The Christian Fraternity
by Joseph Franks
Fellowship is a fairly common word in ecclesiastical circles, but what exactly is it? Hobbits use this word to describe their inner circle of trusted friends. Academic institutions speak of fellowship in describing an elite circle of post-graduate students. Undergrads utilize this term to describe their frat brothers who study too little and drink too much. The Fellowship of Christian Athletes is a nationwide ministry that encourages high school students to eat breakfast together and pray following football games; in college they gather for big-group worship. Then there are churches who use this term to describe everything from worship services, to small groups, to covered-dish dinners, to coffee, bingo, and poker night.
But again the question is asked: what exactly is fellowship, and how would one know if he or she were enjoying such?
We know the Apostle John enjoyed a great measure of fellowship with the Twelve. I am sure there were moments of tension between these motivated and driven men, but overall they appeared to love one another deeply. They were found together on their knees in the upper room and then later “lifting high the cross” as they marched about the known world. In some ways, they were much like David and his mighty men.
We know the Apostle John enjoyed an even greater fellowship with Peter, James and Jesus. These four men made up an inner-circle of sorts. These friends enjoyed a sweet fellowship very similar to Jonathan and David — their souls were knit one to another. While they were closely connected with the Twelve, the fellowship of these four was a bit tighter.
We know the Apostle John enjoyed great fellowship with the church in Jerusalem. As a matter of fact, he was devoted to it. (Acts 2:42-47) Regularly, John and his friends gathered for large-group fellowship in the temple square. Daily, they followed this up by enjoying small-group fellowship in private homes. And what did they do in these gathering? What did their Christian fraternity look like?
They spent much time together reading Scripture, praying, breaking bread, being hospitable, using their spiritual gifts, and spending their assets in taking care of one another’s needs.
It is in the book of Acts that one sees Christian fellowship at its best. In Acts one sees that exemplified by Jesus, taught by his ministers, and practiced by the more than 5000 disciples who made up Christ’s fraternity.
Then later — thirty years later at the writing of 1 John — the Beloved Apostle is still found encouraging Christian fellowship. Four times in his opening paragraphs he alludes to this trait of Christ’s church:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we 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 his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John)
Therefore, putting these thoughts together, Christian fellowship is that which occurs when brothers and sisters:
- Are converted by the Holy Spirit and brought into union with Jesus Christ
- Gather weekly for large-group worship
- Gather daily for small-group worship
- Share their lives and possessions with one another
- Utilize their spiritual gifts in order to edify their brothers and sisters
- Confess their sins one to another and spur each other on Gospel-driven repentance
So, how are we doing? Are we enjoying fellowship with God? We are all born dis-fellowshiped. Because of our sinful nature, we are born at enmity with God. However, we can be born again. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit – who enjoy blissful fellowship – work together to elect, atone, regenerate, fill, adopt and bring rebels into spiritual union with them. From that point on, as one meditates on the Word, congregates with the brothers and sisters, and spends immense time in prayer, fellowship with God is improved or sweetened. Therefore friends, do we have such a relationship with the Almighty? Those who enjoy such fellowship can be noted by their holiness. John is very clear, “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie …” Some fellows are noted by their Greek letters; some by their rings or gowns. Christian fellows are noted by the Fruit of the Spirit. So friend, are we enjoying fellowship with God?
Secondly, have we joined the local Christian fraternity? Are we a part of God’s local family? True, there is a general love that believers are to have towards all men, including their enemies. However, as Samuel Stone penned in “The Church’s One Foundation,” there is a “mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is one.” Those who are regenerated and growing in their adoration of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are to find their souls drawn towards like-minded worshipers. After all, they do have the same beliefs, interests, passion, and Holy Spirit dwelling within. God does not intend for his people to be isolated. In Hebrews he commands them not to forsake the gathering. In Ephesians he commands Christians to worship God, but they are to also sing Psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to one another. In Romans and Corinthians, God gives spiritual gifts for the purpose of blessing or edifying those within the body of Christ. In 1 Timothy, hospitality is required of all mature Christian leaders. So from studying God’s inspired writers, we can see that Christian fellowship is both vertical and horizontal. So friends, are we keeping sweet communion with God by keeping sweet communion with like-minded brothers and sisters?
Thirdly, are we open to enjoying fellowship with others? Christian fellowship is not a closed-circle of friend. It is not a clique. No, it is a brotherhood open to whosoever the Lord may call. John, in his letter, cannot hide his excitement that others might enter into fellowship with him as well. Just like there is no limit to how many children a mother can love, so there is no limit to how many Christians can enjoy fellowship one with another. So, are we satisfied with our number of Christian frat brothers, or are we actively “rushing” or evangelizing hoping to add more friends to the holy club?
Fourthly, are we guarding and maintaining the fellowship? John understands that in order for him to enjoy sweet fellowship with someone, that person needs to “walk in the light.” Oh, John would still act like Jesus. John would befriend the pagan sinner. John would sacrifice for the lost neighbor. He would still be found eating and drinking with the unbeliever. He would not isolate himself and ostracize his backsliding brother. Instead, he would play the role of the good shepherd and seek to find and restore his compromising friend. However, John knows that without holiness there can be no fellowship. Christian fellowship is enjoyed and experienced by brothers who see their sin, confess their sin, repent of their sin, and walk in the light. Are we aware that our unresolved sin produces relational static? Are we aware that our sin troubles our family and church? Using presbyterian language, “Are we doing our part to guard the peace and purity of the church?”
Friends, don’t we desire this? Don’t we desire to live the rest of your days enjoying Christian fellowship? Aren’t we tired of just being a face in the crowd? Wouldn’t we like to be a brother or sister in the fraternity of Christ? Christ intended much more for us than simply attending, sitting, giving, receiving and going? The church is not to be an isolated and cold place. It is not to be a house of performance were spiritually minded individuals watch others do their duty. No, the church of Jesus Christ is to be a Christian fraternity. So let us evaluate our commitment level and commit tot he following:
- Let us run to Jesus and make sure we are in saving fellowship with him
- Let us gather weekly for large-group worship
- Let us gather daily for small-group worship
- Let us share our lives and possessions with one another
- Let us utilize our spiritual gifts in order to edify our brothers and sisters
- Let us confess our sins one to another and spur each other on Gospel-driven repentance
- Let us make phone calls, send texts, and write emails in order to encourage and restore our struggling brothers
- Let us treat every week as “Rush Week” and see who else we can bring in the sacred fraternity
In the parable of the Prodigal Son, it was the tender father who looked at the self-righteous son and said, “My son, please come into the party.” The Heavenly Father is still issuing forth his invitation today. Why be lost? Why be isolated? Why not join the local Christian fraternity and enjoy the fellowship of Christ.