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Theology > Church > Nature of the Church > The Fellowship


If a single concept of Church is extracted from Scripture, it seems that the fundamental concept of Church is that of fellowship, a fellowship of believers. The characteristics  affirmed in Scripture regarding the Church are predicated on this essential and foundational principle. I am willing to discuss the validity of this point with anybody, but I cannot envision my mind being changed, any more than I can be changed regarding Sovereignty (see: God is Sovereign). The Church is the Fellowship.

The precise meaning of the Greek word ekklēsia is “congregation” or “assembly,” either a secular assembly—the meeting of citizens to decide issues in the Greek city—or a sacred assembly; but when utilized by the Christian Faith, the assembly that meets becomes a fellowship. In this manner the word ekklēsia is defined by its Scriptural usage, not exclusively by it etymological history.

The Church is the true koinonia, the true community or fellowship; the Church is a body, a family, a people. While individuals are redeemed as individuals, the redeemed individuals cannot remain in isolation, separate from one another; the individuals must become part of a group. It can be no other way. The finger cannot exist by itself—it must be part of the body in order to have life and to maintain life. So it is with the believer—the believer can only be a believer in the Church.

The fellowship is of people who have the fellowship with each other because of something/Someone they have in common. That which is common to the group is that each one in the group is the recipient of Grace and has been Embraced by Truth. Each participant has been made to know the Lord and is growing in the knowledge of the Lord (both intellectually and experientially). And each believer brings this dynamic and continual development to the group. Fellowship speaks of the fact that the Church is people, that the people are a special people, that the people are in unique relationship with each other. The experience of each one is the experience of everyone; it is the experience of Grace.

So the fellowship is two dimensional: vertical—with God; and horizontal—with each other. The vertical is initial, and the horizontal is consequential. We have fellowship with each other because we have fellowship with Him. Therefore, the fellowship is relational, personal, intimate, spiritual. What we have with each other is because of what we have from Him and in Him, meaning the only reason there is a fellowship with each other is because of our fellowship with Christ. The fellowship is not because of mission, education, help for the poor and downtrodden, desire to impact culture, or individual felt need. These are all secondary considerations that may or may not be valid.

The Church is the Church of Christ; it exists only because of Him, His Bride! One of the obvious illustrations is the fellowship in the home. In the most basic sense the home is a fellowship; in fact, the relationship of Christ to the Church is likened to the relationship of husband to wife—a fellowship that is relational.

This is the basis for a fundamental point: while there is structure in the home it is not to be viewed as an organization, a word that conveys something essentially different from what the home is, from what the Church is. The structure is incidental and not fundamental—it is the fellowship that is fundamental. The structure enhances the fellowship and contributes to the fellowship but the structure is not the fellowship. While the structure may be deemed necessary the home cannot be defined by the structure; while the structure makes possible the fellowship the fellowship is more profound than the structure. So it is with the Church.

The history of the Church is a history of the pursuit of additional organization or structure and the refinement of that current organization or structure. Many students will even discuss the Church in terms of its particular organization. But organization is not the Church and does not benefit the Church. In its quest for structure and organization the Church becomes cursed, seeking to be what it is not. For me, the above is the curse of the organized church, and I believe the organized church is cursed.

To the degree that people seek and establish structure for the Church, beyond what is Biblically taught, to that degree the people lose the fellowship, which is the essence of the Church, and thereby distance themselves from understanding and exhibiting the true nature of the Church. The significant points relative to the fellowship of the Church are as follows:

The believer is related to Christ.

Without salvation there can be no fellowship, no community; so the community is spiritual not material, mystical not organizational. It is supernaturally created by Christ, by the Spirit. In this sense it is transcendent and mysterious. It is anchored in Christ, His person and His work: “rooted and built up in Him” (Col. 2:7).

Paul writes “to the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord” (I Cor. 1:2). Note what is revealed regarding the Church:

The Church is composed of “those” – the Church is people, a congregation or an assembly, a fellowship; it is the “who,” those who “call”.

The people comprising the Church have been “called” – the Gospel has gone out to them in order to fulfill its purpose in them; to become a believer is the work of Grace, so Grace is the beginning of community.

The people are “sanctified” and are, therefore, “saints” – they have been set apart and are the set apart ones; believers constitute a “special people” (Tit. 2:14)—a grace people, a graced people.

The Church is characterized by those who “call” on the person of Christ – essentially the Christian Faith is to be understood in terms of a relationship not a doctrine.

The believer is related to other believers who are related to Christ.

Grace creates the fellowship, for Grace brings the individuals together, and Grace keeps the individuals together. This Grace is centered in Christ, therefore, the basis for the relationship is Christ. To be in Christ creates the basis for community, the assembly, the fellowship for those who together are in Him.

There are many individuals but the many individuals are joined together into one fellowship. “The unity in diversity and the diversity in unity of the human body are the ideas of interest to Paul” (Culver, ST, 873; see: I Cor. 12:12-13).

The believer is related to other believers both in time and in eternity because of Christ and their position in Christ.

This type of fellowship was determined before time, occurs within time, and will continue after time. The fellowship that is the Church is both historical and eternal, both temporal and eschatological. It is not fleeting and passing but is enduring and unending.

The Father has children (Rom. 8:23; Gal. 4:5), and the children of the Father constitute “the household of God”; and they—the Father and His children—will be together throughout all eternity (I Tim. 3:15). Believers are “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17).

NOTE: It is instructive to note that the Lord’s Prayer does not begin with “My Father,” but with “Our Father!” This brings into question monastic life, most definitely the solitary monastic; if any monasticism is to be justified it must be a communal monasticism. Even Basil wrote: “In the solitary life both what we have becomes useless and what we lack becomes unprocurable, since God the Creator ordained that we need one another” (The Longer Rules).

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