We Value … Fellowship

Apr 26, 2019

Fellowship: Participating IN


This post is part of a six-part series, written by a leader within the convention, on our core values.  Our core values show who we are and what motivates us.

As someone raised in a missionary family, whose father was a pastor and whose family was consistently the very last to leave church each Sunday, I have always been fluent in Christianese — that language unique to evangelicals. We native Christianese-speakers can forget that those visiting or new to the family often have no idea what we are talking about.  There may well be a need for a Christianese primer or Rosetta Stone program.

The truth of the matter is, however, that those fluent in Christianese often use words and phrases that we ourselves do not fully understand.  “Fellowship” is such a word.  When evangelicals mention “fellowship” they are usually referring to something generally positive, vaguely relational, and if they are from certain regions of the United States, pertaining to potluck dinners.  And while fellowship may indeed carry positive connotations and describe relationships formed and deepened over shared meals, its primary definition eludes us – and our churches are poorer for that fact.

According to theologian and scholar J.R. McRay, the best way to understand the meaning of the Greek word usually translated in Scripture as “fellowship” (koinonia) is the word participation (see “Fellowship” in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology)If we replace fellowship in our religious jargon with participation (or participate), we will soon realize that it is a neutral word which, if divorced from its object, leads to meaningless, silly phrases.  With chagrin I admit that I have announced to our church, “After the Christmas celebration we will have a special time of participation (fellowship) in the patio.”   In a similar vein many churches have “participation halls” or extend “the right hand of participation” without considering in what they are participating!

Given its neutrality, fellowship for Christians is not always a good thing.  Its virtue or vice does not lie in the simple fact of participation, but rather in that in which we do or do not participate.  Paul warns Timothy not to fellowship in the sins of others (1 Timothy 5:22), while Peter writes that through God’s promises we participate (read fellowship) in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). 

If participation in the divine nature were not enough, God has also called believers into participation with Jesus Christ, His Son (1 Corinthians 1:9), and into the participation of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 13:14).  In Philippians 3:10-11, Paul expresses his longing to fellowship in the sufferings of Christ so that he will also share in His resurrection. 1 John 1:7 describes the unity among believers that stems from “walking in the light” — that through this discipline we genuinely participate in the lives of our brothers and sisters.

As a family of churches, the International Baptist Convention values fellowship because without participation within and among our churches we could not hope to fulfill our mission – to mobilize and multiply disciple-making churches.  Within our churches we have the privilege of participating together as individuals in repentance, in worship, in work, in bearing each other’s burdens, in prayer, in service, in vision, and in mission.  At the same time we participate corporately as local bodies in upholding one another, in providing for each other, in praying for our churches, and in giving generously. As an aside it is interesting to note that Paul repeatedly uses the word “fellowship” (koinonia) to describe the action of individuals or churches providing for others who are in need (for example Romans 12:13, 15:26).  This is a concrete way of participating in the lives of individuals and churches.

But above all, we choose to fellowship among our churches in order to meet the vision that God has entrusted to us.  It will be impossible for us to be a “movement of global-minded churches that are reproducing healthy disciples, leaders, and congregations” if we do not do this together.  Fellowship is not passive…it is an action and a choice.  So let us choose to fellowship together in this vision — to the glory of God and the furthering of His kingdom.

by Nathanael Fawcett

IBC Vice President and Pastor, Calvary International Church, Sao Paulo, Brazil

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