The word “fellowship” is used very frequently. There are many kinds of fellowships in the world that centers around various interests, causes and professions. Christian Fellowship is but one of them.
But just what is Christian Fellowship?
I feel that this term has been used, overused, and even abused sometimes. All the while, its definition has eluded us.
When asked “What is Christian Fellowship?” inescapably you will get the answer, “When Christians gather together”. This is what we think; but is it right?
To answer the question “What is Christian Fellowship?” correctly, we need to turn back to Acts 2, where Christian Fellowship is modeled for us. The best place to start would be Acts 2:42, which says:
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
The early disciples devoted themselves to four things: the apostles’ teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and the prayers.
To devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching means that they practiced whatever was taught by the apostles. This is sadly lacking in the modern church where most are hearers of the Word, not necessarily doers of it.
They also devoted themselves to the breaking of bread. This is a clear reference to the Lord’s Supper, or Holy Communion. I will say more about this later.
Prayers were also made by the early disciples. These prayers could have been pre-written prayers or creeds which are recited in unison. This facilitates the unifying of faith among the disciples.
This leaves us with fellowship. Going by the conventional definition of the word, the early disciples devoted themselves to “gathering together”. Huh? That’s it?
No doubt, gathering together is important. The habit of gathering together slowly faded in the early church so much so that the writer of Hebrews had to exhort them to rekindle the habit again, “all the more as we see the Day drawing near” (Heb 10:24-25).
But there must be more to the physical proximity of believers that defines Christian Fellowship.
The Greek word used here is koinonia, which could mean, according to the context, communion, common, or sharing. From my own study of the word, fellowship is not so much what we DO, but more of what we ARE. And as a result of what we are, we do certain things.
1. A Community
As believers of Christ, God has joined us together as one. Collectively, we form the Body of Christ, of which we are members. We are also the (universal) Church. It does not matter which local church you belong to, your membership is ultimately and primarily with the universal church of Christ. This is the church Christ is building (not the local church).
As believers, we automatically become partakers of a number of things. These, you can say, are the benefits of being believers.
Peter says that we are partakers of the divine nature by which we escape the corruption of the world (2 Peter 1:4). Paul puts it differently. He says that we are “new creations”, ‘workmanship of Christ … created for good works” (Eph 2:10). We are also partakers of God’s grace and mercy, His forgiveness and cleansing, His strength and rest. As an expression of the fact that we are partakers of these benefits and blessings, believers break bread together, or partake of the Holy Communion.
Finally, we do not only benefit and receive, we also share and give. As members of the same body, we must do our part so that the whole body may be built up (Eph 4:16). Fellowship speaks of Christians as Sharers. In the same way that Christ shared (or gave) all of His with us, we must share all of ours with others. This was what the early disciples grasped very quickly and acted accordingly.
And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. (Acts 2:44-45)
Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. (Acts 4;32)
Modern Christians have for a long time looked at the early disciples with envy. When will we ever be able to emulate their selfless charity? Perhaps, it is when we understand the true meaning of Fellowship.