Who is my brother? 

 

It is my observation that our walk in Christ is prone to deflection by two extremes: on the one hand, a liberal view of doctrine, coupled with a drifting towards the world until there is practically no difference between us and those from whom we have been redeemed; and on the other, a fanaticism regarding separation from others which is only making the 'Truth' which we hold an excuse for fuelling our own pride, passive bitterness and desire to stand in judgment over our brethren. I submit that to this category belongs the idea that because a brother has a different view to us on fellowship, we should therefore call him " Mr." rather than " brother" . We become a brother by reason of baptism into Christ, which is made valid by our belief of the true Gospel. Whoever is validly baptized is therefore our brother; it makes no difference who baptized him. There are, to use a phrase of Robert Roberts, " True principles and uncertain details" . If someone is baptized with a faulty understanding of basic principles, he is not a brother. But if he only differs from us on the details, then he is still a brother. We may consider him a mistaken brother, or an erring brother- but still a brother. Even if a brother is withdrawn from, " count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother" (2 Thess. 3:6,15). This ought to be plain enough. There are " brethren" who " err from the truth" , James says (5:19), and we must try to regain them. But they are still brethren, although erring brethren. Paul's letters to the Corinthians and Galatians frequently employ the word " brethren" , even though he accuses them of the most outrageous errors- rejection of the Lord's resurrection, drunkenness at the breaking of bread, harbouring an incestuous brother. Yet he still called them " brethren" . Even the brother actually guilty of incest is described as one that has the name of a brother, although he was not to be fellowshipped (1 Cor. 5:11,19).   Who is my brother? All who have been truly baptized into the brotherhood of Christ.

Whether someone is a brother or not depends on the validity of his baptism. In the same way as your natural brother is always your brother, whatever he might do, so a brother is always a brother. When a brother from another fellowship seeks to join us, we do not normally re-baptize him. Therefore we accept the baptisms of all who accept basic Bible doctrine as being valid, and therefore we recognize them as our brethren. If we do not call them brethren, we are questioning the validity of their baptism, and therefore they would need to be rebaptized if they wished to join us. This is utterly wrong. We do not have the right to say that somebody is no longer a brother of Christ because they disagree with us, neither can we imply that only the baptisms done by our community are valid. The validity of baptism depends on the state of our knowledge and attitude, not on the person who baptizes us. After all, we are baptized into none other than the Lord Jesus Christ (let not the wonder of that escape us), not some church or organization. Theoretically, even self-baptism would be acceptable. We must not think of those who leave our community as " Mr." and " Mrs." . This would imply that if they decide to join us or apply for refellowship they are " Brother" ; this would mean that our decision to admit them to our community makes them a brother in Christ, rather than their faith and baptism into the Lord their Saviour.  

Not only do we have no right or ability to gather up the tares from among the wheat (we must leave this to the day of judgment); but it is the clear teaching of the NT that if we judge / condemn our brother, we too will be condemned. So, if someone is validly baptized into the Truth of the Lord Jesus Christ, don't say he isn't really a brother- for the sake of your own eternal destiny, if nothing else. Work these things out for yourselves, without blindly accepting the ideas of other brethren. And encourage others to reject this idea that anyone outside our community cannot be a brother in Christ. For the end result of this reasoning is a cult mentality; everyone outside us is big, bad and evil, only we are righteous before God, we must be progressively exclusive of anyone who dares to disagree with us about anything...until we are the ultimate deciders of a man's status before God. If your brother is weak, admonish him " as a brother" , beseech him as your brother, withdraw from him if necessary- but don't say he isn't a brother any more. And remember that our attitude to the least (the Greek is usually used about the spiritually weakest) of our brethren, is our attitude to the Lord Jesus, and this will be taken into account in the day of judgment (Mt. 25:45); for if a man cannot love his brother whom he has seen, how can he claim to love God, whom he has not seen (1 Jn. 4:20)? " Why dost thou set at nought thy brother [it's so crazy and spiritually illogical, Paul is saying]? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ" (Rom. 14:10), and crawl before Him for that mercy and utter grace which we ought now to be extending.

The Importance Of Unity

Note how Paul speaks of the breaking of bread in 1 Cor. 10:16-21. He sees the bread and wine as gifts from God to us. It’s all about receiving the cup of the Lord, the cup which comes from Him. We should take it with both hands. It seems so inappropriate, given this emphasis, if our focus is rather on worrying about forbidding others in His body from reaching their hands out to partake that same cup and bread. Way back in Gen. 14:18, the gift of bread and wine [which foreshadowed our present memorial meetings] was a sign of God blessing us. Hence it was “the cup of blessing”, which Paul says we also bless. There is a mutuality about it- we bless God, He blesses us. No part of this wonderful and comforting arrangement depends upon us not passing that cup to our brethren.

Phil. 3:2 graphically describes how evil division is: “Look out for those dogs…who do evil… who cut the body” (NET). If this is merely a reference to circumcision, it would contradict Paul’s tolerant attitude towards those who in their immaturity still practiced the rite. He wasn’t so passionately against circumcision as such; his reference is to those who divide the body of Christ through insisting upon such things. This cutting of the body is so easily done, whenever discord is sown. The language used by the Spirit here is some of the strongest anywhere in the New Testament. Sowing division is so seriously wrong.

In the one body, whatever happens to one part of the body happens in some sense to all of us. This is why it’s important to come to a correct perception of who is in the body of Christ and how it is defined. For we are to extend our feelings towards those within that body. The Old Testament body of Christ was based around Israel, and thus when the Lord made a breach upon Uzzah, David could say that the Lord “made a breach upon us” (1 Chron. 13:11; 15:13). The body of Christ is His "fullness" through which He fills us all (Eph. 1:23). I take this to mean that each member of the body of Christ manifests something unique about Jesus, so that between us, we show all of Christ to the world- e.g. one may reveal His patience, another His zeal, etc. By limiting our definition of the body of Christ, we limit our perception and experience of Him; and thus we limit the extent we are filled with His fullness if we refuse to accept that which every member of the body supplies to us in order that we might grow up in Him (Eph. 4:16). ount of the tabernacle labours the point that the whole house of God, this huge but delicate structure, was held together by "clasps of brass to couple the tent together, that it might be one" (Ex. 36:18 and often). "That it might be one" is alluded to by the Lord when He prayed for His people, "that they might be one" (Jn. 17:11,21-23). The record of the tabernacle stresses how the system was based around a mass of boards, tenons, curtain couplings etc. God's dwelling place, His house, hangs together by millions of inter-personal connections. "Out of church Christians", in the sense of those who think they can go it alone in splended isolation, are totally missing the point.

Fear of false teachers, even paranoia about them, is what has led to so much division in practice. The Lord Jesus tackled the issue of whether a person is a true or a false teacher. He didn't make the division so much on the content of their teaching, as we usually do, but rather says that the true teacher is motivated by seeking the Father's glory, whereas the false teacher seeks only his own glory (Jn. 7:18). Yet it is the endless fear of 'false teachers' in terms of the content of their teaching which has led to so much division- and often the process of it seems to have led to self-glorifying individuals establishing their own followings.