Constructing Fellowship Tests

Those who are captured by the same spirit they oppose tend to create explicit or implicit “tests of fellowship,” which end up excluding genuine members of the body of Christ. A “test of fellowship” is a belief or practice that people employ as a gauge to determine if another is worthy of their complete fellowship. Let me illustrate.

When I was sixteen, I was baptized in water to confess my faith and allegiance to Jesus Christ. Some years later, I joined a movement (or a “nondenominational” denomination) that told me that I had to be baptized in their church because any other baptism was null and void.

This “denomination” refused to recognize my former baptism simply because they had the elitist viewpoint that they exclusively had the corner on genuine baptism. Baptism was a “test of fellowship” for them. Unless a Christian was baptized in their church, that Christian would always be viewed as second class.

Years later, I spent some time with a movement that carried this same spirit. For them, however, baptism wasn’t their test of fellowship. It was something else. Essentially, they believed that unless you were part of their particular movement, any experience of church life you had was meaningless. And they were terribly disinterested in hearing anything about it.

You had to be part of their movement in order to have a valid spiritual experience. And if you didn’t, you were regarded as second class. To their minds, only they and their tiny movement were the divine custodians of true spiritual experience, both corporate and individual.

For me, it was déjà vu. It was the same song that the “we are the gatekeepers of authentic baptism” people had sung, only to a different tune. It reminded me of the rebuke that Jesus leveled to His disciples when they began to entertain the same sort of elitist mentality:

“Master,” said John, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.” “Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.” (Luke 9:49-50)

Note the words “we tried to stop him because he is not one of us.”

The Corinthians were not alone in their tendency to create a “we are of Christ” party (1 Cor. 1:12–13).

There’s nothing new in any of this. You can find it on the earth today in thousands of movements and denominations. It’s like the saying goes: “It’s the same song, third verse; could be better, but it’s gonna get worse.” And that song is commonly sung among those who have been captured by the same spirit they oppose.

It’s my strong feeling that a genuine revelation of the fullness of Christ will strip you and I of all exclusiveness and sectarianism. And it will demolish an elitist attitude.

Think about what seeing Jesus Christ did to Paul of Tarsus. It transformed him from a religious, bigoted, sectarian, elitist Pharisee to someone who welcomed and embraced heathen Gentiles—the very people he was taught to despise all his life.

Paul’s sighting of Christ annihilated a bigot and created an apostle.

If we see only a part of Christ and build a monument around that “sighting,” then we are ripe for embracing an elitist spirit. But if we stay open to the whole Christ, looking for Him in other places, people, and movements, elitism will not find a home in us.

From Revise Us Again by Frank Viola, author