Title: Looking at Fellowship Afresh
Looking at Fellowship Afresh
Part 1: Introduction - and Theory
What real unity is all about
In this series looking at various facets of church life afresh, for the state of the church generally in the West today, this may be one of the most important subjects we have covered, and I have hesitated writing about it before, for this very reason. I hope the reasoning here will become clear as we go along.
As I have observed church life over many years, one of the areas of greatest failure is, I believe, in respect of the absence of what we call ‘fellowship'. There may be fellowship between say a pair of individuals, but generally across the church real, genuine fellowship rarely exists (and yes I will justify that assertion shortly).
Possibly one of our biggest dangers is to form a body of people, called the people of God, Christians, or ‘the church', and create a regular pattern of activities for that body of people, and then assume we have achieved what God wants – and thus remain contented with this loosely bound bunch of people. And that is the failure, that they are loosely bound, and that does not conform to the New Testament norm. Those who are happy with the present state of affairs will immediately say, “Well, as soon as you have a church of any real size, it is impossible to know everyone who is part of the church,” but that avoids the issue.
The issue is, how can we provide Jack and Jill, two people in the congregation, with a number of genuine and meaningful relationships of the order of the New Testament – presumably in a relatively small group – and how can we provide that group with meaningful relational ties to other such groups?
The former part of that question will form the content of the bulk of this Part 1, while the latter part, concerned with wider corporate application will be considered briefly near the end of it. You will see from the 'Contents' at the top of each Part, that in Part 2 we will move on to see a way it worked in my experience, and in Part 3 we will face the questions that doubters might have, and then look in detail how it works out in a weekly group.
2. A First Look at ‘Fellowship'
A good teacher will tell you that communion, fellowship and similar words stem from the Greek root ‘ koin '. This will be found in the New Testament
‘koin' is about sharing something with someone. You can do your own further studies on this if you wish.
Put as simply as possible “fellowship” is about sharing your life with another Christian.
3. When ‘Fellowship' does NOT occur
So often we assume that when Christians come together ‘fellowship' occurs, but if we take our simple definition, if we are trying to be real about what happens in church life, we will see that it is possible for ‘fellowship' NOT to occur in the following instances, i.e. times when you do not share your life with others:
a) Sitting and listening to a sermon
As good, right and essential as this occupation is for Christians, it is the experience of many that they come in, listen to the word preached and go out and their lives have not touched other ‘lives' and they have certainly not shared their ‘life' with others. Physical presence does not necessarily mean ‘fellowship'
b) Participating in Prayer Meetings, Bible Studies and Church Meetings generally
Again, as good, right and essential as these things may be in the life of a church, exactly the same may be true as we noted immediately above. But note an additional element in these things. We may have actually communicated with others in each of these meetings and we may have spoken words – of prayer, of understanding and information, and of opinion, but we may not have actually shared our life. Words shared do not necessarily mean ‘fellowship'.
c) Participating in Business meetings at Work
We simply use this as an example of times when we communicate with non-Christians. We may even share our testimony with a non-believer and they may even share their life understanding with us in return, yet there is something missing from the experience that elsewhere we know to be ‘fellowship'. It is the absence of the Holy Spirit with us both. Communicating at a deep level is not necessarily ‘fellowship'.
d) Communicating with a Closed-down Christian
A Christian who feels insecure, guilty or fearful is often unable to share their ‘life'. Two Christians sharing theological insights may not necessarily experience ‘fellowship'. When a defensive or even attacking stance is taken, almost certainly fellowship will not occur.
4. Further Thoughts on what Fellowship IS
From the examples and things said above, we may suggest that for there to be a sharing of life, there needs to be:
Now we have used the word ‘life' a number of times as the thing to be shared. One dictionary definition pointing us in the right direction says, “individual's actions & fortunes, manner of existence,” which may also include your energy, your personality, the very essence of what is you.
For us as Christians, this ‘very essence of what is you' includes the presence of the Holy Spirit and so ‘fellowship' involves the sharing of the very you that is Holy Spirit energised.
a) A Wider Corporate Use of ‘fellowship'
It may be suggested that when the Bible speaks about fellowship as a noun, e.g. “They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship,” (Acts 2:42), it simply means, as the Message version puts it, “the life together” or the corporate life, and as we have noted above, we may participate in a variety of church activities as part of ‘The fellowship', but in reality never experience the greater possibility of this real life sharing. Nevertheless this is a legitimate use of the word ‘fellowship'.
Robertson's Word pictures study tool speaks of that particular use of ‘fellowship' as – “what is common to all. This partnership involves participation in, as the blood of Christ (Phil 2:1) or co-operation in the work of the gospel (Phil 1:5) or contribution for those in need (2 Cor 8:4 ; 2 Cor 9:13).”
That wider use of the word ‘fellowship', thus involves the things that we Christians share in together
b) Individual Fellowship
But let's go back to the dimension of ‘fellowship' that we referred to earlier:
1 Cor 1:9 “ God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord,”
When it comes to the fellowship we have been referring to between two or more Christians, it perhaps can only be really described by experience, and that is what we will go on to consider in the second Part.