On a recent visit to Rio de Jainero, John Oakes gave a talk on the question, “Who Is My Brother?”  Notes are included below

Who Is My Brother?

Editor’s Note:  The author of this outline is John Oakes, but in giving this talk he acknowledged that the inspiration for this outline comes quite directly from the book “Who Is My Brother?” by F. Legard Smith.


Questions that will often come up:


Who is my brother?


What is my relationship with people in other fellowships?


Is it OK, is my salvation at stake if I become part of another church?


What about marrying people outside my church?


What about people from other groups/ baptized in another church placing membership?


First point:


Three different categories of teachings


1.  Essential.   Things which definitely or very likely will affect one’s salvation.


Nature of Jesus, repentance, grace and works, baptism.   (Ephesians 4:4-6 Hebrews 6:1-2)


2. Important.   Very significant Christian teachings over which churches may divide and denominations remain separate, but which do not determine salvation.  Biblical teachings which we ought not to compromise on.


Predestination, speaking in tongues, Lord’s Supper, church organization.


3.  Not important.  Things which are taught in the Bible which we can disagree on without compromising our faith.


How old is the earth?    What will second coming of Jesus be like?   Hades.  What are angels like.


Quiz:    What category?


When the church takes up its collection?


Worship on Sunday (us) versus on Saturday (7th Day Adventists)


Saved by grace, not by works.


Who is Behemoth in Job?


A helpful proposal from F. Legard Smith:


5 levels, circles, layers of fellowship


1. The local church/fellowship you are part of and whose leaders you submit


•-         church family    people you know personally

•-         the primary sphere within which discipleship happen

•-         the place where the one another passages are applied.

•-         a group of sheep under a group of shepherds.


2.  The fellowship of churches which you are part of.   A group with whom you agree with on all essential matters and most or all important teachings as well.   There may be much variety on unimportant matters.


          For us:  The ICOC, or perhaps the churches of Christ?


          Needed for world evangelism, for sharing of gifts on a wider level, for some benevolent works, to sustain a solid teaching ministry.


3.  Christians, but ones with which you differ on important doctrines.  Differ on important matters of faith or practice.


On some level, we are not “in fellowship”  with these people.   One who practices speaking in tongues in church will not be part of our church.


          Churches of Christ

          Christian Church

          Some independent churches in the US

          7th Day Adventists?   Baptists?  Others?


We will most likely not worship with these people.  We would probably not be under their leadership.


But…   we might go to one of their conferences.  We might attend one of their schools.   We can invite one to teach on a specialized topic.  We can cooperate.  We could even recommend someone we shared with to go to that church.    Could seek spiritual advice.


How should we treat such people?   As a brother!!!  (or sister)


What if you are not sure?   Apply the Golden Rule.   Treat people the way you would want to be treated.    Give the benefit of the doubt.   Assume the best until you know the worst.


[a borderline case:    baptized, but not cognizant that this is for salvation]



1st century:   When Paul said there is one church, it was true both literally and in principle.


Now:   In principle there is one church, but in reality, there are different groups which include saved people.  Is this good or bad?   Believe it or not, I think this is good.


Now, I am very proud of my church.  I want literally everyone to be part of our movement, but it is possible that there may be some people more likely to be and stay saved in another fellowship.


To God be the glory.


4.  Those who are “Christian” in the broadest sense.   Agree on who Jesus is.


  Agree that salvation is through faith in Jesus.  Accept the Nicene crede.


But, the best we can tell are not saved. 


Presbyterians, Assembly of God, Catholics.


Mormons, Jehovah Witness, NO!!!  They are not in this category, as they do not accept Jesus to be who the Bible says he is.


Is this person my brother?   No, but at least in a sense yes.   We agree on many things.  Advice:   Treat them the way you wish they would treat us.   Honor their faith, but try to influence them to be saved.


Us in the past:    They are lost.  Not even talk to them except to tell them they are going to hell.  Refuse to attend one of their services….


Two examples:    Acts 18:26  taught Apollos the way of Christ more adequately.   Acts 19:1-7  Taught baptism accurately to them.


The men who were working miracles in the  name of Jesus.   Mark 9:38-40.

Show honor where honor is due.


The point:  Are we more likely to influence most people if we respect and honor the good they have done or if we blow it off and give them no credit for the good they have done?     What did Jesus do?    (Now, the Pharisees are another story!!!)


We can influence even these people, and, if we are humble, we can be influenced by them.


I read their books.


5.  5th circle of fellowship.   Fellow human beings.  There is a sense in which all human beings are “brothers.”   We all share the same nature, needs, temptations, desires, spiritual instincts.   There is a sense in which we can have fellowship with and share with all people.   In any case, do not be exclusive or unnecessarily condemning.


Even Jesus did not come to Judge (Jn 14:26)   We are not the judges of the world.    We make decisions who we believe is saved, but we preach salvation and we preach Jesus, not judgment.


Practical applications:


1.   What church should I be part of?


          a.  Stay where God put you   1 Cor 7:17    

          b.  The grass is greener, but stay put.   Relationships

          c.   I could leave, but where can I do the most good for God?   Here!


2.  How should I treat someone going to a church in circle #3.   Like a brother!       (ex the Kip McKean group)


          What about a person who leaves and attends a church in circle #4?


          Like a sheep who has strayed.   Try to bring them back.   Are they lost?


3.  Who should I marry?


          Best within circle #2     1 Cor 7:39   He must belong to the Lord.

          OK within circle #3, but we need solid teaching on this


Example of sister in San Diego.


4.  What is my goal in evangelism?


Best: circle #1.    Almost as good circle #2.   Are you OK with circle #3.  Our goal is to get peole saved.


Even if we move people toward circle #4, perhaps someone else can finish off the job later, but do not be deceived.  This is not our goal.  Don’t forget Matthew 7:21-23.

John Oakes, PhD

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