The treatise by George Gillespie (1613-1648) concerning associations and confederacies offers helpful, biblical guidance for Christians in discerning whether joining an association would be lawful or sinful.
In arriving at an answer to the question whether it is lawful for a professing Christian to join or interact with a “confederacy” or “association”, Gillespie first distinguishes between associations that are entirely civil (“secular”) and those that are religious (i.e., ecclesiastical, sacred). He then looks at the lawfulness of associating with these two types of entities, as well as a mixture of the two (i.e., having a mixture of religious and secular interests). His conclusion on the lawfulness of these associations is shown in the following table.
It is noteworthy that the concern of sinful associations not only includes covenants with idolaters, but also professing Christians who have departed from the Truth, such as Ahab (2 Chron 18:3). Gillespie comments, “Ahab lived in the church of Israel, which was still a church, although greatly corrupted, and he was no professed hater of God.” Yet Jehoshaphat’s association with Ahab was sinful. The general principle is taken from 1 Cor 5:11, where the Apostle prohibits fellowship with a scandalous Christian more so than a pagan unbeliever (1 Cor 1:27).
The table is a helpful overview to this topic but requires careful assessment in areas of potential civil associations/alliances such as in the case of voting. It should however be clear that it would be wrong for any Christian nation to join military alliances with non-Christian nations, even for defence.
Since religious associations – outside of the church – are, according to Gillespie, unlawful, the only questions to be considered, as to whether there should be an exception for a certain category of Christian association, are as follows:
- What the degree of departure from the Truth should be considered as scandalous?
- Are there just a few members within the association/league who are scandalous or is the majority a “group of rebels”?
- Are we considering associations within a marriage or family? (In such cases, existing bonds are not to be separated and require continued association to uphold the fifth commandment.)
- Would joining an association be a voluntary act?
But what about the Apostle’s injunction to Timothy, to exercise gentleness and patience towards all men (2 Tim 2:24,25)? Gillespie notes that the same epistle also exhorts Christians to turn away from the wicked (2 Tim 3:5). So yes, we must be gentle and patient in bringing Scripture to such persons, while, at the same time, not having company with the rebellious (2 Thess 3:15). Putting these two matters together, Christ commends the Ephesian angel (in Rev 2:2) both for his patience and for his not bearing them which were evil.
To read Gillespie’s treatise in full, See here.