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32. “Bidding God Speed” (2 John)

“If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds” (vv. 10,11).

Without attempting a complete exposition of this letter, it should be noted that John was addressing an unnamed sister and mother in the Truth, one in whose home the ecclesia of that district met. In her kindness the “elect lady” (v. 1) had offered her hospitality to certain traveling preachers who could scarcely, if at all, be called Christian.

What was the doctrine so heinous as to merit the title for its purveyors of “antichrist” (v. 7)? It was the erroneous contention that Jesus did not “come in the flesh”, in other words, that he was in essence God and only seemed to suffer the frailties of humanity and the climactic death on the cross. The apostle rightly saw this as a significant perversion of the gospel, which effectively nullified all else of truth to be found in the itinerant speakers’ message. He therefore counseled the sister not to receive such men into her house nor, by implication, to receive them at the Breaking of Bread held there. They were to be shunned completely.

The question is this: Was such a prohibition intended to apply, as a general rule, to any and every irregularity of belief or practice, whenever and wherever manifested? The answer is, emphatically, “No”. The particular error in 2 John is said to be that of “anti-Christ”, etymologically signifying that which replaces or stands as a contrast to the true Christ. The name seems to be reserved for those errors which deny the nature and character of Christ (1 John 2:18,22; 4:1-3), thereby rendering unintelligible his redemptive work.

A passage from Robert Roberts is often quoted to justify the disfellowship of everyone that might, mistakenly or otherwise, bread bread with some individual who believes any error. Brother Roberts says, among other things:

“As to those who bring not this doctrine, John’s comment is — ‘Receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed!’ This commandment we can no more evade than any other commandment delivered unto us.”
The citation is certainly forceful enough as it stands to support most any wide-scale excommunication of individuals and ecclesias alike. However, the effect is drastically mitigated when a portion of the immediately preceding paragraph is also quoted:

“The doctrine of Christ is that he is God made and manifested in mortal flesh of Abraham’s race for the deliverance thereof, on his own principles, from ‘that having the power of death’ ” (Seasons of Comfort, p. 98).
It was to such as “bring not this doctrine” (according to both John Thomas and Robert Roberts), and to such only, that the extremely harsh directive of the apostle should apply.

The sweeping use to which our brother’s words are often put is specifically denied by him in another passage. There he speaks of “fellowship” on far more practical, reasonable, and (we might say) spiritual grounds than some of his “followers” would care to admit:

“Fellowship is friendly association for the promotion of a common object — with more or less of the imperfection belonging to all mortal life. To say that every man in that fellowship is responsible for every infirmity of judgment that may exist in the association is an extreme to which no man of sound judgment can lend himself. There will be flawless fellowship in the perfect state. Perhaps it is the admiration of this in prospect that leads some to insist upon it now. But it is none the less a mistake. This is a mixed and preparatory state in which much has to be put up with when the true principles are professed” (“True Principles and Uncertain Details”, The Christadelphian, Vol. 35, No. 407 — May 1898 — p. 187).
In reviewing verse 10, other points of interest emerge:

“If there come any unto you...” —

These verses clearly refer to some serious error introduced into one’s local ecclesia. They give no sanction to the searching out of alleged error in other ecclesias, much less those which are great distances away, on the basis of some rumor.

“And bring not this doctrine” —

These deceivers were active, positive false teachers, engaged in a campaign, not just “holders” of false doctrine or those who might be termed “weaker brethren” or “honest doubters”, who should be sought after and reclaimed.

“Neither bid him God speed” —

“God speed” was an unfortunate choice by the translators of the AV, a choice which has colored much of subsequent Christadelphian analysis of this passage. Brother Roberts equates “God speed” with “intimacy, toleration, and cooperation” (The Law of Moses, p. 285); this may be implicit in the text, but it is certainly not the primary meaning. The Greek word is chairo — which merely means “greeting” or “farewell”; it is so used many times in the New Testament (Matt. 26:49; 27:29; Luke 1:28; John 19:3; Acts 15:23; 2 Cor. 13:11; James 1:1). It may also mean “to rejoice” (Matt. 2:10; John 3:29; 16:22; Rom. 12:12; 2 Cor. 6:10; Rev. 19:7).

This presents us with a couple of alternative views of the passage:

(1) These false teachers’ doctrine was so extremely dangerous that they could not even be greeted courteously, nor be given the most elementary considerations due even to out-and-out worldlings, much more to “erring brethren”. Such a view, in conformity with our understanding of this special doctrine, thus removes this passage from serious consideration as a guideline to ecclesial duties toward most other, milder forms of error. Would any “minority fellowship” brethren seriously want to adopt such an attitude toward all other Christadelphians? The otherwise unanimous view of the apostolic passages regarding errorists is that they are to be gently entreated, and diplomatically led away from their follies. So we have here in 2 John a unique case, and consequently one which gives no real precedent for lesser issues.

(2) The second possibility, much less likely, is this: If the word chairo here signifies “to rejoice”, then that which designates brethren “partakers of the evil deeds” of gross errorists is their rejoicing in that evil — that is, wholeheartedly approving of and positively participating in the propagation of error. This is not to suggest that something less, say a passive toleration, is proper — it may be wrong too, depending on circumstances — but only that it is not the “partaking” or “fellowshiping” of the error which some interpreters would have it to be.

Therefore, no matter which of the two interpretations of “God speed” be chosen, the verse is not that clear-cut directive to the “block disfellowship” of all that break bread with one false teacher. Even if the elders of an ecclesia should decide to tolerate the membership of one holding false doctrine, it cannot be said that members of that ecclesia who continue to use every opportunity to expose and denounce his errors are “bidding him God speed” or “partaking of his evil deeds”. To say that they are is a travesty of language. The situation has been known a hundred times over that something done or said by a brother has been openly disapproved of by the rest of his ecclesia without excommunication being applied. At times the simpler expedient of removing such a brother from all speaking and teaching duties has allowed him the scope to recover his spiritual balance and forsake his error.

Brother Roberts’ understanding of “God speed” certainly conforms to this. He says:

“If men lend themselves to the evil projects of others and wish them well in them, no doubt they are as responsible for those projects as if they actually promoted them with their own personal labours. This is the principle to which John gives expression when he says, ‘He that biddeth him (the holder of false doctrine) God speed is partaker of his evil deeds’ “ (“True Principles and Uncertain Details”, pp. 187,188).
The problem in a single-minded reliance on this passage to justify wholesale separation is evident when the effects are fully considered. It is self-evident that an interpretation of a passage that “proves” too much actually proves nothing at all — for then there is surely something wrong with that interpretation. This is so with an unbalanced view of 2 John 10,11: (1) If merely refusing to punish error is “bidding God speed” to it, then was Christ a “partaker of the evil deeds” of the adulteress when he said, “Neither do I condemn thee”? (2) Should brethren hold themselves to be “partakers” and thus personally guilty of every aberration or “sin” of every brother or sister in their “fellowship”? This is perceived as sheer folly when examples are considered. Suppose, for example, one brother in your worldwide fellowship — only one — smokes; suppose another, but only one, occasionally drinks to excess. Now you yourself never touch tobacco or liquor of any sort. Are you nevertheless a “partaker” of these things, and many more, because you endure these brethren in your “fellowship”? In short, is a brother really the sum of all the worst parts of all his weakest brethren? Such ill-founded logic must be our conclusion if we apply 2 John 10,11 to any and every ecclesia situation.

Two short quotations from John Thomas would seem to go well here:

(1) Of the correspondent who accused him of being a “slave owner”, he wrote:

“His argument is that in fellowshipping slave owners, and those who fellowship them, the parties so fellowshipping them are partakers with them of their evil deeds; and therefore as much slave owners and slave holders as if they actually held and drove them. The argument is specious but not sound” (The Herald, 1851, p. 204).
(2) And again:

“The salvation of individuals is not predicated on the purity of their neighbour’s faith, though these may be members of the same ecclesiastical organization” (Ibid., p. 120).
In conclusion: 2 John 10,11 appears to be the only passage in the Bible which puts “tolerators” on the same ground of condemnation as the “false teachers” themselves. We have shown that, for the purposes of condemning those who “bid them God speed”, this passage proves either too little (for the context is quite specialized) or too much (thus making us all “partakers” of every “evil” to be found in our midst). The wisest course would appear to be that we leave 2 John alone as “pure fellowship” justification, and that we turn our attentions to other passages which may give more solid footing, and practical limitations as well, for Biblical “disfellowship”.

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