Two fellows on ship, and other misconceptions about fellowship
by John Crotts, Faith Bible Church
When you look at the marks of a healthy church several traits usually come to the fore.
Great preaching is often the first essential component of a healthy church that people think about. Another trait is personal holiness among both the leaders and the people.
Other excellent qualities include a spirit of humble dependence on God evidenced by prayer, a strong commitment to the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures, and God-centeredness in the worship.
An important mark of a healthy church often overlooked by people evaluating churches is high quality fellowship. When Luke summarized the marks of the newborn model church in Jerusalem, fellowship was included in the list. “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).
The Holy Spirit inspired Luke to let all other Christians after this know the things that matter most to the Lord Jesus about a church family. Because fellowship matters so much to him, it should also matter to us.
When looking for a faithful church, we are right to look for a strong commitment to preaching and the ministry of the Word of God, which connects to “the apostles’ teaching” in Acts 2:42.
We are also right to look for a praying church. If a church doesn’t pray, they probably assume that they have got things under control without God’s help. Yikes!
God-centered worship would include faithfully partaking of communion together as well as corporate worship – “the breaking of bread”. But what about fellowship?
God takes church fellowship far more seriously than many Christians seem to. The idea of fellowship is often misunderstood and therefore neglected.
Just as prayerlessness can mean that a church thinks they have ministry under control, a lack of real fellowship suggests that individual Christians think they can live the Christian life on their own.
Some churches have the Godward elements of spiritual health in place, but they fail to live out that Godward life together with the other Christians in the church family. They are like a group of all-stars that don’t seem to play well together as a team.
Fellowship is not Christians socializing. Many church buildings have a large room sometimes called the fellowship hall. Many chickens have given their lives to be fried and gobbled up within the walls of these halls. Hundreds of past conversations between true Christians filled with laughter and joy could echo from the four corners of these rooms. But if those excellent conversations over all of those fantastic feasts aren’t about God, his Word or the Christian life – real fellowship hasn’t occurred.
Don Whitney pictures the distinction between true fellowship and mere socializing as a circle within a circle. “Socializing is the larger circle because it involves sharing the common things of human, earthly life. All people can do this, whether or not they are Christians. But Christian fellowship, New Testament koinonia [the Greek term for fellowship], involves the sharing of spiritual life.” (Spiritual Disciplines within the Church, Chicago: Moody Press, 1996, p. 150)
Socializing and Christian friendship are not bad, they are just incomplete if our spiritual lives are not part of the regular conversations. As Whitney again notes, “In practice the church has often accepted socializing as a substitute for fellowship, almost forfeiting our spiritual birthright as children of God for something far less valuable.” (ibid)
In what could be called the “Go to church” verses, Hebrews 10:24 and 25, notice the kinds of things God means for his children to do while they are together at church. “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
You shouldn’t just to go to church to watch a man preach a sermon and listen to some nice music about Jesus. You are supposed to be stirring the people up around you. You are supposed to be encouraging them.
That implies that you have to talk to them and then listen to what they say, and then talk some more. When I think of provoking something, I think of taking a stick and poking around at a snake that is minding his own business in the sunshine. It won’t be long before that snake is minding your business.
Christians need poking as well. We are sunning ourselves when we need to be busy with love and good works for the glory of God.
This is part of fellowship.
The word itself includes the meaning of partnership. If our livelihood consisted of the success of a partnership in a business venture, we would certainly provoke each other all of the time to get busy with the work. We would encourage one another, help one another and even comfort one another regularly.
Whatever either one of us needed, the other would seek to supply for the good of our partnership.
Christ has made us partners. The Christian life is a long, hard – but joyful – battle. There are many highs and lows on the journey. We need to love and support one another as fellow partners on our common mission in Jesus.
Good Christian friends who are not part of the same churches ought to take full advantage of the opportunities God provides to spend time together and use other forms of communication to talk with other about the things of God. They should absolutely share the insights God is giving to each of them from the Bible and support one another in prayer.
But the Lord has established church families with a major purpose of such relationships. The teaching about Christian fellowship in the Bible is found in letters to those of the same church. The metaphors of the church, such as a body, a building, or a flock, all imply an interconnectedness.
Biblical fellowship is the glue that holds us together.
Christians are to be intentionally cultivating real fellowship within our church relationships for the glory of God and the spiritual good of us all. Instead of coming to church as a spectator, come as a participant. Look for three people who you can reach out to this Sunday to talk about your common life together in Jesus Christ. Tell them what you are learning from the Bible. Ask what they are reading. Ask them what you can pray for about their lives.
Thank God for all of the new discoveries of his grace in the people’s lives all around you.