Terms and Conditions
It is very common in ordinary life to come across what men speak of as terms and conditions, those rules by which a company agrees to do business with a customer. These terms and conditions cannot be changed without negotiation. Similarly, clubs and societies have mutually agreed rules to which all the members must adhere. Such rules cannot be changed without all the members being consulted.
In Christian fellowship, “teaching and fellowship” (Acts 2: 42) go together)—the teaching is the ‘rules’ (or, better, the doctrine) which governs and formulates the fellowship. Once the Word of God was complete (see Col. 1: 25), there was no progress or development in the apostolic teaching, and the doctrine that governed the fellowship was settled. No subsequent council of the ‘Church’ could lay down new rules—all it could do was to bring Christians back to “the faith once delivered” (Jude v3) or, unhappily, take them away from the apostolic doctrine.
The present day is, of course, a day of great confusion, and many groups of Christians exist independent of one another. Furthermore, the doctrine that governs the fellowship arrangements of each of these groups is very varied, although many would claim allegiance to the apostles’ teaching. Curiously, doctrine appears to evolve, and it is not unusual for a minority within any particular group to find themselves increasingly out of step with the majority. In crude terms, what they ‘signed up for’ may bear little or no relation to the current arrangements. The changes are rarely, if ever, discussed, but all are expected to adhere to the new ‘terms and conditions’ that have gradually achieved dominance. As a method of bringing about change this is quite objectionable and raises serious questions about the reality of the fellowship that is said to exist between all in the group.
As was said earlier, there are only two directions in which what we believe can ‘evolve’—either away from the apostolic doctrine, or by returning to it. Truth itself does not change, whatever may be the ‘fashion’ of the day. If things are going to change, then the reason for the change has to be explained, not with reference to what is going on in Christendom, but in relation to the apostolic doctrine. And, if past positions have been wrong, then these need to be confessed as wrong, but again, with reference to the apostolic doctrine.