This is part 3 of a series. Read part one and part two.
In the last we looked at coming into fellowship, or membership and what that might look like. There are still some questions to be answered, with the Lord’s help, we’ll address them.
Should local churches set time aside for fellowship?
If, you define fellowship as a meal, then yes and frequently. But, I would hope that the previous article showed fellowship is so much more than simply eating together.
If, the aim of fellowship is an outworking of love, that is, an opportunity to build one another up, then definitely there should be time for fellowship to occur, during meetings of the church, and outside of them. Does it need to be scheduled? It might, but I wouldn’t think a group so bound by love would need to.
What does it look like to be in fellowship?
In a local gathering, there should be clarity as to whom is in fellowship and who is not. I don’t mean name cards or uniforms, but the acts of service should be so telling, that even a visitor can see when this fella has a vested interest in the welfare and growth of that fella over there. Or I wonder if those two are related, because they act like they love each other.
Being in fellowship means you get to be a blessing to others and partake in their blessings toward you, be they words of exhortation or comfort, or labor, or compassion, or expressions of love. One point that should not be argued by any believer, we are commanded to love one another.
This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved youJohn 15:12
Conversely, then out of fellowship should reflect some measure of distance, less intimacy. Not that we don’t love others, but, this is intentionally vague, there should be some distinction.
Additional “love one another” verses
- John 13:34
- John 15:12, 17
- Romans 13:8
- 1 Thessalonians 4:9
- 1 Peter 1:22
- 1 John 3:11, 23
- 1 John 4:7, 11, 12
- 2 John 1:5
How should someone be brought into fellowship?
Primarily, there are two circumstances under which this should happen: a newly converted soul is being added, or a saint is now choosing to labor with your local church, with the blessing of their last church.
Formally, however scripture is silent. Some churches may have a team or committee, it may require a meeting with their leadership or pastor. I do think there is latitude on the process. Though, I agree with many church webpages that discuss “membership”, that it is paramount to discern where one stands with the Lord. One cannot be part of a called-out company if they have never been called-out. Moreover, it would be a tragic mistake to attempt to live out externally what has never happened internally. Testimony here is helpful.
In times past, a letter was sent to clarify a brother or sister’s fellowship with a local church, and Paul wrote of these letters in his letters. It makes sense if you are moving to a new area and don’t have many direct connections to have such a letter. It seems both expedient and logical to read the letter to those in fellowship.
In principle the whole group should be aware of one’s intentions to be added to their number. The whole group should be of one accord about what that means. The whole group should love the new member of their fellowship with the same energy as that 90-something saint that was there when the bricks were laid.
I feel burdened to write again that leaving a fellowship of believers should be on good terms. There should be a sending out, not chased out, or running away. Like the saints sending Paul and Barnabas to the work the Lord had for them, or the church at Ephesus weeping when Paul sailed to Jerusalem.
To leave because of a rift or offense seems unloving. It will cause pain, division and provide seemingly no plan or outlook for reconciliation. Nobody wins. You may disagree, and that’s your prerogative. I ask you though, what will you say to the Lord Christ at the Bema, if you leave because of a personal slight or perceived infraction?
“Jesus, Lord, I loved you with all of my being. Except for that part of you in Anytown, USA. Yes, …that group of blood bought believers, …that part of your body, that person who is Your bride… them I didn’t love.”
Is there another way the Lord of glory should look at it? Let that sink in deeply, if you are contemplating leaving a fellowship.
How should someone be removed from fellowship?
I’ll briefly touch on the discipline aspect. The bible is clear as to what should happen in general terms. Paul writes “not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is…” committing a number of evil acts. Then he commands they, the church, is to “put away from yourselves the evil person,” quoting Deuteronomy 17, 19, 22 & 24.
This has specific requirements, specific circumstances and is done with an aim of restoration. Still, there isn’t a formula in God’s word as to how this should occur formally.
If, however, one is moving across the state there is a separation of fellowship, but the believer should be sent with blessings. Though, it is hard to imagine that they ever really leave your fellowship. I still labor in prayer for saints who are in foreign lands or the other side of town.
What does this all mean?
The salient point in all of this is that we are called to something more than just belonging to a group. The group is beyond human design and functioning in it requires divine input. The efforts and aims of this group are beyond the highest human goals. Membership is a pretty exclusive group and it comes at an awfully high cost, the blood of God’s own Son.