Breaking Fellowship

Awhile ago, some Christians, including pastors and bloggers, were openly rejoicing over the act of mocking a Christian author for her changed stance on homosexuality.

This author wrote about how ever since changing her stance, many of her friends – brothers and sisters in Christ – left her, despised her, backstabbed her, and gossiped about her at the back.

And although I don’t know her in person and disagree with her view, my initial response is pain for this sister. I feel for her.

But some Christians immediately assumed she was exaggerating her experience to beg for attention.

Some Christians immediately assumed she changed her stance because she craved for popularity and money.

And on top of such assumptions come gossiping and mocking.

And on top of such gossiping and mocking comes a public rejoicing over such acts.

Whatever you think of her writing, this is not the point – the point is, how can we mock or gossip about someone and even rejoice over these acts?  (By the way, if you have already lost interest in reading, you can just skip to the very last part.)

This is the exact hypocrisy of Christians that I loathe wholeheartedly. Evaluating one’s view is one thing; assuming someone’s motives is another thing. Telling someone she is “affirming sin” yet doing the same ourselves.

And behind all the mockery lies nothing but a judgment that, any believer who affirms homosexuality are “unsaved” and “apostate” and that they need to be disfellowshipped in disgrace.

But Jesus Himself was the one who introduced a new way characterized by an openness of fellowship and an overflowing of grace. Even if you were to treat her like “pagan”  (Matthew 18) you would not mock her, but share the table with her, like the Lord would.

And although I may not agree with everything this author says, I sympathesize with where she is coming from. It is not without struggle that she has come to this change of view. I have also wrestled with this topic (in terms of how the Church has been responding) for a long time, not because I doubt a single word of the scripture – I have never doubted the authorship of the scripture, the timeless principle presented in the scripture, and that our earthly marriage should reflect Christ and the Church –  but because I have seen too many stories of how gay non-christians are being rejected by the church, and have heard too many stories of how gay christians fall into depression and even, suicide, because no one in their local church was listening to their struggles. It’s not something you just “pray away”. These are not just stories told by friends, but first-hand witnessing. We have not learnt to be more sensitive.

And what about the ones who are naturally born intersex? I don’t know, Lord. How can we shape our responses better? We don’t see them doesn’t mean they don’t exist. I can only pray that Lord will give me much more wisdom, much more sensitivity, much more compassion, and much more humility to express Him better.

But anyways, back to the online celebration of mockery.

A long time ago, I have made a decision not to comment on any Chrsitian social media anymore (including the ones that I follow) because it seems like whatever you say, there will always be one or two people come up to stir up quarrels or “defend” the truth.

I have only really commented publicly twice in my life. Looking back, it may seem silly to some, but at least I had a good intention.

The first time was on Desiring God’s page, when John Piper and his team wrote an article to encourage people to meet with the Lord in the morning as the first thing they do after waking up.

Some people immediately accused Piper of legalism: “Why must you make everything so legalistic! I am sick and I cannot get up early to pray! You don’t care about the physically weak!”

And so I commented about how Piper had a good intention and shared how spending time with the Lord in the morning had helped my spiritual growth.

The second time was on Bill Johnson’s page, when Johnson promoted a free e-book that one of my favorite authors, Frank Viola, wrote along with many other Christians (including Johnson himself).

Some people immediately criticized Johnson for supporting Viola’s work: “How can you endorse Frank Viola, the author of “Pagan Christianity?”, who promoted unbiblical approach to church?”

And so I commented about how I can still support Johnson’s ministry even though I don’t agree with everything he stands for and shared how my time in a close-knit house church had helped my spiritual  growth .

After these two times, I said to myself, never again!

But then, months later, I saw tons of people publicly mocking this now homosexuality-affirming author and rejoicing over it. I couldn’t stand it.

I initially wrote that perhaps we should exercise grace instead. And then a sister, a wife of a pastor, responded by another comment with a mocking tone (primarily directed tot the author) implying grace is not necessary in this case.

I wrote again ,“A broken fellowship is what breaks the Lord’s heart. So I feel His and her pain.” while hoping the conversation would stop here.

I immediately got another reply (I am always very surprised by how fast Christians can respond on social media when it comes to defending themselves, or in their words, defending “God”), “Actually, the Scripture told us to break fellowship to those affirm sin or continues to sin.”

But interestingly enough, this is the exact response I knew I would get. And I could imagine the verses that this sister in Christ would quote from if the conversation went on (After her response above, I had politely asked her to move the conversation to private setting if she wanted to continue.)

First and foremost, does breaking fellowship mean abandoning, belittling, and slandering the person? Even worse, does breaking fellowship mean to celebrate the abandoning, belittling, and slandering of person?

“Do to others as you would have them do to you. “(Luke 6:31)

Second, I really don’t think breaking the fellowship is needed here.

If one holds the view of breaking fellowship as in no longer seeing him or her as a brother or sister in Christ, you are essentially treating them as “pagan and tax collectors” as written in Matthew 18.

But what does that mean then? To mock and leave them? When I see Jesus in the gospels, I have never seen Him refuse fellowshipping with anyone who wants to come to Him. Including pagan and tax collectors.

This is the scripture from Matthew 18,

  • Matthew 18:15-17

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15-17)

The last line: “treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector”. But whenever the image of a pagan or a tax collector comes to mind, I can only think of how Jesus openly befriended them against the cultural norm and had table fellowship against all the mockery of the Pharisees. Let’s hear from Tim Chester, 

“I think Jesus gives us the answer to that and it is far different from the shunning, rejection, and self-righteous attitude that is so often practiced by Christians. When we see Jesus engaging pagans and tax-collectors, or any other group of unbelieving sinners, we see someone who gives them huge amounts of time, attention, and grace.” – Tim Chester

Chester continues to write that,

“The point is, there are lots of things that you can and should do with tax-collectors and pagans if you want to be like Jesus. Likewise there are lots of things that you can and should do with the brother or sister in Christ who has sinned against you. The goal of doing those things to either group, is to demonstrate the love, grace, and mercy of God in order to lead them to repentance and restored relationships with you and Jesus. Paul said in Romans 2:4 that it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance. That kindness should be evident in our dealings with one another, even if we are required to treat someone as a tax-collector or sinner. The goal of such treatment is not to exclude them from the fellowship of the Body, but to lead them back to it in a way that brings glory to God.” – Tim Chester

What can slander, mockery, and hatred do to restore one another unto Christ?

There are more scriptures people use to justify completely abandoning fellowshiping with others,

  • 2 John 1:10-11

If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.” (2 John 1:10-11)

Some may misuse this verse to refuse fellowship or even greetings to people with “false teachings”, but what exactly is this “teaching” John is talking about? In the earlier verse, John speaks, “I say this because many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.” (2 John 1:7). The teaching is of the core belief of the Christian faith, that is, Jesus Christ came in flesh.

  • 2 Thessalonians 3:13-15

“As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good.  If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.” (2 Thessalonians 3:13-15)

“What we say in this letter”. The main issues Paul was addressing in this letter are endurance during persecutions, the Day of the Lord and the man of lawlessness (whoever that may be), and warning against idleness. It is not doctrinal issue. More importantly, he writes, “Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother”. Brotherly love. And even if sadly enough, you still want to treat the brother or sister as an “enemy”, Jesus Christ himself, who is the Lord over Paul and over us, has charged us to love our enemy (Matthew 5:43-48).

  • 1 Corinthians 5; Romans 16:17

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satanfor the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.

 Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—  not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.  But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?  God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked person from among you.’” (1 Corinthians 5)

I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.” (Romans 16:17)

These are passages that can make us uncomfortable. I am again no expert, but I believe that in the end, a local church can exercise church separation to maintain unity among members but still not cast stones to those who stand differently from them. Like in the story of Danny Cortez, the members “formally peacefully separate, restate our love for one another, and bless each other as we part ways.”, even though it was “a very tiring and difficult process”.

And certain book publishers, or media broadcasters, remain free to do the same.

But again, it is no equal to mocking others. And it is no celebration of mocking, gossiping, and slandering others.

And by the way. Gossip and slander are on Paul’s timeless list of sins. And celebrating gossiping and slandering is then “sin-affirming”. Going back to, “Actually, the Scripture told us to break fellowship to those affirm sin or continues to sin.” – shall I break my fellowship with the fellow Christians and pastors who celebrate mocking and gossiping then 🙂 ? I write this not to quarrel or to mock someone. I sincerely think the lesson of Jesus’ table fellowship with pagans and tax collectors, which is full of grace but not mockery and rejoicing over mockery, is to be taken seriously.

Some readings I have enjoyed in the past include the following: the exchange between Justin Lee and Phillip Yancey, Phillip YanceyTim Keller, and the story of Danny Cortez and his son Drew, and the stories on Living Out. They have expressed nothing but grace and humility. I pray that we have the heart of Jesus Christ, that anyone are welcome to come to the table fellowship of the Lord.

3 thoughts on “Breaking Fellowship

  1. Hi Keri, as Lord Jesus taught, the hallmark of the believer’s life is ‘love’ (John 13:35), God’s love is humble too. Its also obvious that God’s love hates wickedness (Psalms 45:7) as well as executes justice. I believe the believer should strive to bring restoration of any who may have gone astray, the goal is love and even acts of discipline should be executed in love just as “God disciplines those He loves”- we are all learning.

    I took some time to go through your post more than once, as well as the relevant links you provided. This was to enable me understand the on-going struggle you presented on the topic of how to respond to professing Christians endorsing or practicing homosexuality. This sort of issues are not things we have had to deal with much in my country since homosexuality is punishable by law and this position reflects the basic cultural and religious perspectives as well.

    For most (probably 99%) Christians over here, it is very plain that homosexuality is sinful and should not be condoled but forsaken in repentance. This comment will not permit me to analyze the position completely as well as mine.

    In all that we do, no matter how right we may feel we are, we should be diligent to present ourselves blameless before God above everything else. “Let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he falls.”

    Lots of love to you.

  2. Dear my brother,

    Thanks so much, especially your gracious tone. I admire you for sympathising despite coming from another culture. In fact I have nothing that I disagree with you, especially the restoration part. I was primarily upset to see instead of striving to fellowship (not just among believers) and restore one another, people choose to abandon others and mock others, and to rejoice over such things. (They were not related or in the links). I didn’t see this revealed in Jesus in the flesh nor in the scripture. Especially in a public media. Pagan and tax collectors were the one He had table fellowship with. I also think it’s a bad testimony to the public.

    It’s not my position to doubt one’s salvation or relationship with the Lord for her changed stance on these issues. Also, it’s from what I have experienced that I think we are not very sensitive towards our gay friends, especially knowing there are God-loving Christians who struggled with this issue deep inside but found no one to talked to because of fear of being despised on. Moving out from Hong Kong and meeting these one made me realise I have never put myself in others’ shoes.

    Lots of love to you too. I thank you so much for your gracious tone. I would have been easily condemned by writing this by many. May God have mercy on my incompleteness. Grace be with us.

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