Scattered Brothers and Sisters
The Dilemma of Believers Alone
I dont know if you have seen a contemporary situation as clearly as I have, but it is out there in America and around the world. It is a problem that has always been with us but is continuing and maybe increasing. What is this dilemma to which I refer?
Lets give some background before we address the situation itself. First, we know that in Christendom we find multiple churches, denominations, fellowships, and independent groups. Formerly people would belong to a denomination and they would claim to be a Christian with this connection. More recently, there has been a rise of independent churches, sometimes called community churches or independent congregations. Some are Baptist in orientation, others are charismatic, and still others are of various brands or groups, all claiming to be Christians. To be a church member was to be in a church and this meant that someone professed Christ. But is this what God intended? Is this what pleases Him?
As we open the pages of Scripture, we notice that the writers assumed that the readers would be part of a local assembly of believers. Thus, Paul could write to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints (Romans 1:7a). He could address the church of God which is in Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling (1 Corinthians 1:2). He could write to the saints who are at Ephesus (Ephesians 1:1), all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi (Philippians 1:1), or to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are at Colossae (Colossians 1:2). These and many similar passages clearly show that early Christians normally were part of local assemblies of brothers and sisters.
Furthermore, many passages of Scripture give instructions to believers on how they are to relate to other Christians. This gives clear evidence that saints were generally in a close, intimate, and working relationship with each other. The one another passages in the New Testament show how this is worked out. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor (Romans 12:10). Be of the same mind toward one another (v. 16a).Accept one another (15:7). Greet one another with a holy kiss (16:16a). Bear one anothers burdens (Galatians 6:2a). Showing tolerance for one another in love (Ephesians 4:2). We are members of one another (Ephesians 4:25). Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other (v. 32). Passages like these could be multiplied. The point is that in the body of Christ, we are to be in a context where one another relationships are the norm.
Many other passages are given to Christians on how they are to relate to other brothers and sisters. While the phrase, one another, may not always be employed, it is quite plain that these instructions show us in relationship. If dozens or even hundreds of passages deal with our association with other believers, what could be the problem? The problem is that in the real world of the twenty-first century, many Christians are not in close fellowship with others. Why might this be the case? And what can they do about it?
Does this describe you, personally? Does it relate to your own family? Do you find yourself somewhat isolated from others? You may be geographically separated from others for you may live in the country, away from denser populations. You may also be in a part of the country (such as Oregon, Washington, Massachusetts, Connecticut, or New Hampshire) that is liberal politically and especially theologicallythus you have no commonalities with other residents. On the other hand, you may be in an area where there are many religious people (perhaps in the southern Bible Belt or in the Midwest), but you still find yourself alone and separated from meaningful association with those of like faith.
Can you see the real dilemma that confronts us? These scattered people who are not in fellowship, for the most part, want to be in fellowship and dont like the situation they are in. However, they dont know how to find their way out of this isolation. Ive tried to explain this to different people who find themselves in a church situation and they just cant seem to understand. They cant empathize with those who are alone and are not able to find fellowship regardless of their diligent efforts to overcome the problem.
There are Different Reasons Why People May be Alone
Lets explore some of the many reasons that lie behind men and women, or families, who live without the fellowship that they so earnestly crave.
1. People may be alone because they have left a liberal denomination.
Some of those who respect the Bible would want to belong to a more conservative and Bible-believing fellowship, but they may not find that for which they are looking. Perhaps they have visited various churches in their area or even at a distance, but still they find nothing. Instead of compromising, they choose to stay at home. If the person happens to be a lone individual, he or she is totally alone. If this is a family, they may choose to have a period of worship in their own home.
2. People may be alone because they are searching for something better.
Similar to the previous people, these ones may be called searching hearts since they are continually seeking something better, something more Scriptural, something that they would be convinced is Gods will for them. Finding nothing, they feel forced to be alonefor a short time or for a length of time.
3. People who may have been forced to move and dont immediately find fellowship.
Instead of being content with the first churches they visit, they are looking for something better. Finding nothing, they continue to scout around in their search. Even after months of searching, they continue without meaningful fellowship.
4. People who have children and want to avoid the bad influence of other families.
These people may be home schoolers or home educators who want to have their children in a context where they are supported by others who have the same educational perspective. They may have children of various ages and see the devastating effects of having them contaminated by rebellious, negative, worldly friends (ones who may be in church but act like the world). If they dont find a church or fellowship that is conducive to family life, they choose to be alone.
5. People who have learned Scriptural teaching that has led them out of their unscriptural church or denomination.
This may be a Catholic family that discovers how much God disapproves of prayer to Mary and the so-called saints. They may learn that the priesthood, the Mass, purgatory, and the papacy are all in conflict with Scripture. Thus, they leavebut where do they go? This may be a Protestant family and they learn that baby baptism, the clergy system, denominationalism, and yearly communion are all unscriptural, thus they leave. But then they are aloneand dont know what to do.
6. People who have left a cult and are confused.
There are a number of people who have either learned something of the truth while in a cult or are rejected from a cult and find themselves alone. For example, a Watchtower Witness may learn that Jesus is Deity or may discover that the Organization from Brooklyn is unscriptural in many ways, thus they depart. But where are they to go? They dont find what they want in a regular denomination, thus they are on their own. A member of the Mormons, the Way International, the Moonies, and many other groups may choose to leave the false teaching of their past, but they dont know where to gothus they are alone.
7. People who have left a world religion and dont know where to go.
It may be hard for us to imagine the bewilderment of someone who has worked their way out of the Hindu religion, the Islamic religion, the Buddhist religion, or the Jewish religion. They are entirely out of what they considered normal and acceptable, and have learned something of Christianity, but they havent found what they expected in any known group. They are alone and dont know what to do for Christian fellowship.
8. People who are idealistic and cant seem to find an assembly of people who are like what they read about on the pages of Scripture.
Probably some men and women or families have read enough about the early communities of Christ from Acts and the Letters that they have at least a small idea of what the body of Christ should be. They have looked and looked and just dont find any established group that comes close to the Biblical view they have developed in their reading and study. Thus they remain alone and long for God to give them a genuine experience of Scriptural fellowship.
9. People who are judgmental and conclude that they alone are part of Christs body on earth.
In one respect, we are to have good judgment and discernment. Jesus said, Judge with righteous judgment (John 7:24). But on the other hand, He also warned, Do not judge so that you will not be judged (Matthew 7:1). This latter passage has been greatly misunderstood and wrongly abused. Jesus goes on to say that the judgment that He condemns is a harsh judgment and a hypocritical judgment (see vv. 2-5). Judgment is needed (vv. 6 and 15-20) but we must avoid judgment that is harsh, unkind, bitter, and self-righteous (cf. James 4:11; 5:9). We must allow some immaturity and lack of understanding in others if they are not deliberately in rebellion against Gods will.
10. People may not be concerned about the many passages of Scripture that restrict our chose fellowship with others.
Probably a leading reason why some people are alone and unattached with the churches or groups they know about is this matter of Biblical allowable fellowship. By this we mean that an assortment of verses command us to refrain from close fellowship with people falling into various categories. For instance, we are to have no fellowship with people who have sinned and refused to reconcile (Matthew 18:15-17). Further, we are to have no fellowship with those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching [found in Scripture) and turn away from them (Romans 16:17-18).
Additionally, we are not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindlernot even to eat with such a one (1 Corinthians 5:11). Immorality would include fornication and adultery, as well as other sins. (It has been said that one congregation in our area harbors about 200 couples who are remarried and living in adultery!) We are not to associate with the covetous or rich people who refuse to share their wealth with those in need. We are not to associate with idolaters or those who exalt anyone or anything to a wrongful place in their life. We are not to associate with those who are revilers or those to habitually speak wrongfully or dishonestly about others. Further, we are to keep from association with drunkards or swindlers.
We are to have no fellowship or avoid such men as those who practice the sins listed in 2 Timothy 3:1-5. We are to keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which we have received by Paul the apostle (2 Thessalonians 3:6; cf. vv. 7-15). We must refrain from fellowship with one who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ (2 John 9-11). We can see that many come out people want to obey these warnings of Scripture that would command us to not have fellowship with those described above.
11. People who are trying to make sense out of the many Biblical teachings and how they relate to close fellowship with others.
They may know of certain acquaintances who seem to be saved according to Biblical teaching, but they are living in sin in other areas. Or they may see people they admire who are living according to Scriptural instructions on various matters, but it is not at all clear that they have actually been born again as described in Scripture. There are many of these complexities and dilemmas in Christendom, thus it is not clear how one may relate to these questionable people. Further, this problem is complicated all the more when not one person or one family is in question, but a whole assembly (whether large or small) is in this category of a questionable spiritual state. Thus, this dilemma surely is a leading cause for some people to not be in fellowship and thus remain alone.
12. People who have limited opportunities to learn of others and discover where they are spiritually.
It may be that many readers of this article have more opportunity to learn of other people, other groups, other searchers, and other beliefs and practices. But there are a wide difference of people in this regard. Some simply dont know how to reach out to people, or how to relate to other religious people, or how to examine Scriptures sufficiently to make informed, wise, and Biblical distinctions and decisions regarding people around them or even people at a distance. The Lord Jesus said, Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment (John 7:24). However, this can be difficult for some people to do since they dont have the knowledge to evaluate people, doctrines, groups, or churches with this righteous judgment. They are hindered because of this, thus they make many mistakes in regard to fellowship issues. And some of these just choose to remain alone.
Negative Reasons for Being Alone
The kinds of situations we have briefly addressed above may describe a large portion of people who are alone and unattached to any religion that may be thought of as part of Christendom. But there are othermore negativeconsiderations as well. Here are a few:
First, some people are hard-to-get-along-with and just dont fit into a Christian type of group. They may be obnoxious. They may have a negative attitude. They may be against certain groups or doctrines, but they dont convey a positive and open attitude toward people in general. Probably many people dont want to be around them and this attitude is conveyed to the person or family in question. Thus, some of these people are alone and may even want to be alone.
Second, some people may be self-righteous in nature and be unaware of their own ignorance and failings. In other words, they may be perfectionistic. We dont use the term in a positive way, for in some measure, we should strive for perfection (Matthew 5:48). But some men and women want to find the perfect model of the body of Christ or, at least, what they consider the perfect model. They dont find this, thus they force themselves to remain alone until they do find perfection. Ironically, many of these people themselves have large gaps in their understanding of what perfect means! The perfect or ideal they imagine is far from perfect, and may actually be false or unscriptural.
Third, other people are simply negative in attitude about everything, including what they want to find in religious circles. They are against this or against that, against this person or that person, against one public policy or another, but not really for much of anything! Years ago, I met a family like this. The woman of the family was against this person and against that person, against the way others did things, and against the attitudes that she observed in others. Her disposition just seemed to be negative in nature. Thus, they felt alone. They didnt display the graciousness that comes through Christ and the work of the Spirit.
Fourth, there are some people who just want to be separate and do their own thing. But we must remember what Scripture says: He who separates himself seeks his own desire, he quarrels against all sound wisdom (Proverbs 18:1). Regardless of the Biblical warning against separating, they venture to live a life of separation. Strangely, they love the aloneness!
Fifth, probably many people are alone since they have adopted one or many different false doctrines, thus they cant find others who share the same false views. Instead of being excluded because they have learned truth about some facet of Gods will, they have accepted false doctrine and think its the truth! This is not a good place to be for they may remain in the false teachings and never be able to find deliverance.
Sixth, surely many people are alone since they havent found friendship and a kind spirit in the churches they have visited. If they are recently saved, they probably dont know much about Biblical teachings, thus they make decisions about fellowship on the basis of peoples interest in them or on the basis of the friendliness displayed by others. The churches that have not offered a warm welcome to them may be rejected by these people for reasons other than the groups false doctrine, false practices, and false perspectives. So they remain alone, hoping that they will eventually find a friendly fellowship. But they take an unfriendly attitude wherever they go.
What Can We Do?
We have seen that, under normal circumstances, it is Gods will that His people be part of a local manifestation of the body of Christ. They are to be an integral part of a community or congregation that is organized by God Himself and associates for the edification of each member, for mutual encouragement, for sharing of resources, as well as for the preaching of the good news to the lost both locally and overseas (Romans 12:3-8). We receive a glimpse of this element in 1 Corinthians 12:25b-27:
. . . the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are Christs body, and individually members of it.
However, we have noticed that there are a sizeable number of people who are scattered in both urban and rural areas who are alone and not associated with any religious organization or church. We have also seen that there are legitimate reasons why someone would be alone and unattached, unaffiliated with any organized church. Further, we have noticed that there are more negative reasons why we find some people living apart from an organized church group.
It is very important that we consider one aspect as we think of our own alone situation and try to find a solution. It is this. We need to be careful that we are not personally guilty of wrongful and unscriptural division in our quest and our life. Scripture says that such sins as disputes, dissensions, factions (ESV: rivalries, dissensions, divisions; NIV: selfish ambition, dissensions, factions; NET: rivalries, dissensions, factions) are deeds of the flesh that will keep one from the kingdom of God (cf. Galatians 5:19-21). We must beware of causing unscriptural divisions (Jude 19). Thus, it is utterly important that we search our heart and determine whether there are any possible wrong motives in our being alone and our leaving an established church group. Lets make sure that there are right attitudes and proper reasons for our departure and our aloneness. We want to be entirely right before God and others in our life situation.
Do you find yourself alone, without meaningful spiritual fellowship and a working association with other brothers and sisters in the family of God? If you have followed our discussion above, you should be able to see now that God does want you to be in fellowship with other genuine followers of Christ. But how can you do this?
I dont have all of the answers to this dilemma and probably many of those who think they do have such answers are deceived themselves. Many are willing to tolerate varying amounts of known and unrepentant sin in a fellowship and others are seemingly unconcerned about following the apostles standards of truth and righteousness. But what can we conclude as we look for answers to the problem of being alone? Lets make a few suggestions to point us in the right direction.
First, you must make sure that you, personally, are saved. You are not prepared to be in fellowship with a body of believers if you are not a genuine believer yourself. Ask yourself if there has been a point in your life when you passed out of darkness into light, and out of the realm of Satan into the realm of God (cf. Colossians 1:13; John 5:24). Have you truly repented of your sins (Acts 3:19), died to those sins (Romans 6:1-5), placed your faith in Christ Jesus (John 3:16-18, 36), confessed Jesus as Lord (Romans 10:9-10), and been buried into Christ by baptism (Romans 6:3-5; Acts 2:38-39; 22:16). (By this we mean that a person comes to the point in which he is immersed or dipped in water and then drawn out of water. Many people fail to grasp that this is Biblical baptism.)
Second, you must give much thought and study to what Gods will actually is. Luke commended the people in Berea who heard the gospel of Christ and responded in faith. He explained, Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so (Acts 17:11). Do you receive the word with eagerness? Do you examine the Bible to determine what is truth and what is error? Do you in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls (James 1:21)? Do you really know the sacred writings of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:15) and find it complete in your search for truth (vv. 16-17)? You are not prepared to judge matters of Gods will unless you know at least some degree of truth from the Scriptures.
Third, have you made a diligent effort to search your area for Gods people who are meeting according to the Scriptural order? Be aware that probably most of them are meeting in insignificant places and in unpretentious locations. They may be meeting in homes, or may gather in a public meeting room, or perhaps assemble in a school room, or may even meet outdoors sometimes. Of course, some may meet in a structure built for the purpose of Christian gatherings. Ask people you know if they are aware of people who simply claim to be Christiansnothing more and nothing less. You may not want to travel fifty or a hundred miles for such a meeting, but there may be people meeting somewhere in your area. On occasion, I have simply gone up and down the streets, looking for many parked cars before homes (assuming that if Christians were meeting in a home locally, they would park their cars near the house). Check out each lead that you receive.
Probably many of those who have departed from unscriptural churches have banded together with a few others and are meeting in homes. These may be called home churches, house fellowships, home assemblies, or similar descriptive terms. But beware. From what weve read in different books, the majority of these groups are themselves unscriptural. For instance, they may be led by unscriptural leaders (cf. 1 Timothy 3:1-15; 2 Timothy 4:5; Ephesians 4:11-15), they may allow women leadership or participation (1 Timothy 3:2; 2:8, 11-12; 1 Corinthians 14:33-37), they may not promote Biblical conversion (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 2:36-41), or they may hold to a variety of serious false doctrines (Acts 20:28-30; 1 Timothy 4:1-2; 2 Timothy 4:1-4; Hebrews 13:9), and the like. Thus, in your search for some solution to your aloneness, make sure that you examine any home assembly carefully lest you jump out of the theological frying pan into the fire in your quest.
We are not discouraging your being alone and seeking to find the fellowship that Scripture presupposesand that you surely want. We might look to Acts 8 as an example.
Here we read of the conversion of the Ethiopian visitor to Jerusalem. As you recall, Philip preached the gospel to this sincere man and he responded in faith and baptism (cf. vv. 26-39; cf. Mark 16:15, 16). The account says that this newly-saved, newly-baptized, newly converted man went on his way rejoicing back to the distant land of Ethiopia! (vv. 27, 39). He went back, with no indication that there was any assembly of saints there (although there may have been). But somehow God must have protected this newly-reborn child of His, and perhaps this man was used of the Lord to bring others into Gods family! Thus, there are legitimate reasons for being alonebut we must be very aware of our own responsibility to be faithful and to share the faith with others!
Fourth, there is something that I would like to try and you may find this worthy of trying yourself. I have written an announcement describing some of the basic aspects of Gods family and what He expects of them in relationship with one another. This could be taken to the local newspaper and if you can find enough money, the paper could carry this announcement or article, with a point of contactusing your address, or (better yet) your telephone number or email address. If there are any interested people in the vicinity, they may read your words and choose to make contact with you. I was not able to do this yet for, as I recall, the cost was estimated to be about $1,500 for a single run (the local newspaper has a large circulation). This may be something that you would want to pursue.
Fifth, surely you will want to visit around your area, seeking to find people who have truly come to Christ and been saved from sin, and are also living in love, truth, and holiness. One visit may be sufficient to eliminate most groups, but you may need to visit more than once with some groups. Give a fair consideration with such groups, making allowance for some negatives, but seeking to find people who have an honest and good heart (Luke 8:15) and really want to follow the Lord, though they may be deficient on certain minor matters. Be careful if you have a family, for you would not want to jeopardize their own spiritual welfare by meeting with worldly and compromising children and young people for very long at all.
Sixth, it is important that you spend time in sincere prayer. Pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit (Ephesians 6:18). Offer your entreaties to God regularly, asking Him to help you in your quest to find true believers who are meeting according to Scriptural standards and believing Scriptural truth. He is more interested in this matter than you arefor surely He wishes His true sons and daughters to be in fellowship with each other, all for His honor and glory! (1 Peter 4:11). Ask God to lead you to His other children and plead with Him to show you His will more accurately (2 Timothy 2:15) so that you will have the good judgment and discernment to know His will when He shows it.
You are embarking on a very important mission. I personally know the importance of this matter for this has occupied my own mind and heart for a long while. We all need to apply ourselves to this quest so that we may find spiritual benefit ourselves and be able to bless the lives of others as well. May God bless you (and me) as we seek His will in this extremely important matter and determine to walk in it.
- Come Out and Come Together!
- What God Wants in the Community of Christ
- Drifting and Dreaming (the early Church)