Blogpost: "Fellowship in the Spirit"

"God knows the end from the beginning." 

But here we start at the end and go back to the beginning.

2 Corinthian letter chapter 13:11-13 "Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice, set things right, be encouraged, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all." (2 Cor 13:11-13)

    If you have spent any length of time in any Church of any denomination you will recognize the last part of these three verses more than the first two. They are as assured to be read as the "amen" after almost every prayer. "Lets say the blessing.." or "Lets say the Grace" and dutifully the congregation chimes in. And so it has become another set piece in the religious program and becomes part and parcel of yet another man-made agenda giving an air of  being a thoroughly "scriptural" procedure.

    What is the origin of this emphasis on fellowship? Simply this: it is not good for man to be alone. And that is the only thing in all the creation that even God the Creator picks up on and amends as soon as possible. "The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a companion for him who corresponds to him.” The Lord God formed out of the ground every living animal of the field and every bird of the air. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them, and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man named all the animals, the birds of the air, and the living creatures of the field, but for Adam no companion who corresponded to him was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep, and while he was asleep, he took part of the man’s side and closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the part he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. Then the man said, "This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh, she shall be woman for she was taken out of man." " 
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and unites with his wife, and they become one family. ("Flesh" is used to signify more than the physical frame, so the extension of the fruit of the flesh, i e offspring and hence family, are used here in the Net  Bible.
    The purpose of mankind is only one: to express on earth the eternal and divine Creator, bringing together the Heavenly and the earthly in an incarnation. Man is no man at all without the divine element. The Fall from that dual reality leaves the earthly behind and this being can hence forth only reproduce his own kind: the animal man only. "
When God created humankind, he made them in the likeness of God. He created them male and female; when they were created, he blessed them and named them “humankind”. When Adam had lived 130 years he fathered a son in his own likeness, according to his image, and he named him Seth." God made man in His own image, Adam can only reproduce his own likeness. And, as the saying goes, the rest is the history of mankind in all the complexity and consequences. The godlessness of man is the bane of the Earth.

    Mankind acting on his own as if mankind was without accountability is the original definition of every sin ever committed. "They had no king over them, they did, each man, what was right in his own eyes." Judges 17:6  The entire message of the bible is that a man without God is no good, and only God within man makes him good. "No body is good except God", was the answer of Christ to some people, thereby establishing that 'if you call me good, then you have acknowledged that I am God in human form.' The balancing weight against the sins of the man going solo is a 'companion'. Someone of his own flesh and blood, someone who is both mirror and counterpart at the same time. Consequently the major attack of Satan is on the companionship of Adam and Eve. Their falling out with each other in the Eden is emblematic for every break down of fellowship to follow. Same elements reappear again and again. To separate the two elements of "The image of God" is the beginning of breakup and starts by throwing suspicion on God, their origin and sole source of life.

    Seen in that light "fellowship" is then God's antidote to the separation desired by the Enemy of our souls.  So whenever it appears in Scripture it should arrest our attention. It may just be one of the foremost tools in our kit to thwart Satans constant attacks on everything of Divine origin. The key word in the NT is the word Koinonia.  It brings several things to the table. But first this:

"No one has ever seen God. The only one, himself God, who is in closest fellowship with the Father, has made God known." NET

"No man has ever seen God at any time; the only unique Son, or the only begotten God, Who is in the bosom [in the intimate presence] of the Father, He has declared Him [He has revealed Him and brought Him out where He can be seen; He has interpreted Him and He has made Him known". AMPC

   This is John 1:18, where the idea of fellowship as being enclosed in the bosom of the Father is pronounced about the Son. To be within the embrace of the loving Father is the very essence of fellowship in the Spirit, as God is Spirit. The word "bosom" which some translate as 'fellowship' is reminiscent of our primary mother child relationship, a partnership on many levels and a sharing of that intimacy which provided us with our first absolute security. Jesus himself spins that thread later on in John: "“I am not praying only on their behalf, but also on behalf of those who believe in me through their testimony, that they will all be one, just as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. I pray that they will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me. The glory you gave to me I have given to them, that they may be one just as we are one— I in them and you in me—that they may be completely one, so that the world will know that you sent me, and you have loved them just as you have loved me. Do we need to have the essence of 'fellowship' better explained?

    Koinonia is understood as partnership, communion, participation. It goes way beyond the basic meaning of "being of the same opinion", "meeting in the same place", "doing the same thing" , "having a similar interest". Th
ose are no real investments, but merely communal products which do not involve any great cost on my part. They go  along nicely with a sort of congenial friendship which is shared by believers and non believers alike. 

    But the Church of Christ is more. Much much more. The members of the body of Christ participate in each other the way the cells of a body do. Because they are not merely additions of similar bodies next to each other, as in a cinema or a theater, or a church assembly of the most common type. They are seen as interdependent with each other, and if one member suffers all are affected. That is the downside of participation. It is the same in marriage as in body life of the Church: for better or worse. 

For just as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body—though many—are one body, so too is Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body."

 "Instead, God has blended together the body, giving greater honor to the lesser member, so that there may be no division in the body, but the members may have mutual concern for one another. If one member suffers, everyone suffers with it. If a member is honored, all rejoice with it."

    Yes, this the 'body talk' of the Holy Spirit. We have heard of it, but few have as yet seen it. But the phrase from the 'Grace' maintains it as a distinct possibility, indeed, a necessity because it is this understanding that amounts to the Church of Christ. And no other organisation can take its place. 

    In the world of sports this essential element of fellowship is the difference between an assembly of players and a team of players. In the optimized team the common goal is the basis for the common discipline. What they train for is to have every player totally instructed in his role based on his skill and the coach's overall plan for each event. Concepts like 'team spirit' are well known, but they are a different kind than the 'team made by the Spirit'.

    This word common is at the heart of communion and fellowship both in the secular world and in the spiritual. The language of the NT is the "Koine" Greek, meaning the common hedgerow basic language, the 'lingua franca', which most people knew at the time of Christ. Whether Roman, Greek, Hebrew, Aramean, or any other, they all had this basic means of communication.  The Holy Spirit choose to let Koine Greek be the language for the transmission of the Good news. To make it available to all, to make it the common basis for all communion. The common is then shared between those who enter into companionship with each other. The result is Koinonia, i e shared fellowship.

The fellowship of the Holy Spirit includes these specified areas:

In the gospel

    "I thank my God every time I remember you. I always pray with joy in my every prayer for all of you  because of your participation (koinonia) in the gospel from the first day until now."  To the Philippian Church Paul attributes a sharing in the blessings and obligations that follow from the gospel. From day one, when he had shared the good news with them, he found those who had understood and committed themselves to take part in this revolutionary world view and revelation of God in Christ. And because they had become 'shareholders' in the eternal inheritance to come, they were willing to take their part in the propulsion of love which made it impossible not to pass this message on. The gospel was not an alternative world view. It was the only true one.

In the Faith

    "I pray that the faith you share (koinonia) with us may deepen your understanding of every blessing that belongs to you in Christ. I have had great joy and encouragement because of your love, for the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother." To the apostle it was absolutely clear that growth in understanding of our blessings in Christ came from the sharing of what each was taught to the others. This again is an echo of what he elsewhere declares to be the way Church works: "The building up of the Church by the support given by each and every member of the Body." Hearts are refreshed by contact and sharing of the common Faith with each other. It is never said to be the result of evangelical monologue.

In the Son

     "God is faithful, by whom you were called into fellowship (koinonia) with his son, Jesus Christ our Lord." The use of the word 'to believe' is in the NT generally connected to 'entrusting myself to him in whom I believe.  And to believe is immediately connected to the "faithfulness" of the One in whom I believe. It is consistently declared that the fact of my faith is on a lower rung of the ladder than in Whom I believe, That is why doctrinal correctness not infrequently is a perfect escape from knowing HIM, because theologically you 'know it all'. "He who thinks that he knows, knows not as yet as he ought to." And in the most concentrated form of all: "But I am not ashamed, because I know the one in whom my faith is set and I am convinced that he is able to protect what has been entrusted to me until that day."  In whom, not only in what..What has Christ entrusted to his own? Himself.

In the fellowship of the right hand

  "..when James, Cephas, and John, who had a reputation as pillars, recognized the grace that had been given to me, they gave to Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, (koinonias) agreeing that we would go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised."  The apostle Paul, who even in his own eyes was the least of the apostles, as one late born, was so totally convinced of his mission and task that he had little concern for the approval of any hierarchy of the Church until after 14 years of ministry. And then his journey to Jerusalem was by a direct revelation from the Lord. He presented his ministry, gave account, and was found to have received the same grace as the 'pillars' of the Jerusalem apostles. (So much for apostolic succession.) To the eternal recognition of those giants of the Church they totally and fully acknowledged that this ex-murderer and pursuer of the faithful was fully accredited by the Lord and therefore they could not possibly withhold from Paul and Barnabas the full 'right hand of fellowship'. In other words, on the strength of the testimony of the fruit of their work they we accepted in the most encompassing way. When this grace is in operation then the church shows the true fruit of fellowship. "He who is not against us is for us."

In the fellowship of the Lord's supper

 "I am speaking to thoughtful people. Consider what I say. Is not the cup of blessing that we bless a sharing (Koinonia) in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread that we break a sharing in the body of Christ?  Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all share the one bread."

    Evangelical tradition has been repulsed by the hocus pocus of  'transsubstantiation' of the Roman  Church to the extent that it has fallen into the opposite ditch of denying any other element of the 'breaking of bread' than 'do it in remembrance of me'.   In so doing the evangelicals deny the very idea that the communion means anything at all to do with 'sharing' Christ.   It is therefore offering the believers less than the Holy Spirit declared about this utterly different meal. The lack of discernment between the Lord's table and the common dinning table that was rife in Corinth had led to spiritual anemia and even death because the partaking was done with no sense of the holy. Partaking wrongly had disastrous consequences, partaking correctly therefore has lifegiving and faith strengthening consequences. But if all you do is use it as a postcard from a place visited in the past, then you will not partake of Christ but only of a memory. That is the more serious as it empties the idea of fellowship and mutual sharing which Jesus in his last supper laid down for the Church's first supper.

    "I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.  This is the bread that has come down from heaven, so that a person may eat from it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats from this bread he will live forever. The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

    "Jesus said to them, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves. The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood resides in me, and I in him." Read: koinonia..

    But of all this all that is left is a formality: remember his death. But participation means something utterly and totally different. Discerning the difference is a life and death issue. By remembering a meal that you once ate no belly is ever fed. To reduce the fellowship in Christ to a memory is like answering the need of a starving man by painting a ham sandwich to him in response to his hunger. Fellowship may be based on the very fundamental concept of 'having in common', but common it is not, in fact it is rare.

Fellowship of the Holy Spirit

"The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship (koinonia) of the Holy Spirit be with you all."

To walk in the Spirit, to fellowship with God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, to enjoy the fellowship of the Spirit, are all part and parcel of the work of the Holy Spirit. God is Spirit, they who worship must do so in Spirit, and can only do it by the indwelling Spirit. Koinonia is participation and communion, if it is anything at all except words. That is why this last greeting of Paul is more than a way to end his letter, It is the capstone to crown a building. "
Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice, set things right, be encouraged, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all."

    Surely it seems absurd that this final greeting is used only as a way to tell God and each other that "now we have done with our worship for this time, see you all in a week." When in fact it is a direct call to action for the next 6 days: "Rejoice, that your names are written in heaven." "If there is anything wrong, start setting it right, translate your worship into work." "Encourage every faint hearted believer"."Be peacemakers if you want peace." "Where enmity is maintained the peace of God is not." "Greet, receive, acknowledge and respect one another in the symbolism of a friend's kiss."  "All saints are recognized by them greeting all other saints, being no respecters of persons, denominations or Church affiliations."

    And it takes all of the Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit to do it.

    So why is it reduced to a formality in the program for what we, totally without any warrant from the Word of God, call Divine Service, and not a marching order? The answer is along the lines of the analogue to the sports team. The team is not functioning until they are on site at the Cycle racing track, or on the Football field. It is when the match is on that the team spirit manifests itself. All written manifestos and ambitions come up trumps or fall down as wannabees only once the game starts. While sitting in the bus on the way to the venue then all there is is mere words. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

    The Church of Christ is forever sitting in the bus travelling to a match which never starts. Or it sits in the locker room praying to receive what it needs for the fight, but stays there until it receives something that allows them to avoid going out into the field. It is talking of a fellowship rarely realized, claiming to possess powers barely visible or in use. And often, when she gets to the park, leaves walk over.  Why is it not triumphant? Jeremia knew.

“If you have run with the footmen, and they have wearied you,
Then how can you contend with horses?
And if in the land of peace,
In which you trusted, they wearied you,
Then how will you do in the floodplain of the Jordan?
For even your brothers, the house of your father,
Even they have dealt treacherously with you;
Yes, they have called a multitude after you.
Do not believe them,
Even though they speak smooth words to you."

While sitting in the bus all are still heroes. And saying the grace almost always means 'closing time', no need for further action. The commander of the Army of the Lord says: about turn! "You did not so learn Christ."

Teddy Donobauer, Doncaster 24th August 2021




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