A Bible based teaching on what church and Christian fellowship is, and why we have to be involved if we want to obey the teachings of the New Testament.
We have seen in previous studies how God has worked to bring us back into relationship with Himself through the work of Jesus on the cross. We have seen the ongoing necessity of repentance and faith if we are going to actually have that relationship with God and escape the judgment that is coming on all rebels. Now we must see that God’s first priority for us in our new lifestyle of trust and obedience is that we have loving fellowship with other believers of the kind that Jesus had with the apostles. We need to be with people who will exhort us daily lest we be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Hebrews 3:13). We must understand that we have been called out of the world into a community of believers. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, as I have loved you. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34,35) The purpose of this lesson is to begin to examine what God expects of us as far as our commitment to love and be with other real Christians. In the process we will begin to understand what God means by “church” and what our relationship to the church must be as part of the new family of God.
The word fellowship in the New Testament is translated from the Greek word “koinonia”. This word means an association, community, communion, joint participation or intercourse. It means sharing with other people. To be involved in Christian fellowship with others means to share your life with others. We share our lives with others and also with Christ who promises to be with us when even two or three are gathered together in His name (Matthew 18:20). Fellowship with Christ and other believers involves feeding on the Word together. Sometimes it means eating meals together. (Acts 2:46). In fellowship we share our time, our gifts and talents, both spiritual and natural. We also share of our money as God leads, and according to the needs (2 Corinthians 9). This does not mean that Christians should expect other Christians to support their families. Read 1 Timothy 5:8. Christians are commanded to work diligently and honestly so that they have something to share with those in need (Ephesians 4:28). Christian fellowship exists not only to meet the needs of Christians – emotionally, socially, mentally, spiritually and where necessary, financially. It also exists to demonstrate to the world the meaning of Christian love and to call people out of the world into that fellowship with Christ and His body. In fellowship with Christ and with one another, we are coming not only to receive but also to give. This is where our dedication to Christ’s Lordship will be made practical, and hence, proved real.
People are created by God for relationship. When God said, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18), Adam already had a wonderful fellowship with the Heavenly Father. But God does not want us to live like monks, doing nothing but talking with Him. God wants us to have wonderful relationships with people, especially His people. His plans for us can only be fulfilled as we learn to relate correctly both with our brothers and sisters in Christ and also with those who, because of ignorance or rebellion, are still outside the family of God.
To be lonely and isolated is not God’s will. “God sets the solitary in families.” (Psalm 68:6). The natural family is God’s idea. (Colossians 3:18- 21). However, many families don’t express the love God intended. God’s plan is to put us immediately into a wonderful family – His family – the moment we turn from our sin to Christ. Here are some major motives for entering seriously into committed relationships with real Christians (those who are trusting Christ and turning from sin).
1. The people you choose to asscoiate with affect your destiny. “He that walketh with wise [men] shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed [broken].” (Proverbs 13:20)
“Do not be deceived: evil company corrupts good habits (morals).” (1 Corinthians 15:33). Your destiny is determined by your character, and your character is affected by those you choose to keep company with. By spending quality time with people who love and obey God and follow His Word, you will become wise yourself and make right decisions. By refusing this, you choose to be with rebels and rebellion will enter you. This rebellion separates from God and destroys spiritual life.
It is important to be involved in a church where the leadership seeks holiness. Even if some have the form of godliness or right doctrine, they are not good leaders if they have no hunger for righteousness in heart and life.
2. God has planned for you to receive love and encouragement from His family on earth. Real Christians walk in love. “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35). “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:8).
God’s family is a family of love. But you must be open to receive that love. “You also be open” (2 Corinthians 6:13). We all need encouragement and care at times. God will often provide this through His people. He told us to do it for others too.
3. God wants you to learn to give love and encouragement to your brothers and sisters in Christ. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” (1 John 4:7). “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
Other Christians will need your help. Even by being faithful to the church you will encourage the rest of the church and also the leadership. God wants you to help and encourage those around you in the church according to your ability and call.
4. You can learn wisdom from more mature Christians by being with them. “He who walks with wise men will be wise” (Proverbs13:20). By having fellowship with more mature Christians you will grow in love, faith, wisdom and holiness.
5. You can be built up in faith by hearing the preaching of anointed ministers of Christ. Faith comes by hearing. (Romans 10:17). The preaching of the Word should build up your faith and confidence in the promises of God.
6. If remain in a church where the people don’t listen to the Word of God and obey it, their example and their teaching will lead you to hell. Paul instructed Timothy as follows: “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit
their own likings” (2 Timothy 4:2,3). Note also that Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21). “Let them [the Pharisees] alone: they are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leadeth the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.” (Matthew 15:14)
7. God wants you to serve Him effectively. You can’t do it without co-operating with other Christians. God has made us the body of Christ, and members individually. (1 Corinthians 12:27). And just as a hand disconnected from the body cannot fulfil the purpose of the head, neither can you if you are not in right relationship with Christ’s body – the people of God. Common sense tells us that without co-operation great things touching many people cannot be achieved.
8. When you repent and receive Christ by faith as Lord you are summoned into the body of Christ. You have a part to play in Christ’s body. Your gifts and talents complement those of others. Read 1 Corinthians 12:12-28.
9. You cannot fulfill the commands of Christ and of the apostles without entering into fellowship. How can you love one another, enourage one another, admonish or counsel one another, serve one another if you are never with “one another”. These commandments were given to churches. Read Romans 12:10; Romans 15:14; Ephesians 4:32; 1 Thessalonians 5:11 as examples of some of these important commands and ask the Holy Spirit to show you what it means for you.
10. God commands you to come to attend church gatherings regularly. “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much more as you see the day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24,25). See also Hebrews 3:13. We must exhort one another daily.
BARRIERS TO COMMITTED FELLOWSHIP
1. Spiritual pride, independence, rejection and rebellion spirits.
Spiritual pride says like this: “There are no churches worth going to. None of them are up to standard.”
Independence says, “I just follow the Holy Spirit. I won’t listen to man.” A person with a strong spirit of independence will not submit to God’s leadership in the church. Therefore he will not build up the church as God wants.
People affected by rejection spirits have been deeply hurt in the past. They tend to act and say things that make them offensive. They try to reject the love of others. Then they withdraw from fellowship because they feel hurt and unwanted.
Rebellion is the enemy of God and is the spirit which considers itself more right, more smart and more just than God or His representatives. A rebel wants to do his own thing – not God’s.
2. Fear of getting involved in a false sect. In some countries the traditional formalistic dead churches have put the idea into the common people that any other religious organisation is likely be part of an evil sect which does strange thing at night, possibly brainwashing and sexually abusing people. In fact, any religious organisation or structure which claims that it is the only true way to God is itself a false sect. It doesn’t matter how many millions of followers it may have. No church has a monopoly on Jesus Christ (John 14.6) Meditate on the lesson of Mark 9:38,39. If anyone had a right to say they were the only ones who should minister in Jesus’ name, it was the twelve apostles. But Jesus did not give them that right to forbid others to minister.
3. Persecution from family, friends or authorities. Persecution may come from any or all of these sources. If you won’t obey Christ for fear of persecution, you cannot be a real disciple of His. “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” (2 Timothy 3:12). Read carefully Luke 14:26-33. God promises you persecution and affliction in following him (Acts 14:22) but he also promises to eventually deliver you out of all such things (Psalm 34:17,19).
4. Love of the world. Paul the apostle said towards the end of his ministry, “For Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world.” (2 Timothy 4:10). The apostle John said, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life – is not from the Father but is from the world.” (1 John 2:15,16). If you love the world, your love for Jesus will grow cold and you will not enjoy the fellowship of red-hot Christians in love with Jesus their Saviour and Lord.
What it is not.
1. The church is not a physical building.
2. The church is not a denomination. It is not and organisation.
There is no Biblical support for any of these ideas.
What it is.
The Bible talks about the Universal Church – all those who love and believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. It also speaks of the church in the city, or of the church in house. Here are some other Biblical revelations of what the church is.
1. The church is an assembly of people called out from the world to serve Christ. The Greek word for church, “ekklesia” means an assembly called out. The church of Christ is such a called out assembly whose purpose is to worship and obey Christ.
2. The church is the body of Christ. Ephesians 1:22,23 tells us this – “the church, which is His body.” 1 Corinthians 12 describes the body of Christ. The church is the body of Christ on earth, through which Christ must be expressed and ministered to the world.
3. The church is the family of God. God is our Father. Jesus is our brother. Other true believers are our brothers and sisters in Christ. (Ephesians 3:14; Hebrews 2:11; Acts 15:32 and many others). A family is a place of acceptance, care, training, mutual help, love. So must the church be.
4. The church is the temple of God. Ephesians 2:20,21. This reminds us that we are set apart to God and must be holy for the Lord. Our bodies also our temples of the Holy Spirit. (1 Corinthians 6:19) and therefore must be kept clean so we can worship God acceptably (Romans 12:1,2).
5. The church is the army of God. God is a warrior, and we are called to fight. Ephesians 6:10-20 shows us that as part of the army of God we must put our armour on. 2 Corinthians 10:4 tells us we have weapons to use in our warfare. As an army there exists spiritual ranking, authority and chain-of-command. We must know our place in the army and know to obey both the Holy Spirit and those in leadership over us in our battle against Satan and his forces of darkness.
6. The church is the bride of Christ. (Ephesians 5:32; John 3:29; Rev. 21:9) The church is being prepared for the Lord for a great wedding in heaven. Christ loves us so much and we respond to His love as the church.
7. The church is the house of God. 1 Timothy 3:15 and Hebrews 3:6 tells us that we are God’s house. God lives in us! God organises us. God puts his treasures in us!
The early church met in the houses of people. (Acts 8:3; Romans 16:5 “Greet the church that is in their house.” Colossians 4:15; Philemon 1:2) Special church buildings were not constructed until the 4th century and were part of the process of introducing a formal, powerless Christianity where specially trained priests with unbiblical traditions minister to ignorant church attenders who no longer seek to read and obey the Word of God for themselves. Of course God can use special buildings for larger gatherings of Christians to celebrate the Lord together in and to hear anointed ministers preach and teach the Word of God, but this must never replace the true life of a church which is at the level of house churches. The apostles preached in the synogogues and in the temple when it was possible, but they also taught “from house to house” (Acts 20:20). Christianity is not a spectator sport. Every true Christian is a disciple (Acts 11:26) and must live as a disciple, making disciples wherever he or she can, in the context of loving team relationships.
Our houses should be holy and not contain objects that offend God. The new testament commandments for relationship cannot be fulfilled only in large assemblies. “House churches” or “home fellowships” or “cell groups” are smaller gatherings of 3 to 20 people that gather together regularly to grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. House churches or cell groups must be accountable to the vision of leadership in the wider body of Christ. Home fellowship groups are one vehicle in which the Great Commission, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all things that I commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19) can be fulfilled. Listed below are some of the Biblical purposes of a home fellowship group.
1. To praise, worship and obey Christ. (READ Acts 2:42).
2. To learn God’s Word and how to apply it. (Acts 2:42)
3. To pray together, and celebrate the Lord’s supper together. (Acts 2:42,46)
4. To foster fellowship and develop communities of hope, healing, and life. (Acts 2:44,45; Heb 13:16)
5. To bring people to a living faith in Christ. (Acts 2:47)
6. To minister to each other. (1 Corinthians 14:26)
7. To prepare each other for mission in the world. (Matthew 28:19)
“And daily in the temple and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” (Acts 5:42).
House churches must be organised to gather together regularly for a united show of strength into assemblies on a regular basis, preferably weekly. These assemblies should gather together to pray for the city, town or village in which they exist (1 Timothy 2:1-2), to read the Word of God, to praise and worship God in unity, and to hear the ministry of the Word from anointed and proven ministers of the gospel.
These meetings are Biblical (Acts 5:42). They have the following purposes.
1. To foster unity between Christians (1 Corinthians 1:10).
2. To change the spiritual atmosphere over a locality (Ephesians 3:10; Matthew 18:18-20).
3. To enable anointed preachers and teachers (Ephesians 4:11-12) to reach more believers at once with their messages from the Lord.
4. To provide a venue for different creative expressions of praise, worship and communication which are not practical at a house group level (Psalm 149:1).
5. To provide a larger and more credible witness to the community (Acts 6:7).
6. To enable the organisation of projects and ministries which require a more broadly based co- operation between Christians gifted and called to minister together in a certain domain.
(2 Corinthians 8:10-15 talks of an organised relief project for the saints in Jerusalem)
SUBMISSION AND CHURCH AUTHORITY
The Word of God speaks clearly on this point.
“Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.” (Hebrews 13:17).
Every Christian is called to recognise and obey godly leadership. “Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the Word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7).
Our submission is first of all to God and to His Word. This involves a life of prayer and obedience to the Holy Spirit. In the midst of this, however, we must learn to balance our conviction of what the Holy Spirit is speaking to us personally to do with the principle of submission to church leadership and the vision they have received of which we form a part.
In order for the church to achieve anything at any level, there must exist firstly leadership with a vision, and secondly, people who are willing to co-operate with that leadership and that vision. If not, there will be chaos, disunity and ineffective ministry. After the Holy Spirit has placed you in a church, you are responsible to listen to the appointed church leadership and co-operate with them. You may not always like the way they are, the way they do things or the decisions they make. But as a soldier of Jesus Christ you must learn to submit to the authority God has put in the church. Like repentance and faith, this involves a choice on your part. You should pray for your leaders – not that they will do what you think (that is witchcraft praying), but rather that they will do what God wants. You have to trust that God will often speak to you his instructions for ministry not directly but through the means of the instruction of the pastor or delegated minister.
Normally every church has a leader with a vision from God. “Without a vision, the people cast off restraint.” (Proverbs 29:18). Mostly this leader is called “the senior pastor” or simply “the pastor”. You should submit to the pastor and to those who he has appointed over various areas of the church in as much as they affect you, such as your house group leader. In a more developed church organised along Biblical lines, there may be also be present elders and deacons (who are responsible for various activities or ministries under the leadership of the senior minister or pastor). It can be argued that the Biblical title for a house group leader is “deacon” which simply means “servant”. In Christ’s Kingdom, leadership must be servants. They are stewards entrusted to bring the revelation of Christ to his people, and to care for them. But they are servants we should obey – not out of force but out of love and respect.
Not every “pastor” is primarily a pastor or shepherd. Some may be apostles (those with supernatural power to plant and establish many churches), others prophets (do not believe everyone who claims to be a prophet), others evangelist/pastors or others teachers. But if God has called that man to lead the local church you are part of you must be willing to submit to that leader and co-operate with his vision.
Benefits of Submission, Problems with Rebelling
Submission to leadership puts you in a place where you are protected before God. You will be covered by the leadership of the local church you submit to.
Submission brings you into closer fellowship with leadership. In this way you will receive spiritual blessings through them – anointing and godly skill and wisdom.
By faithfully submitting to a godly leader you will be a candidate for promotion in the church.
If you rebel against leadership and make life unpleasant for them it will not go well with you (Hebrews 13:17). You may suffer financial loss. In some cases, God may take away his protective hand and you may die! Be careful not to grumble and complain against God’s leadership as the Israelites grumbled against Moses and came under the judgments of God.