The Bible Belt has been on a diet. The belt keeps tightening its notches as the belly shrinks… which is to say that the Bible Belt isn’t really as fat with Bible as people think.
I surmise that nowhere is as biblical as people think. Everywhere has its challenges.
However, in the south, we use words that are Christian-y. Due to a lack of comprehension about what these words actually mean, they’ve been drained of meaning.
Fellowship is one of those words.
We use the word fellowship here as a synonym for most any social gathering where some Christians are likely to be congregating, and even non-Christians with us. Now, it’s OK to gather in social affinity, like-minded people enjoying each other. But fellowship under the umbrella of Christian love means something specific in the Bible. Here, Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary helps bring the word and its command into clarity
To appreciate the full meaning of the word-group in the New Testament that conveys the nature and reality of Christian fellowship (i.e., the noun koinonia [koinwniva], the verb, koinonein [koinwnevw], and the noun koinonos [koinwnov”]) as used in the New Testament, it is necessary to be aware of two fundamental points.
First, the fact and experience of Christian fellowship only exists because God the Father through Jesus Christ, the Son, and by/in the Spirit has established in grace a relation (a “new covenant”) with humankind. Those who believe the gospel of the resurrection are united in the Spirit through the Son to the Father. The relation leads to the reality of relatedness and thus to an experienced relationship (a “communion”) between man and God. And those who are thus “in Christ” (as the apostle Paul often states) are in communion not only with Jesus Christ (and the Father) in the Spirit but also with one another. This relatedness, relationship, and communion is fellowship.
In the second place, it is probably best not to use the word “community” as a synonym for “fellowship.” The reason for this is that in modern English “community” presupposes “individualism” and thus carries a meaning that is necessarily foreign to biblical presuppositions since individualism (i.e., the thinking of a human being as an “individual” and as the basic unity of society) is, technically speaking, a modern phenomenon. So “community” seemingly inevitably today usually refers to a group, body, or society that is formed by the coming together of “individuals” in a contractual way.
The emphasis is on the initiative of the “individuals” and on the voluntary nature of the group thus formed. In contrast, koinonia [koinwniva] has its origin in a movement out of the internal, eternal relation, relatedness, and communion of the Godhead of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Koinonia [koinwniva] for baptized believers is thus a participation within human experience of the communion of the living God himself.
There is a difference between community and fellowship. Community is not fellowship, because Christians are not individuals, but part of one body- Christ’s, bound by the Spirit’s indwelling, under the ordination of God.
If this is a little confusing, then here is a short book to help. It’s by John Owen. Most of what Owen wrote is dense and difficult because of archaic language and outdated writing style, but this little book is accessible to the modern reader.
There are two sections of the book. The first regards rules with respect to walking in fellowship with the pastor, and the second regards rules with walking in fellowship with respect to other believers.
9Marks reviewed this book favorably. Healthy (true) fellowship makes for healthy churches.
What makes a healthy church? That’s a question many prospective pastors are asking as conversations about church planting, church revitalization, and church membership seem more popular than ever. Does church health depend on a particular model, set of programs, or a good marketing strategy? Or is it something else altogether? How do we know?
Thankfully, Scripture doesn’t leave us in the dark. We’re not the first generation of Christians to wrestle with this question … The book is comprised of 22 “rules” or Scriptural commands [to fellowship] that Owen says are responsibilities of every member of a Christian church. These rules are broken down into two distinct sections…
More at the link above.
#1: Understand exactly what fellowship means.
Not this (necessarily):
#2. Fellowship is a command
That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:3).
And think about this too:
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
That is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. (Romans 1:12) .