Fellowship (No. 1)

Ray Ferris
Racine, Wisconsin

In recent years a serious trend has developed within the body of Christ. This trend is one that places an undue emphasis upon things of a material nature. It manifests itself in a multitude of ways. One such manifestation is the emphasis placed on fine buildings, portions of which are planned and purposed to serve people in the physical and social realm without regard to any real relationship to things spiritual. In an effort to justify the use of the church's property for things social in nature, men have used the word fellowship in a very loose and unscriptural manner. Since this word is perfectly good New Testament terminology an effort has been made to use it in its broadest sense as a means of justifying that which is being practiced.

New Testament Usage

There are a number of passages in the New Testament that use the word fellowship. The first time such a passage is found in either the King James Version or the American Standard Version is Acts 2:42, where we read that the first Christians "continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers." Other passages in the King James Version are I Cor. 1:9; 10:20; 2 Cor. 6:14; 8:14; Gal. 2:9; Eph. 3:9; 5:11 ; Phil. 1 :5; 2:1; 3:10; I John 1:3, 6-7. In two of these passages the ASV uses a slightly different word. In I Cor. 10:20 fellowship is replaced by communion, and in Eph 3:9 it is replaced by the word dispensation. On the other hand, the ASV uses fellowship in Phil. 4:14 and 15 where the KJV uses communicate and communicated. In Philemon 6 the ASV uses fellowship and the KJV replaces it with communication. In 2 Cor. 6:14 and Eph. 5:11 both versions use fellowship as Paul instructs Christians not to have "fellowship" with unrighteousness and the unfruitful works of darkness. In all of these passages except one - 2 Cor. 6:14 - the original words are closely related. They are KOINONIA, fourteen, times; KOINONUS, one time; and SUGKOINONEO, two times. The word in 2 Cor. 6:14 is METOCHE.

Definition of Terms

Thayer defines KOINONIA as "fellowship, association, community, communion, joint participation, intercourse." He gives a. "a partner, associate, comrade, companion" and b. "a partaker, sharer, in anything; with genitive of the thing" as the definition for KOINONUS. For SUGKOINONEO he gives the definition "to become a partaker together with others, or to have fellowship with a thing." METOCHE means "a sharing, communion, fellowship" according to Thayer. (These related words, KOINONIA, KOlNONOS, and SUGKOINONEO, along with one other in this same group - the verb form KOINONEO, are used in other places where the translators saw fit to give them such translations as partaker, partner, distribute, contribution, distribution, and companion.)

Thus we see that the overall definition of the word would cover any association, any community, any communion, any joint participation, any intercourse, any partnership, comradeship, any companionship, any sharing, etc. between or among people. In view of these broad meanings, it would seem that none would be so bold as to advocate the activation of the collective church in some particular realm of social activity simply because the word "fellowship" appears in the scriptures. But alas, sometimes some of our brethren try to justify the church making provisions for certain social functions and recreation because of the broad meaning of the word. Are we then to conclude that all association is authorized and condoned because the scriptures use this word? Is all activity that brings about community or communion of any kind among brethren thus authorized as church activity? Are we engaging in the fellowship of the scriptures when any kind of joint participation takes place? How far could we carry this ridiculous argument as we think of the broad coverage of all the word itself can involve? There is only one logical answer to these questions.

Fellowship Limited By Usage

We must recognize that the word fellowship is limited in scriptural usage, and is not everything the word itself is broad enough to cover. Usage of the word fellowship (KOINONIA) in the scriptures no more authorizes as scriptural just any event or action the word might be technically used to describe than does the usage of baptize (BAPTIDZO) authorize every event or action that it might be broad enough to cover. We might just as logically (?) use the argument that Jesus approved of baptizing and since the word is broad enough to cover washing clothes or taking a bath, we are thus authorized to install facilities for such in our church buildings! The church is limited to the type of KOINONIA authorized by command, statement of fact, approved example, or necessary inference. If we leave this authorized field and use the overall meaning of the word as justification for any other practice we are forced to accept everthing the meaning of the word would cover. If not, why not?

It is true, as our brethren sometimes say, that the word fellowship is broad enough to include the things we do in the social realm, as well as those things that are a part of the work and worship of the church. The social realm is a very broad realm, including the entire association of man with his fellow beings. It includes business, sports, etc. and the word fellowship in its extended definition may be broad enough to cover all of this. However, it is absolutely false to say the scriptures use the word in such a sense. Thev assuredly do not.

Fellowship and Eating

Perhaps much of our trouble in this matter has stemmed from an unwise use of terms when we talk of church discipline, or at least a failure to realize what we were speaking of. In Paul's first Corinthian letter he instructs the brethren there "not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat." Again he says, "Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person." I Cor. 5:11 and 13. In 2 Thess. 3:6 we read, "Now we command you brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us." In verse 14 we find "And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed."

It is not unusual to find someone saying that Paul refers to eating as fellowship, and forbids us to eat with one who has been "disfellowshipped." It is significant that in none of these passages is the word fellowship mentioned. Yet down through the years we have used the terms disfellowship and withdrawal of fellowship to signify the action taken when the church rebukes and disciplines a member. In both I Cor. 5 and 2 Thess. 3 eating is prominently mentioned. It may very well be then that we have unthoughtedly, assumed that since disfellowship, as we have used the term, signifies a lack of eating together then fellowship must include eating together. In these two passages Paul uses an entirely different term than the one elsewhere translated fellowship. Instead of KOINONIA, or one of the related words, we find SUNANAMIGNUM1, which Thayer says means literally "to mix together," and thus "to keep company with, be intimate with, one." Thus we see that the functions of the social realm, companionship, close association, eating together, etc. are described in this place by an entirely different word. That activity which we take in church discipline might be better described by withdrawal of close companionship, close friendship, and close association rather than withdrawal of fellowship since this term refers primarily to something entirely different in the New Testament.

Fellowship In First John

In I John 1:3-7 we read a brief discourse on the matter of fellowship. John states that he was declaring Christ to them that they might have fellowship with him and his fellow laborers who had like knowledge of Christ. However, he then hastens to emphasize that their fellowship was with "the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ." The fellowship of which John speaks is automatically determined by the way the Christian lives. "If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth . . ." Our failure to walk in the light (truth of God's word) will remove us from fellowship with God, and likewise from real fellowship with our brethren in Christ. In contrast, "if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another . . ." If we walk in the way of righteousness (God's commandments) we have fellowship--first, "with the Father, and his Son Jesus Christ," and second, with one another. The fellowship which John mentions here as it relates to men with one another is determined by our relationship with God. This is that fellowship which no man can take from us. Our fellowship is with God and therefore with all others who have like fellowship with God.

A Question

Now we ask a question to help in our differentiating between the fellowship of the New Testament and that which men now call fellowship. Since brethren so customarily refer to the common meals eaten in the church building as a period of "fellowship," we wonder what procedure would be followed if the following conditions should prevail. A brother is admittedly guilty of fornication, but repeatedly refuses to do anything about his condition. Finally the church engages in the act of discipline as authorized by Paul in I Cor. 5. This man, from whom the church has "withdrawn fellowship" by present terminology, continues to attend the services of worship. After the Sunday morning service the brethren are planning to have a "period of fellowship" in the basement, including a fine big meal. This disorderly brother insists on staying for this feast also. Can we violate Paul's instruction and invite him to this "fellowship?" If we do not invite him, but he stays anyway can we still violate the instruction and eat with him? If not, and he insists on staying, how do we remove him from this "fellowship?" I trust there are none so lacking in knowledge of God's will as to advocate that the church should bar him from the service of worship.

In concluding this article we emphasize this point again. The scriptures do not customarily use the word FELLOWSHIP with reference to the common social functions outside the spiritual realm. In every place that the word is found employed by the translators it lists reference to things of a spiritual nature. It is not anti-scriptural to speak of our close companionship and association in the social realm as fellowship, but we ought to realize that the word is not used in the scriptures for such, and therefore the two realms are not to be confused because the same word might be technically used to refer to them.

Truth Magazine III:7; pp. 2-4
April 1959