The Bible does set a precedent for intercongregational cooperation (Acts 11:22-23, 27-30; 12:25; 1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8:1-24; 9:1-15; 11:8-9; Rom. 15:26), and letters of commendation were common in the first century when brethren transferred from one Christian community to another (Acts 18:27; Rom. 16:1-2; cf. 1 Cor. 4:17; Phil. 2:19-23). There were also warnings sent to alert brethren about those in error who posed a potential threat to the stability of the Lord’s work (1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 1:15; 2:17-18; 4:10, 14-15; 3 John 9-11). Love and respect for one another and concern for the entire body of Christ require a degree of intercongregational collaboration.
What if the immoral brother at Corinth had been disciplined by the local brethren, as Paul had instructed, but was then warmly embraced by the nearby Cenchrea congregation? The impact of the disciplinary action would have been severely weakened if not rendered completely ineffective. Moreover, those who accepted the errant brother would then be partaking in his evil deeds (cf. Rom. 1:32; Eph. 5:1- 7; 1 Tim. 5:22; 2 John 10-11) and subject to his leavening influence (1 Cor. 5:6). Open communication and cooperation among brethren can help avoid such problems.
On the other hand, what if the Jerusalem church, having initially rejected Paul (Acts 9:26), had sent letters of warning to her sister congregations encouraging them to take the same stand? What if the congregation under Diotrephes’ influence had done this with reference to the apostle John and his coworkers (3 John 9-10)? To have blindly accepted these allegations without further investigation would not only have hurt those wrongly accused but would have greatly hindered the Lord’s cause.
Since each congregation is autonomous (cf. Acts 14:23), each congregation must make its own decision based on the merits of each case. When an announcement of disciplinary action is received from a sister congregation and the disciplined member believes the action is unwarranted, it would be unwise to either blindly accept or flippantly disregard the allegations without knowing all the facts. Both parties should be prepared to provide as much specific information as possible. When details are too general, vague or unsubstantiated, more problems than solutions are generated. If the accusations prove to be valid, all congregations must respect and adhere to the disciplinary action so that it can fulfil its intended purpose. If it proves to be unwarranted, however, then maybe someone like Barnabas (Acts 9:26-27) can step in as an unbiased mediator to help resolve any possible misunderstandings.
--Kevin L. Moore