In the dictionary, fellowship is defined as “friendly association, friendly relationships, comradeships.” In the New Testament, the word fellowship is a translation of the Greek word koinonia, meaning “having in common, sharing together, participation, partnership.” Fellowship is about experiencing some degree of communion with others, and it can occur in different types of relationships, including friends, co-workers, family members, or spouses, to name a few.
Our need for fellowship is built into our nature and is at the very essence of our being. We read in Genesis 2:18, “And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.” This verse indicates that the need for companionship was the reason for Adam and Eve to come together. It was not a situation where Adam needed a helper; rather, Adam needed to not be alone, and the solution was to create someone especially made for him. Fellowship is something God designed and it is very good.
Fellowship with Christ
Consider specifically the fellowship that exists among believers. In 1 Corinthians 1:9 we read, “God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” This verse conveys that the genesis of Christian fellowship occurs when God calls someone to fellowship with Jesus Christ. In the family of God, our connection is not based on a common interest or background, but the fact that we each have a relationship with God.
Our relationship with God is fundamentally different from any human relationship we can have. We might think of it as a vertical connection between us down on earth and Him up in Heaven. Any human relationship could be considered as a horizontal connection between us and other people on earth. At salvation, the Blood of Jesus Christ washes away one’s sins and that person becomes a new creature. The soul that was dead in sin becomes alive through the power of God in his life. That vertical connection to God impacts our lives in a way that no earthly connection could.
When two people who each have a vertical connection with God come to have a horizontal connection with each other, their relationship takes on an entirely different dimension than what exists among non-believers.
When two people who each have a vertical connection with God come to have a horizontal connection with each other, their relationship takes on an entirely different dimension than what exists among non-believers. It is something very special. People outside of Christianity certainly enjoy a form of camaraderie among friends, interest and activist groups, or social clubs. Even violent gangs have some type of companionship. However, because they do not have that vertical connection with God, their lives and relationships are actually governed by the devil. They may still appreciate some benefit from their associations, yet it could never compare to the full blessing God intended fellowship to be when it is experienced among fellow believers.
Serving the Lord together
Christian fellowship is not about doing just anything together; it is about doing God’s will together, which is not possible to do with an unbeliever. The Bible speaks of not being “unequally yoked together with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14). The Old Testament teaching from Deuteronomy 22:10 said not to plow a field with an ox and a donkey, because the different animals have their own mindsets. Two animals are stronger together than they are apart, but that does not occur if when they come together, they oppose each other. The same principle applies to Christians. If we intend to serve God but choose to spend most of our lives with unbelievers, we will not accomplish much for His kingdom and we risk losing our way altogether.
On the other hand, when believers with the same spiritual values come together to accomplish a task for the Lord, their fellowship will be sweet. We can encourage and help each other, sharing in one another’s joys and sorrows. We do have relationships with people who are not of our faith, but that is a different type of connection. Those are more superficial, while our deep, engaging relationships are with fellow believers. The Psalmist said, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head . . . and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore” (Psalm 133:1-3). Truly the blessing of the Lord is with His people.
This is not to say that Christians will never disagree. Our personalities and backgrounds are different, and we may not have the same viewpoint on a variety of matters. However, because we are all submissive to the Spirit of God, those different perspectives can be enriching rather than conflicting. As we each bring our various talents and ideas to a project, they culminate into something beautiful under God’s leadership. That is what Christian fellowship is all about.
Discerning the characteristics of true fellowship
Maintaining pure fellowship will require us to use discretion. The Book of 1 John was written to a church which had experienced a breach of fellowship. A substantial number of people had deviated from their original faith and left the church over doctrinal disputes, and then they tried to infect those who remained in the church with their false ideas. Given that situation, this epistle has a lot of instruction for discerning the characteristics of true fellowship among believers.
An unchanging standard. John’s letter begins, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; . . . That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us” (1 John 1:1,3). In these opening verses, John was setting a benchmark by which the readers should measure their lives to know if they were in the fellowship of the believers. That benchmark was the Gospel message of salvation through Christ, which they all had seen and heard.
The Gospel is unchanging, and it still holds today that there can be no basis for Christian fellowship without the born-again experience that reconciles one to God. At the Apostolic Faith Church, we are thankful that this was preached at our founding in 1906 and is still preached today. We have archives—we can go back and read the publications from way back then, and fifty years ago, and twenty years ago, and two years ago. Christ set the standard and it is the same standard we have today.
Victory over sin. Continuing on, 1 John 1:5-6 says, “This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth.” Christ’s power to give victory over sin is a fundamental teaching of the Christian faith, and John was reminding the church how important it is. We read in 1 John 3:6, “Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him,” and verse 9 says, “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin.” When we consider these verses together, what it simply means is that if we claim to be Christians but willfully sin against God, then we are lying. To suggest that there would be communion between God and a sinner is to deny the very purpose for which Jesus Christ came to earth—to destroy the works of the devil and give us power to live a life pleasing to God.
The Blood Jesus shed has power to transform us, enabling us to go and sin no more. If we have not experienced that power, we are still in darkness and we are not in fellowship with Him.
Moreover, if it is not God’s seed in us that keeps us from sin, then any attempt to obey the Bible is just self-righteousness. If that were the case, I might as well go back to my former religion of Islam because they also taught us to live morally. But what I found that was different in Christianity was the power to actually live above sin. The Blood Jesus shed has power to transform us, enabling us to go and sin no more. If we have not experienced that power, we are still in darkness and we are not in fellowship with Him.
A holy life. Going back, the first chapter of 1 John, verse 7 says, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.” The Scripture is explaining that if we walk in the light, which is the true teachings of God, what will follow is that even our sinful natures will be cleansed and made holy. We will experience entire sanctification, and we will have fellowship and unity one with another.
At camp meeting this year, every teaching we have heard has given us light to walk in—lessons about restitution, forgiveness, and how to be saved. We have heard that we need to separate ourselves from the world and devote ourselves fully to God, and that when we do this, God will sanctify our hearts, eradicating the sinful nature and imparting His divine nature to us. The light is made so plain at our church services, and it is in full blaze at camp meeting. The whole purpose of our meetings is to proclaim the Gospel just as Scripture proclaims it, and to encourage people to have a personal relationship with God through prayer. That is why we see people receiving their deeper experiences.
Following Christ’s example. In 1 John 2:6 we find these words, “He that saith he abideth in him ought himself also so to walk, even as he walked.” John’s letter was to people who had been with Jesus. They remembered how He walked—how He was meek and lowly, and a servant leader. They remembered His teachings. Perhaps the sect that had departed from the fellowship was teaching a lifestyle that came short of Christ’s teachings. John was reminding them that they should live even as Jesus Christ himself lived, and not accept a lower standard.
In the next verses, John gave specific examples of what it looks like to follow Christ’s example. Verse 9 says, “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now.” Jesus had taught that we are to love even our enemies, and our own Christian brothers even more. Those who hate the children of God are certainly in darkness. Verse 15 says, “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” Chapter 17 of John’s Gospel records Christ saying that His disciples were “in the world but not of the world,” and John was reminding his readers of that point. If a person’s life does not line up to the way Christ lived, there is a problem.
As we serve God together, the key traits that should mark our assembly are a common experience of being born again, victory over sin, holiness, and lives that are patterned after Christ’s life. These qualities are not meant as a tool for us to be judgmental toward others, but rather for us to exercise discretion in order to preserve what God has given us. The deep communion believers experience with God and each other is glorious, but it can be lost, so we must take care to protect it.
The importance of sound doctrine
In 1 John 4:3 we read, “Every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God.” It seems that some in the church of John’s day actually believed that Jesus Christ had not come in the flesh. Muslims believe something similar, that Jesus was only a prophet and not God incarnate. The moment we reduce Jesus to an ordinary person, the teaching of resurrection power—the power to “go and sin no more”—is lost. Then our religion is reduced to self-righteousness, and it is no different than other religions.
A correct understanding of God’s Word is critical to fellowship because otherwise what exists is Christianity in name only, with no real power.
A correct understanding of God’s Word is critical to fellowship because otherwise what exists is Christianity in name only, with no real power. We read in 2 Timothy 1:13, “Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.” How can we know what is “sound words,” or sound doctrine? The true Bible doctrines are not secret knowledge. If we are saved and have devoted our lives to God, the Holy Spirit will teach us and lead us into all truth. The Bible speaks of the Bereans who received the Gospel and searched the Scriptures to make sure it was true (Acts 17:10-11), and we can do the same. When something is unclear, we have access to the Holy Spirit as our teacher, the very One who inspired the Scriptures. If we honestly desire to know the truth, God will be faithful to lead us to it.
Some church organizations are ecumenical, which means that differing doctrinal interpretations are accepted within the organization. This is not referring to the style of worship or order of services, but doctrinal teachings about how God would have us to live. At first, the ecumenical way may seem like a nice idea, but in practice it can mean joining together with people who have false doctrines. That is not Christian fellowship at all, and it is dangerous because it leads to confusion and misunderstandings.
At the Apostolic Faith, sound doctrine is highly valued because we know it will strengthen our faith and bring us closer to God. We recognize sound doctrine in the sacred music which lifts our hearts. Sound doctrine is heard in the testimonies of the redeemed, and it blesses us within. It is in the Bible studies that teach the Word of God, and we experience it at the altar service. As we enjoy all of these things together, we have fellowship, and all of it builds up to produce an outcome, which is to make us sound Christians.
When I was a new believer, I had been saved alone in my room and did not have a church to go to but my heart yearned for more of the truth. Eventually a friend directed me to the Apostolic Faith Church, and when I heard the truth preached there, my heart warmed with it. It was something fantastic. My heart just loves this fellowship, which is with God first and then with each other. It is truly a blessing and we thank God for it.