One of the foundational truths of the church is the understanding that the church isn’t the campus, brick and mortar, stained glass and steeple. The church is the body of people who meet together on a specific campus, united together through Jesus Christ, and meet together for the right worship of the true God. One of the necessities of an authentic church is true fellowship. Genuine fellowship is not an optional thing for the church. There are many reasons why true Christian fellowship is necessary in the life of the church, but I want to focus on the following three reasons.
The Priority of Fellowship in the Early Church
In Acts 2:42, we see the early church described as a devoted church. In one verse, four key elements are mentioned regarding the church’s worship. They were devoted to the apostles’ teaching, fellowship – κοινωνία, the Lord’s Supper, and prayer. It’s vitally important that we see the level of priority placed upon fellowship by the early church.
The first time we see the Greek term κοινωνία (translated fellowship in Acts 2:42) used in the New Testament is in Acts 2 as Luke describes the early church immediately after the 3,000 people were born again and baptized as followers of Christ. This word means, “close association involving mutual interests and sharing, association, communion, fellowship, close relationship, marked by intimacy.” True Christian fellowship transcends “hello” in the hallway or a slap on the back on Sunday.
The early church spent time together in worship, in the temple meeting people, over meals in their homes, and out in the community through evangelistic efforts. They prioritized Christian fellowship highly. They were living in hostile times where threats were common and death was promised for the sake of the gospel. They valued the close fellowship of their Christian community in ways that we often don’t see in the church today. They didn’t avoid one another. They didn’t minimize true fellowship. They exemplified Christian care and their intimate community was possible through their bond in Jesus Christ.
The Need for Vibrant Relationships
If you read John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, you see that Christian is constantly in need of a true friend to journey with him. When he was in the dungeon of Doubting Castle, Hopeful was there by his side. If you read Tolkien, you will see him reference the Fellowship all through his writings. C.S. Lewis also put a spotlight on the importance of fellowship all throughout The Chronicles of Narnia. Most importantly, if you read the Bible, you will see from beginning to end, the people of God are pictured as a together people.
God has designed us with the need for intimate relationships. It’s a very common thing to see people referencing their “work family” or their “ball team family” on social media. The point they’re driving home is that they’ve worked diligently to build an intimate group of people who are committed to one another and have a common bond that unites them. Sadly, it’s becoming a normal thing to see many Christians speak that way about their circle of friends outside of the church while their understanding of church has been reduced to a building and a seat to occupy on Sunday. Why are so many people willing to forsake the fellowship of the church?
As a pastor, I’ve watched people through the years come into the church and then eventually disappear. After a bit of shepherding work, I’ve discovered that they were just “not connecting” well within the church. As I explored the reasons for the disconnect, I’ve discovered that they were not present often, not involved in any small group opportunity, and not working to build close relationships. As a result, they started feeling alienated and eventually disappeared in hopes of finding true κοινωνία within another church.
κοινωνία and Discipleship are Connected
God never intended for us to make the journey to the Celestial City alone. We must have true fellowship among the church that causes us to go well beyond the “handshake and hello” on Sunday as we pass by fellow church members in the hallway. God’s plan for His church is genuine discipleship, and one key ingredient for discipleship to happen is true Christian fellowship. Consider Hebrews 10:25 where the writer to the Hebrews says more than “don’t skip church” to the Hebrew believers. He writes, “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.” If discipleship will happen, we must encourage one another and as the preceding verse states, “stir up one another to love and good works” (Heb. 10:24).
The Titus 2 model of discipleship involves genuine Christian fellowship. How can the older train the younger without a point of connection and common bond in the gospel? The intimacy that comes through the gospel allows for people to be honest with one another and open themselves up for accountability. This level of fellowship should transcend the relationships built around the common bond of employment or recreation. When we gather for worship and observe the Lord’s Supper together, it’s more than pizza and a soft drink. The intimacy is built around the body and blood of Jesus Christ that was given for our salvation. How can a job or a sport cause greater intimacy than what we have within the local church?
Healthy Christians build healthy churches. Some people are more extraverted than others, but there is no excuse for hermit Christianity. In fact, there is no such thing as hermit Christianity. We must learn that the church is not a burden – it’s a true blessing from God. The church is more than a building and a steeple, it involves a body of believers united in the gospel. Why is true fellowship minimized in our day? Could it be that we’ve forgotten that we’re in a war? The early church lived with a wartime mentality that gripped them and brought them close together in worship and life. It could be that we’re marching through the battlefields of life isolated from one another through smart phones and superficial friendships where true κοινωνία is impossible.