Yes, either through lack of teaching, false teaching, or lack of watchfulness on the part of the pastors over the flocks, certain false doctrines may creep in, sinful practices may come to be overlooked, and unregenerate people may be accepted into membership. It may still be a true church of Christ, overall – but it is teetering! Let us be clear on this. It is on the very edge. What, then, should be done?
There is only one thing to be done: it must be urged to true repentance!
We are certainly not to fellowship with such a disgraceful assembly. Not while it is in such a state. The people there should be urged to repent or face the Lord’s wrath (2 Cor.13:1,2,5). If the church repents, all is well; but if not it must be shunned, for the candlestick is removed. It must no longer be treated as a Christian church – for it is not.
In other words, we are to treat such an assembly as we would treat an individual who professes to be a Christian, but who maintains serious false doctrine and/or lives in an ungodly manner. He may be still dead in his sins, a false professor; or he may be a true Christian, albeit backslidden. We are to urge him to repentance. If he repents, he is to be received as a brother. If he does not, he is to be rejected as an unbeliever, regardless of the profession of faith he makes.
In summary: to fellowship with other professing Christians and local churches, we must be certain of the following:
First, are they sound on the doctrines essential to be known and believed for salvation? This excludes the vast majority of churches in our day.
Second, are they also sound on those doctrines which have to do with the very being of God, the salvation of men, etc.? Again, this excludes the vast majority of churches today. If they are not, we must seek to teach them the truth. And if they reject the truth after hearing it, we are not to receive them as brethren.
Third, do they live holy lives, separate from what is of the world, the flesh and the devil? Once again, the vast majority do not.
It is one thing to accept that within such churches there may at times be a few true Christians, who are there through ignorance and lack of sound teaching. But any true Christians within them should be firmly exhorted to obey God and separate from such places. We should not be joining with them in fellowship! Our sole duty is to urge them to repentance and to separate, and their sole duty is to do so!
Shaun Willcock is a minister, author and researcher. He runs Bible Based Ministries. This pamphlet was first published in 2020. For other pamphlets (which may be downloaded and printed), as well as details about his books, audio messages, articles, etc., please visit the Bible Based Ministries website; or write to the address below. If you would like to be on Bible Based Ministries’ email list, please send your details.
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. See Separation from False Christians and Churches (pamphlet), by Shaun Willcock, and Separation from False Churches (MP3), by Shaun Willcock. Bible Based Ministries, 2020. Both available as free downloads from our website: www.biblebasedministries.co.uk.
. Manual of Theology and Church Order, by J.L. Dagg. Gano Books, Harrisonburg, Virginia, USA, 1982.
. That Which is Perfect (MP3 series of sermons), by Shaun Willcock, Bible Based Ministries. Available freely on our website: www.biblebasedministries.co.uk.
. Exposition of the New Testament, Vol. II, by John Gill. Commentary on Rom. 6:17. The Baptist Standard Bearer, Inc., Paris, Arkansas, USA, 1989 reprint.