The following is from Carl Ketcherside’s “In the Beginning,” Chapter 19 (Thoughts on Fellowship #7).
Fellowship is not a fruit of agreement but agreement is the fruit of fellowship! Does the Bible teach that? Do we come to be in the fellowship because we are of the same mind, or do we come to be of one mind because we are in the fellowship? Much depends upon the answer you give. If we come into fellowship by agreement upon opinions, then how many things must we agree upon, and which ones, before fellowship commences? If we must agree upon all views and opinions then no fellowship at all exists today for no two persons are wholly agreed. If we need not agree upon all, who is to determine which ones we may eliminate from the area of agreement without impairing fellowship? If we decide which opinions and views we must agree upon to have fellowship, what happens if one learns more on some point and changes his mind? Shall he be put out of the fellowship or “growing in knowledge”? On the basis that fellowship is contingent upon agreement in matters of opinion, no congregation existing a hundred years ago could now be in fellowship, and no congregation now existing would be in the fellowship a hundred years from now if our Lord tarry that long.
What strikes me as a useful point in this paragraph is the idea that if our fellowship and association are based on agreement, then what items do we need to agree upon? It seems to me that we would need to make a list of “essentials” and “nonessentials”–and in fact, we have, whether we admit it or not. There is not a congregation in existence that is agreed among themselves on every point of doctrine, nor are there two congregations in existence that are in full agreement on all points. To catalog and prioritize our similarities and differences, then, for the purpose of excluding some from the “faithful brotherhood” is to do the very thing the restoration movement was initiated to combat. The reformers, as they were called at the time, opposed the practice of dividing the NT scriptures into essentials and nonessentials through the use of creeds as tests of fellowship.
As Campbell wrote in Parable of the Iron Bedstead, “Why not, then, dispense with this piece of popish furniture [the wheels and knives used metaphorically of human creeds as tests of fellowship] in the church, and allow Christians of every stature to meet at the same fireside and eat at the same table?”
Amen, my friends. Amen.