What does "fellowship" mean in regards to the church?


Would it be correct to say that there is only one Fellowship in Scripture, into which alt believers are brought upon accepting Christ as their Saviour? If this be so, how are we to understand the Fellowship of 1 John 2? Again, does not the New Testament teach Assembly Fellowship, into which a believer can be received, and from which he can be put away? and are letters of commendation necessary? Further, does the local church in any district include all the Christians in that district? and should a professed believer who belongs to a sect, but who comes to our Lord’s Day Morning Meeting and expects to get breaking bread, be received, though he has no intention of severing his ecclesiastical association?

The statement that “There is only one fellowship in Scripture, into which all believers are brought on accepting Christ as their Saviour,” is absolute nonsense. The particular kind of fellowship implied in any passage where the word “Fellowship” occurs has to be gathered from the context there; and an examination of this will reveal that there are various “fellowships” spoken of in the New Testament. Moreover, it is to be remembered that the Greek word “Koinonia,” which is usually translated “fellowship,” in the N.T. is also rendered, “communion,” “communication,” “contribution,” and “distribution.”

The first occurrence of the word is in Acts 2:42, where it is said that the new converts “continued steadfastly in the . . . fellowship.” Here we have a “fellowship” in which one may “continue” or not continue; and to apply it to the fellowship of life in Christ, in which all true believers cannot avoid continuing, is to make the statement in the verse meaningless.

It is next found in Romans 1:26 (where in our English Version it is rendered “contribution”). Could it be said that every saint of the present dispensation, or even every saint then living, had fellowship in the gift which the saints of Macedonia and Achaia sent to those of Jerusalem?

The epistle to the Philippians supplies perhaps the most interesting examples of the various uses of the word “fellowship.” In Philippians 1:5 we read of their Fellowship in the Gospel. Are all saints in this? In Philippians 2:1 we have mention of Fellowship of the Spirit. If all have this, why does Paul say, “If there be any”? In Philippians 3:10 he speaks of the Fellowship of His Sufferings, which he himself desired to know. But could saints who never had the least experience of persecution for Christ’s sake, claim to be in that fellowship? Lastly in Philippians 4:15 (see R.V.) we get the

Fellowship of Giving.

As to the passage in 1 John 1:3-7, in which we have the last four occurrences of the word “fellowship” in the Scriptures, the expression in verse 3, “that ye also may have fellowship with us,” implies a fellowship which they might or might not have, according to the extent of their knowledge of Christ and His Word; or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, of which they might have more or less, according to whether they knew more or less of Christ and His Word. The further references in verses 6, 7, are clearly to a fellowship in which we can only claim to be, so long as we walk in the light. The man who says he is in it, while yet he is not walking in the light, is described as lying.

As to the next question—whether there is such a thing as “Assembly fellowship, into which a believer can be received, and from which he can be put away”—only a person of warped mind would deny this. When Paul said, in 1 Corinthians 5:13, “Put away from among yourselves that wicked person,” and the Corinthians obeyed him, was the one who was so “put away” to continue in the circle and insist on breaking bread, as being a member of the so-called “local church?” And if, while yet in the position of having been “put away,” he goes to reside in another town, must the Assembly in that town also set him down at the Table, because since he now has his home there, he is a member of their “local church?” If these things are so, we may leave the first epistle to the Corinthians out of future editions of our Bibles.

With regard to the meaning of the word “church,” when used locally, I have to say what already I have said about that other word “fellowship.” What it includes or does not include in any particular case must be judged from the context there. In 1 Corinthians 10:32—it evidently takes in every saved person in the district, just as the other two terms in the verse, “Jews” and “Gentiles,” take in all the others in the district. But in the same epistle at 1 Corinthians 11:18 and 1 Corinthians 11:18, 28, 35, it just as plainly means none but those who come to the Meeting; and this is made even clearer by 1 Corinthians 14:23, in which, after the whole church has come together, there may still come in one who is spoken of as “unlearned,” yet who is distinguished (by the little word “or” that follows) from an “unbeliever.” In other words, he is a saved man, but not yet in the “local church,” in the sense in which the term “church” is used in this verse.
Moreover, not only can a person be put out of a local church when he deserves it, but according to 3 John io, he may be “cast out of the church” even when he does not deserve it. One might well ask, Who were still “in” this local church after Diotrephes had cast these brethren “out” of it? Or were the cast out brethren “out” and “in” at the same time?

As to “letters of commendation,” is it not clearly enough stated in 2 Corinthians 3:1 that some needed them, though Paul, being well-known to everyone, did not? How often would some require a thing to be stated in Scripture, in order to feel themselves bound to act accordingly?

With regard to the other matter—the case of a professed Christian who belongs to some sect, but comes to our meeting and expects to get breaking bread for one Lord’s Day only, and then returns to his own company—I would need a good deal of convincing that the one who wished so to act was an honest man. If he believes that we are right, why should he not come to stay with us? If he believes us to be wrong and his own sect right, why should he want to do wrong even for one Lord’s Day? And if he can do without “breaking bread” on fifty-one Sundays in the year, why should he be insistent on being allowed to do so on the remaining one?