Summary: The basis of Christian fellowship and warnings about false attempts.
Fellowship or friendship?
Or when three is not a crowd
There was recently a debate on the name of the Salvation Army on the website armybarmy.com, one contributor, somewhat sarcastically, suggested that the name should be changed to the friendship club. In fact, corps and Churches often advertise their programmes as offering friendship. I am also reminded of a school near me whose Christian Union changed ists name to the happy club. But here John talks about fellowship rather than friendship as being the hallmark of a Christian group.
What is fellowship?
The Greek word which is translated by the English word fellowship is koinonia. It has the sense of their being a strong common bond and a shared experience and identity between people. If you have fellowship with somebody, it is more than simply enjoying their company, clicking with them, sharing with them or even putting yourself out for them. It is sharing an identity with them.
It is not only used in Christian settings, but can be used in other situations where there is a common bond, for example organisations such as Alcoholics Anonymous describe themselves as being fellowships.
It can also apply ot many other organisations and situations, where people in similar situations come together. We have just recalled the 80th anniversary of the start of the first world war, a terrible time of suffering for many people, particularly the troops in the frontline, who quickly developed a deep camaraderie and fellowship, which persisted after the war, as could be seen in the numerous veteran groups that formed, such as the Royal British Legion.
Indeed, common suffering seems to build fellowship and common identity particularly well. If we have been through illness or bereavement, we soon identify with and often seek out others with the same experiences. Sufferers and the families of many diseases form support groups, whenever I attend hospital on one of my epilepsy appointments, I am normally approached by a member of a support group seeing if I need additional information or support about my epilepsy. The bonds and relationships formed with these people can be very deep, sustaining, strengthening and satisfying. This is fellowship. Fellowship is sustaining and supporting.
What’s special about Christian fellowship?
The Christian Church, including the Salvation Army, is always talking about fellowship, but as we have said, there are many other types of fellowship and all sorts of organisations describe themselves as fellowships. So what then is special about Christian fellowship?
It is special and unique because our common identity is forged on our relationship with Jesus Christ and God his father. As John writes in verse 3 of chapter 1:-
and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.
Firstly then, Christian fellowship is about a bond with God. We are bound to him in deep spiritual communion with unbreakable bonds.
Secondly, our relationships with each other stem from this one. In verse 7:-