The Teaching of Christ

January 14, 2009

Today I want to extend my comments about the fellowship dilemma in the conservative churches of Christ.

These churches rely heavily on 2 John 1:9-11 to support their highly restrictive doctrine of fellowship. Let’s take a look at the short book of 2 John to see what the apostle was talking about.

The concluding verses give us some insight into the context in which John wrote the letter:

2Jo 1:12 I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.
2Jo 1:13 The children of your chosen sister send their greetings.

The letter is apparently intended for a particular congregation. John was hoping to visit them soon (vs 12) and preferred to communicate with them face to face. There were many things that John needed to address. But there was only one issue that couldn’t wait for that face-to-face meeting. It was this issue that prompted the short letter.

John began the letter with a cordial greeting (vs 1-3). Then in verses 4-6 he gives a general admonishment to obedience and love. That was undoubtedly his message whenever he communicated with a church, and yet it is not the driving issue that motivated the apostle to write the letter.

The urgent matter he wrote to address appears in verse 7:

2Jo 1:7 Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist.
2Jo 1:8 Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully.
2Jo 1:9 Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.
2Jo 1:10 If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him.
2Jo 1:11 Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work.

Here was the serious matter, the one about which John was compelled to write immediately rather than wait for his upcoming visit. There were some deceivers who were spreading a fundamentally false teaching about Jesus. They taught that Jesus did not literally come in the flesh — the emerging Gnostic heresy. There was the very real threat that the Christians in that church could be led astray by this false teaching. As a result, the church leaders who directly received his letter could lose the reward for which they had labored in the church (1 Cor 3:15). John did not mince words. Those who taught this heresy had abandoned the teaching of Christ and did not have God. John instructed the church not to welcome these deceivers nor to accept them into their homes. No Christian should offer support nor assistance to the deceivers. Their teaching must be stopped.

In conclusion, John pointed out that there were many other things he needed to teach them, but that would have to wait. He was not writing to communicate about those other topics. The purpose of the letter was more specific than that.

This short letter was not instructing the church to start withdrawing fellowship over any and every doctrinal issue. It was addressing a single urgent doctrinal issue. Those who use verse 9 to justify withdrawing fellowship over other matters are going beyond what is written. By their own standard, they would be out of fellowship, because they are teaching this passage in error. They promote division from people whom God has accepted. In doing so the violate direct commands of God because of their error– commands for unity and against divisiveness.

May God give us all greater insight into His will, and may He heal our divisions.


  1. Alan,Strong observations about 2 John. Thanks.Matthew

  2. Alan,While reading your latest two blog entries, I find myself agreeing with much of what you say. I think you are absolutely right about how churches will use scripture in order to divide instead of unify. That is one of the main reasons I have a general problem with the conservative churches of Christ today. I don’t think they do that in a sinister or intentional way, but there is a cause that should be addressed. My take on it is that these erroneous interpretations of scriptures are the result of preachers and teachers wanting to have “the answer” There is power in exclusivity. It is that exclusivity which creates division. The desire for power and exclusivity comes from selfish ambition. I realize this may be an oversimplification of the issue. However, this can be seen as a root of why the seeds of division seem to be so prevalent today, not only in the conservative churches of Christ, but in many other denominations as well.

  3. Alan,Thank you for putting this in context. I usually refer to the ‘ones’ in Ephesians and consider anything outside of those to be disputable. Of course ‘one faith’ leave a real big loophole, but when added with these scriptures we can conclude that ‘one faith’ is linked to the nature of Jesus, the ‘foundation’ built upon in Corinthians.Reading the wikipedia histories of the Church of Christ and Disciples of Christ recently, it’s stark how they went opposite directions on this issue. I wonder if there was any ‘movement’ that tried the middle ground of unity we, and Jesus, pray for?-Frank

  4. Jay, I think the power of exclusivity can be at the root of some divisions. I suspect that fear and insecurity is also mingled in somehow — fear of losing members, of losing position or employment. If your members feel free to go elsewhere, they just might do it. But there is a better way. Instead of isolating your members through exclusivity, and instead of competing with the church across town for members, why not just meet the spiritual needs of your members so well that they would not think of leaving?

  5. Frank,The last chapter is not yet written. Maybe we can be part of the solution.If you take the core gospel (1 Cor 15:1-10 etc) as the “faith” I think you are on very solid ground.

  6. I appreciate your analysis, Alan. A much-abused text, indeed.

  7. Absolutely fear and insecurity play a large part of fueling divisions in the church by the ill-advised need to compete for members with other churches. It is easy to say it is a faith issue – – if they had solid faith, they would not have to be insecure and need to compete for members. But when faced with the possibility of losing your livelihood, it is quite scary indeed. That is a real test of faith!”….why not meet the spiritual needs of your members so well they would not think of leaving?..”If churches held to this rhetorical question, everyone would be better off.

  8. @ Alan,AMEN!

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