We handle a church like one of those churches very similarly to how we handle a church member with whom we will break fellowship. We follow a principle or pattern of separation laid out in the Bible. Separation is the action that can be taken with another church, according to the Bible. You can't do anything more harsh ecclesiastically than to separate.
I'm talking about churches with which we're already in fellowship. There are plenty of independent Baptist churches with which we will not fellowship. Most of them. I often will make public statements here on or against churches with which we do not fellowship as a church. In most instances, I don't make those statements until that church knows we are not in fellowship. I start that process privately to see first if there can be any reconciliation. I don't do public statements about churches we are in fellowship with. There is a biblical pattern for dealing with a church with which you are in fellowship. That's how I believe it should be handled.
When we are dealing with a person in our church with church discipline, we don't just cut a person off. We don't kick people out. There is a formal process that is somewhat slow. You have the three steps, one on one, two or three on one, and then it goes before the church. Sometimes there is reconciliation, the process starts all over, reconciliation again, and the process starts all over until someone is removed from the church. 1 Thesslonians 5:14 says, "Be patient with all men." We are guided by that.
When we deal with other churches it is very similar, except often slower. Often very, very much slower. Why? We often don't see those people very much. The other church is not causing a problem for our church. The other church is gradually changing. They are making little changes that are moving in the right direction. We are encouraging them in different ways to keep moving in the right direction.
Our church has moved and grown over the years. Our expectations for fellowship with another church often relates to a movement we see in the right direction. We don't overlook differences. We want to be a help for a person to grow, just like we do with a new convert or young Christian in our church. The main consideration is, is that person or is that church listening? Do they hear? Do they show a willingness to change?
Sometimes we don't know everything that is wrong with a church because we are not around that church very much. The same happens even with church members. Jude 1:4 says that they creep in unawares. So you don't even know about a problem sometimes until quite a few other people already know about it. People are not always getting that message around. And then sometimes the messenger reporting the problem is not highly credible, hard to believe, because of his own problems. This always complicates the matter.
When we see unbiblical doctrine and practice, we believe we should start by dealing with the leadership of the other church, showing them scripture. Then we wait to see what happens. If it looks like they are listening, then we are willing to be patient and wait for changes to occur. Sometimes there are other factors. There may be good people in that church that we'd like to see helped, and so we will wait even longer. We do the same in our own church. There may be a dad who is not doing very well, so we are slower on the final move of church discipline because we might or will lose his wife and family. We want them to be able to stay in the church so we will work longer with that kind of person.
We don't cut someone off in a church, because patience is what it takes to see some grow. Sanctification is a process. What I've seen is that there may be someone else in our church that wants harsher punishment on someone who has offended him, harder punishment than what he would expect for himself. We don't get to the final step of church discipline faster just because one person wants to see it happen faster. There may be people that think that our church should be separating from some other church faster than what we do, because there are doctrinal and practical differences. We may move slower because we think the church can be helped, and so we are willing to wait. We will not be silent on the differentiating doctrines and practices. Those will be obvious. We make them known. But we do not immediately cut the other church off.
When we do deal with that other church, the one we've been in fellowship with, the way to deal with it is to use spiritual weaponry. We must give due process. We must give people some benefit of the doubt. We need more than one credible witness. And we must consider church autonomy, how that church chooses to deal with its problems. We should use scripture to confront the problem. If someone confesses of a doctrinal or practical error, we must be willing to forgive. We don't have to have a pound of flesh in the situation. We are forgiving like Jesus forgave. People will do wrong. That's the way things should be handled.
Since we are talking about fellowship with another church, the fellowship will be affected by doctrinal and practical problems. We have lost some closeness with that church. It could be a major difference in philosophy of ministry. It could be beliefs about church growth. It could be worship. It might be on sanctification or revivalism or preaching or even on parenting philosophy, how children change. That might relate to how they even present the gospel. All of these affect fellowship with another church. They may result in our separating from that church.
Sometimes when there is a major problem in another church, big blow up type of problem, the disgruntled will often want other churches or individual Christians or church leaders to join their side. I observe the ones that are upset about that other church and look to see if they are using spiritual weaponry. If they are not, that isn't going to help that church change. The angered ones are also in need of admonition and warning and confrontation. They too need to change. They have a beam in their eye as they are making their judgment. I can't respect their judgment in the situation, because they don't have spiritual credibility. They are not bearing someone else's burden. They do not have a spirit of meekness. They just want revenge. They are often bitter. I'm not going to get on the side of those people. I don't want there to be any confusion that I am their side either, which will complicate this. The "aggrieved" often want instant public recognition that they are right, when they are wrong, just as or even more wrong than those they believe have violated them. They may even abuse 1 Corinthians 6 by taking the situation outside of the judgment of Christians, tried to get their hearing in the world, and did greater damage to the cause of Christ in the long run. I can't respect that. I can't endorse that. I will not join that. I will repudiate that.
Biblical separation is what we can do. It is what we should do. Biblical separation will be done in a biblical way. People who feel they were offended by their church will often not separate in a biblical way, but in a carnal, unhelpful way. Sometimes they won't even practice biblical separation. They just move and start dropping bombs---bitter, vindictive, malicious. Maybe they think that is what the offending church is doing too. Maybe so. Maybe not. But how does doing the same thing solve the problem? It doesn't. It then becomes two people doing the same wrong thing. There are many examples of this all over the internet of those who have left churches and then used their blog to go after former churches.
There is a right way to handle a doctrinal or practical problem with another church. People who love God's Word can respect that. They can wait on the Lord. They will not carry with them a spirit of vengeance, but of love and forbearance. There goal is change that will honor the Lord, that will give God the credit in the end.