Joel Sauve writes:
The next time you go to church, grab a bulletin and look through it. You’ll usually find something somewhere along the lines of “stay after the service for a time of fellowship and coffee with other brothers and sisters in Christ”. So usually the sound or smell of coffee brewing after the service seems delightful. To an earnest Christian, the prospect of fellowship seems even more delightful. Mix both coffee and fellowship and, bam! There’s the body of Christ at it again in full unity, loving and edifying each other. As a redeemed child of God, it excites me to hear this is going to happen after the morning or evening service.
But here’s the problem. A lot of Christians either don’t know or have forgotten what true Christian fellowship really is. It’s so sad. You pour your coffee after church and go to talk to someone or several people about what God is doing in your life (or to share someone’s burdens, or to tell how the sermon edified you). But all you get is talk about how someone’s work week was, or the new car they bought, or the worldly things they want to talk about … this list could go on and on! I believe there’s a time and place for that. But should there be any place for the world or the things you can’t bring to heaven in the body of Christ, especially on the Lord’s Day?
I wanted to understand what true fellowship is in the church, so I looked back to the early church. I found some interesting things as I studied and researched biblical fellowship. Please bear with me as I walk through this and uncover what has been lost in our very own churches today. Let’s look at what God wants us to experience as the body of Christ.
Fellowship is heart-felt and heart-expressed. Every faithful Christian wants that company with other believers. It’s a way of life to share with each other and support each other spiritually. When someone’s hurting, we all share that burden. It’s a unity that’s unbreakable for the people of God.
The early church in the New Testament gives a biblical example that we should go by even in our day and age. They had to deal with some serious persecution. They were alienated from society. Jesus had been crucified a few months earlier. They feared for their lives. And so, as they bonded together through these harsh times, the church became their support. Brothers and sisters in Christ provided each other stability. Now let’s be honest. The dynamic isn’t much different today. There’s still a lot of pressure from the outside world. And more persecution seems to be coming down the pipe! So in the midst of all this danger, the early church all came together (Acts 2:44).
In the church, there should be no division. We should have the same care for one another (1 Cor. 12:25). And we should stir each other to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24). But is that what we see in our churches today? Is that what you personally do for your church? It’s so easy to point at other churches, or at other believers, and say “Well, they certainly don’t support each other over there”. But take a close look at yourself for a minute. Do you support your own Christian brothers and sisters in your own church? Do you seek to promote unity as one body and one mind in your own church? Do you share your brother’s or sister’s burdens?
I’ve seen churches where there’s no support for the leadership of the church! If things aren’t done in a certain way, or on a certain timetable, they’re criticized. And gossip and back stabbing becomes their form of “fellowship”. People hold back from edifying other believers. People hold back from supporting other believers. People hold back from encouraging other believers. People hold back from building up other believers. It’s so sad! And at the same time it’s so disgusting! It means that Satan is winning! It means that the world has infiltrated the church. And ironically, now the church is driving the world away from the gospel!
Since we’re especially thinking about Christian fellowship on the Lord’s Day, take a look at the fourth commandment (Exodus 20:8–10). When people come to church to fellowship but they neglect to bring Christ to their fellowship … when they whine and complain, or talk about business or politics, or the new car they bought, or the new Pokemon game that just came out, or etc.—you know, the vain things of the world—the fourth commandment that they profess to obey just went flying out the window!
It says a lot about us when we do that. When we’re healthy believers, we’re on fire for God. When we’re healthy believers, we want to leave the worldly things in the world and talk with fellow believers about spiritual things. When we’re healthy believers, we want to support and edify and pray with our brothers and sisters in the Lord. But in the modern church we seem to have lost that! It’s every man for himself now! And once again, Satan is really loving this. It’s how he infiltrates a church. When God’s people cooperate with him in all these ways, he is able to derail faithfulness to God.
The Greek word that’s translated “fellowship” is “koinonia”. It comes from the word “common”. It means sharing something in common. It means communion. An unknown commentator describes fellowship as “the expression of genuine Christianity among the members of Gods family”. I couldn’t agree more. Sadly, it seems that in our day we’ve totally forgotten what fellowship really is in the body of Christ. And as a result, the church becomes weak and worldly and not centred around Christ. Do we really have to spell out where that scenario ends up?
At its heart, fellowship has love and acceptance for those Christ loves and accepts (Rom. 14:7; Eph. 3:17–19). We need to learn to be patient with each other’s faults. We need to learn to esteem one another higher than ourselves. That would solve 95% of the problems that come up in a church. Fellowship also requires showing concern and having a spirit of restoration to one other (see Gal. 6:1–2). It means bearing each other’s burdens, praying together, fellowshipping together. Fellowship involves confessing our sins against each other, seeking and granting forgiveness to each other (James 5:16). Gossiping, back-stabbing, criticising, bitterness—each of these blocks forgiveness and confession. And they will each kill the spirit of a church eventually.
Encourage one another, be available to one another. That’s true fellowship! That’s what God wants us as a church to experience. It’s what the Holy Spirit enables us as Christians and as churches to do.
I encourage you to examine the fellowship you have in your church. Examine the fellowship you personally bring to the church. And bring Christ into the centre where He belongs. As you pour yourself a hot cup of sweet nectar of the beans, leave the worldly things in the world. Be humble and show that Christ dwells in your heart.
It’s one thing to know the Bible. It’s quite another to live it! “But be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the Word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing” (James 1:22–25).
Joel Sauve is a member of Redeemer OPC in Airdrie, Alberta