Fellowship is not at fault for the confusion surrounding fellowship. Few words have clearer biblical definition, even though that definition has been confused by misuse. This article is written as a word study of the New Testament word fellowship and as an introduction to a sermon series on the New Testament doctrine of fellowship.
Misuse and Misunderstanding
Addressing the misuse and misunderstanding of fellowship, the mainstream Protestant Bible.Org says the following.
We hear it said that what we need is more fellowship. But our modern ideas of fellowship have become so watered down that the word no longer carries the same meaning it did in New Testament times.
Today...we often view fellowship as what we do in a "fellowship hall." It's the place where we have casual conversations and savor coffee and doughnuts. This is not bad and can contribute to fellowship, but it falls far short of fellowship according to biblical standards and according to the meaning and use of the Greeks words for fellowship.
Use and Understanding
Koinonia and closely related koinos words are the Greek words most often translated as fellowship. Koinos, the Greek root word, simply refers to what is common or shared. In very ancient Greek usage, koinos-related terms often referred to the commonly held property of a village. Similarly, in more modern times, the large community park in the middle of Boston, Massachusetts now called "Boston Common" was once the commonly-held grazing area for colonial Boston.
Koinonia continued to be used in reference to a very close sense of sharing, commonality, working together, and actions of mutual support that naturally accompany partnership and companionship. Greek authorities define kononia as follows:
- "Fellowship, association, community, communion, joint participation."
- "Participant, to share in, (especially) sharing in an enterprise."
- "Association, communion, fellowship, close relationship, participation."
- "The mutual interests and sharing of members in the community of the church."
- "Fellowship, partnership, participation (even) aid and relief."
- "The four synonyms of koinonia in the New Testament are philos, which means "related by love for outward characteristics"; hetairos, meaning a sharer in a common enterprise; sunergos, meaning a fellow-worker; and metochos, a participant" (Bible.org).
Notably absent are definitions like feel good about, be friendly with, or like. Christians are to certainly like each other (love actually), but fellowship conveys deeper and more challenging meanings. As an example, we can feel good about other workers at our jobs, we can be friendly with other members in the same social organization, and we can like neighbors and relatives and still not necessarily share Christian fellowship with them. In order for Christian fellowship to be present, Christian faith has to be shared, and Christian faith has to be shared in its fullest sense.
It is here that the Progressive misuse and the biblical use of fellowship come into conflict. Progressives want to include within Christian fellowship almost everyone they feel good about, are friendly with, or like. The biblical term is much more exclusive.
More Use and Understanding
Understand the meaning of Bible words in not simply a matter of dictionary definitions. Understanding these words requires that we understand them in terms of their biblical use. Used 17 times in the New Testament, koinonia refers to "contributions to the poor" (Rom. 15:26; II Cor. 8:4, 9:13, Heb. 13:16), the communion service (I Cor. 10:16), and contributions made by congregations in support of evangelistic work (Phil. 1:5). Today's watered-down definitions simply are not part of the New Testament usage.
All of this "fellowship as shared responsibility" is based on the commonality and "comradship" of Christian faith (Phil 2:10). Good feelings are part of the picture, but the biblical use of koinonia is deeper and more demanding than good feelings. Instead of being a word that describes the fun of Christianity, fellowship necessarily involves the work and worship of Christianity, and the duties and difficulties of Christianity.
Based on these technical and biblical definitions, Christian fellowship is exclusive and demanding, and is not just a matter of feeling good about, being friendly with, or liking. Look for these four sermons (they'll be stretched out over the next couple of months). Take a look at these sermon texts in advance.
- Fellowship and the Black Beret of the Army Rangers (Acts 2:42).
- Fellowship - The Few and the Proud (Galatians 2:9)
- Fellowship - It’s Not Just a Job, It’s An Adventure (II Corinthians 6:14).
- Fellowship - Aim High (I John 1:6-7)