The Southern Baptist Convention will meet in San Antonio, TX, June 11-13. With the move in Southern Baptist life against those who believe that a private prayer language (PPL) is what is being spoken of in 1 Corinthians 14, I have heard opponents of PPL say that they do not want to make the fact that they are excluding those who speak in tongues (PPL) from leadership and missionary service a test of fellowship. Their basic argument is that people who speak in tongues privately are welcome to stay in the SBC and send money to our Cooperative Program, but they cannot lead, serve, or participate in denominational life and missions. In other words, they are saying that they do not want to break fellowship, but they will not cooperate with them in ministry, planting churches, mission work, etc.
Here's a question: Is it possible to be in Biblical fellowship with people that you cannot cooperate with to do ministry? Isn't that a contradiction of terms? Fellowship and cooperation go hand in hand. I wrote post about this a while back that I thought was generally one of the best posts ever written (judge for yourself HERE). It got a whopping four comments, so obviously, I was alone in my generous assessment. :) Anyway, my basic point was that true Biblical fellowship costs us something. Look at Acts 2:42-48:
42They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
The picture that we get here is that people were living life together and cooperating in everything. The English basis for the word fellowship comes from the idea of villagers putting in for half shares in a cow. If you own a cow together, I would say that you are cooperating on a pretty intense level, wouldn't you? The Old Testament perspective on fellowship is most notably seen through the idea of fellowship offerings before the Lord. We bring something to sacrifice to God to celebrate our close communion with Him.
In other words, fellowship costs us something. It happens when believers journey together toward a common goal. It happens because we are one in Christ and Jesus prayed that we would be one so that the world would know that He was sent by God (John 17:20-23). Our fellowship with one another occurs because we have fellowship with God through the shed blood and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Bringing us into fellowship with God and one another cost Jesus His life. How can we denigrate it over petty differences and interpretations?
Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Theology has an article on fellowship on Crosswalk.com. It describes koinonia, the Greek word from which we derive fellowship. Consider this:
General Background. In the colloquial Greek of the New Testament period, koinonia [koinwniva] was used in several ways. It was used of a business partnership, where two or more persons share the same business and are thus closely connected in work. Also it was used of marriage, of the shared life of two persons, a man and a woman, together. Further, it was sometimes used of a perceived relatedness to a god, such as Zeus. Finally, it was used to refer to the spirit of generous sharing in contrast to the spirit of selfish acquiring.
Much of the use of the word group? koinonia [koinwniva], koinonein [koinwnevw], and koinonos [koinwnov"] ?in the New Testament corresponds to general Greek usage. Thus the fellowship and sharing are religious or specifically Christian only if the context requires this meaning. For example, in ac 2:42 we encounter the word Koinonia [koinwniva] and read that the new converts continued in "the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship." Here it is a normal meaning adapted to Christian usage. Then the verb, koinonein [koinwnevw], is found in Hebrews 2:14 with an ordinary, general meaning: "children share flesh and blood." Likewise, koinonos [koinwnov"] occurs with the meaning of "partner" in Luke 5:10?" [James and John] ? Simon's partners. "
However, it is especially, but not solely, in the writings of the apostle Paul that the theological dimension of koinonia, [koinwniva] "fellowship/sharing/participation" is developed and clearly presented. Here the normal meanings of the words are transformed in service of the kingdom of God and as they identify a sharing in the communion of the blessed and Holy Trinity. That is, they point specifically to the supernatural life of God given to and shared with humankind through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. The emphasis of the New Testament is also on participation in something that is an objective reality rather than on an association with someone.
Theological Use. Perhaps the clearest theological use of koinonia [koinwniva] is in 1 John 1:3-6, where we read that when we walk in the light truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ and that this relation of grace has profound implications for daily living. For if we say that we have fellowship with God and walk in darkness, we lie! Here the basic meaning of "fellowship" is a real and practical sharing in eternal life with the Father and the Son.
Fellowship, sharing, marriage, and business partnerships go hand in hand. It implies cost and a joining of our lives together to move in the direction that God has called us. This type of closeness is what God had in mind when He brought us into fellowship with Himself and with one another. If we are one in Christ and we agree on the essentials of the faith, how can we say that agreement on non-essentials is NOT a test of FELLOWSHIP in one breath, and in the other breath say that we will NOT COOPERATE in fulfilling the Great Commission with those who do not agree with us on those non-essentials?
To be in fellowship means that we cooperate in God's mission. There are no second class Christians who are allowed to be in churches and give their money, yet are not allowed to participate in mission with the other believers if they are following God. That idea is foreign to the New Testament. Those who are wanting to exclude those who practice, believe in, or advocate a PPL from cooperation in missions and church planting must make their case that those people are heretics or are in deep, unrepentant sin and should be disfellowshiped. Anything less than that is not consistent and shows a lack of understanding of what biblical fellowship means. According to Scripture, the only thing that can bring disfellowship upon someone is blatant, unrepentant sin, or heresy. Other than that, we are expected to forgive one another, major on the majors, and work things out in love. In doing this, we show Jesus to be sent by God and we show the world that we are different and there is a supernatural power at work in us. The world believes that Jesus is real when believers who disagree on some issues, can put those issues aside to work together to accomplish God's purposes.
That is why I believe that the division that we are seeing over PPL is entirely unbiblical. It is why I believe that the Baptist Faith & Message 2000 is a brilliant confession of faith in it's silence on this issue. Let's keep tertiary doctrines on the margins of our walk with the Lord and maintain the fellowship that Jesus died for. Let's continue to work together, even though we have some differences in minor points of theology and let's allow love to rule over all.
Why are we unnecessarily dividing the body of Christ? I call upon those who are proposing these restrictive requirements to at least be honest about the division that they are causing and the breaking of fellowship that they advocate. For, without cooperation in mission, fellowship is reduced to sipping punch in the "fellowship" hall. I believe that Jesus died for far more than that.
I pray that the convention in San Antonio from June 11-13 brings some clarity on where our true fellowship lies: In Christ alone. Will you pray with me?