What is Fellowship? I have to ask. Being ex-COBU, I can give a definition based on what we were shown and taught was fellowship. I could also wing a definition based on what the world considers fellowship. I'll just blurt out what is in my mind, uncensored, and then clean up the mess afterwards.
Fellowship is a group of like-minded people. Fellowship is 2 or more people who have an agreement. There is an agreement on belief. There is an agreement on interest. People form a group, a group that is designed to continue in a specific agreement for an extended period of time. In the world there are fellowship halls and fellowships awarded to those to whom a group wishes to extend membership. If one maintains the principles upon which a fellowship is founded, he is said to be a member in good standing. One can break fellowship, that is, to break the founding agreement and fall out of fellowship with his fellow members.
Essentially, fellowship is a group with an agreement. "If two walk together, do they not have an agreement?" Walking together I believe is symbolic for fellowshipping. Walking by the Spirit, walking in love, walking with the Lord. It is more than the physical act of transportation by foot. It means agreeing to go the same direction at the same pace. Walking together also affords constant communication. If one runs ahead of the other, the agreement is broken and communication is confusing or impossible.
The idea of "others" and "us" originated with God. Genesis 1, "Let us make man in our image." But God being God, His "US" and "OUR" is too hard to understand. God is the originator of the first, "us." He created the angels and the 4 living creatures and the 24 elders. For man on earth he created the family. Adam was alone and so Eve was created. Marriage is an "us" but it is also Two become One.
The idea of being with others and not existing alone I think for humans starts with the family. We are born into a relationship. We have at least a mother and a father. Of course not all families stay together but we are created by God, creating our "us" through two. We are born dependent. A child born and then left alone will die. We need others to begin our life and keep it. The family provides necessities and security to sustain life. A human grows up and survives by others' care and by God.
Fellowship is the relationship we have with one another, the agreement we have with one another. I believe that fellowship in Christ must first begin with the individual believing in Jesus for the forgiveness of his or her sins. The believer is cleansed and made righteous through the blood of Jesus. Each one of us has our one heart inside, our one spirit and soul. We come to God through Jesus as individuals. We are born physically as individuals. Even twins have their own heart and their own spirit and come out, one at a time. When we stand in the judgment, there will not be "this church" and" that church" standing before the throne. We come to God alone, our relationship is with Him only and we will answer for what we did as individuals in Christ. Now, don't get me wrong....fellowship with others is vital to our Christian life, but the individual chooses to work in league with, in agreement with others.
There is a difference though between "the church" which is in the New Testament and "fellowship" with one another which is also in scripture. An individual choose to join a church and a church awards or declines membership to the individual. An individual is born into a family and has no choice in his relationship to his parents. When one gets born spiritually, automatically he or she is in God's family. God is father and we are all brothers and sisters. We don't choose who our spiritual brothers and sisters will be. We choose to join a church or group. We also choose to fellowship but these are not the same thing. If I want fellowship in the Holy Spirit with another believer I must first choose to "walk in the light as He is in the Light" and the other believer must do the same....And what does the scripture say, we then have "fellowship with one another." If I walk in the Light and go to church and meet with others and they are choosing to walk in darkness, then I cannot be "in fellowship with them." It is impossible. The Church is a structure set up by God through Jesus and written about by Paul. It is not by doctrine or denomination that we have "fellowship." And it is not by attending church or participating in church activities that we have fellowship. It is by the Spirit of God that we find others Born of Him. And those born of Him who choose to walk in the light as He is in the light do have fellowship with one another. The individual will be judged about the choice to walk with or not walk with God in this life and secondarily whether or not to walk with others in this life in the Light. The choice is either based in the flesh in which case the believer will choose a church or a club to join and think they are in "fellowship" with other believers. Or it is based in the Spirit and the person will find those who are children of God, in many different locations, and can have fellowship in the Spirit with anyone who is also a child of God walking in the light.
What is fellowship? What is it meant to be? Where does it come from? Why is it important to our spiritual life? How important is fellowship? What are wrong ways to look at fellowship? What is the wrong way to start or create a fellowship?
For most Christians it is pretty safe to say that church is their fellowship. It is the place where they practice what they agree upon. Baptists practice their faith based on the doctrines about which they agree. Presbyterians, Lutherans, Episcopalians, and the lists goes on. Denominations are born out of doctrinal agreement and disagreement. Doctrines. Divisions, and Denominations, in that order, are the natural progression for the creation of the many churches in existence today. Doctrine is argued over. Divisions come about over the dispute, and, if the contention is severe enough and sustained, then a denomination is created.
How do we have agreement? How do we have fellowship with one another? The scripture that starts to focus us on Godly fellowship: Look at this scripture:
1 Co 13:14 - The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
There is in scripture here a "fellowship of the Holy Spirit." What have we missed all these years? Let me leave this part for now and try to accurately portray the kind of fellowship we were taught, what kind of fellowship in which we participated.
The fellowship or “coming together in agreement” was created by God first. Relationship was created by God. One apple does not know what another apple is doing. There is no connection, no awareness, no spiritual fellowship. God originated the idea and the creation of "relationship" was designed for those created in His image. By reading what a founding member of the Forever Family has written about the beginning of the FF, there were teen-aged Christians together in Allentown before Stewart gathered them into his form of fellowship of which he was and is the sole leader. God did in truth save some young people in Allentown and had Stewart not shown up, who knows but God what kind of work He desired this young group to do. This brother who was at the beginning of the Forever Family described Stewart this way:
" Stewart came around every day, looking after a luxuriant spiritual plant that had marvelously sprung up without him, right under his nose, and seemed to call for a daily watering from him, to which duty he perhaps too diligently attended, anxiously thinking too much of his supposed responsibility, I think, and laying the groundwork for the high anxiety that, by its impatience with the more easy-going faith personified by Skip O'Neill, would one day discourage the church."
I think Stewart walked in on something that God already started. I have no doubt that the FF years were different from the COBU years. I am not saying that Stewart was right before God, but that God was able to still work through the true Christians in the FF in spite of Stewart. As Stewart took more and more control, the fellowship took on more and more of Stewart's personality and not the Lord's fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
Think now the effect of a wrong leader, a wrong teacher getting a hold of real Christians and leading them to heed his own voice and to regard his teaching and his understanding of scripture over The Holy Spirit working through and in the believers in the Body of Christ. Were we taught to listen to the Holy Spirit? Were we taught to study scripture ourselves and confirm what the Spirit said to us? In all the fellowships in the FF and COBU you have a consistent spirit at work and in control....Stewart's...not the Holy Spirit, but Stewart's. God was faithful to His children and to His promises to them in spite of the circumstances. True spiritual fellowship did occur in the Forever Family and COBU because Christians born of God "walked in the light and He is in the light"…not all the time but at times when one believer was in the light, he or she was able to have fellowship with anyone who was also walking in the light.
From this controlling spirit we heard things like, "if you leave this fellowship, you can't be faithful anywhere else." "You will be playing church" "You will not be being faithful to this higher calling, anything else is backsliding." The wording differed over the years but the message was the same and the spirit in which this message was delivered became more and more corrupt, and fearful, and desperate. Why did Stewart scare us into staying in fellowship? Why did he need us to stay? There are some simple answers which were true in 1973 and are true now. Stewart got Christians brothers and sisters to work for him then and he still has a workforce today. "Tend the flock of God, that is your charge, not by constraint, but willing, not for shameful gain, but eagerly, not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock." On at least 2 standards Stewart failed at the beginning of the FF and he fails every day he keeps the current members enslaved by fear to stay in his group, in "his fellowship."
Real fellowship is important to a Christian. Yes. But Stewart made his group membership life or death and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, non-existent. Stewart made his group a source of security. He made it equivalent to faithfulness to God. He made himself and by extension his group an idol. Stewart's group took the place of the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit and Stewart took the place of God in the hearts and minds of the members of his group. Stewart's sexual sins are the obvious works of the flesh. His idolatry and the members choosing to fellowship, to have agreement in his idolatry is the greater sin. The church is established by Jesus and is important in the life of the believer but it is not as significant and vital as the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
I have been asking ex-members for 12 years..."Why did you join?" and "Why did you leave?" These questions are simple but very important to answer. I have said also..."tell me the second and third reasons why you joined." Why, because every ex-member has the same first answer. Some of them are telling the truth, others are programmed to say, "I joined to please Jesus" or some variation of the same idea. There's nothing ever wrong with the first answer except that it's not the whole truth. The reason why I joined was because all my life I had a big family around me and I was tremendously insecure as a child and a young adult. One by one my brothers graduated high school and left home. My security was being taken apart. The FF and COBU were my second family, my security. I found my security in my family and I made COBU my second family so that I could be secure. It's true but that is not what a fellowship is supposed to be for.
If you are a club then you have a membership and you can admit or decline anyone wishing to join. Because Christians do not "join" a club or "join" a group at the beginning of their spiritual life but are born again, born of the Spirit, born into a spiritual family, with God as their father, the definition of "one another" of "us" of "the children(plural) of God" already exists in scripture, already is in place because God sent Jesus to save us, die for us, redeem us and make our spiritual birth possible and our spiritual family possible. "Fellowship" is immediately possible for the new Christian because they have been at the time transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of his marvelous light. They don't need to rush immediately to a church to have fellowship. The "family" was God's idea, God's design. The Body of Christ and, in another scripture the Bride, the Church, are of God. Are we a part of the Church that Jesus built upon Peter. Yes! Our "us" our group really consists of members of the body of Christ, individual Christians who ARE in the Spirit of God. This "fellowship" of the Holy Spirit" exists in most countries on this earth. I could go to Russia and find a believer in Jesus and have fellowship of the Holy Spirit with him or her, because "fellowship" is spiritual and it is only possible because of God. Contrast this with the pathetic fear tactics Stewart used to keep us huddled in a physical location. So we see that "church" is not "fellowship." Church is a convenient location where believers can meet and function together.
"Fellowship" can happen in a church but attending church does not guarantee you will find "fellowship in the Holy Spirit." The church Jesus spoke of is also the church that Paul wrote about in his letters to the churches. He wrote about pastors and teachers and how those with gifts of the Spirit should conduct themselves. There are bishops and deacons and elders: all in the church structure. The church structure was taught and constructed by the authority The Lord gave to Paul and Peter. We Christians follow the structural design in scripture. We belong to churches of this design. The church structure was set up for the believers to function with respect to each other and God. Paul instructed those of the early church how to take the Lord's table, how to address those who persist in sin, how prophets and those who speak in tongues should behave in the church. The Church is a structure that God put in place so that His children could work together and worship together. It is not however by participating in this church structure that we have fellowship with one another. The church is like a sheepfold, a structure for the flock. We need to be clear on the proper function and significance of the church. If we ascribe definition and significance to the church that belongs to "fellowship" then we might make the mistake or commit the sin of the cult leader and assign life and death importance to it. The church organizes the believers to make "fellowship" a possibility. The Church is like a hardbound book. There are the pages and the chapter headings and the table of Contents...and there are the hard covers and the binding...all necessary to contain and present content. The structure of the book is needed but not vital for presenting content and it is not able to guarantee or provide understanding of the text. So the church exists to help us believers, contain us, corral is into the sheepfold but it is not a replacement for the shepherd's relationship with the sheep. We sheep do not live 24 hours in the sheepfold. Our Shepherd leads us out to green pasture and tends us.
I will now ask you to consider an even closer look at what fellowship is according to our Lord Jesus.
I believe that Jesus spoke of, demonstrated, and invited us into the most precious and unique fellowship experience available between man and God: fellowship with Him. What is so unique, spiritual, and intimate about our fellowship with Jesus is shown in John 17 when He prays that the disciples may become perfectly one even as He, Jesus, and the Father are one. And how does this fellowship happen? Jesus said that He was in the Father and the Father was in Him. This is not walking along side someone in agreement but much more. Being in someone in plain terms means you go where they go, you do what they do and you are who they are. When we abide in Jesus, we are abiding in His love, we are abiding in the Father, for God is Love. 1st John also speaks of this fellowship. The disciples had fellowship in the Spirit of God. They were one even as the Father and Jesus were one.
Stop and think now first of Jesus our Lord and His relationship with the Father. Think of all the scriptures in the gospel of John that Jesus spoke concerning Himself and "Him who sent me." Read 1st John and then look at John 17:
1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven and said, "Father, the hour has come; glorify thy Son that the Son may glorify thee, 2 since thou hast given him power over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom thou hast given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent. 4 I glorified thee on earth, having accomplished the work which thou gavest me to do; 5 and now, Father, glorify thou me in thy own presence with the glory which I had with thee before the world was made.
I want to note a part: to give eternal life to all whom thou hast given him." We were given to Jesus. God gave us to Jesus. "All that the Father gives me, will come to me, and him who comes to me I will not ask out." There are many scriptures about God drawing us, giving us to Jesus. " Eternal Life is Knowing God and Jesus Christ whom He sent. Knowing God and being known by Him is eternal life.
6 "I have manifested thy name to the men whom thou gavest me out of the world; thine they were, and thou gavest them to me, and they have kept thy word.
Isn't this wonderful truth obvious? To whom do we belong? Who bought us, who owns us?
7 Now they know that everything that thou hast given me is from thee; 8 for I have given them the words which thou gavest me, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from thee; and they have believed that thou didst send me. 9 I am praying for them; I am not praying for the world but for those whom thou hast given me, for they are thine; 10 all mine are thine, and thine are mine, and I am glorified in them.
This is an incredibly powerful and awesome passage. Here I see the essence of how we come to God, how God gives us to Jesus, how we then have fellowship, relationship, oneness with God. We enter into the relationship with God because God chose to reveal his Son to each of us. When God reveals the Son, then we receive the words of Jesus, and "know" that Jesus came from God. Believing that Jesus is the Son of God, that He was sent by the Father and that the Father is in Him and He in the Father.....remember..."knowing" in truth.....this is not accepting the report of facts, this is spiritual, this is believing in Jesus, believing the truth about Him, the truth that can only be known IF THE FATHER chooses to reveal Him to you. Look at the end of this part of scripture: I am not praying for the world but for those whom thou hast given me, for they are thine; 10 all mine are thine, and thine are mine, and I am glorified in them.
Do you sense the true significance of this "fellowship," this "us." Consider a paraphrase. I in you, you in me, I in them and you in me, you in them, because I am in them. Parts of this prayer and 1st John sound like this but consider how there is nothing else in between or around or attached to this intimate fellowship. Jesus IS IN the FATHER and the FATHER is IN THE SON. "He who has seen me has seen the Father also." Because this is so true, so solidly perfectly true, Jesus even says, as though incredulous of Phillip, "How can you say 'show us the Father.'" It is like Phillip was saying to Jesus, "Hey Jesus, could you show us Jesus, I mean I know you are Jesus, but could you show us the Son of God, Jesus?" To Jesus, Philip was being absurd which makes us all realize how absolutely true the scripture, "He who receives me, receives Him who sent me." Jesus was not just a messenger. He was not just a prophet. He was not a king. just He was and is God. This "knowing" can only happen by God's revelation. 16 Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." 17 And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”
11 And now I am no more in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to thee. Holy Father, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.
This is fellowship. It is God who keeps us in His name. Again, think of the crudity of the thing Stewart made and the vulgar way he scared us into staying and held so tightly to his leadership. Think of this scripture. Jesus is praying to God to keep the disciples in His name, THAT THEY MAY BE ONE EVEN AS WE ARE ONE. I cannot say anything to make this anymore clear. God keeps us in this fellowship of the Holy Spirit that we may be one...WE, US...we individuals brought together and kept by God so that we can have the oneness that Jesus had and has with the Father. And what is that oneness? One is in the Other. You cannot be more intimate than this. Nothing can get between two when they are one.
12 While I was with them, I kept them in thy name, which thou hast given me; I have guarded them, and none of them is lost but the son of perdition, that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. 14 I have given them thy word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15 I do not pray that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.
I want to make a point about Stewart not having fellowship with other Christians. It is right that we have no friendship with the world. We are separate from the world, but to separate ourselves from the world is a spiritual action. We have the Spirit of God and are His children. We are spiritually not of this world as Jesus was not of this world. Stewart separated his group from the world, yes. But he also separated his group from the rest of the Body of Christ. One must ask, what spirit does this? Think of Jesus' prayer for the disciples and us and the intimate fellowship we have in the Spirit with other believers, the identity we have in the Father and in the Son by the Spirit. And then think of Stewart's view of other children of God.
Jesus said in John 13: 20 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who receives any one whom I send receives me; and he who receives me receives him who sent me."
Receiving a believer in Christ, is receiving Christ, and receiving Christ is receiving God. Look at the contrast: 3 John 1:9-11
9 I have written something to the church; but Diot'rephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge my authority. 10 So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, prating against me with evil words. And not content with that, he refuses himself to welcome the brethren, and also stops those who want to welcome them and puts them out of the church.
It is a serious offense and a serious indicator that Stewart's behavior toward other Christians should have been an obvious sin to us who were in his group and a big indication that he was not in the Father or in the Son by the Holy Spirit. What must be clear in our minds are the true definitions of " The Church" "The Body of Christ" "Fellowship" "Family" "Church Membership" "Factions" and "Cults." For Christians today there are these entities we belong to, choose to belong to.
17 Sanctify them in the truth; thy word is truth. 18 As thou didst send me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth. 20 "I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.
Jesus means us. Everyone who believed the gospel, the words Jesus gave to the apostles, Jesus is praying for us to also be one as He and the Father are one, for what reason? So "that the world may believe that thou hast sent me." This is the witness to the world. "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." Salvation is coming to know Jesus as the Son of God, as the Lamb of God, as the atonement sacrifice for us. We believe in Him and become one in Him and from this God reveals His Son through us by the Holy Spirit to the world. Love is the fruit of the Spirit. Loving one another is the fruit of the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
22 The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me.
"I am in them and thou in Me".....The intimate spiritual relationship we have in Him.
24 Father, I desire that they also, whom thou hast given me, may be with me where I am, to behold my glory which thou hast given me in thy love for me before the foundation of the world.
God and Jesus were always one. Their Oneness was before the world was made. When we receive the Holy Spirit, we enter into the Oneness Jesus gained for us by the cross.
25 O righteous Father, the world has not known thee, but I have known thee; and these know that thou hast sent me. 26 I made known to them thy name, and I will make it known, that the love with which thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them."
Please read The First Letter of John and listen and see what the Holy Spirit will say to you about our fellowship with one another. John chapter 13-17 is also a confirming portion of scripture.
There are 3 things I want to address before closing this piece: first, the church, second, the party spirit and third, the membership spirit. We do have churches. There were churches in the time of the apostles. The Spirit spoke to the 7 churches that are in Asia. There was and there are church structures where we can serve God. This is not to say that there were denominations in the first century but early church bodies. When we tithe, we are giving money to an organized biblical structure and scripture acknowledges this design. There are Bishops and Deacons. There are pastors and teachers, evangelists, elders, and workers. We give money to support these brothers and sisters and we help pay for a building. I will not get into the controversy of the building fund. Some Christians think of their church as their fellowship with others. Like I said before, fellowship does exist and can exist within the walls of a church but it is not the location or the participation in the functions in a church building that bring about fellowship. 1st John 1: 5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; 7 but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. Our fellowship with one another can only exist if we "walk in the light, as He is in the light." If we are in Him and are not walking in darkness, then those who are also in Him and walking in the light, will be in fellowship with us in the Spirit.
I want to also point out that The Spirit spoke to the 7 churches in Asia but at the end of each letter The Spirit says, "To him who conquers..." Yes The Spirit spoke to a group of believers but the reward is to "him" who conquers...to the one who conquers, the individual. Again, the idea that our group, the group we belong to has some significance to God is not supported in scripture. Remember the scripture, "But he who endures to the end will be saved." We need to look at the group or church where we serve as a convenient meeting venue and not as what Paul spoke of as "the fellowship of the Holy Spirit." because it is not.
Ephesians 4: 1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.
Look at these verses and tell me if you can detect any doctrine, division, or denomination in them. "Eager to maintain the UNITY OF THE SPIRIT in the bond of peace. We were called to the ONE God and in the One Spirit. We find our agreement, our fellowship in the Holy Spirit. This is profound for me and it will take some time to understand this. This means our fellowship with one another is in the Spirit. It is spiritual. It is not bound by location or doctrine or denomination.
Paul wrote to the Corinthian church about party spirit in the first 3 chapters of the first letter. There were factions, separate groups. One group was devoted to Paul. One group was devoted to Peter. Another group professed devotion to Christ. Paul wrote that they were behaving like men of the flesh.: "10 I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chlo'e's people that there is quarreling among you, my brethren. 12 What I mean is that each one of you says, "I belong to Paul," or "I belong to Apol'los," or "I belong to Cephas," or "I belong to Christ." 13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
The Corinthians were not maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. They were not led by the Spirit when they chose to be devoted to Paul or Apollos or Cephas. These Christians were grouping themselves according to people they chose to listen to and follow. The Corinthians were choosing to do this and Paul corrected them. Paul, Apollos, and Cephas did not and were not encouraging this devotion. Cult leaders exploit this type of sin in believers. Stewart certainly went to the extreme in not only fostering devotion to himself but eliminating any competition, any brother or sister whom the brothers and sisters were inclined to pay attention to. He encouraged directly and indirectly devotion to himself, devotion that he acknowledged at the Grace Meeting when he spoke of the members transferring their allegiance from his spirit to God's.
Lastly, the idea of membership. The extreme of course is cultism. I wrote about this before and want you to see it again.
38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 For the one who is not against us is for us. 41 For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.
This scripture came to me when considering if there were any examples in the bible of "Cult-Like" thinking. Those who lived in the Church of Bible Understanding can remember the many times we heard the idea, "that if you leave, you will backside, or you will go to a church that has a lesser or lower calling than the high calling of the fellowship Stewart Traill designed. Of course, it was never said that bluntly and not in those words. Stewart would cite statistics about those who left. Why? To prove to those still inside that it's God's will that they stay in COBU and that there are consequences for leaving. If you left COBU, you left God. Every current member and ex-member knew that Stewart meant this. In the early 80's Stewart acted surprised at the Stone Mountain Manor meeting when brethren brought this idea to his attention. My brother Chris, recalled Stewart acting like he never conveyed to us the idea that we couldn't be faithful to Jesus anywhere else but the Church of Bible Understanding.
Try this test, current and former members of COBU. Can you picture any member at any time making an appointment with Stewart and telling him that God was calling him or her, the member, to go elsewhere for fellowship and/or to do God's will in some other church or in the mission field? I can think of only one brother who did this. I also remember what we thought of him when he left. Why did we believe that we who were saved, born again, by way of the witnessing of brothers and sisters of the FF /COBU; Why did we believe that we MUST ALSO only fellowship with Christians within the FF/COBU?
Where did this idea originate? What scripture supports this concept of fellowship or the church? To the contrary, this was party spirit and it was initiated by and exploited by the one who would derive the most benefit.
Look at the scripture again.
Mark 9: 38-41
38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 For the one who is not against us is for us. 41 For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.
John, son of Zebedee, wanted to stop a man from casting out demons in the name of Jesus. What was his reason? "Because he was not following us." It seems clear that John believed one had to be "with" Jesus (in Jesus' group), to do a mighty work. In essence, you had to be a part of Jesus' group, fellowship, church, to do God's will. Doesn't this seem reasonable? But Our Lord, says "Don't stop him from doing what he was doing. Why? Because if God is casting out demons, using this man, then God is at work in this man's life. Look at this statement," For the one who is not against us is for us." Being with Jesus is a matter of Spirit and not location. This is the strongest argument against membership and cultism. I am reminded of Matthew 24 “when they say “Lo, he is the wilderness, Lo he is in the inner rooms…” Our watchfulness, our knowing our Lord and watchfulness is spiritual. It is our only preparation for the Lord’s coming. Our readiness is in our hearts. Faithful and wise. Jesus will come and wherever we are physically, we will go to be with Him. Only a cult ties a believer down to a location and a leader.
Consider a different point now. Stewart Traill's reported beginnings, going from church to church, arguing and getting thrown out by, we can assume, Christians. Now consider his language in the early days of the FF, labeling such people as CCC, Contentious Church Christians. And if these were not "real" Christians, How did Stewart treat "real" Christians? They did exist in the 1970's in America...yes there is actual proof that God did indeed save other humans living on the North American continent. Did he seek them out, did he welcome other believers in Allentown? At the very beginning Stewart didn't fellowship with other Christians. More importantly, Stewart was never humbly under another Christian leader's authority in the Body of Christ. Stewart has been alone all his Christian life. His contempt for other Christians was obvious from the beginning of Forever Family. Some of the brethren from those days think Stewart getting booted out of these churches was an indication of his unique stand for the truth. Isn't is also possible that Stewart was standing for "his own" truth and "his own" interpretation and they rejected him as a false teacher or a weirdo. They may have also just ejected him simply because they found him annoying. If Stewart was “walking in the light as He is in the light” he would have had spiritual fellowship with at least 2 maybe 3 other believers. Stewart did not need to have a membership in a church. This is not evidence or fruit of fellowship of the Holy Spirit. It is the truth of Stewart’s spiritual fellowship with other believers that appears non-existent. How did Stewart become pastor of the FF and COBU? To whom did he submit himself? This is a matter for the church. And even if he would have followed church standards and secured the office, still, where is his “fellowship” with others?
Stewart knew what the late sixties and early seventies produced: a wandering generation of young people looking for meaning and purpose and he knew that young people are not confident about themselves and their direction in life and very insecure. He knew that the parents at that time were weak in their answers to life and he exploited these facts to his advantage. Shameful gain. Not souls for the Kingdom of Heaven but members for his group. A recording of the first Big Meeting convinced me that Stewart was happiest with the expansion of his group, his creation with him in charge and not glorifying God and being a humble servant.
There is a passage like the account in Mark. In the last passage Jesus said that if someone is not against Him then he is for Him. Here he is saying, "He who is not with me is against me." and note that this passage and the one before are said at the time when Jesus or someone else was casting out demons.
Matthew 12: 22 Then a blind and dumb demoniac was brought to him, and he healed him, so that the dumb man spoke and saw. 23 And all the people were amazed, and said, "Can this be the Son of David?" 24 But when the Pharisees heard it they said, "It is only by Be-el'zebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons." 25 Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, "Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand; 26 and if Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand? 27 And if I cast out demons by Be-el'zebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they shall be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 29 Or how can one enter a strong man's house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? Then indeed he may plunder his house. 30 He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters. 31 Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 And whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. 33 "Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers! how can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good man out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned."
I will not try and speak on all of this passage but I will point out some things I think are important to our understanding about fellowship. Simply put, Jesus cast out a demon and the Pharisees sinned by directly and wrongly speaking about the Spirit inside Jesus. Jesus teaches them about the spiritual realm and also shows us spiritual warfare between the Light and darkness. I would ask you again to see that location, membership, affiliation is meaningless in this war. When the sons of Sceva tried to cast out a demon and the demon attacked them, they were not with Jesus, not in the light, did not have the Holy Spirit. They could not even get away with using Paul's identity or Paul's relationship with God to cast out the demon. In this spiritual war, we are either in the light or we are in darkness.
When Jesus then speaks of the tree and the treasure, it is plain and indisputable that if you are with Jesus in the light, you will bear the fruits of the Spirit. If you are in Him, you will bring good from your good treasure. He rebukes the Pharisees for their hypocrisy because they wear a mask of light and inside they are full of darkness. "Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks." We need only to listen to what Stewart says to know what treasure he offered and is offering. We need to only see what fruit Stewart bears to know what kind of tree he is. Was Stewart gathering? Was he ever “with” Jesus….in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit?
When you have a leader who won't submit to God and let the Holy Spirit lead, then you still do have a group, but it will take after the one leading them. The young members of the FF either didn't know or knew and weren't spiritually strong enough stand up to this usurper and dismiss him.The standards of Bishops and Deacons in Titus and Timothy are clear and Stewart failed them. Stewart failed to comply to church standards in the church structure. The FF and COBU are Stewart's fault for making himself an idol and our fault for exchanging the truth about God for a lie. I believe at some point in every ex-member's heart there came a time when they had to choose Stewart or God. We cannot serve two masters and clearly there was and is a choice between two masters.
We were born of God and were counseled by the Holy Spirit and at some point we left His fellowship and joined Stewart's. Our healing as current and ex-members begins when we repent of our falling away or going astray from the Lord and his fellowship of the Spirit. We committed idolatry when we became members of Stewart's cult.
In COBU, we were never encouraged to fellowship with Christians outside our group. We were taught by Stewart to hold other Christians in contempt or to be suspicious of them. He was not accountable to any Christian his own age. His pride did not permit him to fellowship with other Christians and he taught this contempt to us. It might seem like an obvious fact but on this one fact alone, we could have determined that Stewart was not walking in the light and did not have fellowship with other children of God who were.
Fellowship is shown and prayed about in John 17. It is explained and proved in 1st John. It is demonstrated in John 13. Jesus makes this fellowship clear to us in John 14-16. Paul addressed those who were not walking by the spirit but were separating themselves into groups, devoting themselves to individual leaders. We also have Stewart creating the extreme of the worst kind of group, a cult.
Our true fellowship with each other and other Christians begins with our walking in the light as our Father is the Father of Lights and in Him there is no darkness at all. We walk in the light with Him and in Him we have fellowship with those who are also in the light, regardless of what church they belong to or what membership they hold.
So how do we have fellowship with one another? How do we participate in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit? I can repeat the verse again, "If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another." But what does that mean? I know most of you know, but for others who only recently, like me, were shown "how" to walk in the light "how" to abide in Him, I will write a what little I do know with plenty of room to be shown more by the Spirit of God and by brethren whom the Lord has blessed with more understanding and knowledge to teach me.
For me, to walk in the light as He is in the light means, first, prayer. Of the 4 basics I believe prayer is the most important. In prayer we come to our Father by the righteousness of Jesus in the Spirit. We come into His presence. We come into the light to the Father of Lights. What makes one believer different from another depends on how open and honest and revealing and exposed the child of God is with his or her Heavenly Father. Here we come to the paradoxical language about our Father God. Our Father is omniscient and yet when Jesus comes, He will say to some, "I never knew you." What does this mean? Look at this scripture in John 17 again:
3 And this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent.
This is eternal Life! If we consider all the scripture where Jesus speaks of eternal life and giving us eternal life and entering into life.... it comes back to this. We know Him and Him whom He sent. "Knowing" Him does not mean knowing about Him but knowing Him in a relationship. When does this relationship begin? When He draws us and gives us to the Son. He chooses to reveal His son to the ones He gives to Him. We then are cleansed and we are born of the Spirit. We then begin to know our Lord. Do we know all there is to know about Him when we are new Christians? No...Knowledge and knowing Him are two distinct things. Why did Jesus say, "Let the children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of Heaven," and "unless you turn and become like children you will never enter the Kingdom of God." Children are woefully deficient in knowledge, but they know Him. If a person goes to the cross of Christ and receives Him and dies two minutes later, he will enter eternal life. Our knowing Him is one aspect of walking in the light. Knowing Him, knowing the Way, the Truth and the Life, loving Him, we know how to walk.
The other part of walking in the light is God knowing us. Now as I said, God knows everything about everyone. It would be unjust for Him to judge someone and say "Depart from me" if He was not aware of all the evidence. He would be considered unfair or unjust. But what does "I never knew you" mean? Look at this scripture:
1 Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that "all of us possess knowledge." "Knowledge" puffs up, but love builds up. 2 If any one imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. 3 But if one loves God, one is known by him.
"But if anyone loves God, one is known by Him." Being known by Him does not appear to be God knowing the facts about us because He already knows everything. Here is what I believe "walking in the light" and Him "knowing" us has to do with fellowship in the Spirit. When we are in prayer, we allow ourselves, our whole selves to be searched by the Spirit. We hide nothing from our Lord. Do we have the ability to hide something from him, withhold something from Him? Yes! Our Hearts. Our selves. Our person. Some part of our life. Yes, He knows all about us, but He will confine His Knowing Us to what we give to Him, release to Him, leave with Him, what we invite Him to share with us. Our own will, our free will, He will not violate and so what we hold back from His Spirit, He will not pry out of our grasp. Walking in the Light is coming before the Lord and willingly giving everything we are to Him and allowing Him to Know us. When we do this, we are in the light with him with nothing tucked away in darkness. The scripture, "Search me of God and see if there be any wicked way in me," is not for God to discover or uncover what He doesn't know about us but to reveal us to ourselves. We also are demonstrating to Him our willingness and invitation for Him to bring to the surface what we need to repent from, what we need to turn over to Him. We invite Him to shine the light of the Spirit into the depths of our being and expose us. "For whatever becomes visible is light."
When the Spirit searches us, He is not searching our flesh or reminding us of our temptations. He is searching us because we have invited the Lord to know us and The Spirit will show us how we have transgressed the relationship by sinning against God. Some sins we are aware of and some we are not. The Spirit is willing and able to bring to our minds and hearts how we have sinned against the Lord. He waits for us to invite Him with a pure and open heart. Remember that when the Spirit searches us, He will not draw any attention to our corrupt flesh or the devil's temptations. "Thou desirest truth in the inward being." God is concerned with the "me" inside that has the power now to choose light or darkness. If I have chosen sin, chosen darkness, then 1st John 2: 1 My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
Why would not come to the light? Why do we not run to the Father in prayer and invite the Spirit of God to search us and purge us of spiritual darkness?
John 3:19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For every one who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21 But he who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God.
Our new nature delights in God and wants to be in His presence. Our old nature cries Rev 6:16 -... to the mountains and rocks, "Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; Think of this verse and then read: Mt 18:10 -"See that you do not despise one of these little ones; for I tell you that in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven." Read," unless you turn and become like children...." The child naturally goes toward Jesus; the corrupt seek to be hidden.
When we come from our time in prayer, filled with the Spirit, walking by the Spirit, walking in the light, walking in love, we may encounter in our day someone else who has surrendered all to our Father, in the Spirit. With this person, we have fellowship. Our relationship is spiritual. Language, denomination, culture, or any other earthly barrier or division cannot prevent this fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
Prayer. I think it is the starting of walking in the light. It may be the only part of the life of the believer when we come into His presence and ask the Spirit to search us. It is there we have a choice to repent and expose the darkness in us and accept The Lord to know us. Look at this in 1st John:
John 2:1-29 1 My little children, I am writing this to you so that you may not sin; but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
3 And by this we may be sure that we know him, if we keep his commandments. 4 He who says "I know him" but disobeys his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him; 5 but whoever keeps his word, in him truly love for God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in him: 6 he who says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.
We are sure we know Him if we keep His commandments (love one another) We are sure we are in Him, by walking in the same way in which He walked. We are the lights of the world. He was/is the Light of the World. We walk by the Spirit. We walk in the Light. God is Love. Love one another. God is Light. Abide in Him. Abide in His love. I in you and thou in me. I in them. Can you see the intimacy of the fellowship of the Holy Spirit?
7 Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment which you had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard. 8 Yet I am writing you a new commandment, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. 9 He who says he is in the light and hates his brother is in the darkness still. 10 He who loves his brother abides in the light, and in it there is no cause for stumbling. 11 But he who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.
Notice the interchangeable language of Light and Love and abiding. Here we see that loving one another is abiding in the light. There is no in-between. We are with Jesus in the light or in darkness, against Him.
18 Children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come; therefore we know that it is the last hour. 19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out, that it might be plain that they all are not of us.
This scripture was misused by Stewart and is probably a favorite of all cult leaders. Please remember all that I wrote about the church, membership, cults. False christs and false prophets, antichrists will come and will command your allegiance, your membership, and will steal the truth of the fellowship of the Holy Spirit and apply it to their created group and condemn those who leave as though the person is leaving God, leaving the light. I don’t need to remind ex-members what things Stewart said to equate his group to that of the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
Think again of the Gospel of John and how our Lord spoke of Himself and “Him who sent me.” Remember the language? If you receive Jesus, you receive God. If you see Jesus you see God. Know Jesus, Know God. The antichrist denies the only one who can save us, the only way. We have eternal life through Jesus. We are saved from outer darkness.
The proofs of walking in the light are here. I believe the fruits of the Spirit and the description of Love in 1 Corinthians 13 are also our way of knowing that we are in Him, in the light, in fellowship with one another.