Arthur G. Clarke
DEFINITION. The word signifies a mutual sharing, a common interest in anything, a partnership. The N.T. Gk. " koinonia " is variously translated "fellowship," "communion," "communication," and cognates by allied words.
BASIS. Christian fellowship is shown in Scripture to be based upon a common (shared-by-all) interest in the Person and Work of Christ ; not racial alhnity or social status, not cultural aims or political creed, as with world " fellowships," " brotherhoods," and " unions." The Christian fellowship is composed of all who are sanctified (set apart) in Christ Jesus, 1 Cor. 1.2; sanctified by faith in Him, Acts 26. 18 and, so. called into the fellowship of God's Son, I Cor. I. 9. Sharing a common faith (Tit. 1. 4), they enjoy a salvation common to all (Jude 3). For a short period in the beginning they even held their possessions in the common interest (Acts 2. 44, 45 ; 4. 32). This was not Communism (as some allege), for it was an entirely free contribution by happy mutual arrangement, whereas Communism compulsorily takes from one to distribute to another, an appropriation by the State of the property, powers and even persons of the people. Community of iuterest drew the Christians together into one holy fellowship (I Jn. 3. 14, 16, 17), united in worship, in well-doing and in witness.
NATURE. This fellowship established by God is eternal in character. though enjoyment of it depends upon the spiritual state of the individual believer. It is active not passive, an outworking of faith (Jas. 2. 20ff) in serving the Lord and His people, Philemon 4, 7. In some businesses there are " sleeping partners," who draw a share of profits but do no work therein. The Christian fellowship is not so. Neither is it simply " pew-sitting " or merely sharing the Lord's Supper. Moreover it negatives both " isolationism " (Heb. 10. 24, 25 ; Acts 2. 42). and a " butterfly " procedure of Hitting from one company of Christians to another. Acts 4. 23 ; Col. 4. 12 (" one of you "). This fellowship is :—
1. A Fellowship with God, 1 Jn, 1. 1-7.
(a) Privileged Communion—
(i) With the Father (v. 3), who shares His Beloved Son with us;
(ii) With the Son, who shares the Father with us, Jn. 1. 18 ;
(iii) Of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 13. 14), the unifying Power. We share possession of the indwelling Spirit, who enables us to commune with Clod and with one another.
(b) Essential Condition (vv. 5-7) —walking in the Light, cf. Eph. 5. 6-14 ; Horn. 13. 12 ; Jn. 3. 20. Fellowship is disrupted by sin but the way of its restoration is indicated, 1 Jn. I. 9 to 2. 2.
(c) Blessed Consequence, 2 I'et. I. 3, 4. Lit. "become partakers of divine nature." It is not new birth here, but progressive likeness lo Him, hence the exhortation (vv'. 5ff). A child is not only born of its parents but grows in likeness to them, 1 Pet. 1. 3 with 15, 16 (lit. " become ye holy, for / am holy ").
2. A Fellowship with the Apostles, 1 Jn. 1.3. They shared with us their personal knowledge of Christ and His work (vv. 1-4). The doctrine of Christ (2 Jn. 9-11) is that which embodies these facts, and is the apostolic doctrine referred to in Acts 2. 42, which formed the basis of the Christian fellowship (cf. Jn. chs. 17, 18, 20-21 ; 1 Pet. 1.25).
3. A Fellowship with the Saints. The I'liilippian epistle brings this out most beautifully. It is the epistle of joyful fellowship.
(a) A Fellowship of Salvation (Phil. 1. 7)—"partakers of grace" covers the whole range of spiritual blessings (Tit. 1. 4; Rom. 11. 17).
(b) A Fellowship of Service (Phil. I. 5)—examples Phil, 4. 3 ; Philemon 17 ; 2 Cor. 8. 23 ; Acts 13. 14 with 14. 26-28; Gal. 2. 9.
(c) A Fellowship of Spirit (Phil. 2. 1). Here it would seem better to read " spirit " with small " s " as denoting the Christian's spirit; see context, especially the exhortation of next verse. Harmony of spirit does not mean uniformity of disposition or of action (cf. the apostles themselves).
(d) A Fellowship of Suffering (Phil. 3. 10; 1.29,30). See also Heb. 10. 33 ; Rev. 1. 9. This suffering is (i) with Christ. 1 Pet. 4. 14 (not His vicarious sufferings as sin-bearer at the hand of God, which He endured alone, but malicious sufferings endured at the hands of men in persecution for righteousness' sake) ; (ii) with saints, 2 Cor. 1. 5-7 (present solace) ; 1 Pet. 5. 9, 10 (future splendour).
(e) A Fellowship of Substance. (Phil. 4. 14ff; cp, Heb. 13, 16) in the necessities of
(i) Saints of God, Rom. 12. 13; 15. 26, 27; 2 Cor. 8. 4 ; 9. 13 ; 1 Tim. 6. 18 ;
(ii) Servants of God, Phil. 4. 14, 15 ; Gal. 6. 6.
THE Lord's Supper has been called " the focal point " of the Christian fellowship, I Cor, 10. 16, 17. Neither it, nor its sister-ordinance baptism, creates the fellowship ; but they both express it, esp. the former. Note reversed order (" cup . . . loaf "), which is the order of our experience ;
(a) a common interest in that which was effected by the blood of Christ (His death), followed by
(b) fellow-membership in the Body of Christ (His Church). This involves a responsibility of true separation from all contrary to Him (vv. 20-22). The Christian fellowship, then, negatives :—
(i) Fellowship with demons such as in idolatry, spiritism, error-cults, etc. 1 Cor. 10. 18-22; 2 Jn. 9-11.
(ii) Fellowship with the world, 1 Jn. 5. 19, R.V. " world "— Gk. " kosmos," the whole organized world-system, social, political and religious, 2 Cor. 6. 14 to 7. 1 ; Eph. 5. 10, II ; 1 Jn. 2. 15 ; Rom. 12. 2 ; Jas. 4. 4.
(iii) Fellowship with sins of the flesh, 1 Pet. 2. 11 ; 1 Tim. 5. 22 ; Rom. 13. 14 ; of the harlot church and her daughters, Rev. 18. 4 with 14. 8 and 17. 3-(>.
RECEPTION. " Receiving into fellowship " is a much-used and much-abused phrase. Its only possible Scriptural meaning is the acknowledgment of a fellowship already existing between the individual and God. God's reception of necessity precedes man's, Rom. 14. 3, and we should receive all whom God has received. A local assembly is not like a man-organized fellowship, into which a person may be introduced and elected by fellow-members. Reception of a believer is in the name of Christ, as one who belongs to Him (Rom. IS. 7), not in the name of the church or upon any other ground.
Two Classes of Christians are recognized, the " strong " and the " weak," Rom. 15. 1 ; 14. The. Strong ones must support the weak not stumble them, which is a serious matter in the sight of the Lord, 1 Thess. 5 14 ; Rom. 14. 21 ; 1 Cor. 8. 11-13. The " weak " one is to be received, and that not to the " criticizing of (his) thoughts," Rom. 14. 1. The " weak," be it noted, are those who hold sincere scruples about matters of no real importance. These include the legalistically-minded, who impose unnecessary restrictions upon themselves and others. How often such consider themselves to be the " strong ones " Physical weakness may arise from:
(a) tenderness in age ;
(b) infirmity of constitution ;
So it is in the spiritual sphere. The assembly should be a nursery for " babes in Christ," a nursing-home for the " weak," and a training-home for all. In God's family there are various states of spiritual growth, 1 Jn. 2. 12-14. There is room for all in happy fellowship, but no room for an intolerant spirit towards any member thereof. Weakness (infirmity) must not be confused with sins. The latter are to be dealt with (Lesson 10), the former borne with, Rom. 15. 1-3. There is often " weakness " in those who have " grown up " from childhood in the assembly, converted but not fully taught through failure maybe on the part of elders to see that balanced ministry is afforded, or because of heedlessness of such ministry when given. A similar state of things is frequently found among Christians brought up in denominations. They find it difficult to throw off all at once wrong ideas and practices taught them in the past. When such are received, wise and gracious handling is needed, that they may be instructed in the way of God more perfectly, Acts 18. 25ff ; Rom. 14. 19 ; 1 Cor. 12. 21, 25, 26 ; 13. 1-8. Believers are received as—
(1) New Converts. Converted persons were " added to the Lord," Acts 2. 41 ; 5. 14 ; 11. 24, then " added to the assembly," Acts 2. 47 (J. N. D. note). On being baptized they were immediately introduced to the fellowship of local believers, which included all the privileges and responsibilities connected therewith, Acts 2. 41, 42.
(2) Christian New-comers. Their reception may be by—
(a) Letters of Commendation. This is according to the Scriptural order, 2 Cor. 3. 1,2; Acts 18. 27 ; Rom. 16. 1 ; Col. 4. 10 ; Philemon 12, 17. The principle was fully recognized by Paul though he personally did not need such a letter. To demand a letter of commendation in the case of a well-known servant of God is arbitrary and unwarranted, 3 Jn. 5-8; Acts 21. 17. With an unknown believer it gives confidence as an endorsement from those who are acquainted with him. The Lord Himself, unrecognized in the world, presented His credentials, Jn. 5. 30-37.
(b) Personal Introduction, i.e. by one in the assembly who can vouch for the bona fides of the new-comer. Acts 9. 27.
(c) Satisfactory Evidence. It is not possible in all circumstances for a letter of commendation to be produced. In such cases there is great danger of unwittingly doing harm to a dear child of God by refusing to receive him merely for the sake of upholding a rule locally made. It is then expedient for elders to make a few inquiries, which no right-minded Christian will resent if conducted in a gracious spirit. He will surely see the importance of maintaining godly order in the assembly. If inquiries are satisfactory it would seem well for the person's name to be brought forward in the assembly:
(i) to afford opportunity for possible objection, which must be upon valid (Scriptural) grounds, and:
(ii) that the person may become known to, and be accorded a welcome by, all in local fellowship. Elders do well to inquire of one coming from another assembly without a letter, if he or she be under discipline, for none in this position should be received, at least until full investigation has been made. A better way then is to seek a reconciliation with that assembly. Experience shows that few having ulterior motives will attempt to associate themselves with a Scripturally-conducted assembly. Exceptions should be dealt with as need arises, i.e. when moral or doctrinal evil manifests itself, Acts 8. 21. I Tim. 5. 24 shows that a man's reputation for good or evil often precedes his coming, in other cases it follows after, i.e. is shown up later. Elders are responsible to guard the assembly from erroneous leaching and moral evil, but must not go beyond this to impose restrictions upon a Christian's liberty to act as he believes the Word of God allows in matters of expediency. Though elders are to take the lead they must remember it is not they who receive or put away, but the assembly as a whole. Diotrophes’ arbitrary action was a virtual denial of the Lordship of Christ, 3 Jn. 9.
For assembly fellowship there should be evidence of salvation, soundness of doctrine (essential truth), and consistency in life. Baptism alone is no test. An unbaptized believer is as much a child of God and a member of the Body of Christ as a baptized one; a baptized unbeliever is neither. Baptism is no more essential to fellowship than to salvation, though necessary to obedience in common with other of our Lord's commands. Over-eagerness to partake of the Lord's Supper, with reluctance to do His will in regard to baptism, should not be encouraged. Except in special circumstances the Scriptural order is not to be upset. Acts 2. 41, 42 It should be obvious that one who himself declines to obey the Lord in the matter of baptism is hardly qualified to be an instructor of others, especially as to Christian duties.
DISRUPTION. Fellowship in the assembly is—
(a) disrupted by sin. The offence must be brought to light, judged and dealt with according to procedure indicated in God's Word (see Lesson 10—Discipline).
(b) disturbed by friction. There are many causes for this and they are often petty and mean. He that sows discord is called a " worthless person " and if that discord be sown among brethren, that disturber (brother or sister) is strongly disapproved by the Lord, Prov. 6. 14, Hi, 19 ; contrast Phil. 4. 5 where " moderation " (gentleness, yieldingness, sweet reasonableness that does not stand upon " rights ") is enjoined.