Church as Fellowship: More than Socializing

Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 7.53.41 AMOne of the most — if not the most — important words in the New Testament for the church is the word fellowship (Greek: koinonia). What is a fellowship? What is happening when you hear someone use the term “fellowship” for what goes on in your church? Why do we call one room in some churches “fellowship hall” and the other a “sanctuary”? Is the sanctuary not fellowship? What is fellowship?

At what size of a church does it cease being a fellowship?

How can a megachurch be a fellowship? Does a come-hear-the-sermon approach break the possibility of a fellowship?

What are the needed elements for a church to become a fellowship? Which is the most decisive?

John Nugent, in his exceptional new study Endangered Gospel examines this term fellowship and opens with a section of quotations of the “one another” passages in the New Testament, and I will list just a few here (but a full citation is at the bottom of this post):

Rom. 12:10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.

Rom. 12:16 Live in harmony with one another.

Rom. 15:14    I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another.

2Cor. 13:11    Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.

Eph. 4:2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.

Eph. 4:32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Eph. 5:19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord,

Eph. 5:21    Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

1Pet. 4:9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.

Let’s begin with this: fellowship is more than enjoying one another and talking about whatever you like, for as Nugent says it, “… fellowship means more than socializing. It means sharing a life in common” (137). It is about sharing a life. If fellowship is about sharing life then Nugent is also right is saying this:  “The distinguishing feature of the “one another” practices is reciprocity. These are not practices that a few people do on behalf of the whole body. They are how all members relate to one another” (138).

It surely entails hospitality and eating with one another for the meal is the place of welcome and friendship and conversation and fellowship: “Many of the “one another” practices require the genuine intimacy of life together. … It is often said “we are what we eat”; even more so, we are who we eat with” (138).

Furthermore, and this probably needs more emphasis than even Nugent gives it, fellowship is the essence of kingdom flourishing: “These “one another” commands are not simply a matter of first-century or even small church culture. They reflect God’s design for human life and flourishing” (138).

But it must be worked at or an environment must be intentionally created for it to happen as God wants this to happen:

In the early church, many Christians still lived under the authority of unbelieving rulers, employers, and family members. For them, gathering together with the body was the only time they truly experienced the newness of God’s kingdom. They couldn’t wait to get together. They looked forward to serving one another and being served, encouraging one another and being encouraged, teaching others and being taught. The lowly looked forward to being raised up. Women, children, slaves, and ethnic minorities looked forward to being treated with equal dignity (139).

Big issue arising, of course: the size of the church. Can megachurches be a fellowship? Nugent targets this mentality of church being about numerical growth into these very challenging words:

If numerical growth demands a different kind of community and a different kind of leader than Jesus exemplified and authorized, then we have three options:

  1. We can leave Jesus’ teaching about community behind and allow sociology to guide us into new forms of church for which Scripture offers little guidance.
  2. We can plant new churches whenever we get too large to conform to Jesus’ teaching about community.
  3. We can find ways to adapt our life together in such a way that takes sociological constraints seriously while keeping Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom as our authoritative guide (141).

What’s your church? What’s your choice?

Now a final challenge: “If we are not baptizing people into a body like this, then we may be embracing, displaying, and proclaiming a sophisticated “sociological’ substitute for the kingdom of God” (142).

 

One Another in the NT:

Rom. 12:10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.

Rom. 12:16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Rom. 13:8    Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.

Rom. 14:13    Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.

Rom. 15:7    Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

Rom. 15:14    I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another.

Rom. 16:16    Greet one another with a holy kiss.

All the churches of Christ send greetings.

1Cor. 1:10    I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.

1Cor. 16:20 All the brothers and sisters here send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.

2Cor. 13:11    Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.

2Cor. 13:12    Greet one another with a holy kiss.

Gal. 5:13    You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.

Eph. 4:2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.

Eph. 4:32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Eph. 5:19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord,

Eph. 5:21    Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Phil. 2:5    In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Col. 3:13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.

Col. 3:16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

1Th. 4:9    Now about your love for one another we do not need to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.

1Th. 4:18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

1Th. 5:11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

2Th. 1:3    We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing.

Heb. 3:13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

Heb. 10:24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Heb. 13:1    Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters.

James 4:11    Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it.

James 5:9 Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

1Pet. 1:22    Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.

1Pet. 3:8    Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.

1Pet. 4:9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.

1Pet. 5:5   In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,

  “God opposes the proud

but shows favor to the humble.”

1Pet. 5:14 Greet one another with a kiss of love.

  Peace to all of you who are in Christ.

1John 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

1John 3:11    For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.

1John 3:23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.

1John 4:7    Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.

1John 4:11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

2John 5 And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.