Monday, September 12, 2011

The Scriptural Problem of Kevin Bauder's Definition of "Fellowship"

Coming out this month from Zondervan is one of its "four views" books, this one Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism. The four views of the book are represented by four different men with differing perspectives on what should be true evangelicalism. Collin Hansen, one of the editors, writes in the introduction: "This book’s four contributors offer their take on evangelicalism at its best and critique the movement at its worst." Many are anticipating this book, and especially certain fundamentalists, first mainly because fundamentalists were recognized as even existent by evangelicals other than in mockery, and second because of Kevin Bauder's presentation of fundamentalism. I'm very interested too in the interaction of the four men on this subject. The only place anyone could insert me into the four views would be in fundamentalism. I recognize this, even though I don't believe my view could be represented in the book, even by Kevin Bauder.

I haven't read the book. I'm not sure it's even out. I will probably buy a physical copy (rather than kindle) because I want to write in it. I know I can write in Kindle but it isn't a task that works with me as of yet. Maybe I'll get there. I do like reading better on the Kindle, but the marking and note taking works better for me in a hard copy. But I digress. How can I write a little review of Bauder's part when I don't have the book? Well, I'm writing only on something that I did read Bauder write, the pretty large sample text from the book, and it spurred me to write this post. There's a lot that I have trouble with in what Bauder wrote. For instance, he buttresses much for his argument on two texts, John 10 (article 1 and 2) and 1 Corinthians 12:13 (parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 of articles by me), and he gets those both wrong. With those wrong, the gist of what he writes is going to be wrong for him. There's still a lot that he writes that I can agree with, but he can't get it right when he gets wrong the two passages upon which he bases his entire presentation. But that isn't what I'm going to write about here.

Bauder doesn't get the concept or idea of fellowship right. In describing fundamentalism, Bauder describes its primary motive as "the unity and fellowship of the church" (p. 21). When he says "church," he means all believers. That, of course, also colors everything that he writes, including what he says about fellowship. He writes on p. 21:

Fellowship (koinônia) means joint ownership . Properly speaking, fellowship involves something that two or more persons hold in common.

That is a too simplistic and minimalist definition of fellowship. In so writing, he reduces fellowship to a soteriological issue, when Scripture presents fellowship as more than soteriological. He continues in this vein on p. 23:

Fellowship always involves something that is held in common . The quality of the thing held in common determines the quality of the fellowship or unity . The thing that is held in common by all Christians— the thing that constitutes the church as one church— is the gospel itself.

Bauder doesn't establish this thought from Scripture. He doesn't prove that the thing held in common in fellowship is the gospel. It is true that the gospel is a boundary for fellowship. We should not fellowship with someone who believes or preaches a false gospel, but fellowship is more than just holding something in common. It is holding something in common, but it is more than that. Bauder himself hints at this in a sentence he writes later that clashes with his earlier statement (p. 24), "How can invisible unity be relevant for questions of visible cooperation and fellowship?" Cooperation extends fellowship to something further than merely holding something in common. The confusion that results from the reduction of the definition of fellowship is seen in this paragraph (p. 31):

Unity is a function of what unites, and fellowship is something that is held in common . The thing that Christians hold in common and that unites them is, minimally, the gospel itself . Those who profess the true gospel are to be accorded fellowship as Christians . Those who deny the gospel are to be excluded from Christian fellowship.

"Fellowship is something." That "something. . . is held in common." What is held in common is the gospel. So fellowship is reduced to all people who are saved. But then they are to be "accorded fellowship" who "profess the true gospel." If they already hold the gospel in common, aren't they already in fellowship? And then he mentions that gospel deniers "are to be excluded from Christian fellowship." Aren't they already excluded, since fellowship is simply holding in common the same gospel? Bauder himself sees fellowship as more than holding something in common, but in cooperation. What is it that someone is being excluded from? It must be more than holding something in common.

Later on p. 31 Bauder writes: "Inasmuch as their message constitutes a denial of the gospel, their adherents are not to be accorded Christian recognition or fellowship." Here he equates fellowship with "recognition." Fellowship is recognizing that someone is a Christian. So what is it? Is it holding something in common, is it cooperation, is it inclusion, or is it recognition? If we were concerned with what "fellowship" was, we would be confused at this point if we had only what Bauder has written to go on. Later (p. 34) he writes: "Where the gospel is denied (either directly or by denial of some fundamental doctrine), unity does not exist and fellowship should not be extended." And here he says that "fellowship" is something extended. Someone is extending something to someone. Perhaps this is the proverbial ten foot pole with which certain ones we would not want to touch. If fellowship is holding something in common, if that definition is true, nothing needs to be extended, because it is already held in common.

Bauder continues on v. 34: "Once minimal unity is realized (i .e ., once the gospel is held in common), other levels of fellowship also become possible." Now we are introduced to "levels of fellowship." Isn't fellowship holding something in common? Is this holding more in common? Or is fellowship more than just holding something in common? Recognizing? Or cooperation?

Then Bauder moves into his discussion on "Levels of Fellowship," and begins on p. 34:

Scripture implies different levels of fellowship. Not all fellowship relationships are equal. Different relationships bring with them different levels of accountability and responsibility. One level is simple personal fellowship: two believers rejoicing together in the gospel that they hold in common. Another level is discipleship . Ministry collaboration is a different level, as are both church membership and church leadership.

Since I don't have enough of his chapter (p. 34 is the last of the sample), I'm hopeful that Bauder can explain this "levels of fellowship" idea, show how that Scripture "implies" it, as opposed to his assuming it without proof. There is no doubt that people hold various beliefs in common. That would show different levels of fellowship, that is, if fellowship is holding something in common. Or is this just too minimal as a definition? I've shown how that is implied in Bauder's chapter. And with good reason, Scripture shows fellowship to be more than "holding something in common." Bauder was on to something when he threw in the word "cooperation." Scriptural fellowship is actually cooperation and that cooperation is based upon doctrine and obedience to that doctrine. What is extended is cooperation. The recognition is cooperation. We recognize that someone does not believe and practice the same, so we don't fellowship. Fellowship isn't holding the same doctrine in common, but cooperating based upon having the same doctrine and practice.

"Fellowship" in the New Testament is cooperation or partaking or working together. It is joint activity. We tell that by the usage. 2 Corinthians 6:14 reveals this.

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?

Two oxen are "yoked together" for common labor. They are working together, cooperating. Fellowship is doing ministry or service or worship together. It certainly is not just "being together," or Paul would be contradicting himself. Earlier in 1 Corinthians 10:27 Paul writes:

If any of them that believe not bid you to a feast, and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake.

It is fine to eat with unbelievers, but in 2 Corinthians 6:14, Paul writes not to be "unequally yoked together with unbelievers" and describes this as "fellowship" with "unrighteousness" and "darkness." And of course, Jesus ate with sinners. The only sinners that churches are told not to eat with are Christian ones (1 Corinthians 5:9-11).

Fellowship is more than holding something in common. It is worshiping together, serving together, doing the same Christian labor together. It is coming into union for common Christian endeavor. In 1 Corinthians 10 again, Paul says that the Lord's Table is fellowship and he parallels that with the religious feasts of the pagans in Corinth. They are both religious participation or fellowship. He uses the word koinonos in 10:21, translated "partakers" (KJV). Fellowship is the activity of taking of the bread and the cup in the church. We are fellowshiping with another Christian if we are participating in common labor for God, service for God, or worship to God.

Should fellowship be reduced to just the gospel? Is that how we see it in the New Testament? No. And this is where Bauder's view is all wrong. He minimizes fellowship by reducing it to the gospel. Fellowship is based upon doctrinal and moral purity, called "light" in 1 John. John writes that "if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another." You can see that fellowship is paralleled with an activity, walking, and that it is based upon the light. What does 1 John say that the light is? Is it just the gospel? No. 1 John 2:9 says that "he that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness." Fellowship in the light is dependent on a particular practice. This fits with Ephesians 5:11, "And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them." The standard is higher than just the gospel. And if Bauder is going to say that the gospel encompasses all works consistent with the gospel then he is not making that clear with his chapter so far.

Fellowship is what occurs in a church, as seen in the Jerusalem church in Acts 2:41. 1 John 2:19 describes the break of fellowship with someone who leaves the church. When someone is disciplined from a church (Matthew 18:15-17), he no longer fellowships with that church. The basis of discipline is more than the gospel or else someone could be disciplined, and it would be fine to continue in fellowship with him as long as he keeps professing a true gospel. This is often how it sadly works in fundamentalism. If another church continues in practice that was the basis of discipline for one of our own members, how could we continue in fellowship with that church when it also offends? This is where the Bauder view of "fellowship" breaks down in its inconsistency.

I suspect that the Bauder presentation will be the strongest in the book. However, this only shows the sorry state of evangelicalism and fundamentalism. It has dumbed down fellowship to include those disobedient to Scripture and in conflict with the doctrine and practice of one's own church. This is not walking in the light as the Lord is in the light. It is not fellowship one with another.


Bill Hardecker said...

I always think of "partnership" when I see the word fellowship in the Bible. Paul and the church at Philippi is a classic Bible example of what Biblical fellowship looks like. There was fellowship in the gospel (1:5), fellowship of the Spirit (2:1), fellowship of His [Christ's] sufferings (3:10), and fellowship of sacrificial giving (4:14-15). Certainly giving is beyond just boiling fellowship down to Salvation. Paul and the church was separated by miles (some 800 miles) and time (approximately 10 years from the time of the establishment of the church at Philippi, and the writing of the letter). Time and distance did not affect the quality of their fellowship. Paul stuck to all his apostolic doctrines (which includes believer's baptism, Eph.4:5 - How Fundamentalists ignore this verse is beyond me), and the church at Philippi was commended and remembered for their fellowship (this church did not receive any doctrinal corrections, yes plenty of exhortations, and reproofs but no doctrinal corrections).
What people call fellowship today, is loaded with all different kinds of doctrinal contradictions (baptism, Lord Supper, are no "big deal," music, dress, KJV, not really a factor). Today's fellowship seems to be Protestant Ecumenism - and I certainly don't want any part of that. Count me out.

Kent Brandenburg said...

I agree, Bill, and thanks for the addition.

Jon Gleason said...

Hi, Kent, a comment and a question, and a general musing.

Comment. You said, "Scriptural fellowship is actually cooperation and that cooperation is based upon doctrine. What is extended is cooperation." It would be better to insert "and obedience" in that first sentence after "doctrine". It's clear from the rest of what you've written that you agree, but when I read that, I thought, "Kent, you left out something rather important there."

Question. There are those who say, based on I Cor. 5, that eating together as believers is fellowship just as much as working together. There are those who say it can't be since, as you noted, we can eat with unbelievers. There are those who say I Cor. 5 must not be talking about eating a meal, because then the standard would be tougher for sinning believers than for unbelievers, which doesn't seem to fit with II Thess. 3, where we are to consider erring believers as still brothers who we entreat. So they would see I Cor. 5 as a reference to the Lord's Supper. Do you have any thoughts on all that? If that's too off-topic and you want to respond in a different post sometime, that's fine.

General Musing. I fully get your point on what fellowship is Biblically. Yet, there is something between all true believers in Christ, even those currently in disobedience (as per II Thess. 3). Philippians 1:5 does use the term "fellowship in the Gospel", so it isn't as if Bauder is making stuff up out of thin air (though I don't think that verse says exactly what he would probably say it means). I Cor. 1:9, Eph. 2:19, Eph. 3:6, and other passages seem to emphasise things shared among all believers. In all churches, believers are partakers of His promise in Christ, fellowcitizens with the saints, etc. Maybe it isn't exactly right to call it fellowship, but it's something.

If I take the time to read the book, I don't expect to be all that happy with what he has to say, but I'm a little dubious about making a major point that we don't have fellowship with all believers without saying what we do have with them. One could read your post and think that those believers with whom you aren't in full agreement and fellowship/cooperation might as well be dead to you. That's not true, obviously. I'm interested in your thoughts on that.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I may come back to comment more, but fellowship is not just holding something in common. I do understand what you are asserting, that there is something called fellowship based just on salvation, but I think it is a minimum understanding. This at least must be there or it can't be fellowship, so it is fellowship when the rest of it also exists. And I don't mind adding practice or obedience, but I can say too that I was assuming practice to be a part of doctrine in the large. What we teach is what we practice as well, but I don't mind adding it to clear up that confusion. Thanks.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I have a little more time at hand now, so I'm going to go further with the discussion. At the end of 1 Corinthians 5 that Paul is doing just that, that is, saying that we do company with the fornicators of this world, just not the fornicators of the church? We do that so that we might gain the more, as he discusses in 1 Cor 9. On top of that, I believe that when we have a merely "eating" type of mention that technically it isn't enough to call it the Lord's Supper.

What is translated "in the gospel," is literally "into (eis) the gospel," so it is a fellowship identified with the gospel, and I believe Paul is saying is that they were cooperating with Paul in preaching the gospel, which fits what I'm saying. I don't see it in the Ephesians passages, although I do there is a connection with fellow saved people spiritually that isn't up to fellowship (and the word isn't used there), and of course 1 Cor 1:9 is fellowship with the Son, which doesn't help Bauder or me in an argument. I still think salvation is a boundary however, even as Gal 1:6-9 would assert and even 1 John 2:19, which I mentioned in this post. They are not with us, because they are not of us, chalking up the loss of fellowship to a lack of conversion, which it often is.

I don't think 2 Thess 3 works---we don't count him as an enemy, but admonish as a brother. We deal with him a certain way, but that doesn't indicate fellowship with the unrepentant man.

I believe there is a familial relationship with believers that we have with believers everywhere. We're all in the family of God. If they are saved, they are alive to God and alive to me. Matthew 18 doesn't say that the people are publicans and sinners, but we regard them as such. They might not be how we are regarding them, but we go ahead and do that, as 2 Thess 3 says, so that they'll be ashamed.


Jon Gleason said...

Thanks, Kent. I agree on "eat" in I Cor. 5, and that the last part of the chapter indicates a "tougher" standard towards professing believers than towards pagans.

Re: fellowship, to boil it down you would say "family with all true believers" but "not fellowship with all true believers." Is that correct?

If so, I think I would agree. There is certainly a breaking of fellowship that takes place. If the people described in I Cor. 5 and II Thess. 3 are true believers, and in some cases at least they undoubtedly are, then we have broken fellowship with them (until they repent) even though they are believers.

My only hesitation is I'm not sure "fellowship" in Scripture is quite such a technical term as you are making it, but in general, I would agree with where you are standing.

Thanks again.

Lance Ketchum said...

It is always interesting to me that the discussions on "fellowship" always exclude the use of the word "synergism," when that is the word that best represents the Greek "koinonia." The partnership idea is good, but it disconnects from the idea of shared assets and abilities in the supernatural nature of divine enabling.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I like synergism, but you're getting yourself into hot water with that one, or at least hotter water. You do know that everything is monergistic.:-)

Lance Ketchum said...


That is my point. People cower away from good theological terms because Reformed theologians (I use that term loosely with them)have perverted definitions to such an extreme that these terms are no longer accepted in use, while their definitions of these terms dominate. To discuss "fellowship" apart from synergism produced in "fellowship" in the supernatural enabling of God(grace)will never be anything but superficial.