Study 11: Life in Christ
Introduction | Holiness | The Use of Force | Politics | Worldly Pleasures | Bible Study | Prayer | Preaching | Ecclesial Life | The Breaking of Bread | Marriage | Fellowship | Questions
The Greek words translated 'fellowship' and 'communion' basically describe the state of having something in common: common-union. 'Communion' is related to the word 'communicate'. By reason of knowing and practising God's ways, we have fellowship with Him and with all others who are doing the same through being "in Christ". It is easy to neglect the responsibilities which we have to fellowship with others: "to do good and to communicate (i.e. fellowship) forget not" (Heb. 13:16). Phil. 1:5 speaks of our "fellowship in the Gospel"; the basis of our fellowship is therefore the doctrines which comprise the true Gospel. For this reason the fellowship enjoyed by true believers is far greater than in any other organization or church. Because of this fellowship they travel great distances to be with each other and to visit isolated believers, and should make good use of postal and telephone contact where possible. Paul speaks of "fellowship of the Spirit" (Phil. 2:1), i.e. fellowship which is based around our common following of the Spirit/mind of God, as revealed in His Spirit/Word.
One of the greatest expressions of our fellowship is through keeping the breaking of bread service together. The early believers "continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship (in the) breaking of bread, and in prayers...breaking bread...with gladness and singleness of heart" (Acts 2:42,46). The emblems representing the central pivot of our hope, sharing them together should bind us together in "singleness of heart". "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion (sharing) of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread", i.e. Christ (1 Cor. 10:16,17). We therefore have an obligation to share the emblems of Christ's sacrifice with all those who benefit from his work, who are "partakers of that one bread". Only those who have been properly baptized into Christ, after knowing the truth, are in this position, and it is a mockery of the emblems to share them with anyone apart from such.
John recalls how he shared the Gospel of eternal life with others "that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 1:2,3). This shows that fellowship is based around a common understanding of the true Gospel, and that this brings us into fellowship both with other true believers, and also with God and Jesus on a personal level. The more we apply the Gospel to our lives, conquering our sinful tendencies, and the deeper we progress in our understanding of God's Word, the deeper our fellowship will be with God and Christ.
Our fellowship with God and Christ and other believers does not just depend on our common assent to the doctrinal truths which comprise the "one faith". Our way of life must be in accordance with the principles which are expressed in them. "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: 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" (1 John 1:5-7).
'Walking in darkness' must refer to a way of life which is constantly and publicly at variance with the light of God's Word (Ps. 119:105; Prov. 4:18); it does not refer to our occasional sins of weakness, for the next verse continues, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth (i.e. God's Word - John 17:17; 3:21; Eph. 5:13) is not in us" (1 John 1:8).
From this it should be evident that fellowship ceases when a believer starts to hold doctrines, or lives a way of life, which are openly opposed to clear Bible teaching: "Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them" (Eph. 5:11). Every effort should be made to win them back after the pattern of the good shepherd seeking the lost sheep (Luke 15:1-7). If the brother or sister persists in false teaching or grossly wrong behaviour, it is necessary to formalize the cessation of fellowship which has occurred (Matt. 18:15-17). In practice this is done through an interview with responsible members of an ecclesia, and notification of the fact in a Christadelphian magazine. However, it cannot be too strongly emphasized that this process should only be put into operation in clear-cut cases of holding false doctrine or persisting in an unspiritual way of life. One must be certain that there is so little in common between us, due to deviance from the Bible's fundamental teachings, that formal breaking of fellowship is necessary.
One of the clearest passages concerning fellowship is found in 2 Cor. 6:14-18: "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness...wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord...and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty".
We have shown how that the Word of God is light. These verses explain why we should not fellowship with churches which teach false doctrines; why we should not marry those who do not know the Truth, and should shun the ways of the world. On account of our separation from the world we have the breathtaking honour of becoming God's very own sons and daughters, part of a world-wide family of others who have this same relationship - our brothers and sisters. There is only "one body", i.e. one true church (Eph. 1:23), which is based upon those who hold the one hope- one God, one baptism and "one faith", i.e. the one true set of doctrines which comprises the one faith (Eph. 4:4-6). It is not possible to be part of this "one body" and also fellowship with other religious organizations who do not hold the true faith. Seeing that light has no fellowship with darkness, we proclaim ourselves to be in darkness if we choose to fellowship darkness.
If we truly appreciate the whole system of doctrinal truth revealed in Scripture, we will see that those who believe false doctrine in the name of Christianity have no more fellowship with God than atheists.
If you have followed these studies carefully, it will be evident by now that there can be no half-way position in our relationship with God. We are either in Christ by baptism into him, or outside of him. We are either in the light by reason of our grasp of true doctrine and practical obedience to it, or in darkness. One cannot have a foot in both camps.
Our knowledge of these things gives us a certain degree of responsibility towards God. We do not now walk the streets or go about our daily lives like the average man of the world. God is intensely watching for our response. Both He, the Lord Jesus and all true believers could almost 'will' you to make the right decision. But much as God, Christ and ourselves will do all we can to help you - even in God's case to the extent of having given His only Son to die for us - ultimately your salvation depends upon your own freewill decision to grasp hold of the great Hope which has now been offered to you.