the Lutheran Confessions make it clear, there are some errors that seem extreme at the time, (i.e. food offered to idols, the dating and celebration of Easter, even the use of the spiritual gifts i  1 Cor. 14) that should not divide us, but that we can overlook those minor errors for the sake of the church, His church.

This means in the caring process, we may not commune together for a season, but it doesn’t stop us from praying for them and with them, it doesn’t stop us from talking, it doesn’t stop us from having the goal of being united in Christ Jesus.  Of making every effort to be united in the Spirit.  These times, where discipline is broken, where unity is hindered, the goal is still that unity, unity found in the grace and forgiveness and restoration that is the reason Jesus came in the first place.

So next time you look to win the argument, consider whether winning gives you the idea that you are the better or the more orthodox or Biblical believer…and consider whether your actions are conciliatory, or divisive…..

And then, do what builds up the body of Jesus….

 

 

Catholic Church. “Dogmatic Constitution on the Church: Lumen Gentium.” Vatican II Documents. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011. Print.

Tappert, Theodore G., ed. The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959. Print.

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