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The Greatest of Associations

The First Amendment to the Constitution reads as follows: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

At one time or another, every court in the American judicial system—from local jurisdictions to the Supreme Court—has served as an ideological battleground over the extent to which the framers of the Constitution intended to guarantee these rights. Decisions rendered during the 1950’s and ‘60’s established what is now called the Right of Association—the freedom to engage in association for the advancement of beliefs and ideas. The local churches we attend are protected—at least for now—by this very freedom!

The Right of Association means we have the right to build an ideological alliance that includes some and, by its very nature and or the edicts of its constituents, excludes others. For the church, it means that God’s people are at liberty to build theological alliances under the same protections. And the scriptures are very clear about the kinds of alliances the people of God should or should not be building!

Let’s begin with the kinds of folks with whom the church should form no alliance. First are those who will not submit to baptism. After Philip had “preached Jesus” to the Ethiopian eunuch from Isaiah 53, the two came upon a body of water (Acts 8:26-40). The eunuch asked: “What doth hinder me to be baptized?” Philip responded: “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest.” The eunuch affirmed: “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” His public statement of faith was all Philip needed to seal the eunuch’s association with the church via the baptismal waters. As one popular preacher said, a profession that won’t baptize isn’t worth a plug nickel. In regard to biblical evangelism, the only way Philip could have preached Jesus unto the eunuch as the One who suffered for his iniquity was a conviction that the “all we” and “us all” of Isaiah 53:6 was inclusive of all mankind. No Calvinist could have applied that truth with a good conscience!

Second are those whose lives lack moral transformation. In addressing the moral issues afflicting the church at Corinth, Paul identified ten types of individuals with whom they should disassociate or refuse to be allied (1 Cor. 6:9-11). They are fornicators (sexually promiscuous as unmarried), idolaters (worshippers of false gods), adulterers (violators of marital fidelity), effeminate (addicts to sensual pleasures to include male homosexuals), abusers of themselves with mankind (practitioners of anal intercourse to include men with boys), thieves (those who violate the property rights of others), covetous (addicts to the self life and material things), drunkards (addicts to strong drink to include all intoxicants), revilers (practitioners of verbal assassination), extortioners (those who steal by swindling). Paul reasons that if these kinds of unrighteous individuals have no inheritance in God’s kingdom, why should they be granted association or alliance with God’s church?

Let’s now move on to the kinds of folks with whom we ought to associate and ally ourselves as members of the church. Actually, that group is the inverse of the disassociation list. That is, those that profess faith in the Lord Jesus with evidence that their lives are undergoing a moral transformation in righteousness ought to be the recipients of our embrace as the people of God. No, they do not have to be perfect. But they should be “in process” as should all of us be! In fact, we can reduce our basis for association down to just one word—faith! In this matter, God’s people should have no respect of persons! If our spiritual association is based on an allegiance to Christ, why should any of us stand in judgment of others over external appearances?

Men and women alike have always tended to associate themselves with those who occupy the same rung on the economic and social ladder. It is an expected behavior in the world, but unacceptable in the church. The believer who disassociates him- or herself from another brother or sister for reasons of status or appearance is a respecter of persons, and contradicts the very gospel that forms the basis of our association in Christ!

In his epistle, James exposed the practice of partiality by those who despised the poor. He wrote: “Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom he hath promised to them that love him?” (Jas. 2:6). James argues that if faith is the basis of God’s election of men, why is it not good enough for you as a basis of impartial association? Moreover, if faith in Jesus is good enough for God to consider them rich, on what basis do you consider them poor?

Faith, love, and a kingdom inheritance are riches held in common by all of God’s elect. The doctrine of election, if properly understood, is a spiritual adhesive to bind God’s people together. Biblical election has nothing to do with an eternal decree to save some and damn others. It has everything to do with the family of believers—those whom God has chosen in Christ Jesus to comprise the greatest of associations!


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