On Fellowship

It seems as if the tide is turning.  A society that generally moved towards personalization within the realm of fellowship and communication seems to be longing and searching for intimate relationships, and in touch communion.  Starbucks and the like sort of coffee hangouts have reaped the benefits.

This recognition comes from one who is admittedly a social magoo in some circumstances.  Nevertheless, I think that there must be a greater understanding of what constitutes true fellowship – with special regard for the makeup of the subjects of what we call fellowship.  Moreover, I write with greater specificity to the church, that is, to those who have embraced Jesus Christ as Lord, Savior, Treasure, and all of His perfections on their behalf as the sole means of their acceptance before God (Romans 3:21-26); and thus, in a short space purposing that a common fallacy might be rectified.

I have heard it said recently, and several times before, that someone or some family that is visiting a church has fellowship at the top of their check list.  They desire commuion, atmospherics, a family environment, unity and closeness amongst it members.  Besides the many problems of having such a list, the desire for such familial fellowship is absolutely good and right.  Fellowship and authenticity are amongst those God-granted traits of a biblical church, and necessarily flow from those main attributes and delights of preaching, teaching, receiving, and doing the objective Word of God.  The church in Jerusalem in Acts (Acts 2:42-47), and the collaboration of churches mentioned throughout Paul’s epistles (1 Corinthians 16:1-6 cf. 2 Corinthians 8:1-9) teach us that fellowship and a sincere love for one another were two of the great activities in the early stages of church history, a sort of fellowship that is the direct consequence of faith in Christ and the indwelling of His life in the believer by the Spirit (see the context of the Acts 2:42-47 passage).  However, our contemporary inclination towards the autonomous self, individualism, self-worship, and personalization has demanded a stricter definition of what fellowship is – a definition that needs to be broadened.

When one says that they are looking for a church with good fellowship, they mean that they are looking for a group of people with which to interact that are similar in many ways to them.  Thus, if a married couple of 25 year olds with one child visit a nearby church, fellowship for them looks like other married couples, in their twenties, preferably but not absolutely with a young child – and they should, for this is healthy.  It is a good thing to seek out those with whom you have much in common.  But Christian fellowship, fellowship with the body of Christ is more than that

The church is made up of more than those exactly like ourselves; this is the glory of the body of Christ, namely, the distinctiveness of its parts working in conjunction with one another under one objective Word, one Lord, one Spirit, with one purpose – the glory of God advanced through the gospel which speaks of the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Thus, we must not be so quick to disqualify a church simply because it may be a congregation with 150 blue heads.  We may have the right to question why that is so, but must not remove it from consideration on this basis alone.  When John Piper first got to Bethlehem Baptist in Minneapolis, the body consisted of nothing but elderly people (per John Piper); if you had visited Bethlehem on his first Sunday as pastor, and been seeking a church on the basis of this narrow definition of fellowship, then you may have been inclined to end up elsewhere which now would have apparently been foolish, for God has been greatly magnified and enjoyed in that place. 

Perhaps a more practical example comes from a recent conversation with an elderly women who complained about the carelessness and dress of the teenagers in her church.  “They just don’t seem to care about the older folk,” she said.  “They run around the building, almost knocking us over as if we weren’t even there.  And, oh, their dress is so irreverant – belly buttons showing and the like.”  I simply smiled and asked her, “Have you sat down and talked to one of them about it?”  In other words, have you fellowshipped with them.  Of course the answer is no.  There is a disconnect in many church bodies between certain types of people, in this case, old and young; and where this disconnect is happening, the church is not operating as it should (Titus 2:1-8).  Conversely, the teenagers ought to seek out communion with the elderly.  Where this occurs I believe on the basis of Scripture that the church is operating properly, believers are edified, the body strengthened in faith and love towards one another, and there is a witness given off by the church towards the world that is noticeably foreign, namely, Godward.

Fellowship takes place amongst people in general, a variety of people, not just a select group like oneself.  God has designed the body of Christ such that there might be interaction with other believers of every stripe and color, from a myriad of backgrounds, with plethora of testimonies concerning the grace of God and the method of His salvation in their lives, in their hearts, in their places, and circumstances.  I speak not concerning racial reconciliation, although if one has the privilege of being a member at such a racially diverse church, what I am writing applies – one should not segregate in any way.  But this applies to churches that are predominantly of one race also, for we can segregate with great imagination.  In a one race church (which gives food for thought anyway), we still manage to segregate by age, programs, children, theological similarities, backgrounds, comfortability, etc.  And as I have already written, this is at some point necessary and good, but Christian fellowship must be much more than this due to the diversity of the body, and the design of the diversity in the accountability and sanctification of the church, for I can only learn so much from a believer who like myself has known Christ for almost nine years, but I can gather some from the new Christian’s testimony, and much greater measures of encouragement and wisdom from one who has walked with God for 30, 50, 70 years, from those who with great anticipation walk their last steps and breathe their last breaths until glory.  We can reap from the laymen who faithfully manages his gas station to the glory of God, as well as the pastor who faithfully exegetes and proclaims the Word of God to that same great glory.  And lest we forget, we can give of our walk with God to such as these as much as we receive from them.

In sum, the term fellowship has grown, ironically, to be a word of segregation on many people’s lips though they know it not.  But the Christian as been grafted into Christ and as such into Christ’s body, that is, the church, and thus it is incumbent upon us, as well as being our privilege in the experience of such grace, to broaden the notion of fellowship to include communion with the great variety of saved sinners – young, old, black, white, children, no children, rich, poor, gas clerk, pastor, etc., for we all have one Lord, but through Him, millions of building blocks to offer, receive, cherish, and apply.  Adopted children of God were not saved to be quite so exclusive in their fellowship; we are a corporate body, and we must take care to fellowship with every part – to the glory of God and of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

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2 Responses

  1. may join your fellowship??

    • Mesula,

      The fellowship that I articulated 4 years ago, and hold to today, is that of fellowship in Christ. As Jesus died for sinners from every tongue, tribe, people group and nation, so His church ought to preach Him to all peoples in the hope and promise of God’s grace to convert such peoples for His glory. As the church pursues this, and God graciously grants it, His body will look very diverse, while being united by faith in Jesus Christ. So, if you have believed in Christ, then the answer to your question is, of course, yes in the truest and most precious sense. Even if not in this life, yet in glory. And if you have not believed in Jesus, then I would humbly invite you to repent of your sins and believe in Him, and you will have fellowship with God, Christ, the Spirit, and with all Christians. God forgives sins in Jesus because Jesus lived a sinless life, dying in the place of sinners, and was raised from the dead as a show from the Father that Jesus completely accomplished all God’s will. With this in mind, I pray that the Lord has granted you to come to Christ, that I might call you sister, and if not yet, I pray that God will do it soon. Your servant in the Lord,

      Brian

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