There are many things that we have lamented and missed from our church life in the last sixteen months. Praise God, that as we move from this post-pandemic season (not post-Covid season), things are starting to feel a little more ‘ordinary’ again. Singing has clearly been missed, but so have handshakes (or hugs!), refreshments, and times to chat – core elements of our ‘fellowship’ together.
Fellowship. Just what is fellowship?
Fellowship is, “A group of people who join together for a common purpose.” (Collins Dictionary)
My three boys have got me reading Tolkien’s, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, at the moment. In the first of the trilogy, The Fellowship of the Ring, the chosen nine – a wizard, an elf, a dwarf, two men and four hobbits (or halflings) – are given the common purpose of destroying the Ring of Power before the evil Sauron gets hold of it and destroys all of Middle Earth. As the story progresses, even the elf and the dwarf (two races who have longstanding disagreements and differences) grow to love and support one another and join together in fellowship.
Fellowship is also described as, “A feeling of friendship that people have when they are talking or doing something together and sharing their experiences… a sense of community and fellowship” (Also, Collins Dictionary)
What then is Christian fellowship?
Very often I would say at the end of a church service (in the pre-Covid days when we would serve refreshments! – they will return soon!), “Coffee will now be served, lets enjoy a time of fellowship” or I might say, “Come along to Pop-In on Thursday for a good time of fellowship with your friends”.
How might we distinguish however between fellowship as friendship with one another and fellowship as part of our Christian discipleship?
Firstly I would say fellowship is friendship! It’s time well spent catching up with friends, listening to one another, supporting one another, challenging one another, laughing with one another, playing a game with another, joining in an activity together, drinking coffee together, being silly together!
Yet for us as Christians, “fellowship” is more than this too. In the English Bible, the word “fellowship” is translated from the New Testament Greek word, “Koinonia” (pron. koi-no-nia). It’s interesting to note that “New Testament Greek” is called “Koine Greek”! The New Testament Church was all about fellowship!
Koinonia is a Greek word that goes much deeper than friendship. It is “to be drawn together by intimate participation”; it describes “the idealized state of fellowship, prayer and service within the early Christian Church”. (New Testament Greek Dictionary)
The first place we find the word Koinonia in the New Testament is in Acts – Jesus has ascended into heaven, the Holy Spirit has been poured upon the Church, and 3,000 have believed Peter’s message, been baptized and joined the apostles:
“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42)
Here we have it.
Fellowship for a Christian is about getting to know one another wholly and completely and intimately. Fellowship for a Christian is not just friendship in a physical capacity (handshake, hug or slap on the back well done!) or emotional capacity (as important as this is – listening, supporting and caring), but it has a spiritual dimension too – Christian Fellowship is about celebrating together with thanks to God for all that is going well in our lives or praying for God’s blessing, help and strength for one another when things are perhaps tough. It’s about serving God and serving others together not just serving ourselves or each other. It’s about worshipping God together.
So as Covid rules allow, and we next have coffee or ‘fellowship time’ together why not be thinking as you collect your coffee, “I wonder, when I listen and chat with my friend in a moment, what can I say that will encourage this person in their walk with Christ? What can we give thanks to God for together as we chat? What could I be praying for this person? Maybe I could even offer there and then to pray for them too?”
And lastly, please don’t see the coffee time as an add on as something only to do after church ‘if we’ve time’, see it as part of our church life together, because fellowship – koinonia – is part of our Christian Discipleship.
Rev Adam Pawley