It is always so important to remember that the body of Christ is so frequently spoken about in terms of a family (Matthew 12:47-50; I Timothy 5:1-2; II Timothy 4:21). This helps us to maintain the appropriately close and respectful relationships with our fellow saints, and engender love in our churches.
However, there is one quality of physical family that does not always carry over to our brethren in Christ. Specifically, no matter how irritating, or foolish my brother or sister in the flesh may act, they will always be family. If we carry this mentality over into the church we run into some real difficulties, and even danger. There are times in which a dedication to the truth requires that we admit someone is no longer a brother or sister in Christ.
Before Jesus’ earthly ministry was even completed there were already those who were learning that a dedication to His name carried a cost higher than they were willing to pay. When Jesus informed them that they were to rely on Him alone for all of their spiritual sustenance, and leave fleshly desires behind, some balked. “As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.” (John 6:60-66) Following Jesus was not something that was ever forced on anyone, and they always had the opportunity to leave, even the Twelve. (John 6:67-69)
Later, when the church was dealing with false teaching concerning adding the requirement of circumcision for the purpose of salvation, Paul specifically referred to those doing the teaching as “false brethren (ψευδάδελφος - pseudadelphos #5569)” even though it seems that they reportedly came from Jerusalem with the authority of James. (Galatians 2:1-13, cf. Acts 15:1-5, 24) Those pretending to be brethren, even though they were not in reality, caused Paul a great deal of concern. (II Corinthians 11:26)
When false teaching arose that denied either the humanity or divinity of Jesus, it was not perpetrated by outsiders who wished to see the church fail, but by those who had previously been a part of the number. John specifically described the “antichrists” as being former members of the church. “They went out from us, but they were not [really] of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us.” (I John 2:18-20) For this reason, he encouraged the disciples to “test the spirits to see whether they are from God” by the content of their message, as opposed to their list of credentials. (I John 4:1-6)
It is a sad reality that we must balance our assumption of good with a healthy dose of caution when it comes to our brethren in Christ. However, the good news is that those who love God’s word, and embrace His values will always be evident. Therefore, let us make it our aim to focus on these things and demonstrate the difference.