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Sermons & Study Guides

Close Communion Study Pt. 8 - (Principles of Fellowship—Causes Which Do and Do Not Require Separation)

James Dodson

Close Communion.


(Principles of Fellowship—Causes Which Do and Do Not Require Separation)


But when divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus. (Acts 19:9)

Question.—What are the principles upon which separation may be justified?

Answer.—Before we discuss the principles which enjoin us to separate, we should be very careful to recognize that separation is the last resort of a desperate cause—one wherein communion cannot be held together with a good conscience, 1 Tim. 1:19.  To withdraw for slight causes, which do not affect the conscience, is always wrong and highly injurious to the comfort of Christian society, 1 Cor. 5:9, 10.  It betrays an unstable mind that indicates either a lack of sound judgment or a good disposition, Prov. 18:1; Jude 19.  Yet, there are several cases wherein a good conscience cannot be preserved by remaining in communion:

First, in cases where a church admits or retains members as are ignorant, erroneous or profane without making proper enquiries into their character, principles and behavior; and continues to cherish them, even when they have been convicted of ignorance, dangerous errors, and evil practices, she is no longer faithful to Christ, nor a holy people, 1 Cor. 5:11; Rev. 2:14, 15.

Second, if a church forsakes the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Eph. 2:20; and substitutes in its stead, or joins with it, any traditions, or policies which undermine Christ’s headship, Col. 2:19; she is become like one building on sand, Matt. 7:26.

Third, if she neglects all order and discipline in her administration and fellowship, she relinquishes her power to purge out the leaven and, therefore, to keep the gospel feast holy, 1 Cor. 5:7, 8.

Fourth, if a church, under pretense of zeal for the vigor of discipline, becomes tyrannical in her government, casting out saints who cannot agree with her administration though they agree with her constitution, 1 Cor. 14:12; she, thereby, demonstrates a lack of the Spirit of the meek and lowly Jesus, Matt. 11:29, 30.

Fifth, if a church adopts a system of worship, founded upon the commandments of men, and not on the word of Jesus Christ, John 4:24; she has corrupted her simplicity, which is toward Christ Who is her Lord, Lawgiver and King, 2 Cor. 2:17.

Sixth, if the church imposes sinful terms of communion on her members, obliging them to forbear plain duty, or to commit sin, Matt. 23:13; she is rather to be reckoned a synagogue of Satan, than the church of the living God, Rev. 2:9; 3:9.

In any of these cases, the cause of leaving the communion of a particular church are justifiable; and separation is not only a privilege, but a required duty, because to continue in such a communion is neither safe, prudent, nor confirmed to the main purposes of Christian fellowship in a church-state, 2 Cor. 6:14-18.

Question.—Wherein does it appear that all other separations are unwarranted and criminally contrary to the ends for which this fellowship has been established?

Answer.—First, it is contrary to that practice of the apostolic church, Acts 2:42.  They exhibited a constancy although individuals in those congregations persisted, for a time, in some Mosaic rites and ceremonies that were no longer binding, Rom. 14:6.  The errors, or even sins, of individuals are no cause for separation, Col. 3:13.

Second, if causeless withdrawing is allowed, it defeats the great design of church communion, edification and comfort in faith, love and obedience to revealed truth, Eph. 4:16.

Third, causeless separation from any of the acts of religious communion, in a church-state, is offensive to fellow-members, and on this account, though the absenting should be of itself indifferent, in itself, yet, begin done with offense, it becomes a sin, cf. Rom. 14:20 with 1 Cor. 10:32.  Such lack of circumspection in our walk brings needless offense whereby men come to despise the communion of the saints, 2 Cor. 12:20.  Even in cases where offense is needlessly taken, and where none is intended, so far the end of church-communion is defeated, Gal. 6:2.  We are called to deny our own interests and desires to the end the church be built up in love through a circumspect walking with one another, Eph. 4:29; 5:15, 21.

Additionally, causeless separation and needless absence is objectionable because: 1.) It is dishonoring to Christ, Col. 2:2; Heb. 10:24, 25.  2.) It exposes those who are lax to many diverse temptations, Eccl. 4:9-12.  3.) It hardens those who are less warm in their affection and ardor for the truth to remain aloof, 1 Pet. 2:15, 16; Matt. 5:16.  It is the forwardness of mutual love and support in our desires to commune together that demonstrates that we are Christ’s disciples, John 13:35.