WHAT ARE THE LIMITS OF FELLOWSHIP?

Written on: May 31, 2021

Article by: Dave Knutson

1st John 1:1-4

On the evening of April 14, 1912, at 11:40 pm ship’s time, the Titanic struck an iceberg. For 84 years people thought that the hull had been sliced open for over 200 feet. But then in 1996 Paul Mathias took ultrasonic readings of the hull and found that there was no gash. The damage was in fact a series of bent plates, split seams and small holes. The total area open to the sea was just over 12 square feet in size. Compared to the ship, the holes were tiny. The titanic was over 882 feet long, 92′ wide at the beam and 175′ high. It did not take big holes to sink a big ship.

Our faith is a bit like the titanic…it might be largely intact yet fatally damaged.

If you compared the beliefs of most major ‘Christian denominations’, you might conclude that the differences in faith and practice are smaller and less important than all that they have in common. And insofar as the things that they teach are biblical…there is perhaps more there that is right than what is wrong. Like the titanic, almost all of the ship’s hull was intact when it sank.

GLCHS – Hiring Ad
Vision 2020
Central church of Christ – GROW 2021
Anjul Enterprises
Broker Force
Strathmore church of Christ
GLBC President Search
Training for Service
Preacher wanted
Grove Park Home

So what should we be looking for in a church? Or perhaps more to the point, what is it that the Lord is looking for? What is it that makes the church his and not just ours?

The bible uses the word Fellowship to identify one of the things that must be there. Its a common word and its used to mean different things. The Greek word is koinonia and it’s used both as a noun and a verb in the New Testament.

Bullinger’s Critical Lexicon and Concordance defines it as an,

“Act of partaking, sharing participation, communion.”

Vine’s Expository Dictionary of the New Testament describes it as,

“Communion, fellowship, sharing in common.”

William Barclay in his New Testament Words adds,

“In classical Greek…means an association or partnership…

The word is also used to express the idea of community…”

Webster’s dictionary calls it “A state of association, comradeship, company of equals, communion…”

Fellowship is sharing…it is having something in common. As a Canadian, I share the rights and privileges of citizenship with other Canadians. So I have fellowship with fellow Canadians. As a member of CAA, I share travel protection with other members. In that sense, I have fellowship with other CAA members. And along these same lines, we might refer to our fellowship in distinction from the fellowship of the Baptists, the Methodists and Pentecostals.

And when we do, its fair to ask…what do we mean by fellowship? Are we saying that each group is made up of like-minded people who are stakeholders in their designated organization? If so, then that’s a valid use of the word. But if we mean that each of these organizations is equally the Lord’s church, then we are saying something completely different.

Any group of people with religious convictions and practices may be said to be in ‘fellowship’ with each other. But the real question is…are they in fellowship with the Lord? In order to be in fellowship with the Lord, our beliefs and practices must come from him…and be approved of by him.

Here are some passages that talk about fellowship

Paul wrote, “God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:9). To the Galatians Paul wrote that, “…James and Cephas and John had extended the right hand of fellowship to himself & Barnabas (Gal 2:9). And he thanked God for the church at Philippi which had ‘participated’ or had fellowship with him in the spread of the gospel (Philippians 1:5)

God calls us into fellowship with Him and its up to us to recognize others who are also in fellowship with Him. Fellowship works in two directions – it is first vertical and then horizontal. The thing that all true Christians have in common is that we are in fellowship with God.

This is what the apostle John says about fellowship in the text beneath the title of this article.

“…that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” 1st John 1:3

Not only had the apostles seen Jesus, they had entered into fellowship with him. They had answered his call to discipleship and were proclaiming his identity as the Son of God to the world.

Jesus sent them to preach to the world…so that others might also enter into fellowship with God.

True fellowship then is created by God and not by us. It is created when believers put on Christ in baptism and become the children of God. Christ adds us to his church. We do not join up or take out membership

Here is what Paul said to the churches of Galatia:

“…in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew or Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

(Galatians 3:26-28)

The key phrase is “In Christ!”. Those who are in Christ are sons of God. Only those immersed into Christ for the forgiveness of sins are actually ‘in Christ”. Being ‘in Christ makes all the difference, as Paul put it in 2nd Cor. 5:17. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.”. We find it again in Ephesians: Eph 2:10 where Paul wrote – “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus…” We are not the same old person, but have been born again spiritually to be a child of God…a new creation!

Now the concepts of birth and seed are closely related. A spiritual birth calls for spiritual seed

The apostle Peter identified it in : 1 Pet 1:23

“…you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.”

When the seed of God’s word has its way in our lives, we are made into the children of God. And as it turns out, God’s children have a special relationship with him. We belong to God…as Paul put it in Romans 8: “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ…” (Romans 8:16, 17)

Fellow heirs with Christ are also in fellowship with each other! Since only the children of God can be fellow heirs, only the children of God are in fellowship! The church is not a god-club where we make the rules. We don’t decide who is in and who is not. The word of God sets those boundaries and our role is to live within them.

In Acts 2:41 and 47 we read

“So those who received his (Peter’s) word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls…the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

Luke validates what Jesus said and what Mark recorded in Mark 16:16 “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved…”

There are in fact a number of things which the scriptures call for – in order for us to accept the salvation offered by God in Christ Jesus. It begins with a recognition that I am a sinner and in need of God’s forgiveness. We have to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was and is – the son of God and God’s perfect sacrifice for sin. To show that I am serious about living as a child of God, I need to give up doing my own thing in my own way, in order to submit to God. Then, having turned away from sin and toward God, God wants us to go public…to confess our faith to others. And having done that, to be immersed in water for the forgiveness of sins.

This part of the Bible is not hard to understand. In fact, when you think about it…how could it be otherwise? When we obey God’s word , God forgives us and he keeps on forgiving us. He cleans us up spiritually so that his Holy Spirit can live inside of us. This is what Peter promised on the Day of Pentecost when three thousand men were baptised into Christ.

When they had come into fellowship with God, Luke described their new relationship with each other this way:

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship and to the breaking of bread and prayers…And all who believed were together and had all things in common…” (Acts 2:42, 44)

They had obeyed the same gospel and were united in Christ through the same baptism. Forgiven by God, and indwelt by his Spirit, God formed them into one body…the body of Christ. They shared this union or fellowship with each other. Fellowship with God brought them into fellowship with each other.

Luke explains that the apostles’ teaching or doctrine included four things:

  • How to become a Christian
  • How to live as a Christian.
  • How to function as a church
  • And how to worship God

And of course, the whole N.T. expands on these. But for now, let me suggest some early conclusions

The first is – that we do not share spiritual fellowship with anyone who has not been baptised (immersed) into Christ for the forgiveness of their sins! If fellowship has not been establish first with God, then we are not united in Christ

But that’s not all…if salvation can be lost…if we can break off our saved relationship with Jesus…then fellowship between us can also be lost

The apostle John warned about this…when he wrote:

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:5-7)

What does it mean to walk in the light? Well, first of all, it’s walking where Jesus is.It is being his disciple – doing his will as he mentors and leads

It was Jesus who said:

“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31)

John also wrote:

I was very glad to find some of your children walking in truth, just as we have received commandment to do from the Father. 2 John 4

For I was very glad when brethren came and testified to your truth, that is, how you are walking in truth. I have no greater joy than this, to hear of  my children walking in the truth. … (3 John 3, 4)

Walking in the truth means living in obedience to God’s word. Once we are in Christ, we stay in fellowship with each other as long as we are all walking in the truth.

Paul sets out seven things that make for unity

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-6)

God’s Spirit has made us into one body, but it is up to us to preserve that unity. The fellowship that makes us one…can be broken. We entered it by believing and obeying God’s word. But we can reverse that decision and walk away from godly living. If we fall out of fellowship with God and are no longer his…then we are also no longer joined to each other through him.

The church in Corinth was guilty of two sins relative to fellowship.

First of all there were divisions in the church. There were factions and for no good reason they squared off. So Paul reminded them that they were one in Christ … that the blood of Christ created fellowship and he urged them to get along with each other.

But there was an immoral man in the church there who was living with his father’s wife. He had fallen out of fellowship with God but the church was acting like it was no big deal and treating him as a brother. So Paul commanded them to break off all relations…to stop condoning and encouraging sin

You see, it’s just as wrong to divide a church whose members are all in fellowship with Jesus as it is to maintain unity with members who have fallen out of fellowship with Jesus.

Toward the end of the first century, Gnostic teachers got into the church. They denied that Jesus was God in the same sense as the Father

  • Some also denied that ever came in the flesh.
  • Their teachings about Jesus convinced people that what they did in the flesh had no effect on their spiritual welfare

Thereforee John warned that:

…every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. (1 John 4:2,3)

He also instructed them:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world (1st Jo 4:1)

John taught the truth…The Gnostics taught error. There was no fellowship in Christ – between Christians and Gnostics. Christians who became Gnostics had to abandon the truth to do it. And having denied that truth – were no longer in fellowship with God

Its a great fallacy to believe that unity among people is more important that unity in Christ. Unity movements that break fellowship with Jesus – do not save anyone. And should we join them…we would cease to be the Lord’s church. It’s an old temptation that Satan recycles because it works

Here is what Paul wrote to the Romans:

I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve. (Romans 16:17, 18)

And then this warning to the church at Ephesus:

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not associate with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. (Ephesians 5:6-11)

There is always the temptation to teach our own ideas instead of God’s word…to promise what we can’t deliver and to practice things for which we have no scriptural authority. This displeases God making us the objects His anger. We break covenant with Him and fall out of fellowship. When that happens, the only proper response for a church that is faithful to God is to break off their relationship with us and to limit their influence among us.

Just to be clear: you and I do not create Biblical fellowship. When we each obey the gospel, we come into fellowship with God. And any two people united with God are united with each other in him

There is a reason why the word fellowship, describes communion. The Lord’s supper puts the death of Jesus on display…and it is our union with his death that has saved us and made us one body. Having been made one…our job is to maintain that fellowship. To get along together…to love each other…to serve each other. And to keep each other true to God’s word…and to godly living

Having said that, there is, a big difference between those who set out to divide the church and those who are just weak and immature. We ought to be patient with the weak and help the immature to grow up. We should do all that we can to restore those who have fallen away. And when we do, we can once again share the kind of fellowship with each other that leads us to heaven.

Fellowship should never be broken on earth until it is clear that fellowship has already been broken with heaven.

So,who is my brother?

The believer, who has been united with Christ in baptism, indwelt by the Holy Spirit who is walking in the light and is forgiven daily by the blood of Jesus.

May we make ever effort to be one in Christ, as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit also are one. And may God bless our efforts with success

Coldwater ON