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“Guilt by Association” – Manchester Church of Christ

“Guilt by Association” – Manchester Church of Christ

The concept of guilt by association carries a definite negative connotation. Whether rightly or wrongly, a person is judged to be guilty based upon his association with others. As a result, and for all practical purposes, a person is either found to be a victim or a “criminal” (guilty of sin). On the other hand, the person making the charges may be the one guilty of improperly judging (Matt.7:1-6), or guilty of evil suspicions/surmising’s/presumptions (1 Tim.6:4). On the other hand, the person making the charges may appropriately judging, doing so with a righteous judgment (John 7:24). Therefore, for our purposes, guilt by association may be viewed two ways:  

  1. When a person is presumed guilty for associating with a person who is guilty.
  2. When a person is guilty for associating with a person who is guilty.


When a person is presumed guilty for associating with a person who is guilty

Jesus was accused of being a sinner simply because He associated with sinners. The scribes and Pharisees held in Him in contempt for eating with tax collectors and sinners (Mark 2:16). In fact they called Him the “friend of sinners”, accusing Him of being a drunkard (Luke 7:34). Of course, Jesus was not guilty of anything, especially sin (Heb.4:15). The mission of Christ was to “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10).

Jesus associated with sinners, but not for the reasons the scribes and Pharisees presumed. Jesus came to teach them, offering them the hope of salvation from sin (Luke 4:18-19). Jesus associated with sinners to help change and turn their lives around, because He had compassion on them. Contrary to the song, Just As I Am, Jesus never accepted people as they were. Rather, He demanded them to change their sinful lifestyles. Jesus had compassion for the woman caught in adultery, but He still told her to go and sin no more (John 8: 11).  

When the Pharisees saw how Jesus responded to the woman who came and washed His feet with her tears, wiping them with her hair (Luke 7:37-50) they turned to Him and said: “This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner” (Luke 7:39). They accused Him of not being a prophet and not knowing what He was doing, simply because of His association with a sinner. They did not understand His compassion toward those lost in sin. He had compassion upon them because they were sin sick, and spiritually dead. The Pharisees did not understand that this was Christ’s motive for associating Himself with sinners. No wonder Jesus told the Pharisees: “Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you” (Matt.21:31).

While Jesus associated with immoral and lost people, in order to get them to repent and live, He did not seek the association of those who were in error, like the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes. However, Jesus never ran from His religious enemies. If there was an opportunity, especially a public opportunity for debate, involving teaching, reproof, correction, and instruction, Jesus would happily engage them. Again, not for mere association, but in order to present the truth and expose error (cf.Eph.5:11).  In fact, Jesus made it clear that the His religious enemies and false teachers, were hypocrites (Matt.23) because they perverted the Word of God (Matt.15:1-9). Jesus warned His disciples of their false doctrine (Matt.16:6, 12).

Therefore, while some may be falsely charged of sinful fellowship practices, being wrongly charged with sinful fellowship practices, the association that is acceptable is that which is incidental, for the purpose of teaching. Here, Jesus is our example. However, association which involves participation, sharing, and approval of immorality or false doctrine is wrong. Spiritual Growth Workshop) which consistently brings in false teachers because doing so would show approval.  Just as we would not announce gambling trips to casinos in Las Vegas, we will not advocate any meeting or activity which would put the souls of brethren at risk.  There are many earnest efforts we can be involved in, in which we can be free from guilt by association.

When a person is guilty for associating with a person who is guilty

            Obviously, we cannot avoid all “association” with the world, which is comprised of all kinds of sinners who are outside of Christ. We are in the world, which means we share space on this globe with people who immoral, corrupt, dead in their trespasses and sins because they are outside of Christ (Eph.2:1-2). We work with them, go to school with them, and engage in relationships with them. However, we are not of the world, which means we do not participate in their sins, nor do we condone their sins. Again, we are not to be “unequally yoked” or influenced by these people. The apostle Paul tells us that we cannot avoid contact with these people, nor can we avoid association with them. The only way for us to avoid the world altogether would be leave the world ourselves, which cannot be done (1 Cor. 5:9–10). Merely being in the company of sinners and maintaining a level of association with them does not imply complicity with their sins.

However, the Bible clearly teaches that there are times when a Child of God is actually guilty for his or associations.  In fact God’s Word warns us about having fellowship with evil men and companions (friends) (Prov.1:10-19; 13:20; 1 Cor.15:33). The apostle Paul warns against forming bonds of friendship with those who are not concerned for our souls, because they are not concerned for their own. He calls this being “unequally yoked.” Paul writes:

“Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?  And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols?” (2 Cor.6:14-16).


Paul then goes on to say:

“Therefore, Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, And you shall be My sons and daughters, Says the Lord Almighty” (6:17-18).


Paul provides us a New Testament application from an Old Testament passage. Christians are not to have relationships with unbelievers that are unequal in influence. When there is such an imbalance, Paul tells us to separate from such alliances. To continue in such a relationship is, therefore, to continue in an illicit relationship.  This is what it means to be guilty by association!

Paul wrote to Timothy: “Do not lay hands on anyone hastily, nor share in other people’s sins; keep yourself pure” (1 Tim. 5:22). This comment pertains to the appointing of elders, which was accompanied by the laying on of hands. Timothy would not want to appoint someone hastily who might then need to be rebuked for sins (vv. 17-20).  Prejudice for or against someone should not enter in the decision of ordaining or appointing men to the task of overseeing the church.  To appoint someone who is not qualified (which is obvious to most) would be to share in his sins.  A preacher must remain guiltless. In appointing an unqualified person folks, while avoiding God’s righteous qualifications (characteristics) makes one guilty by association

      After listing several evil deeds in Ephesians 5:1-6, Paul cautions the church: “Therefore, do not be partakers with them” (v. 7). Paul then explains that Christians once walked in darkness but now are light in the Lord (vv. 8-10); therefore, they should “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them” (v. 11). If Christians have association with the ungodly behavior of those in the world, how will anyone know they are Christians? We are not to participate or associate with them! To do so means we are guilty by association.

Like Jesus, the apostle John gave a warning: “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son  If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds” (2 John 9-11).  

1. The doctrine of Christ refers to all of the teachings of the New Testament.  To imagine that this phrase refers to only one doctrine out of them all is preposterous.  Would it be all right for a man to teach that it was all right to live with his father’s wife or that one could abide in the doctrine of Christ if he taught that the resurrection was already past?  Christians must do all that Christ taught (Matt. 7:21-27; Luke 6:46). Remember, the “sum of thy word is truth” (Psa.119:160).  

2. One either abides in (subscribes fully to) the doctrine of Christ, or he does not.  Whether he departs on a moral issue such as fornication or a doctrinal issue such as premillennialism; he has still departed.

3. Brethren have the responsibility to reject rather than to receive the false teacher.  The instruction is given not even to wish the person well.

4. Bidding him God speed (encouraging him in any way) makes a Christian guilty by association.  We must be, therefore, careful whom we fellowship.


What about our associations with brethren within a local congregation? Paul did not expect Christians to have fellowship with impenitent brethren, even eating with them: “But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner – not even to eat with such a person” (1 Cor.5:11). This discipline is necessary so that the impenitent child of God may become ashamed of his or her sin, and repent. It is also to prevent any further encouragement or endorsement of the person’s sin. Evidently, the Corinthian brethren seemed to have been endorsing such activity by their association with the fellow (vv.2-6). The Scriptural proscription of association with the sinful brother is not absolute, however. Concerning those from whom the church must withdraw its fellowship, Paul instructed the Thessalonian church: “But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us” … “And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him that he may be ashamed, yet do not count him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother” (2 Thess.3:6, 14, 15). The prescribed treatment of the sinful person in verse 15 implies at least some communication, if not association, in order to admonish (i.e., to warn or encourage) the erring brother or sister to repent. From the foregoing material, it is clear that such association is not sinful. It will be determined by one’s intent.

What about associating with brethren outside the local congregation? May one attend a religious assembly to hear for oneself a false teacher (whether or not he is a brother), so that he can perhaps learn better the way to expose and refute

his errors? Certainly. The intent here is to gather information and learn more of his

false teaching in order to study, expose, and refute it. I attended a local Pentecostal

church simply to understand more about their worship services. My intent was not

to worship, not to share in their worship (fellowship) by endorsing or encouraging

their practices. 

May a preacher accept an invitation to preach in a Gospel meeting or lectureship in order to confront error in the congregation or in one or more of the speakers? Let us remember that, in principle, both the Lord and Paul did this very thing, as earlier noted.  (If one denies that one can do so without engaging in fellowship with error, one must oppose the participation of faithful brethren in religious debates.) Does one sin who speaks on a lectureship with one who is a false teacher or who may be a fornicator or a crook without correcting or exposing him, not knowing he was such?  Although there was “association” with those in sin and in error, in each of the aforementioned cases, there certainly was no participation in said errors or sins.

While we may associate with someone who is in error without becoming culpable with their sins (error), as noted above, the Bible still teaches the principle of guilt by association. Through one’s associations, a Christian can become guilty of sin, even if he or she is not personally teaching or practicing the errors of those whom he or she associates with. If one’s association is of an approving nature, and they are fully aware of their error and/or sin, then the Christian becomes guilty of sin – is guilty by association! To knowingly participate with one who is in error, without offering correction, is by implication an endorsement and encouragement of their sin. Such behavior simply reinforces contentment of those caught in their doctrinal errors. The Christian is guilty because, at this point, becomes a partaker with them in their errors and practices. Such a Christian is now culpable because they have become an accessory, an accomplice, and a collaborator. The Christian is aiding and abetting those who are in error and sin.

Numbers 16 records that Korah, Dathan, and Abiram led a rebellion against the Moses. In response, Moses warned those still associated with them: “Depart now from the tents of these wicked men! Touch nothing of theirs, lest you be consumed in all their sins” (16:26). Those who did not heed Moses’ warning, continuing their association with them, would be guilty of the same sins. Even if these associates had not personally cried out against Moses, it is clear that to remain amicably associated with them would have made them partakers in the guilt. We cannot be friends to error. David said: “through thy precepts I get understanding, therefore, I hate every false way. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psa.119:104-105).

Paul wrote: “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (Eph.5:6). First, we see that each individual Christian is obligated not to be deceived. Second we see that those who deceive are those who do with “empty words,” which are words that are devoid of truth and spiritual value. Third we see that these deceiving, false teachers are worthy of God’s wrath. Earlier, in the same context, Paul admonishes the Ephesians to “no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting” (4:14).  These are the very “sons of disobedience” upon whom God would send His wrath. They were tricksters and “deceitful plotters” and like the serpent of old, “cunning.” False teachers truly deceive with words devoid of truth! The reason Paul is admonishing the Ephesians not to be “deceived with empty words” is found in the very next verse: “Therefore, do not be partakers with them” (5:7). The “empty words” of deceivers often influence many. When folks are not aware of their deception, they naturally accept them, extend fellowship to them, and even defend them should they be spoken against. That is a dangerous predicament. Moreover, Paul goes on to say, “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness but rather expose them” (5:11). In extending fellowship to such false teachers, otherwise good, intentioned Christians become partakers of their guilt and the judgment against their sins. Such fellowship, without rebuke (“to expose”) results in their guilt by association on two counts: (1) Fellowship with (i.e., partaking in, sharing in, and communing with) their errors and (2) failure to rebuke the one in error. To willingly associate with false teachers, knowing of their errors but offering no rebuke or correction, is indeed what the Bible teaches as it relates to guilt by association.


            John declared the reality of guilt by association explicitly: “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds” (2 John 9–11).

The phrase “he who greets him” (bidding him God speed, KJV) is from a word that means to rejoice with or wish one well. Thus the one who does so, actually encourages the false teacher who is teaching contrary to “the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3), and becomes culpable for his errors. This associating encourager becomes guilty of the false teacher’s sins. It’s as if he or she becomes guilty of teaching error, even if they are not personally doing so. The driver of the get-away-car is just as guilty as the one who robbed the bank at gunpoint. An association/relationship that encourages or implies endorsement of a heretic renders one complicit in the person’s heresy. If no other passage relative to this subject existed, this one is quite sufficient to make the case. The honest student of the Bible cannot escape the conclusion that one who willingly, knowingly, consciously associates with individuals, congregations, or institutions so as, whether implicitly or explicitly, to encourage, endorse, or otherwise bid them Godspeed is guilty of the error himself by said amicable association. It is deplorable to be found guilty of such association, because of the influence and impact it has on innocent people who fall into the same trap. Here the words of Jesus, Himself: “Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch” (Matt.15:14).

            For example, a church invites a well-known false teacher to preach for them. The church that has invited the false teacher, is guilty of extending fellowship to him, neglecting to rebuke or expose his error(s), making no attempt to restore the sinful brother (Gal.6:1-2). The church that has invited the false teacher has become guilty by association!

Despite the fact that one must, as he observes another, ask what is the reason for a questionable association, and while we do not want to be self-righteous, lacking in compassion, or guilty of jumping to conclusions, nevertheless the Scriptures do contain commandments on the subject of association that we must take as seriously as any other commandment.

Jesus, for example, taught: “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves” (Matt. 7:15).  Below are several considerations regarding this verse’s meaning:  

1. Jesus assumes that we know the Word well enough to know when someone departs from it and is a false prophet.

2. False prophets always look good and sound good; in fact, maybe they appear more spiritually-minded than others.

3. However, their high-sounding words and feigned piety will cause people to be devoured by Satan.

4. Beware means—what?  Invite them in?  Give them speaking opportunities in which they can influence brethren and devour the flock?  Beware must mean that we cannot have association with them, just as Jesus would not (unless it would be for the purpose of debating or opposing them).

     The apostle Paul likewise said to mark those who cause divisions and offenses “contrary to the doctrine” which Christians had learned, “and avoid them” (Rom. 16:17).  Following are some considerations.

1. The way we know that a person is a false teacher is that his doctrine is not the same as that taught by Jesus and the apostles.  These errors contradict plain Bible teaching.  No matter what the rationale for committing immoral acts is, for example, such acts are wrong because the Scriptures are plain as to what constitutes holiness and what constitutes sin (2 Peter 2).

2. Doctrine is important.  Too many people (some in the church) are acting today as though it does not matter what a person believes, which is an insult to both God and His Word (not to mention to our own powers of reason that He gave us).  If we are not familiar with truth (sound doctrine), we will not be able to recognize anything contrary to it.

3. Division is the result of the introduction of error into the minds of men.  Those who oppose false doctrine are not the creators of division.  The divisive person is the troubler of spiritual Israel (1 Kings 18:17-18).

  1. These men are to be avoided.  In other words, brethren ought to have no association with them at all, unless it would be to get them to repent.

The Manchester Church of Christ has once again invited a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Another deceiver of words devoid of truth.  In years past they have invited a well-documented heretic, Jeff Walling, to come and hold a youth rally for them. Since the early 1990’s, from events ranging from the now defunct Jubilee in Nashville and the Tulsa Workshop, to Lectureships at Pepperdine, ACU, and Lipscomb, and various Youth Rally’s, and certainly various publications such as Wineskins, etc., Walling has been attested to be a heretic. However, that did not stop the leadership in Manchester from inviting him. Perhaps there is a connection these false teachers have with Harding University? Perhaps some of the leadership at Manchester attended Harding themselves, so they figure any person who attended Harding must be deemed “likeable.” Note, I did not say “sound”, but “likeable.” While there are many likeable people in the world, they does not mean they are sound. What this means is that the quality of “friendship” is superior to the divine quality of fellowship. That is, God has boundaries for fellowship, as has been addressed above. Walling continues teaching that churches of Christ are nothing but another denomination among denominations; instrumental music is acceptable to God; women should be in leadership roles, especially as preachers and teachers. To summarize; anything Walling considers orthodox or traditional he speaks against – he speaks the church of our Lord, and Manchester welcomed him with open arms. Now, you do not do that, unless you maintain some agreement with him.

Then there is the Tulsa Workshop, which, sadly, has been in existence for almost 40 years. Of course, I have known of various individuals from Manchester who have attended this function over the years. It is nothing more than a cesspool of error and false teachers. It’s a venue where these deceivers can go to get affirmation for they are and what they teach. Every stripe of false teacher speaks there, including denominational preachers like the recent Francis Chan, whom the Un-Christian Chronicle called the “California Pastor.” Workshop continues to feature and fellowship well known false teachers such a Rubel Shelly and Walling. Of course, others include Rick Atchley who, along with his elders, introduced instrumental music in their worship and the serving of communion on Saturdays back in 2006. Rick publicly announced that the Holy Spirit directly spoke to him, while he was preaching, telling him to announce the “need” for the then “Richland Hills congregation to worship with mechanical instruments of music. Rick is not the only one who claims the Holy Spirit speaks to him or that the Holy Spirit directly and supernaturally influences his mind to say things (so much for free will), Terry Rush, Buddy Bell, Patrick Meade, and Marvin Phillips all do, too, and they are frequent speakers at the Tulsa (devil’s) Workshop. Then there is Edward Fudge who, among many other things, denies the existence of Hell and eternal punishment. Also part of this spectacle is Al Maxey, a liberal’s liberal! Here is a man who despises churches of Christ and everything we stand for. In his book Down But Not Out, which is basically written to denounce the teaching of Christ in Matthew 19:9 by countering with the false view that the “guilty party” (the one who committed fornication against his spouse) is free to remarry, Maxey was found to have falsified his research by dishonestly misquoting and misrepresenting the sources he cited. In fact, there are over forty pages of misquoting, misrepresentation, and butchering of various Greek grammarians. Yes, “scholarship” is well represented at this “Devil’s Workshop. Moreover, Al Maxey does not believe that baptism is for, i.e., in order to the remission of sins. Instead, he teaches what is called “available light”:

“The light available to this caveman, or some primitive living beyond the parameters of civilization, may well only be that of Nature. That then becomes his available light "coming down from the Father of lights" (James 1:17). This man is therefore responsible for seeking to understand that revelation to the best of his ability, and also for ordering his life according to the truths perceived therein. Those who perceive GOD in this revelation, and who seek to live as He would have them to live, have responded to that revelation of the Creator, and God will judge their hearts and actions accordingly. Those who REJECT this light from above, and choose to continue living for self, will be rejected by the One who provided them that guidance in that revelation. Thus, regardless of the brightness or dimness of the light made available, all men have a choice; they will either seek and accept, or ignore and reject …. and God will judge accordingly, dispensing either life or death based on their choice” (Maxey, Reflections, #158).

Therefore, according to Maxey, a person can be saved long before he is immersed for, i.e., in order to the remission of his sins. Of course, liberals agree with Al on this point because they, too, teach baptism is not essential for salvation, even though God says that it is necessary (cf. Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21)!  

This is all very easy to document. All one has to do is go to the Tulsa Workshop website, and witness the myriad of speakers they have had since 2008. And, should one take the time to do their research, they would find that Don McLaughlin, who spoke at Manchester last year, has been a constant participant at the Tulsa Workshop. He obviously finds nothing wrong with the speakers and their messages. He certainly has not addressed any of the error that has been taught there. Why? Simply because he endorses it, and he endorses it continuing to fellowship the people and the program. This leads us to another Manchester invitee. Mitch Wilburn is this year’s speaker for the upcoming 2014 Youth Rally. Mitch, himself, has been a constant participant at this cesspool or error. Why? Surely he knows the teaching and views of the many speakers who gather there. Brethren, this is, indeed, guilt by association

While many at Manchester are blind to the background of their speakers, the same is not true for the congregation’s leadership. In fact, I am sure some of them actually agree with the views taught in Tulsa each year. Brethren it is sinful to associate with those who willingly fellowship false teachers.    Send article as PDF   

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