Four men met for breakfast one morning and had a great time recapping the previous weekend’s hunting trip. They gave thanks for their food, but apart from that, their main topic was the number of deer they saw, how big the buck’s antlers were, the difficulties they had shooting their arrows, and how much meat they put in their freezers. As they departed, they mentioned the wonderful Christian fellowship they had enjoyed together. They certainly enjoyed fellowship together and they were all Christians, but was their fellowship really Christian?
Mr. & Mrs. Jones were celebrating their wedding anniversary and invited all their family to celebrate with them on Sunday. All were Christians and they had a great time together. As they were leaving that evening after a full and happy day, one said, “Well, we didn’t go to church today, but we did enjoy good fellowship together.” Was this really the biblical concept of Christian fellowship?
The service had come to a close and one of the announcements being made was, “We will be having a pot luck lunch today, all are invited to enjoy this time of fellowship.” Again I ask, was this the biblical concept of Christian fellowship?
In each of the previous examples, Christians enjoyed a form of fellowship together, but it wasn’t necessary to be a Christian to have enjoyed that kind of fellowship. People in all walks of life, saved and unsaved, enjoy similar experiences of camaraderie together.
WHAT IS CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP?
What is the biblical concept of Christian fellowship? Fellowship was one of the four basic activities encouraged in the early church, and today fellowship is still one of the foundational practices of churches seeking to gather on a Scriptural basis: “Those who accepted his (Peter’s) message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:41-42 NIV). The four activities have stood as foundational activities of the Christian Church through the ages. Fellowship in Scripture is something we do together as a local church, sharing in its meetings and ministries.
The Greek word koinonia, translated as “fellowship,” means participation, communion, sharing in common, and having a common spirit. In other words, doing things together, such as the four basics mentioned in Acts 2:42. These verses are not speaking about our private spiritual lives, but rather doing those things together in the “fellowship” of the church.
As each one participates, using his gifts (1 Cor. 12:7), functioning as a believer priest (1 Pet. 2:5, 9), and meeting together for edification, the individual as well as the church will be built up to fulfill the purposes the Lord has for His Church. “Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Eph. 4:15-16).
WHO IS IN FELLOWSHIP?
Fellowship begins at new birth: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5:17). At the moment a person repents of his sin and turns to God, trusting in the saving work of the Lord Jesus at Calvary, he is brought into a new relationship with God, who becomes his heavenly Father. At that moment, the believer is born into the family of God, baptized by the Spirit into the body of Christ, the Church (1 Cor. 12:13) and is indwelt by the Spirit who unites him to every other born-again believer. This is called the “unity of the Spirit” (Eph. 4:3).
Life will go on in much the same way as it did prior to conversion, but there will be a distinct change of purpose in their lives. As members of the body, their main focus in life will now be to fellowship and interact together with other members of the body of Christ in worship and service. As they fellowship together they show that they are a part of the Church family, and they will use their God-given gifts and abilities to share in the worship, outreach, and edification of the church. Obviously, all believers can’t serve and meet together with the whole universal body of Christ, but they can put their time and efforts into a local church and so fulfill the teaching of Ephesians 4:12-16. In this way each one can participate in building up the whole body which is coordinated by the Holy Spirit.
New birth from above brings believers into fellowship with the three persons of the Godhead and also the Church. “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ” (1 Jn. 1:3). Our fellowship with God the Father will determine our fellowship with other believers. If we are not walking with the Lord, we will not really enjoy true fellowship with our fellow believers. “If we claim to have fellowship with Him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin” (1 Jn. 1:6-7). We can only enjoy real fellowship with one another as we walk in the light and obey the Word.
The result of a good relationship with the Father will ensure a healthy and fulfilling relationship with other believers. “God, who has called you into fellowship with His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful. I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought” (1 Cor. 1:9-10). Divisions are generally caused by those who are out of touch with the Head, and whose life is dominated by fleshly activity. The love of power, position and money replaces their relationship with the Father with devastating consequences: “He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow” (Col. 2:19).
Obviously, practices in churches around the world will differ because of culture, language and special needs. Where there is persecution, secrecy may be necessary. In other places a dominant religion might influence certain behavior. We see in creation that God is a God of diversity, so why should we not expect to see diversity of practice in the Church? In the Church there is a diversity of gifts, practices, administrations, ethnic backgrounds and many other things – all of which God uses for the positive functioning and growth of such a diverse body. These differences should not cause division or rejection, but should rather be seen as God’s provision for His people in every nation, culture and circumstance.
We need to understand that the Word and fundamental doctrines do not change, but practices can and do change. We are united by the Holy Spirit with all God’s people regardless of various differences. Rather than reducing our church fellowship to a sectarian or denominational group, we should, “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). In other words, unless there is immoral activity or heretical teaching, we should recognize every true believer as part of the Body, and be free to fellowship with them. To deny this is to deny the unity of the body and to grieve the Holy Spirit who indwells all believers.
HOW DO WE EXPRESS FELLOWSHIP?
We can’t express fellowship on our own! We need to meet together to encourage one another, receive and give instruction, worship, and serve the Lord as a local expression of the universal body: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:25). Genuine fellowship is based on the concept of giving to and receiving from other Christians. We share what God has given us – forgiveness, possessions, love, understanding of the Word – and we use our spiritual gifts as we seek to edify one another.
In the local church we will find gifted spiritual leaders whom God has prepared and they will help us mature spiritually and be effective in the ministry to which the Lord has called us. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
We express fellowship when we pray together, when we participate in the teaching of the Word and when we celebrate the Lord’s supper together as part of the church family. At the Lord’s table, we not only see the emblems that represent His body and blood as we remember Him, but the Lord’s supper also symbolizes the unity and fellowship we enjoy as members of the one body. “Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf” (1 Cor. 10:16-17). The one loaf symbolizes the one body of believers as well as the body incarnate of the Lord Jesus. Unfortunately, some have used the Lord’s supper as an entrance into membership in their sect. Rather than its being an expression of the unity of believers as part of the one body and fellowship, it has become a symbol for sectarianism and division. True Christian fellowship is active participation in all of the four basic practices of Acts 2:42.
WHY IS FELLOWSHIP IMPORTANT?
We need to be together with other believers as much as possible. If a stick is taken out of a fire it will smoke for awhile and go out. When it is returned to the fire it will burn again and add to the light. In the same way a believer who is not continually fellowshiping in a local church, will soon “cool off” and become ineffective as a “light” in the world. “Let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24).
I was in New Zealand several years ago and witnessed the races of different teams in Maori war canoes. Every canoe had a crew of 22 people, each one using a large paddle. At the stern there was a sweep with a longer paddle used to help steer the canoe. As the teams raced across the water, it was soon obvious which teams had regularly practiced working together, because they not only maintained good forward speed, but also stayed on course. In one race a number of individuals paddling in one canoe were out of sync with each other, and the sweep was unable to keep them on course. They crossed into the next lane getting the team beside them in trouble, and both canoes fell behind.
When I saw this it reminded me of some churches where those who didn’t attend meetings were out of sync with the rest of the congregation. Some of these occasional attendees not only caused problems for their own congregation, but caused problems for others as well. We need to pull together to move forward, grow and be effective in our service for the Lord.
Fellowship is not just a social gathering, but is a basic necessity for spiritual growth, for the God-designed functioning and edification of the Church, and should be a vital part of the life of every believer.
By Ian Taylor
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org