Of the many blessings which come to the children of God, one of the most important is association with other believers in the fellowship of a local assembly. People are moved by various considerations in their choice of church fellowship - such as the fact that relatives or friends are there, or that they were, converted there, or because a certain place is nearest to their home, or because they consider they will be happier there than elsewhere. None of these is an adequate reason-we must remember that the church is a divinely-constituted body and we must have a higher motive than any of the above-mentioned. We should be moved by the conviction of the will of God for us.
If we are convinced from the Scriptures that our place is in the fellowship of an assembly which seeks to carry out the divine order as revealed in the Scriptures, what is the next step to take? “Let all things be done decently and in order,” 1 Cor. 14. 40. Surely the right thing is to approach the elders in the assembly and make one’s desire known; the interview with them will afford one the opportunity of satisfying them as to one’s conversion and the reasons for desiring fellowship, and afford them the opportunity to help the inquirer from the Scriptures and from their own experience of the joys and responsibilities of the association. If the elders are satisfied they will report the matter to the assembly, so that the assembly’s reception of the new-comer will be wholehearted.
What does it mean to be ‘in fellowship’? It is an expression of that new life in Christ which is ours immediately we receive the Lord Jesus as our Saviour and become children of God, Jn. 1. 12, 13. Apart from this union with the Father through faith in His Son, fellowship has no meaning at all. “Truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ,” 1 Jn. 1. 3. It begins there, but continues to find expression Godward when we speak to the Father in prayer, and read His Word in an endeavour to ascertain His will for our lives and conduct. It is further expressed toward our fellow-believers as we meet together in the local assembly according to the same Word. It is generally agreed that there is a pattern in the Scriptures for the life of the individual Christian, but it is not always realized so clearly that there is also a pattern for the collective life and service of the church. Both are equally important, and both should be for the glory of God.
This fellowship of believers is introduced to us in the New Testament in Acts 2. 41-47, where Israelites having heard Peter preaching the gospel on the day of Pentecost were brought to repentance, and faith in Christ as their Saviour. They were baptized and entered into the joys and blessings of fellowship, sharing with other children of God the privileges and responsibilities of the corporate life of the church. Their obedience was not spasmodic - they “continued steadfastly.” Their lives were not marked by despondency - they were glad and praiseful. They came together and gave time to prayer and to the apostles’ teaching. They were not selfish or self-centred, but had a care for others, even sacrificing their own comfort and means for the sake of their less-well-off brethren and sisters. Is it to be wondered at that God blessed this expression of Christian partnership (for that is what fellowship means) by adding to their numbers? As the Scriptures are examined it will be found that, although as the early church expanded and developed circumstances altered, these principles of fellowship remained.
Is it possible for these principles to be in operation today? Actually we are in a more favourable position than were these early believers, in that we have a complete New Testament for our guidance; and we can be confident, if we follow this unerring guide, that God will indeed lead us into the reality of this blessed fellowship. It was never the intention of the Lord that we should be isolated units, or ‘free lances’ just pleasing ourselves, but rather that we should be bound together in unity and love. Has it ever occurred to those who glory in independence of action, what would happen if every one wanted to be a ‘free lance’ ?
One of the most significant acts of fellowship is the gathering of believers on the first day of the week to ‘break bread’ in remembrance of the Lord. When believers have acted on the scriptural exhortation, “Bet a man examine himself (1 Cor. 11. 28), when all known sin has been confessed and put away, and all come together for the Lord’s glory, there is no meeting on earth to be compared with it. This gathering must never be neglected or its standards lowered.
However, we must not confine our conception of fellowship to this one gathering, important though it be. The study of the New Testament and our own experience, force us to the conclusion that collective prayer and Bible study are vital to the maintaining of the spiritual life of the assembly, and there is a responsibility upon each believer loyally to attend these gatherings, and contribute to their spirit, as far as he is able. If these meetings are neglected, the meeting for the remembrance of the Lord Will eventually lose its meaning and power.
The assembly is also called to witness to the world by preaching the Gospel of Christ, and all believers should seek to discharge their obligation in this matter. This calls for all the support that we can give, both by prayer and personal attendance each time the gospel is preached - not merely when the appointed preacher happens to suit our personal tastes. Beyond this we should use our influence, not only to get the unconverted to attend, but to bear our private witness to them.
Fellowship will provide ample opportunity to express our concern for the welfare of our brethren and sisters in Christ, and this will call forth prayer and practical help so that we can fulfil the Scriptures - “bear ye one another’s burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Gal. 6. 2), and “bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves” (Rom. 15. 1). If from one cause or another the assembly should not be at a high level of spiritual prosperity, some who lack a sense of their individual responsibility will lose interest, but those who are there by conviction will take the opportunity to give expression of their loyalty and devotion to the principles of God’s Word by being prepared to «’ spend and be spent” for His sake. If we have a conviction as to what is right we will seek to be builders attmcii” strengthen the things that remain,” and look to the Lord for recovery.
This fellowship touches every interest of our lives, including our money whether it be little or much. It all belongs to God and we ate simply His stewards to use it for His glory - to misuse it is embezzlement. It is a privilege systematically to put aside a portion for the work of God, to maintain His servants serving Him in other lands, to help poor believers, to maintain the meeting place in decent condition, and to provide for other needs. The five loaves and two fishes will serve to remind us that if our means are small, the Lord can make a consecrated gift a blessing to many.
John tells us that this fellowship is maintained only as we “walk in the light” (1 Jn. 1. 7). Thus can we live for the glory of God, helping our brethren and sisters by a godly example, seeking the spiritual progress of every child of God irrespective of social position, age or any other distinction. This is to be ‘in fellowship’ indeed. Even in these days there are, without question, great possibilities for an assembly which, with God’s help, seeks to put New Testament principles into living and loving practice. God will be glorified, believers helped and blessed, the unconverted drawn to hear the gospel, and a real and lasting joy will possess the children of God.
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