John 17: 21a May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. (HCSB)
Who Is My Brother: Faith Fellowship
The second of the Fivefold Fellowship levels, described by F. LaGard Smith in his book Who Is My Brother
, is called Faith Fellowship. This level describes our relationship with those who honor the same God as we do, while unfortunately not having been forgiven of sins through Jesus Christ, and not having been adopted as sons of God according to the scriptures. Cornelius (Acts 10) is a great biblical example of this kind of person. He was devout, gave alms, was generous to the poor, and prayed to God--and God gave him His attention. As a result God sent an apostle to Cornelius to teach him about forgiveness through Jesus.
It is obvious that people in the category of Cornelius can gain much from those who have already received forgiveness and adoption as sons of God. But there is much that true Christians can gain from inadequately taught believers as well. Smith illustrates this with examples of the many hymns we sing, hymns with deep spiritual meaning, hymns that stir our hearts every time we assemble--hymns written by people who never heard about baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
Jesus taught his disciples to respect those who were seeking to follow him, even when such a person was not "one of us":
Mar 9:38-41 "Teacher," said John, "we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us."
"Do not stop him," Jesus said. "No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward."
Solomon also showed respect for the outsider who prays to God seeking his favor:
2Ch 6:32-33 "As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm--when he comes and prays toward this temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name."
It seems to me that our inclination is to discredit and oppose those who, in our judgment, come short of the obedience that brings salvation due to their lack of understanding. And it seems to me that the Son of God Himself, as well as the wisest mortal who ever lived, advocated a different approach.
We certainly should not whitewash over doctrinal errors, especially in an area as crucial as the forgiveness of sins. If we know the truth we need to teach it clearly and persistently (consider Jesus with the woman at the well in John 4). But we need to do it with gentleness, patience, and respect. That requires a monumental change from our standard approach.
The truth is, the most devout Christians seem to have more in common with some unbaptized believers than they do with some half-hearted, worldly baptized believers. That common ground covers some of the most important issues of life: raising godly children, living righteous lives, helping the needy... We can learn from each other, and we can help each other. Maybe we should try to do that.
Labels: Who Is My Brother