God’s Word for You
Malachi 2:10 Keeping and breaking fellowship
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, February 27, 2021
Up to this point, God has been calling the priests to repentance. Now the prophet turns to the people of Judah.
10 Don’t we all have one Father? Didn’t one God create us? Why do we profane the covenant of our fathers by breaking faith with one another?
It should be easy to answer these questions. They’re hardly questions at all. Of course the world was not brought about by many different gods, “For every house is built my someone, but God is the builder of everything” (Hebrews 3:4). Isn’t the one Father in heaven the Father of everyone? Isaiah said, “They will all be taught by God” (Isaiah 54:13), and Jesus said, “Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me” (John 6:45). He is the “One God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:6). But when the northern tribes turned away from the one true worship, God condemned them again and again for their error. As early as the Tenth Century BC, the blind prophet Ahijah condemned the sins of Jeroboam I that he caused the rest of the nation to commit with him (1 Kings 14:6-16). And that sin, which was combining the worship of the true God with elements of other religions (syncretism) was condemned in the reign of each king that followed him. The “covenant of our fathers” was the covenant God made with them on Mount Sinai. It was not a covenant to obey him occasionally or partially or in the way they thought best, but fully, completely, and in all things. “If you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. You will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5,6). Now, Malachi says, even Judah had fallen into a false worship, a worship that allowed error and even forms of idolatry to creep in. And this was even defended by some of the people.
This is why Christian churches practice fellowship, often quite strictly, especially around worship (including prayer) and the Lord’s Supper. Until recently, almost all churches practiced Closed Communion, which is offering the Lord’s Supper only to those within one’s own fellowship of faith. Why was this? Paul says: “Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord… For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 11:27,29-30). So we are careful about whom we invite to receive Holy Communion because we do not want anyone to bring God’s judgment on himself by receiving the body and blood of Christ in an unworthy manner.
Having said this, we may ask, to whom does God want us to give Holy Communion? There are four points given in Scripture:
- God wants us to give Communion to repentant sinners (1 John 1:8-9). Christ commands us to lovingly point out sins and to call one another to repent, not to practice a kind of “live and let live” attitude about sin (Matthew 18:15-18). If I sin against my sister, she should show this to me, so that I can turn away from the sin on the one hand and be turned to Christ through the gospel on the other. The two parts of repentance are contrition (sorrow over sin) and faith in Christ’s forgiveness.
- God wants us to give Communion only to those who are instructed so that they know the meaning of Christ’s death (1 Corinthians 11:24,26; Hebrews 5:13-6:1). We do this through public and private instruction (Catechism class).
- God wants us to give Communion only to those who are able to examine themselves (1 Corinthians 11:28-29). At various times in my ministry, I have been asked to give Communion to the very young, the unconscious, the insane, the delirious, the drunk, the stoned, and even to the dead. None of these people can properly examine their lives for repentance, and none of them could be given Communion. Of course, we are often asked to give Communion to those with various stages of dementia and related illnesses of the mind, and sometimes these people can be communed, other times not. They must be judged by the minister privately each and every time.
- Finally, God wants us to give Communion only to those who are one with us in all we believe and teach. Paul says, “Because there is one loaf, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf” (1 Corinthians 10:17). And he warns, “Watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them” (Romans 16:17). And John the Apostle also says, “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work” (2 John 1:10-11).
The issue of practicing fellowship in prayer centers around whether one is praying for someone or with someone. We constantly pray for people, including people outside our fellowship, as when we pray for our government, or even for our enemies (1 Timothy 2:1-2). We can also pray in the presence of unbelievers, such as when Paul prayed before the heathen on board the ship in the hurricane (Acts 27:35). But Paul didn’t join in their heathen prayers, nor did he ask them to join him, just as Jonah did not join in the prayers of the pagans in the same situation, even when they prayed to the same Lord God (Jonah 1:13-15, where “they” is clearly everyone apart from Jonah). Praying with a person is always an act of worship, worship together with that person. 1 Corinthians 10:14-21 forbids Christians from participating in a rite (whether a meal or worship service) that honors an idol. And Naaman the Syrian knew that he had to enter into the temple of an idol as part of his official duties, but Elisha the prophet absolved him because he had no choice, and as long as he did not worship, he could enter the temple of Rimmon (2 Kings 5:18-19). For these reasons, we do not pray with people of other religions or denominations, since such a prayer would be saying that we agree with their teachings before God. We might find ourselves at a wedding or a funeral in a church whose teachings are not in agreement with ours. Each Christian will need to examine his own conscience about praying in such a case. We cannot place family ties or friendship ahead of our obedience and loyalty to God (Matthew 10:32-39, 12:46-49). We must consider the possibility of giving public offense, or of giving the impression that we agree with a false teaching.
Those churches and individual Christians who have turned away from the Biblical practice of fellowship in worship (including prayer and the Lord’s Supper) must present their own reasons for abandoning it, rather than attacking those who still do. One passage, such as “Love one another” (1 John 3:11), does not cancel out every passage that tells us to watch out for false teachers and avoid them and their teaching. We break faith with one another when we abandon the faith handed down to us by God himself. Malachi’s question, “Why are we breaking faith with one another” concerns God’s covenant and all of the teachings of Scripture. Read your Bible. Remember your Catechism. Pray for those who have turned aside from faith in Christ alone for the forgiveness of sins. And keep going back to the Lord’s Table for his forgiveness, month by month, week by week. The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble, Nahum said (Nahum 1:7). He cares for those who trust in him.
Pastor Timothy Smith