FELLOWSHIP

 

I John 1:5-7  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: 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.”

 

            Jesus prayed for us, his disciples:

 

John 17:20-21  NEITHER PRAY I FOR THESE ALONE, BUT FOR THEM ALSO WHICH SHALL BELIEVE ON ME THROUGH THEIR WORD; THAT THEY ALL MAY BE ONE; AS THOU, FATHER, ART IN ME, AND I IN THEE, THAT THEY ALSO MAY BE ONE IN US: THAT THE WORLD MAY BELIEVE THAT THOU HAST SENT ME.”

 

In spite of this earnest prayer by Jesus Christ, our Lord, the religious world is not united, in fact, there is not even unity among those who have obeyed the gospel and who profess to be New Testament Christians.

            The question of unity and fellowship has proven to be one of the most misunderstood concepts and most serious issues to arise among those who seek to restore New Testament Christianity and who profess to be New Testament Christians.

            In 1906, after many years of earnest study followed by even more years where men abandoned the precepts of God that they had learned, we have the birth the Christian Church denomination.  In that year it was recognized as having separated itself from the churches of Christ as a result of having embraced, among other things, instrumental music in worship and missionary societies to carry out their evangelistic work.

            In the 1930’s and 1940’s there arose divisions within the churches of Christ over the question of premillennialism.

            In addition, during the 1940’s and 1950’s congregations divided over such things as Sunday School classes, cups, women teachers, literature, orphan’s homes, church cooperation and others that hobby riding preachers brought forth.

            Currently, in this very day, there exists an apostasy within the Churches that call themselves churches of Christ that, I fear, will exceed the great digression that brought the Christian Church denomination into being.

            Therefore it is mandatory, in order for us to conduct ourselves in a manner that is pleasing to God, to know the teaching of the Word of God on this subject.  So first of all let us examine the meaning of this word “fellowship.”

 

It’s Meaning

 

            Our English word fellowship is translated from five different Greek words, three nouns and two verbs, all but one a form of the Greek noun Koinonia.  And for the sake of simplicity we will consider only that noun form in this study.  In Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words we find these definitions of koinonia: communion, fellowship, sharing in common, communication and that which is an outcome of fellowship, contribution.  So let’s examine the scriptures where this word is found:

 

Acts 2:42  AND THEY CONTINUED STEDFASTLY IN THE APOSTLES' DOCTRINE AND FELLOWSHIP,…”

 

Romans 15:26  …A CERTAIN CONTRIBUTION FOR THE POOR SAINTS…”

 

I Corinthians 1:9  …YE WERE CALLED UNTO THE FELLOWSHIP OF HIS SON JESUS CHRIST OUR LORD.”

 

I Corinthians 10:16  …THE COMMUNION OF THE BLOOD OF CHRIST?  THE COMMUNION OF THE BODY OF CHRIST?”

 

II Corinthians 6:14  …WHAT FELLOWSHIP HATH RIGHTEOUSNESS WITH UNRIGHTEOUSNESS? AND WHAT COMMUNION HATH LIGHT WITH DARKNESS?”

 

II Corinthians 8:4  …THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE MINISTERING TO THE SAINTS.”

 

II Corinthians 13:14  …THE COMMUNION OF THE HOLY GHOST,…”

 

Galatians 2:9  …THE RIGHT HANDS OF FELLOWSHIP;…”

 

Philippians 1:5  FOR YOUR FELLOWSHIP IN THE GOSPEL FROM THE FIRST DAY UNTIL NOW;”

 

Philippians 2:1  …IF ANY FELLOWSHIP OF THE SPIRIT,…”

 

Philippians 3:10  …THE FELLOWSHIP OF HIS SUFFERINGS,…”

 

Philemon v6  …THE COMMUNICATION OF THY FAITH…”

 

Hebrews 13:16  …TO COMMUNICATE FORGET NOT:…”

I John 1:3  THAT YE ALSO MAY HAVE FELLOWSHIP WITH US: AND TRULY OUR FELLOWSHIP is WITH THE FATHER, AND WITH HIS SON JESUS CHRIST.”

 

I John 1:6  IF WE SAY THAT WE HAVE FELLOWSHIP WITH HIM,…”

 

I John 1:7  …WE HAVE FELLOWSHIP ONE WITH ANOTHER,…”

 

            From these passages in which the Greek word koinonia is used we may conclude that there are acts of fellowship exhibited in at least four areas.  These may be summarized as follows:

1.     COMMUNION together for a common purpose and common mind, such as the Lord’s Supper

2.     COMMUNITY of goods, in which the disciples shared or the sharing of a common faith which makes us a COMMUNITY of believers

3.     CONTRIBUTIONS, such as given to the poor saints in Jerusalem

4.     COOPERATION, such as extending the right hand of fellowship, working together

 

            In all of these uses of the word, there is a common thread and that is the basic idea of participation or joint-participation.  It is a sharing by Christians, true children of God, of the common bond that they enjoy in Christ or as part of God’s family.

 

The Conditions of Scriptural Fellowship

 

            Now I’m going to address for just a moment the subject of fellowship in application to everyday living.  We can apply this term “fellowship” to any situation were we have a community or family situation, were we are jointly participating in sharing our goods or giving in any manner of charity or good work of men, or cooperating with other people in accomplishing some objective.  These kinds of activities can be defined as “fellowship” but may have nothing to do with our spiritual relationship with God or each other.  The subject that we’re concerned with is our spiritual fellowship, and that that fellowship be with God.

            At the same time it is clear that this scriptural fellowship or joint-participation is conditional.  It is not open to every man without limitation or restriction.  This spectrum of conditionality is especially clear in:

 

I John 1:7  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.”

 

We should note the following:

(1)  Light is synonymous with truth.  In I John 1:7 we read of walking in the light, but in II John v4 we have “I REJOICED GREATLY THAT I FOUND OF THY CHILDREN WALKING IN TRUTH, AS WE HAVE RECEIVED A COMMANDMENT FROM THE FATHER.” and it means the same thing.

 

(2) To “WALK AFTER HIS COMMANDMENTS” (II John v6) is the same as to walk “IN TRUTH” III John v3.

 

(3)  John contrasts the “WALKING IN THE LIGHT”, “WALKING IN TRUTH” and “WALKING AFTER HIS COMMANDMENTS” to walking “IN THE DARKNESS”.  I John 1:6  IF WE SAY THAT WE HAVE FELLOWSHIP WITH HIM, AND WALK IN DARKNESS, WE LIE, AND DO NOT THE TRUTH:” and in I John 2:11  “BUT HE THAT HATETH HIS BROTHER IS IN DARKNESS, AND WALKETH IN DARKNESS, AND KNOWETH NOT WHITHER HE GOETH, BECAUSE THAT DARKNESS HATH BLINDED HIS EYES.”

 

            It is therefore a condition of scriptural fellowship that we walk in the truth or the light of God’s truth.  We then have not only fellowship with one another, but with the Father and the Son. (I John 1:3)  It has been said that fellowship is both vertical and horizontal – both with God and with men.  But it should also be recognized that we must first be in fellowship with the Father and the Son in order to be in scriptural fellowship with one another.

            How do we come into fellowship with God and with Jesus Christ?

 

John 3:16  FOR GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD, THAT HE GAVE HIS ONLY BEGOTTEN SON, THAT WHOSOEVER BELIEVETH IN HIM SHOULD NOT PERISH, BUT HAVE EVERLASTING LIFE.”

 

And his Son voluntarily took upon himself the form of a servant and was obedient unto death, even the death upon the cross.

 

Philippians 2:5-8  LET THIS MIND BE IN YOU, WHICH WAS ALSO IN CHRIST JESUS: WHO, BEING IN THE FORM OF GOD, THOUGHT IT NOT ROBBERY TO BE EQUAL WITH GOD: BUT MADE HIMSELF OF NO REPUTATION, AND TOOK UPON HIM THE FORM OF A SERVANT, AND WAS MADE IN THE LIKENESS OF MEN: AND BEING FOUND IN FASHION AS A MAN, HE HUMBLED HIMSELF, AND BECAME OBEDIENT UNTO DEATH, EVEN THE DEATH OF THE CROSS.”

 

We identify ourselves with the death of Christ when we are buried with him in baptism into death for the remission of sins:

 

Romans 6:3-4  KNOW YE NOT, THAT SO MANY OF US AS WERE BAPTIZED INTO JESUS CHRIST WERE BAPTIZED INTO HIS DEATH?  THEREFORE WE ARE BURIED WITH HIM BY BAPTISM INTO DEATH: THAT LIKE AS CHRIST WAS RAISED UP FROM THE DEAD BY THE GLORY OF THE FATHER, EVEN SO WE ALSO SHOULD WALK IN NEWNESS OF LIFE.”

 

And we are raised up to walk a new life.  A life that is in Christ, we have become the sons of God, by being baptized into Christ.

 

Galatians 3:26-27  FOR YE ARE ALL THE CHILDREN OF GOD BY FAITH IN CHRIST JESUS.  FOR AS MANY OF YOU AS HAVE BEEN BAPTIZED INTO CHRIST HAVE PUT ON CHRIST.”

 

            From this part of our study we can then readily determine that (a) that scriptural fellowship is conditional, (b) that it is conditional upon walking in the truth, (c) that we must be in a right relationship with God in order to enjoy fellowship with God and others that are in Christ, and (d) that we do not enter into a right relationship with God until we are obedient to the gospel which includes immersion into Christ for the remission of our sins.

 

The Limitations of Fellowship

 

            Since scriptural fellowship is conditional the word of God has placed certain restrictions or limitations upon that fellowship.  For example Paul asked in

 

II Corinthians 6:14  BE YE NOT UNEQUALLY YOKED TOGETHER WITH UNBELIEVERS: FOR WHAT FELLOWSHIP HATH RIGHTEOUSNESS WITH UNRIGHTEOUSNESS? AND WHAT COMMUNION HATH LIGHT WITH DARKNESS?”

 

In addition, he directs us further in

 

Ephesians 5:11  AND HAVE NO FELLOWSHIP WITH THE UNFRUITFUL WORKS OF DARKNESS, BUT RATHER REPROVE them.”

 

Some have placed almost no restrictions upon fellowship and they brand as sectarians those of us who insist upon scriptural limitations.  What does the word of God say?
            First of all, we have no fellowship with those who have not come into fellowship with God.  Now that is just plain common sense isn’t it?  How could we be in fellowship with those who are not in fellowship with God and be in fellowship with God ourselves at the same time?  We are either in the Light or in the dark there is no twilight in fellowship.  There is no in between with God.  This we have already seen in studying the conditions of fellowship.  If one has not met the conditions, and has never come into a right relationship with God by obedience to the gospel of Christ, then he is not in fellowship with God and cannot be in fellowship with the children of God. 

Secondly we are to withdraw fellowship even from some within the church.  Consider the following scriptures and categories of people from which we must separate ourselves:

 

(1)  Those who cause division and occasions of stumbling.  Romans 16:17  NOW I BESEECH YOU, BRETHREN, MARK THEM WHICH CAUSE DIVISIONS AND OFFENCES CONTRARY TO THE DOCTRINE WHICH YE HAVE LEARNED; AND AVOID THEM.”

 

(2)  Those who are guilty of immorality.  I Corinthians 5:11  “BUT NOW I HAVE WRITTEN UNTO YOU NOT TO KEEP COMPANY, IF ANY MAN THAT IS CALLED A BROTHER BE A FORNICATOR, OR COVETOUS, OR AN IDOLATER, OR A RAILER, OR A DRUNKARD, OR AN EXTORTIONER; WITH SUCH AN ONE NO NOT TO EAT.”

 

(3)  Those who walk disorderly.  II Thessalonians 3:6  NOW WE COMMAND YOU, BRETHREN, IN THE NAME OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, THAT YE WITHDRAW YOURSELVES FROM EVERY BROTHER THAT WALKETH DISORDERLY, AND NOT AFTER THE TRADITION WHICH HE RECEIVED OF US.”  and don’t let that word “tradition” trip you, in this context it means those things which Paul taught as directed by the Holy Spirit and in five translations I checked it is rendered tradition in three, teachings in one and directions in another.

 

(4)  Those who obey not the word of the Lord.  II Thessalonians 3:14-15  AND IF ANY MAN OBEY NOT OUR WORD BY THIS EPISTLE, NOTE THAT MAN, AND HAVE NO COMPANY WITH HIM, THAT HE MAY BE ASHAMED.  YET COUNT him NOT AS AN ENEMY, BUT ADMONISH him AS A BROTHER.”

 

(5)  Those who do not abide in the teaching of Christ.  II John v9  WHOSOEVER TRANSGRESSETH, AND ABIDETH NOT IN THE DOCTRINE OF CHRIST, HATH NOT GOD. HE THAT ABIDETH IN THE DOCTRINE OF CHRIST, HE HATH BOTH THE FATHER AND THE SON.”

 

            From the foregoing passages, we may rightfully and correctly draw the following conclusions:  (a) There are certain limitations to fellowship; (b) we are  not to have fellowship with atheists, infidels, skeptics, agnostics or others in the world who have not obeyed the gospel of Christ; (c) there are also restrictions to the fellowship which exists among those who have obeyed the gospel of Christ.  The Bible clearly states that we should withdraw, cease to fellowship, or refrain from being in fellowship, with those whose activities fall into certain categories of conduct.

 

False Concepts of Fellowship

 

            In recent years there has been a “fellowship movement” at work for the avowed purpose of bringing together all who profess to believe in the restoration of New Testament Christianity.  The design of this effort however is far from the precepts that the Holy Spirit taught through the apostles.  They are not trying establish fellowship by resolving differences in doctrine or return men to the Bible but rather to have what they call “unity in diversity.”  Well whatever does that mean?  In means unity in spite of all the differences that may exist between us.  It means unity whether we teach the Bible, the Methodist Discipline, the Book of Mormon or the catechisms of the Roman Catholic denomination.  It says what we teach and what we stand for doesn’t matter.

            Let’s look at the history of this mishmash of thinking that has captured literally thousands of people into its clutches that once were faithful brethren.

 

(1)  During the 1930’s James DeForest Murch of the Christian Church and Claude F. Witty, who preached for the West Side-Central Church of Christ in Detroit, initiated a series of “unity meetings” in which fifty “key men” from each group, that is the church of Christ and the Christian Church were invited to participate.  The first “National Unity Meeting” was conducted in Detroit on May 3, 4,1938.  The second meeting was held in Indianapolis in May, 1939.  These unity meetings continued for a number of years, but the movement finally died due to lack of momentum.

 

(2)  In the 1960s another approach to unity was taken by W. Carl Ketcherside, of the Central Church of Christ in St. Louis and editor of the Mission Messenger.  Brother Ketcherside was a man who converted from the anti orphan’s home, anti Christian college and anti located preacher persuasion to the opposite extreme.  Though I never met him, that I am aware of, I feel like I know him because my grandfather was an admirer of his doctrines before he converted to the more liberal position and I heard many of his arguments repeatedly as I grew up.  The Ketcherside doctrine on unity was based upon a difference that he perceived between the “gospel” on one hand and “doctrine” on another.  He maintained that “doctrine” does not affect fellowship, meaning that doctrinal differences would not disrupt the fellowship of those who had obeyed the gospel.  He called his position “unity in diversity” or “fellowship without  endorsement,” referring to his contention that we can and should have fellowship with those whom we cannot endorse in their doctrinal error.  His views were never accepted by brethren in general at the time but we can see the commonality with those espoused by others in our current time.

 

(3)  The latest unity movement, which seems to have begun approximately 15 years ago is in fact a combination of the other two.  It combined the “unity meetings” as conceived by Murch and Witty with the “unity in diversity” doctrine promoted by Ketcherside.  The Christian Church leader of what were called “Restoration Summit” meetings in the early 1980s was Don DeWelt of Joplin and summits were held again for several years with fifty “key men” from both the Church of Christ and the Christian Church, mostly in Joplin, Tulsa or other locations not that far from this building.  By far the most active promoter of these doctrines from among our brethren in those early days was Rubel Shelly with a number of books, speeches, etc. on the subject.  From these “Restoration Forums” in the early to mid 1980s these doctrines propagated and spread through various avenues.  The Tulsa Workshops in the early 1990’s was a particular source of this heresy.  Speakers who helped to spread this false doctrine and whose tapes I have in my library just from Tulsa’s 1990 workshop are Rubel Shelly, Marvin Phillips, Calvin Warpula, James Woodruff, Jeff Walling and Don DeWelt of the Christian Church.  Today in the congregations of people who call themselves Churches of Christ, open fellowship based upon the theories of Murch, Witty, Ketcherside and Shelly is as common as unscriptural divorce.  But does that make it right?  Of course, not.  Does that mean we must have fellowship with these apostate brethren?  I submit to you brethren that they are false teachers and we must no way be in fellowship with them if we want to be in fellowship with God and his Son Jesus Christ.

 

            In summary, fellowship is COMMUNION, COMMUNITY, CONTRIBUTION and COOPERATION all with the basic idea of participating together for some purpose, or the sharing of a common bond.  Scriptural fellowship is conditional.  Those conditions, limitations and restrictions have been set by God and if we are to be called His children we must abide by them.  Yet there are many, even from among those we know and love, who claim to be children of God who are in fellowship with darkness, not light and in that condition will lose their souls to a devil’s hell.

            There may be those here tonight who have not obeyed the commands of God required in order to come into fellowship with Him and His Son.  If you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, as we’re told in Mark 16:16, repent of your past sins as Jesus tells us in Luke 13:3, make that beautiful confession that Jesus Christ is indeed the Son of God as the Ethiopian did in Acts 8:37 and be baptized for the remission of your sins as the thousands did in Jerusalem on Pentecost in Acts 2:38 and come into fellowship with God.  If you have fallen or wandered out of fellowship with the Father, he is kind and will forgive if you come to him in humble repentance and prayer as we’re told in James 5:14-16.  While we stand and sing.

 

William L. Schwegler; Sunset church of Christ, Shreveport, Louisiana; August 4, 2002