The modern Church is in crisis. We do not lack the power, presence or purpose of God. However, we do lack the unified fellowship to fully utilize His power, experience His presence, and accomplish His purpose. The unity of thought, spirit, practice and faith that was so evident in the New Testament Church is severely lacking in the modern Church and the effects are devastating.
In part one we established that the crisis of the modern Church relates to our understanding of, and most notably our application of, the doctrine of New Testament fellowship. Part two examined the particulars of New Testament fellowship as it was practiced by the early Church.
And now, having examined the instances of the koinonia word family in the New Testament we are faced with an important question. What principles can be derived from our study of New Testament Church fellowship? We must answer this question before we can move to the final step—application to the modern day Church.
The Principle of Inter-Relation
The first derivative principle we see is the principle of inter-relation between the different types of fellowship. None of the types of fellowship stand on their own. Rather they each inter-depend upon one another. For example, Paul speaks of the partnership between Jews and Gentiles, stating that Gentiles should share their material blessings with the Jews in gratefulness for the spiritual blessings the Jews have shared with them. Another example is that when believers come together to fellowship in the taking of communion, according to Paul they achieve communion with Jesus Christ Himself.
Perhaps nowhere is this interdependence more noticeable than in John’s words, “If we say that we have fellowship with Him [Jesus Christ], and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin,” (1 John 1:6-7 NKJV). Thus each type of fellowship is dependent on the other. One cannot have true fellowship with Christ without partaking of His Spirit (Rom. 8:9). And one cannot have true spiritual fellowship with his brother unless he is willing to share with him materially (James 2:14-17).One cannot have true fellowship with Christ without partaking of His Spirit. - Israel Steinmetz Click To Tweet
The Principle of Financial Generosity
Next we see the principle of financial generosity. Over half of the instances of the koinonia word family in the New Testament refer to the liberal sharing of material wealth with other believers. This clearly indicates that the notion of giving freely of one’s wealth was a principle by which the New Testament community lived and in which they realized true fellowship. 1
The Principle of Spiritual Unity Expressed through Shared Labor
The third principle that can be derived is the principle of spiritual unity expressed through shared labor. It is clear that New Testament believers recognized that they were of a common faith, sharing a common salvation, laboring together for a common cause. It has been written that, “Fellowship is a relationship of inner unity among believers that expresses itself in outer co-participation with Christ and one another in accomplishing God’s will on earth.” 2
The Principle of Unity with God
The fourth principle we can observe is the principle of unity with God. By surveying the uses of the word we note that Christians were called to fellowship (be unified) with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This communion with God was signified in the taking of the cup and the bread, and demonstrated one’s identification with God and His people. Without this foundational step, one could not be in fellowship with other believers. 3 Again, this references the inter-dependence of the different types of fellowship.Without communion with God, one cannot be in fellowship with other believers. - Israel Steinmetz Click To Tweet
The Principle of Exclusivity
Finally, the New Testament clearly demonstrates a principle of exclusivity in the early churches fellowship. 4 Christians are to be kind and compassionate to unbelievers, but not “yoked” to them, that is to say, not joined in ways that would only be appropriate for one who was also joined to God (i.e. marriage, taking of communion, etc.).
Whereas this is certainly not an exhaustive list, for our purposes we will stop with these five principles and move now towards an understanding of how the modern church can apply these principles in order to re-establish the fellowship that so often fails to exist within the Body of Christ.
As Israel stated in part one, “Christianity is a way of shared life.” And it is through our shared life—our biblical fellowship that we can influence our daily circles for Christ. Want more on your role as an everyday Christian leader in our 21st Century culture? Here are a few resources you might be interested in:
- Read Why Jesus-Followers Should See Themselves as Leaders & 10 Qualities of Influential Christians
- Read our four part series From Modernity to Postmodernity: A Primer for Leaders
- Get Artios Christian College’s free download of Discovering Your Leadership Strengths
- Enroll in Artios Christian College’s introductory course: Essentials of Vibrant Leadership
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- Lee Smith, Old Doctrines, New Light: Fellowship, n.p., 1999. Online: www.arlev.clara.net/fellowship.htm [October, 2003]. ↩
- Bob Gilliam, The Importance of Fellowship in a New Testament Church, n.p., 1996. Online: www.bible.org/docs/theology/eccles/measure/meas-03.htm. [September, 2003]. Louis Rushmore gives added insight into this concept, although Gilliam’s treatment of it is excellent. ↩
- Dick Tripp, The New Testament Emphasis on Relationships, n.p., 2002. Online: www.christianity.co.nz/church.htm [November, 2003]. ↩
- Rushmore, n.p., Reardon, n.p. ↩