We are told in Acts 2 that the 3,000 who were baptized on the
Day of Pentecost "continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship,
and in breaking of bread, and in prayers" (v 42). From the beginning of the
first-century ecclesia there was such a thing as fellowship amongst believers;
but what was it? The original Greek comes from a word meaning 'common', and
fellowship therefore refers to believers having things in common, sharing
But what do believers have in common? It is, of course, the
things that they believe. Notice that doctrine precedes fellowship in the above
statement; believers have fellowship with each other on the basis of agreed
doctrines. These doctrines are not originated by man; it is the apostles'
doctrine which unites believers together, that is, the things the apostles
taught, as revealed to them by the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy
Fellowship with God and Christ
1Jo 1 adds another dimension to the idea of fellowship,
speaking of believers having fellowship with God and Christ. The Apostle John
says, referring to his apostolic ministry to declare the truth concerning Jesus
Christ: "that which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may
have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with
His Son Jesus Christ" (v 3). In this chapter the fellowship that a believer has
is depicted as being fourfold:
Fellowship here comes from acceptance of the teaching of the
apostles. Those who accept that teaching enter a special relationship with God
though Jesus Christ. All who do this are in fellowship with each
- "with the Father"
- "with His Son Jesus"
- "with us [the
- "one with another" (v 7).
Entry into fellowship
How does a person come to have fellowship in these ways? At
Pentecost it was those who believed the teaching of Peter, and responded to his
appeal to repent and be baptized, who were in the apostles' fellowship. By
baptism a person becomes associated with the death and resurrection of Jesus
Christ, is consequently forgiven his or her sins, and stands in a new
relationship with God and Christ (Col 2:13,14).
This relationship with Christ through belief and baptism is
central to the idea of fellowship. There is a unity between Christ and his
believers which is expressed in a number of different ways in Scripture; for
Keeping in fellowship
- Believers are "one in Christ", and thus part of the seed of Abraham and
inheritors of the promises made to him (Gal 3:26-29)
- Christ and the
believers are collectively considered as one person, with Christ as the head and
believers as the body (Eph 1:22,23)
- Christ is "the true vine" and believers
are "branches" (Joh 15:1-6)
Baptized believers continue in fellowship by regularly
partaking of bread and wine as a continued act of association with Christ's work
of salvation. Those baptized on the Day of Pentecost "continued stedfastly in
the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in
prayers", "breaking bread from house to house" (Acts 2:42,46). The Apostle Paul
writes: "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the
blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body
of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all
partakers of that one bread" (1Co 10:16,17). The word translated 'communion' is
also translated 'fellowship'; believers renew their fellowship with Christ and
with one another by partaking of the emblems together. Believers also retain
fellowship by holding fast to the apostolic teaching they believed at their
baptism, and behaving in ways appropriate for those who are Christ's. Those who
cease to do these things are no longer truly in fellowship: "If we say that we
have fellowship with Him [God], and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the
truth" (1Jo 1:6). Doing the truth implies both believing the true doctrines
taught by the apostles and following a way of life in accordance with them.
Nevertheless, through weakness all sin, and for those who "walk in the light...
the blood of Jesus Christ [God's] Son cleanseth [them] from all sin" (v 7).
Keeping in fellowship also involves keeping separate from those who are in
darkness. In 2Co 6:14-18 Paul, writing to those who had come away from idol
worship, sets down principles of separation based upon baptized believers being
God's people, saying, "what communion hath light with darkness?", where
'communion' is the word for 'fellowship'.
Maintaining true fellowship
Certain practical steps are needed in order to maintain true
fellowship. The main ones are:
The above things represent our best attempts to maintain true
fellowship, but do not always operate perfectly due to human weakness.
- Ensuring that those who are baptized know and believe the doctrines taught
by the apostles. This involves careful instruction from the Scriptures, and an
interview to confirm that these doctrines, and the way of life which should
follow, are known and understood.
- Having a common understanding of what the
doctrines taught by the apostles actually are, the document containing this
understanding being called 'The Statement of Faith'.
- Agreeing that certain
things are incompatible with being in true fellowship, for example involvement
in military service or politics, or wrong behavior towards others.
that those who are baptized become members of an ecclesia which accepts the
above principles before they can break bread.
- Ensuring that those who cease
to "walk in the light" because of wrong beliefs or behavior are no longer
permitted to break bread with the ecclesia.
The responsibilities of fellowship
The fellowship which brethren and sisters have together is
truly a wonderful thing, uniting believers from all parts of the world, from all
walks of life and of all ages and both sexes. This special relationship of
believers one with another brings with it responsibilities towards each other.
The Greek word translated 'fellowship' and connected words are translated in a
number of other ways, some of which illustrate these responsibilities. Here are
- "ye [the Philippian ecclesia] have well done, that ye did communicate with
my [Paul's] affliction" (Phi 4:14);
- "But to do good and to communicate
forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased" (Heb
- "...distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality"
- "...your [the Corinthian ecclesia's] liberal distribution unto
them [the needy Jerusalem ecclesia], and unto all men" (2Co