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Bob Owen on Fellowship

Local Church and Salvation
Bob Owen
Concord, NC (February 19, 1995) AM Bible Class

...He called those three men to him, and they said, "You've been gone a good while, and we've been able to do a lot of good. You've charged us with a responsibility. You gave us 8 talents, and we've gained 7 more." And he said, "Your good fellows. And I want all of you to come on in and enjoy the pleasures of your Lord."

You ever read that story in the Bible? No, you hadn't read that story. When the Lord taught the parable of the talents, as we call it, we remember that the central point of that parable is this...Each person is judged individually. I want to tell you friend, if you don't hear anything else I talk about today, listen and remember this point. If you go to heaven, it will be because you served the Lord. And if you are lost in eternity, a lot of other people might be partially responsible...If you are lost in eternity, a number of other people might have to give an answer to God for what they've done about you...could be your parents, could be the preacher, could be the elders, could be everybody in the congregation, and the Lord is going to say, "Why didn't you want that fellow? Why didn't you teach him the truth? Why didn't you encourage him, ...but He's not going to look at you and say, "Well, because they didn't do a good job, I'm going to let you by." If you are lost in eternity, it will be because you have not served the Lord. Other people may have a partial obligation, and may have to answer to God. But the bottom line, and the terribly important line...and thank God for this... Christianity is an individual religion. And your eternity is dependent upon your personal service to God.

We are all acquainted with the fact that we have local churches. Now what is the connection between a local church, a local congregation, and your personal or individual duty and responsibility before God. And where does it come to play that a local church accepts you.... or a local church won't accept you.... into their fellowship.

That's what we are going to be talking about today. And the Lord willing we're going to spend all three time periods that we have today talking about that. I want to you its a genuine pleasure to be here. Brother Porch already mentioned that Jack Petty and I are brother's-in-law. I hope you won't hold that against me now. And Bob and Val are friends of mine from back in Texas days, and I sure hope you won't hold that against me either. It is an absolute delight to be here with you. I had the privilege of coming and preaching a little short series of lessons with you on an earlier occasion, and I enjoyed that, and you were so hospitable and gracious, and I appreciate the opportunity to come back and be with you.

The topic that we're dealing with I believe is extremely important. It's important number one because of scripture teaching. It's important also because there are some, in my judgment, in my understanding, there are some major misconceptions in the religious world in general about church and individuals. And there are some major problems among our brethren, a lot of confusion about local church fellowshipping. And the tragedy of it is that individuals can be negatively affected by that kind of thing. I hope, number one that we can be true to the Lord's book in what we say. Number two, I hope that what we say can be helpful in our coming to an appreciation of what our personal responsibilities are before the Lord. I mean our personal responsibilities to one another.

There's an old story that went around for years about the preacher who was really effective. And somebody asked him how he organized his material and he said, "Well first I tell what I'm going to tell them. Then I tell them. And then I tell them what I told them." Well there's a wonderful lesson in there for speakers. Let me take just a moment and tell you what we're going to try to do in the three lessons today.

We're going to talk for a few minutes this morning in the Bible hour, the Bible study hour... I want to talk for a few moments about what it takes for a person to become a Christian, and whether that's identical with his becoming a member in a local church. And then what are his duties and responsibilities because he is a Christian. Is it the same thing as saying, "Well that's because he is a member of the church"?

Then in the worship hour this morning, we're going to talk about the fact that the Bible teaches that there are times that local churches are to refuse fellowship with some brethren. What are the occasions for that? But at the same time we are going to find that participation in a local church does not always mean that brethren see every single issue alike, or that all of them do identically the same things.

And tonight we are going to take our time and talk about some teachings of scripture where brethren may differ in some ways, now I didn't say in all ways, brethren may differ on some things in their beliefs. Brethren may differ on some things in their practices, I didn't say in all things. And yet continue in fellowship. When and why are there some things where people could disagree and continue in fellowship in a local church, when there are other things and when they disagree they have to withdraw or divide. I think there is a Bible answer to those issues. And those are the things we are going to be talking about today.

(One unintelligible sentence). Let me ask you a question. When Philip and the Eunuch were riding along in the chariot, and Philip had taught him about Jesus, and the Eunuch said, 'Here's some water, why can't I be baptized?', and they stopped the chariot, got out, went down into the water, and Philip baptized the Eunuch, did the Eunuch become a Christian? Jesus had said, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." We all understand from scripture that when the Eunuch was baptized right there on the side of the road he became a Christian. Did the Eunuch become a member of the church? Well, that introduces a question. What is the church?

The term church literally means a gathering, or a group, or an assembly. An identifiable body of people. When the Eunuch was baptized did he become a part of a group? Yes, he did. What group did he become a part of? He became one of those total number of people who had done what he just did, and that is believe in Jesus and be baptized for the remission of sins. He became a part of the group that we met on the day of Pentecost when 3,000 obeyed the gospel. Now let me ask you another question. What local congregation did the Eunuch become a part of? He was out there on the road by himself. Is he a Christian? Oh yes, he's a Christian. Is he a member of the church? Is he part of a group? Yes, the church of the Lord, in the "universal sense." We've coined that term. Is he a member of a local congregation? There wasn't any local congregation around! The Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip. The Eunuch went on his way rejoicing.

Some people say, "Well, the Eunuch is the church." No. One person can't be a group. Like the fellow said, "Birds of a feather flock together", did you ever see a bird flock by himself. A bird can't flock by himself. One person is not a congregation. Now, lest anybody misunderstand me, one person can serve God. Whether anybody else in the world decides to serve God or not, that person can serve God. But it takes participation with others to constitute a congregation.

In Acts the eleventh chapter we have an interesting account, that the gospel had been being preached only to the Jewish people. But in Acts 11, starting in verse 19, the record says that some came to Antioch, they were men of Cyprus and Cyrene. And at that time they had only been preaching the gospel among the Jewish people. But there were some of them, verse 20 says, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who when they were come to Antioch "spake unto the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number of them that believed turned unto the Lord." I understand that turning to the Lord to be the same thing that the Eunuch did, that is they obeyed the gospel. They became Christians.

The report concerning them came to the ears of the church, the group, which was in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas as far as Antioch, who when he was come, and had seen the grace of God was glad. And he exhorted them that with purpose of the heart they would cleave unto the Lord. "For he was a good man full of the Holy Spirit, and of faith. And much people was added unto the Lord." Interesting point here... the focus in that description is "they preached the Lord." People obeyed the Lord. People were added to the Lord. And Barnabas, verse 25, went up to Tarsus, to seek for Saul. "And when he had found him, brought him to Antioch. And it came to pass that even for a whole year they were gathered together with the church." Where did the church come from? Did some men of Cyprus and Cyrene go up to Antioch, and say, "We're going to start the church up here."? What they did was, they went up there and preached the gospel of Jesus Christ. And when people heard the truth, like the Eunuch heard it, when they were baptized they became Christians. They were added to the Lord. Where did the church come from? When all of those people who had obeyed the gospel began to work together, worship together, participate together what would they be? Think about it a minute, if I can get all of this out. Obeying the gospel made them Christians. Participating together made them the congregation.

Often we get, maybe a little bit of confusion, or we just fail to make a clear distinction, between becoming a member of a church, and I'm talking about a local sense, and a Christian. What if on one Lord's day morning, brother Porch is up here preaching one of his sermons, and he's a good preacher by the way. I've heard him. And what if one Sunday morning he was teaching about God's plan of salvation, showing men in sin and separated from the Lord, and the gospel plan by which he could be saved, believing, and repenting, and being baptized, and reading all of the scripture, and showed it. And when you stand as a group to sing an invitation song to encourage people, some fellow that had come in late, and sitting on the back row, steps out and walks down the aisle, and shakes the preachers hand, and says, "Preacher, I've gone to a lot of different churches. But nobody has ever explained the scriptures to me like you just did. And I realize that I'm not a Christian. But I believe in Jesus, and I'm sorry for the wrongs that I have done. Will you baptize me?" You've got a baptistry here haven't you? And clothing, and everything like that to make it convenient? Tommy baptizes the fellow. Is he saved? The Bible says that, "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved." Is he a Christian? Well, that's what makes him a Christian? Is he added to the Lord? Sure he is. Now, listen carefully. What congregation is he in?

Oh, that's easy. He's ours. I mean, our preacher baptized him. Our preacher baptized him in our building. He's ours. Oh, I forgot to tell you something. That fellow doesn't live in Concord. He lives in Tampa, FL. He was up here for a race weekend or something. Visited some folks over here, wanted to go to church somewhere, driving by saw your building and wandered in. He learned the truth of God, he obeyed the gospel of Christ, he's a Christian. But this afternoon he's going back to Florida. Do you know what you'd do? Since several of you know people in Tampa, FL, maybe even Jack would call me. And say, "Guess what happened." He'd tell me about that fellow obeying the gospel. And he says, "He lives at...", and he'd tell me where he lives in Tampa. And I might tell him, "Well, that's real close to a certain group of brethren that meet, a local church, or a local congregation. I'll call that preacher and tell him about this, you tell him about that and tell him to call me when he gets in town." You would be instrumental, I would try to be instrumental in getting that fellow to meet some brethren near where he lives. And he would go in there, and they'd say, "We've heard about your conversion, and we are just elated." And he'd start meeting and worshipping with that group of brethren. Now what local congregation is he a member in. He's a member in the local congregation where he meets together, and works together, and worships together.

Look at the picture from scripture. The thing that made him a Christian was that he obeyed the gospel of Christ. Did that in Concord, NC. The thing that made him a part in a local congregation was, he chose to meet with those brethren, and they chose to accept him. Now usually, when somebody's baptized here, where does he live? Right down the street. Usually where does he worship? Right here. Usually, what congregation does he become a part of? Well, right here where he lives. Now listen carefully. Your baptizing him is not what made him part of this congregation. Your baptizing him made him a Christian. His participation here, and your acceptance of him made him part of this group.

Don't misunderstand me and think that I don't believe that local churches are important. Sure they're important. God teaches it. And his participation with a group is important. But we need to see that there is a difference in a person becoming a Christian, and a person becoming a member in a local church. They are not synonymous. They're both taught in scripture, but they're not the same thing. And his obeying the gospel here is not what made him a part of the church here. It made him a part of the church in the universal sense. It made him a part of the Lord, he's added to the Lord... and by the way brethren, that's the sense in which, when you obey the gospel, you are added to the church. You are added to the church in the universal sense. Local fellowship... underscore this... local fellowship is voluntary. The individual chooses to meet with those brethren, and the brethren elect to accept him.

Remember in Acts 9 when Saul of Tarsus had been converted, and then he came and he wanted to meet with some of the brethren, and the brethren wouldn't take him. They heard bad things about him. The Bible uses an expression that we got scared of... "He assayed, (on translation said, and that means he tried), he assayed to join himself to the brethren, or to the church." And don't swallow your tongues on this point, and don't think I have gone wild eyed liberal. When you obey the gospel, God adds you to the church in the universal sense. But in this sense, you join the local congregation. And the local congregation accepts you. Paul talked about it in Galatians 2, that they extended to him the right hand of fellowship. Some religious groups thought that meant you'd go through a ceremony and have guys walk by and everybody clasp right hands. No. It's a figurative expression meaning the brethren accepted him. And you do that with new people. Could be somebody that's just been baptized, that you accept into your fellowship. Or it could be somebody who moves here or chooses to worship with you. Local fellowshipping is an outgrowth of our decision. I hope we do it on the premises of God. But local fellowshipping is something that we do. Membership in the family of the Lord in the universal sense is something that God does. They're not the same thing.

Now, is local fellowshipping important? Absolutely its important. God teaches us some very important things about being a Christian. Open your Bibles if you will to 1 Peter, chapter 2 and 3. Now, obviously we're not going to read them all but, and this is I hope familiar territory. Here's a man who has become a Christian. 1 Peter 3:21 tells how you become a Christian, and he mentions something, and that is when you are baptized. We already talked about that. And these people that he's writing to are part of the elect, part of the brethren. In 1 Peter, chapters 2 and 3, Peter talks about several different relationships or duties or responsibilities that these brethren had. I'll just touch them briefly. I hope this is familiar territory. I'm sure it is.

In 1 Peter 2, starting with verse 11 he talks about, that they should consider themselves sojourners and pilgrims, "in this present world." And their behavior among the Gentiles, among the peoples of the world, ought to be such that would be an honor to God. Why are you supposed to behave properly in the world? Why, it's because I am a member of the church. No. It's because I'm a Christian. And your duty as a Christian includes proper behavior with the world. Then he talks about relationship to Government. That they're to be in subjection to the king, honor the king, pray for the government, the rulers. Why is the Christian obligated to obey the laws of the land? Because he is a member of the church? Well, maybe in that sense of the universal family of God. But when we think of it that way, I think we are often thinking of the local church, and what the local church does. My duty to the government comes because I belong to the Lord, because I'm a Christian.

Then he talks about slaves being in subjection to their masters. And masters are taught there to behave properly toward their slaves. Why? Because you're a Christian. Then in chapter 3 he talks about the family. The wives were to be in subjection to their husbands, even if they weren't Christians. Hopefully their chaste behavior would lead the husband to obey the gospel. But the family relationship was bound on the woman, and on the man by similar teaching by the way, not because he is a member of the church, but because he's a Christian. And then down about verses 9 and 10, along in there, he says finally, ... he's been giving a list... he'd talked about community, and government and business and family... finally, he says, in our relationship to the brethren. Now, question. Because I'm a Christian, do I have responsibilities and duties among the brethren? Absolutely.

Now, I'm going to say some things rather quickly. Fasten your seat belts. But what I'm talking about is terribly important. It is very very easy for people to fall into a misconception that to go to heaven what I've got to do is... I've got to become a Christian, I have to obey the gospel. And then I have to be faithful to the Lord. Now what does it mean to be faithful to the Lord. That means go to church Sunday morning, go Sunday night, and go Wednesday night. I find myself, and I apologize for this, I find myself, that when somebody says, "Oh, he's a faithful Christian." The first thing that popped into my mind is he goes to all the services. Being a faithful Christian is talking about our whole duty. Now listen carefully. What we do as brethren,... particularly our worshipping together, our studying together, ought not be confused with an idea that now that I'm a Christian I have an obligation that when Sunday comes I'm just supposed to go down to the worship place and go through a ceremony whereby I have served God for this week.

Many religions, particular pagan religion, have the idea that that's what you did. You went to a particular place, and you offered up a worship to God. Brethren, when we meet together, the primary purpose of our coming together is for our mutual benefit. Its not just a matter of coming here and sending up something to God for the week. When we eat the Lord's Supper, which the Bible teaches we're supposed to do on the Lord's day, its not just a ceremony that praises God. You know what the Lord's supper is supposed to do? Its supposed to bring to our minds the sacrifice that was made so our sins can be forgiven. Its supposed to help us look forward to Jesus coming again, so that we'll stay serious about our spiritual relationship to God, and that we will be faithful to God by doing all the things that we're to be doing.

Do you know what's supposed to happen when we have preaching, and teaching of God's word? We're supposed to be teaching, and admonishing, and exhorting, and encouraging each other to do the things that we're supposed to do because we are Christians. I think maybe we have had an unfortunate term that we say, and I say it all the time, now don't misunderstand, I do these same things, but I'm trying to get us to think through. We say on Sunday, "I'm going to services." Now when you come to church on Sunday, how much serving do you do. Most of us come and sit for an hour, and then we go home. Now listening to the preacher is kind of a chore, I understand that. But what we do in that period of time, can you call that service? I want to tell you, service is when that Christian is the kind of husband or child he ought to be. Serving God is when that Christian behaves like he ought to. Serving God is all of these things that we do, and our meeting together like we are today primarily has the benefit of teaching us admonishing, encouraging us, exhorting us to truly be faithful to God, not just 3 services of the week, but in our duty before the Lord.

Now I close with this thought. Does our participating together, as a group of Christians, demand that all of us see everything alike as Christians? That all of us do everything exactly alike? Or could there be some kinds of variations in belief and practice. Let me just mention a couple of things from scripture. There were some Christians who thought that it was wrong to eat meats that had been sacrificed to idols. There was some other Christians that thought that it was alright to eat that meat. And yet the scriptures specifically taught them that they not only could but should accept each other. Now be careful. Does that mean that,... "Well it doesn't matter what a person believes."? Sure it does. "Doesn't matter what he practices?". Yes it does. But participation together in a local congregation does not mean that everybody has reached the same degree of maturity. As a matter of fact, one of the purposes of their being together is so those who are mature can help those who are immature. It doesn't mean that all of us had grown the way we ought. There were people who had been Christians long enough that they ought to be teachers of others, and needed to have somebody come and teach them the fundamentals again. It doesn't mean that all of us agree on every point of doctrine and that we all practice the same thing. One fellow may be a meat eater, and the other may not eat meats. And both are doing it out of good consciences unto God.

But sometimes a person's behavior becomes such that it is incumbent upon the local church to refuse fellowship with him. And that's what we're going to talk about in the next period of time today in the worship hour. So stay with it, and tune in then. Thank you for listening so kindly.


Tape transcribed by Stan Cox