The Biblical Case for Guilt By Association
Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues; (Revelation 18:4)
It is not uncommon for people, poorly catechized in the concept of Biblical holiness, to claim that one cannot be held accountable for their associations. The Bible, on the other hand, sends an entirely different message.
Often, the “guilt by association” mantra is heard in defense of Albert Mohler, when he platforms the most radical Social Justice proponents in evangelicalism, in defense of Michael Brown as he supports the most radical New Apostolic Reformation charismatic false-prophecy hustlers, or in defense of good men like John MacArthur or Alistair Begg when they preach alongside female pastors.
But, what does the Bible say about guilt by association?
WHAT IS ASSOCIATION?
It is true that Jesus ate with tax-collectors and sinners (Matthew 11:16-19) and according to some texts, evangelized promiscuous women (John 4:1-42, John 8:1-11).
Likewise, we are called to preach the gospel to all creatures (Mark 16:15), which includes – especially – sinners.
However, does the command to preach the Gospel to unrepentant sinners require association with them?
A basic definition of association might be helpful.
Association is defined as “a group of people organized for a joint purpose” or “a connection or cooperative link between people and organizations.”
In this sense of the word, there are people who we should be evangelizing who we are not—in any meaningful sense—associating with. That would require being organized with them for a joint purpose or having a cooperative link between people or organizations.
In the realm of religious association, this would require a joint cooperative effort for some type of religious purpose in which both sides are working together for a common religious cause.
WHAT IS NOT ASSOCIATION
Association, for the sake of religious discussion, does not imply the working together for non-religious purposes, and there’s no Biblical command not to be in some kind of loose affiliation with people for the sake of business, politics, or recreation.
Neither does association, for the sake of religious discussion, refer to being in the same geographical location as others—say, for example, at Wal-Mart or a baseball game.
Finally, association, for the sake of religious discussion, does not refer to evangelistic efforts in which one side is seeking to reach the other, and therefore must be around them. It refers only to the above textbook definition: joining together for the same purpose, connecting them in cooperative links between people and organizations.
CLEAR BIBLICAL COMMANDS AGAINST ASSOCIATION WITH THOSE IN GRIEVOUS DOCTRINAL ERRORS
Claiming the “Guilt by Association,” someone argued with me the other day against our complaint that Albert Mohler, Mark Dever, and Ligon Duncan were responsible for the grave theological sins of The Gospel Coalition by virtue of the fact that they are on its leadership council.
The individual asked, “Are you somehow responsible for the sins of your church members?” I responded with Hebrews 13:17, which specifically says that as a pastor I’m responsible for “giving an account for the souls” of those under my care. After all, this is the purpose undergirding church discipline. If one part of the body suffers, the whole body suffers (1 Corinthians 12:26).
Personal sin affects those connected through corporate association. We see this in the Old Testament as well, when the sin in the camp by a certain individual tainted the whole community and brought upon it severe consequences (Joshua 7:1-13).
Consider the story of Lot, who cast his tent toward Sodom (Genesis 13:12). Lot could not cry about “guilt by association” when God destroyed it with fire and brimstone, and neither did Moses’ argument to God about a righteous man dwelling there seem to affect the outcome of God’s prevailing judgment.
In 1 Corinthians 5:13, God commands the church to “purge the evil person from among you,” which is a scriptural citation of Old Testament commands that specify guilt by association in places like Deuteronomy 13:5, Deuteronomy 17:7, Deuteronomy 17:12, and Deuteronomy 21:21).
And as cited in Revelation 18:4, God commands his people to come out of Babylon unless they share in her plagues and receive her judgments.
The epistles make Guilt by Association all-the-more clear, as Paul writes, “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret” (Ephesians 5:11-12).
John wrote the same, “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” (2 John 1:9-11).
Paul kept this theme throughout his writings. He told the church in Thessalonica, “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us. For yourselves know how ye ought to follow us: for we behaved not ourselves disorderly among you…And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed” (2 Thessalonians 3:6-7, 14).
FAILURE TO KEEP THIS COMMAND OF BASIC HOLINESS IS SIN
There is no earthly reason why John MacArthur should speak alongside an egalitarian female preacher, lesbian Social Justice Warrior, and yet he is.
There is no earthly reason why Alistair Begg should speak alongside Beth Moore—who he admits is a terrible teacher—and yet he is.
There is no reason why Albert Mohler, Ligon Duncan, and Mark Dever should serve on The Gospel Coalition with radical Critical Race Theorists and political leftists like Russell Moore, Thabiti Anyabwile, Sam Allberry, Rebecca McLaughlin, Rachel Gilson, and a whole host of gay Christian leftist, Critical Race Theorists, and Cultural Marxists—and yet they do.
This, of course, does not imply that the sin of these men in regards to unholy associations is as bad as the sins of militant lesbianism, angry egalitarianism, or Gospel-forsaking Social Justice activism of those with whom they associate. It does not mean that John MacArthur is as bad as Jackie Hill Perry, Begg is as bad as Beth Moore, or Mohler is as bad as Sam Allberry. However, the official association (defined above) is still sinful by any Biblical standard
I picked the above three examples because there should be no argument; John MacArthur believes Jackie Hill Perry is a dangerous teacher, Begg’s ministry has stated that Beth Moore is not sound, and Albert Mohler claims he rejects Critical Race Theory. However, this does not excuse these men; on the issue; it condemns them.
COMMON ARGUMENTS AGAINST GUILT BY ASSOCIATION REFUTED
The most common “Guilt by Association” argument are presented by using Jesus as an example. It is true that Jesus was blamed for fellowshipping with drunkards (Matthew 11:19). But when people insist this is the only accurate accusation against Christ by the Pharisees it is amazing. Like all the other accusations against Christ, it was untrue.
Jesus did not “fellowship” (κοινωνία) with such sinners, as though it was for his own enjoyment. He came to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10), not hang out with them for his own enjoyment. His accompaniment of them was purely for evangelistic purposes, not “chilling.”
Likewise, Jesus preached TO the Pharisees, not WITH them.
Some have even suggested that MacArthur is attempting to “win” Jackie Hill Perry as some kind of super-secret evangelism strategy, or that Begg is hoping to bring Beth Moore to sanity in the Green Room of the conference hotel.
However, Paul did not preach alongside the Judaizers. John did not preach alongside the gnostics. They preached TO them, not WITH them.
Likewise, some have suggested that it is unfair to say that these men are preaching “alongside” the false teachers or “with them” because they are not technically sharing the stage at the exact same time. Because dual-preaching isn’t even a thing in the first place, we consider that excuse to be spurious and dishonest.
When your face is plastered on an advertisement with notorious false teachers, it is clear that you are in union with them, in cooperation with them, and tacitly, that you endorse them. Should someone disagree with that point, I would remind them that “actions speak louder than words” (1 John 3:18).
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