For A Number Of Years The Word BROTHERHOOD Has Had Negative Connotations In My Mind Because It Has Been So Seriously Abused: — Some seem to think of the brotherhood as an association of churches that is little less than a denomination. They speak of brotherhood papers, brotherhood schools, and brotherhood institutions of various kinds.
Some, who more correctly think of the brotherhood as individuals, still seem to limit it to those who read the same papers, use literature from the same publishing houses, send their students to the same schools, and draw their preachers from the same pool. This is also a misuse of the word.
Recently I have come to think of the word in a better light, remembering the admonition of the Holy Spirit through Peter: "Love the brotherhood" (1 Pet. 2:17; see also 1 Jno. 4:20,21).
Identifying The Brotherhood: — Just as the Godhood is the three who are God, the brotherhood is all who are brothers. Jesus said to His disciples, "you are all brethren" (Matt. 23:9). "For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3;26). Every individual in the world who has been baptized into Christ (Gal. 3:27) is my brother (sister). To love the brotherhood is to love each such brother or sister, whether known or unknown.
Distant Brothers We Do Not Know: — Christians in the first century loved unknown brothers in distance places. When the church in Jerusalem learned there were brothers in Antioch, they sent Barnabas to teach and encourage them (Acts 11:19-23). Later the brethren in Antioch learned of a famine threatening the brothers in Judea. "Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea" (Acts 11:29). Later "it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution to the poor among the saints (i.e. brotherhood) in Jerusalem" (Rom. 15:26). Most of the recipients of these loving benefits were unknown personally to their benefactors.
We have brothers and sisters in distant lands that we have never met and likely will not meet in this life. It is proper to send teachers to encourage them. It is also proper to send material assistance to those who are in famine or other distress where this can be done expediently. And, by all means we should pray for them, especially for those who are suffering persecution and hardship.
Brothers In Neighboring Congregations: — In our wholesome zeal to maintain the autonomy of each congregation, we may practice an unwholesome isolation. In past years, several Christians could be counted on to visit meetings in nearby congregations at least once. In areas where churches were scattered, some would travel many miles to encourage the preaching of the gospel. More recently such visits have become less common. Those who are members of nearby congregations are our brothers. They need us and we need them.
Brethren in New Testament times knew each other. Young Timothy was not only "well spoken of by the brethren who were at Lystra" where he lived, but also by those in Iconium, some distance away (Acts 16:2). Paul speaks of a "brother whose praise is in the gospel throughout all the churches, and not only that, but who was chosen by the churches to travel" with Paul (2 Cor. 8:18,19). Paul directed that the epistle to the Colossians "be read also in the church of the Laodiceans, and that you likewise read the epistle from Laodicea" (Col. 4:16). Rom.16 reveals the acquaintance Paul and his companions had with many in the church at Rome.
Association with brothers and sisters in nearby congregations provides an opportunity to form friendships and even marriages with Christians whom we might not know otherwise. On a preaching tour of Australia in 1966, it was noted that Australian Christians usually married Christians in spite of the great distance between churches. This was accomplished by their habit of traveling many miles to visit churches, thus getting to know other Christians eligible for marriage.
Brothers In The Same Congregation: — It is sad that members of the same congregation often do not know one another's name. A brother or sister in God's family should mean more to us than any companion in the world, regardless of the secular interests we may have in common. Matt. 25:31-46 challenges us with the fact that our eternal destiny depends in part upon our response to our brother's needs. But how can we respond if we do not know the brother, much less his needs? Our salvation depends in part upon whether, indeed, we "love the brotherhood."