Authentic Christian fellowship is not about friendly chats over coffee and donuts, but about our shared relationship and communion with God. This should then lead us to a much deeper way of relating to one another. Here I would simply draw attention to our conversations with one another. They should have a more spiritual quality about them. Indeed, this is the very thrust of what we read about the believers in Jerusalem following Pentecost. Those who had received the word through Peter’s preaching of the gospel and were baptized “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers”(Acts 2:41, 42). Jerry Bridges helpfully explains that the fellowship spoken of here was “sharing with one another what God was teaching through the Scriptures.” It was “an important part of true [Christian] community.” It is what distinguished or set apart believers from all other types of associations.
Fellowship. It is a word that is common among Christians. Of course, it isn’t a word that is exclusive among believers. The English word itself, according to the Oxford Languages online dictionary, conveys a “friendly association, especially with people who share one’s interests.” Generally, such a friendly association among those who share a common interest entails some type of social activity. It might be meeting up at sporting event to watch their team play or attending a concert of their favorite musical artist. People gather with one another at bars, restaurants, and homes for meals. A service project motivated out of a common concern may also bring people together as well. Whatever has bonded them together, such gatherings may rightly be regarded as a type of fellowship.
To be sure, there is common ground here when we begin to think of Christian fellowship. There is no question that believers share common interests and goals. Yet too often Christians can associate fellowship as primarily limited to gatherings with one another for meals or other social activities. Yet, the biblical idea of fellowship penetrates much deeper. As believers, we share a common identity and a common life in Jesus Christ. Authentic Christian fellowship yields a deeper connectedness to other believers than mere common interests and goals (though it includes these things). It entails a vital union with Christ and communion with God. Out of these two foundational principles flow the kind of character that should typify believer’s relationships with one another.
I should state here that my thoughts on this matter have been greatly influenced by two people, the 15th century Puritan John Owen (1616-1683) and the late Jerry Bridges (1929-2016) who served as a longtime staff member of The Navigators. I commend their works to you, particularly Owen’s Communion with God and Bridges’ True Community. In view of the limited space for this article, I want to draw attention to what genuine Christian fellowship ought to look like in practice as the fruits of our common bond in Christ.
First, genuine Christian fellowship begins with union with Christ. In 1 John 1:3, the apostle wrote, “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.” The word for fellowship here is the Greek word koinonia, which can also be translated as partnership, participation, sharing, and contribution. The key point of this text, for our purposes, is that the foundation for fellowship with the apostolic witnesses and, thus, with God the Father and God the Son is believing apostolic witness. And this witness or testimony (cf. 1 John 1:2) concerns the “word of life,” that is the gospel, the good news revealed in the person and work of the Son, Jesus Christ. There is a content of knowledge that must be affirmed as true and embraced by faith if there is to be any true fellowship. In 1 John 4:1-6 we see that denying that Jesus has come in the flesh is a characteristic of everything that is antichrist. It is a tacit denial of the testimony of the apostolic witnesses who heard with their ears, saw with their eyes, and touched with their hands the “word of life” (1 John 1:1). If we would enter into this fellowship, then we begin by believing the word of life as he is proclaimed through his chosen witnesses. Fellowship with God begins, in the apostle Paul‘s words, when we are ”baptized into Christ Jesus.” That is, when we believe the gospel. We are united with him, by faith, in his death and in a resurrection like his (Romans 6:2-5).