Fellowship is the New Testament word for shared action and mutual participation. Taken from the Greek word koinonia, Christian fellowship reflects common virtues and values as Christians work together and toward lofty goals. When Paul spoke of "the fellowship of the ministering to the saints" (II Cor. 8:4), for example, he was describing the lofty efforts of several first-century churches cooperating in a benevolence effort.
Informally and incorrectly used in reference to social activities (i.e., a "church fellowship"; once better termed a "church social"), fellowship more correctly refers to more important shared actions. In addition to benevolence, the New Testament identifies other matters of Christian service and Christian identity as fellowship. Common doctrines and practices, common feelings and commitments, common purposes and goals, and even common suffering and persecution were on Paul's mind when he spoke of the "fellowship of the spirit" (Phil. 2:1). Partnership in preaching the truth was on his mind when he spoke of "fellowship in the gospel" (Phil. 1:5),. So serious is fellowship that the word koinonia is even used in reference to the Lord's Supper (I Cor. 10:18).
Usually a happy word, fellowship, like many other Bible teachings, requires proper interpretation in order to remain happy. Blurring accurate meanings and blurring who we are, some have asked if we can fellowship with denominations. The unhappy but emphatic answer is "No."
Very Focused Fellowship
Begun on a distinctive foundation, fellowship continues as a unique relationship. The following passages teach that Christian fellowship is reserved for Christian relationships and cannot be shared with those who "have (not) obtained like precious faith with us through the righteousness of God and our Savior Jesus Christ" (II Pet. 2:1).
- "Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather even reprove them" (Eph. 5:11).
- "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?" (II Cor. 6:14).
- "If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give any kind of encouragement" (II Jn. 10).
These passages elevate Christian work and worship by placing them exclusively among the elevated association of Christians. There can be no such elevated fellowship, no shared action and no mutual participation between "light and darkness." We should "reprove (correct) them" instead of working together with them. Why? They neither believe nor accept "this teaching," the teachings of "the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27).
Can the righteous have lots of partnership with the unrighteous? Can light have some fellowship with darkness? Can believers have an itsy-bitsy portion of sharing with unbelievers? Paul's questioning in II Corinthians 6:14-18 leaves no wiggle room. There is a fellowship difference that must be maintained between them and us.
This New Testament distinction between "them" and "us" continues a similar allegorical distinction in the Law of Moses. Entering the Promised Land, the Jews were commanded by God to "Make no covenant (the Gentile nations)" (Deut. 7:3-4). Why? God warned that "they will turn you...away from following Me to serve other gods." There is a preventive purpose for "coming out from among them and being separate" (Is. 52:11, II Cor. 6:17). We do not share in their sins so we will not share in their plagues (Rev. 18:4).
Conclusion: Not Unusual At All
I recently purchased a Ford truck and notice that its emblem does not advertise Chevrolet or Toyota. I also observe that my New Balance exercise shoes do not market with a Nike Swoosh! or the distinctive "UA" of Under Armor. Not surprisingly, the Dell computer in my office does not have badges promoting Apple or ACER. Businesses are unusually segregated when it comes to brand name and advertising.
Or not so unusual.
Just as branding is an important issue with businesses, identity and identification is important in religion. Genuine Christians are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, (and) God's special possession" (I Pet. 2:9). When it comes to our work and our worship, with "those who do not know God and those who do not obey the gospel" (II Thess. 1:7-8), "The Christian can have nothing to do" (B.W. Johnson).