The college I attended, Wayland Baptist University (Go, Pioneers!), held an orientation weekend for incoming freshman the weekend before the Fall semester started. The whole weekend had kind of a youth campy-feel. We were put into small groups, played games, did a massive scavenger hunt all over town searching for huge porcelain bulls (it’s a thing in a cattle town) and had Bible studies together.
They called this orientation weekend Koinonia, the Greek word used in the New Testament to describe the fellowship that occurred in the early church. As an incoming freshman, I didn’t know the depth of what that word meant and, for the next couple of years, every time I heard the word I had flashbacks to that orientation weekend and messy games like a giant royal-rumble style wrestling match on a tarp covered in dry dog food that had been thoroughly soaked. While that weekend was a lot of fun, and I have some wonderful memories from that time, I think the biblical idea of fellowship goes quite a bit deeper than playing games.
In previous posts (here and here), I described how the believers in the first church had a deep devotion to Christ and to Scripture. Those are foundational, and nothing can replace those first two as the cornerstones of a local church. But the early believers also were deeply devoted to one another.
Acts 2:44-45 says, “Now all the believers were together and had all things in common. They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as any had need.” Consider this for a moment. When a need arose within the local body of believers, fellow believers in that church did what they had to do in order to meet the need. Sometimes that meant selling their stuff so they could be a blessing.
In Acts 2:46, Luke tells us that the believers broke bread together in their homes. This probably refers to both to observing the Lord’s Supper and simply eating together. In verse 47, he says they ate their food with joyful and sincere hearts and, at the beginning of verse 46, he says this happened every day! The early believers really liked being around each other!
I mentioned this earlier, but Acts 4:32-37 goes into a bit more detail. That passage says that selling possessions to meet needs was a normal occurrence. This doesn’t mean that folks gave up ownership to their stuff in some kind of spiritual communism, but it does mean that they held onto their possessions loosely and were willing to let them go in order to take care of the believers.
Then Luke gives a concrete example of a man named Joseph, also called Barnabas (perhaps the same Barnabas who later accompanied Paul), who sold a field he owned and brought the money to the apostles to be used in meeting needs.
The Necessity of Fellowship
There is a popular saying, “There are no ‘Lone Ranger’ Christians. Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto.” God designed Christians to grow as they live in community with other believers. And this fellowship is meant to go deeper than simply saying “hello” to someone at church on Sunday.
What does this look like in a church in the 21st century? Does it look like folks selling their stuff? It might. It might look like a church taking up special offerings to meet needs within the body. It might look like a few couples getting together to share a meal and get to know each other better.
Every church I’ve encountered that needs to be replanted or revitalized has a fellowship problem. Perhaps there was a split or two (or five or six) through the years that fractured relationships. Maybe the church has a “country club” mentality that doesn’t really allow outsiders to feel like they’re a part of the family. Recovering a devotion to biblical fellowship is an important part of seeing a church come back to life.
Here are some diagnostic questions to ask as you evaluate your church’s fellowship:
- How friendly is your church? How well do your people reach out to first-time guests?
- If a serious need were to arise in the life of one of your church members (crippling medical bills, a sudden loss of job), how could your church meet that need?
- How often do your church members share meals together? Not just at churchwide potlucks, but how often are they getting together with one another on their own?
- When you read Acts 2:42-47 and Acts 4:32-37, what differences do you see between the early church’s fellowship and your own church’s fellowship?
Published September 22, 2020