|Volume 3||November 1, 2004||Issue 18|
Growing the Fellowship In Christ
A continuation of the October 1 issue. Review that issue at http://www.gorfsystems.com/diligence/d0316.html
In the October 1st issue of Diligence we discussed how the use of the word "if" in the Scriptures means that there are "conditions" that God requires be met if we are to have fellowship with Him and to have fellowship in Christ with one another. We noted that Jesus had prayed that "they...might be sanctified through the truth." (John 17:17 and 19 KJV). Near the end of that previous article, we mentioned that the term "fellowship" has been grossly abused in the church today and that our fellowship in Christ is the same with a Christian who stands beside us while we eat our ice cream as it is with a Christian in a foreign country whom we have never met and probably never will. The only difference between those two Christians is that we are sharing physical and spiritual fellowship with the one with whom we are eating our ice cream and spiritual fellowship with the other. The fellowship in Christ that all Christians share — no matter where they are — is because they are all in fellowship with Christ. They have all met the conditions spelled out in the New Testament. No matter where they are or whether or not they are standing in proximity of each other, they all have been purified by the blood of Jesus. They all are co-heirs with Christ. They all are united with Christ in His resurrection. They all are part of the same Body of Christ. That is fellowship in Christ and it doesn't depend on physical togetherness.
It has been said that fellowship in the Church is "never more than thirty paces from the coffee pot or a cold drink." It's unfortunate that this idea of fellowship has caused many in the church to associate our fellowship in Christ with "getting together" with other "Christians." Some believe that we must be gathered with other Christians or we're not experiencing fellowship in Christ. The fact of the matter is that fellowship in the "Church" has nothing to do with coffee pots, cold drinks, or even potlucks. We all know that the "Church" is the Body of Christ. It's not just the local congregation with which we happen to assemble. We also know that the Body of Christ is a spiritual Body. A spiritual Body doesn't depend on a coffee pot or a mutual physical assembly in order to be a part of that Body. Fellowship in the Body of Christ exists because we are in the Body of Christ. It exists between all of those who have met the criteria of the "if" verses of the Word and therefore are walking in the light. Fellowship in Christ exists whether or not we happen to be gathered in a group. Fellowship in Christ simply is! It is as long as we continue to walk in the light. It is not something that happens or that we engage in — in a physical sense.
Before we go on with this discussion, we want to make it perfectly clear that members of the Lord's church can and do certainly engage in fellowship with those of their local congregation. They also can and do engage in that same form of fellowship with their Soccer Team or their Thursday night Rook Club or their Tuesday morning Quilting Club. That sharing of similar interests is indeed fellowship, but it also may have nothing to do with fellowship in Christ. In other words, it may be entirely possible that we could share fellowship in Christ with the coach of an opposing Soccer Team and not even know it while we may not share fellowship in Christ with every individual who attends the Sunday potluck.
With this clarification of exactly what fellowship in Christ is and what it is not, let's move on to a different question. How can we "grow" the fellowship in Christ? How do we bring more people into the Body or into fellowship in Christ? Jesus gave us a very clear and concise answer to that very question.
"...All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you...." (Matthew 28:18-20 NIV)
Remember in that earlier issue, we looked at John 17. In that chapter Jesus had said that they (the apostles) had kept God's Word. He prayed that they would be kept from the evil one and that they would be "sanctified through the truth." In this verse above, Jesus told those same men "how" to make disciples. He said to "(baptize) them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and (teach) them to obey everything I have commanded you." Once again, here is the Scriptural answer as to how to be sanctified or set apart. Sanctification is only achievable "through the truth" and obedience to that truth. That's why the Great Commission included the instruction to teach them to obey everything Jesus had commanded them to do.
As we think back on that earlier issue, it becomes rather apparent that fellowship in Christ (or the Body of Christ — the Church) can not grow unless that growth is brought about by speaking and teaching the truth. Only acceptance and obedience to the truth can spread fellowship in Christ. Nothing else can.
In these days, it seems that the sign of success is growing larger and larger congregations. While that is undoubtedly lucrative for those involved in such a process, if those congregations do not grow (in numbers) as a result of preaching and teaching the truth, they become nothing more than a physical fellowship of individuals who share companionship. They are not in fellowship with Christ. They're not part of the spiritual fellowship that makes up the Body of Christ. For that Body is set apart (or sanctified) through the truth.
In relation to this, it must be understood that Acts 2:47 clearly tells us that the Lord adds to the church — we don't do that. This means that we don't determine who is a part of that spiritual fellowship and who is not. That is determined only by the Lord. God did however, give His Word to us so that we are able to determine from the truth contained within its pages, what is the criteria that God requires be met in order for the Lord to add us to His church and be a part of the Body of Christ. So if we abandon all of the "if" verses contained in the Scriptures, and say that there is hardly any criteria to be met, then we also abandon His Word. Abandoning His Word — or ignoring the "on the condition that" parts of the Scriptures for the purpose of growing larger congregations does not grow the fellowship in Christ. It simply grows a larger congregation — a fellowship of people who perhaps share a similar doctrine, but are not sanctified by the truth nor are they in fellowship with Christ.
The Dictionary defines fellowship as —
"The condition of sharing similar interests, ideals, or experiences, as by reason of profession, religion, or nationality. The companionship of individuals in a congenial atmosphere and on equal terms."
The idea of fellowship as it is described above can and does have numerous benefits. Companionship, camaraderie, friendship, and perhaps even networking as in a professional sense, brotherhood as in a sense of nationality, and religion as it might apply to a common doctrine of belief might be some of the benefits of fellowship as described above. Notice however that all of these benefits are of comfort or advancement as they relate to the devices of mankind. Physical fellowship or secular fellowship of this nature — whatever the cause or reason — is limited to such things as these. These benefits can go no further. But the benefit of fellowship in Christ is eternal life.
Notice that the definition above states that fellowship is "the companionship of individuals in a congenial atmosphere and on equal terms ." That reminds us of some verses we read in that earlier issue.
"...what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?" (II Corinthians 6:14-15 NIV)
The "equal terms" of fellowship in Christ is the fact that all who are a part of His Body are sanctified by the truth. All members of His Body walk in the light. All members of His Body are children of God. All members of His Body are co-heirs with His Son. Co-heirs inherit that which is bestowed by the Father.
"Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." (Matthew 25:34 NASB)
"The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory" (Romans 8:16-17 NIV)
The benefits shared by those who have fellowship — but not fellowship in Christ is nothing even similar to the benefit of eternal life.
There is one more point that we would like to present for your consideration concerning the subject of fellowship. The current "drive" to expand the fellowship in Christ by relaxing the criteria presented in God's Word is based largely on Jesus' prayer for unity in John 17:20-26. As we place those verses in context, we realize that Jesus is drawing very near to the time of His death on the cross. He knows that He will no longer be physically present with the Apostles and that their task of establishing His Church will be a difficult one that would begin with their preaching on Pentecost. He also knows that the Old Covenant will soon be ended and that the Jews will no longer be the chosen ones. Everything was going to be different after His death and Resurrection. He knew that His Apostles didn't grasp how it would all happen. His followers still believed that His kingdom would be on this earth. They didn't fully understand that His spiritual kingdom on earth would be the Church. He prayed for unity of the teaching of the Apostles and for those who would hear their words on that day of Pentecost. He said:
"20Neither pray I for these (the apostles) alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; 21that they all may be one;...that they also may be one in us...23...and that the world may know that thou hast sent me...."
This prayer for unity was answered on the day of Pentecost. Both Jews and Gentiles who believed the Word preached to them by the Apostles became one in the Body of Christ. They were the first members of His Body, the Church. His prayer was answered.
If we believe this to be a prayer for the unity of all of today's denominations, regardless of the seriousness of their deviation from the Word, then we must also believe that God ignored this prayer of His Son for all of these centuries. He didn't. God answered His Son's prayer on the day that the New Testament Church was established. Jews and Gentiles alike did indeed become united in the one Body — the Body of Christ, the Church (Eph. 3:6). On that day, they asked what the criteria was to become a member of that Body and when they were told, they obeyed it.
"When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, 'Brothers, what shall we do?' Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:37-38 NIV)
Since that "great and notable day" (Acts 2:20), the world has known that God sent Him (John 17:23). It is now our job to tell others about the Gospel so that they too may share fellowship in Christ by being sanctified through the Truth.