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There is something fundamental about fellowship

Posted by on Mar 12, 2010 in community, discipleship, discipline, fellowship, love, unity | 6 comments

So, I seem to be on a “unity” kick lately, huh? I’m probably thinking more about unity because I’ve been reading John H. Armstrong’s book Your Church is Too Small. But, actually, I’ve been thinking about and writing about unity for quite some time.

Three years ago, I wrote a post called “There is something fundamental about fellowship.” This post casts our unity with one another in the language of fellowship. Our fellowship with one another (or lack of fellowship) is a demonstration of our fellowship with God (or lack of fellowship).

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There is something fundamental about fellowship

Fellowship… There is something about fellowship that makes it fundamental to the church. When Jesus was asked to name the greatest commandment, he answered:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 22:37-40 ESV)

There are at least two amazing things about this passage. First, Jesus did not stop with the commandment to “Love the Lord your God”. It would seem that commandment would be enough. Instead, he said there is a second command that is like it. Similarly, Jesus said that the Law and the Prophets depend on both of these commandments. Again, the Law and Prophets do not just depend on “Love the Lord your God”. The Law and the Prophets also depend on the commandment “Love your neighbor as yourself”.

There seems to be a fundamental connection between our relationship with God and our relationship with other people. John said something similar in his first letter:

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:7-8 ESV)

This seems very simple. If we love God, we will love others. If we do not love others, that demonstrates that we do not love God. The two are fundamentally connected.

In the prologue to his first letter, John also discussed our relationship with God in terms of our relationship with one another:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life – the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us – that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship (κοινωνία) with us; and indeed our fellowship (κοινωνία) is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:1-3 ESV)

When we have fellowship (κοινωνίαkoinonia) with one another, we are demonstrating our fellowship with God. Verse 3 could even be translated as follows: “… that you too may have fellowship with us, and that fellowship of ours is truly with the Father and with his son Jesus Christ.”

We cannot separate our love for God from our love for other people. We cannot separate our fellowship with God from our fellowship with other believers. Fellowship is fundamental in the life of a believer and in the inter-connected lives of a group of believers.

But, just as we cannot create love for God and others, we cannot create fellowship either. Instead, the Spirit creates a bond between His adopted children that humans cannot create on their own. The fellowship (“sharing”) that we have in common is the presence of the Holy Spirit. And, this fellowship exists between all believers. Certainly relationships can be deep or shallow, intimate or surface-level, but fellowship between believers is created by the Spirit, not by our interaction with one another. Relationships that are based on this Spirit-created fellowship should be nurtured, strengthened, encouraged, and sought through continued interaction. But, those relationships must be built fundamentally on Spirit-created fellowship.

What does it mean for fellowship to be fundamental to believers and the church? Here are two examples:

Discipleship depends on fellowship…
When we recognize that discipleship is more than simply teaching facts to someone, then the fundamental role of fellowship becomes clear. Discipleship requires sharing life together. Without fellowship, discipleship is reduced to the transfer of information, which is not true discipleship at all.

Discipline depends on fellowship…
When a brother or sister is living in unrepentant sin, we are taught to disassociate with that brother or sister. In modern times this has been reduced to preventing attendance at certain activities. However, if there is true fellowship involved, then discipline requires the rupture of vibrant relationships: like divorce in a family, back when divorce was not an accepted option.

Fellowship… There is something about fellowship that makes it fundamental to the church. I want to learn more about fellowship. Perhaps others could share what they’ve learned about Spirit-enabled, Spirit-created, Spirit-driven fellowship…


6 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 3-12-2010

    The fellowship we have with one another is in the Trinity and you nail it. The more I have studied John 17 the more I have come to see this. I just did some research on the trinitarian theology of Karl Barth and Jonathan Edwards. Both theologians saw this and wrote about it, though in different ways. The point here is that your comments on fellowship are fundamentally sound and the very kind of theology the church needs in the 21st century if we are to recover what we lost in surrendering our essential unity to sectarianism in the past.

  2. 3-12-2010

    John,

    In your studies, have you determined when the sectarianism started?

    -Alan

  3. 3-12-2010

    It seems to be right in the New Testament text from what I can see, at least the root of the matter. But by the late second century is was stretching things and by the third and fourth it manifests itself clearly. Once we get to the latter councils and the icon debates and then the Middle Ages and the 16th century Reformation it becomes full-blown on every side, including the Orthodox and Catholic, not just those who left. I see it as a spirit that results in attitudes and responses to people and the whole need to preserve unity.

  4. 3-12-2010

    John,

    Yes, that matches what I’ve discovered as well.

    -Alan

  5. 3-13-2010

    I appreciate very much the emphasis you’re placing on fellowship. The only concern I have is the absence of concrete descriptions and illustrations of what authentic fellowship looks like and lives like. As with the use of “Christian” as an adjective, so also the use of “fellowship” as an adjective (fellowship hour, fellowship hall, etc) waters the meaning down to standing around, drinking horrible coffee and shooting the breeze after the obligatory weekly church service. Its identity has been totally eviscerated through misuse. Yes, there are deep connections between fellowship, unity and loving one another. Fellowship is the outward expression of the internal reality that, as followers of Christ and temples of the Holy Spirit, we are called to and actually do love one another and enter deeply into one another’s lives. And what does this look like? When we love one another, we can’t help but engage in all the other “one another’s” expressed in the New Testament. When we love one another, we encourage one another, we bear one another’s burdens and stimulate one another to love and good deeds. Fellowship, authentic, living, breathing fellowship, looks like and sounds like the three hours each week (and numerous times informally) my wife has with two other women as, without even needing to think about it, they share one another’s lives as they laugh and cry and pray and bless and build up one another. Without concrete actions that demonstrate unity and fellowship, it remains an abstract discussion and a mere adjective.

  6. 3-14-2010

    Rick,

    I agree. Fellowship of the Spirit will demonstrate itself in concrete actions.

    -Alan