Christian Fellowship is an Experience, not a Membership System

In answer to my paper on What do we mean by Christian Fellowship?
Brother Jim in Scotland writes:

The essence of my current view of Christian fellowship is that it is experience and not a membership system.

Paul went to Corinth in Acts 18 and, as was his custom, made his way to the synagogue. When it was finally clear that his message was firmly rejected by the Jews, he said that he would go to the nations. However, he was received by Justus; Crispus believed with all his house and many of the Corinthians, who had heard and believed, were baptised.

These people, from diverse backgrounds, now had the things relating to the faith of Jesus Christ in common in every circumstance of life. Whether they met together by arrangement or bumped into one another in the street, they had a link, related to their common faith, which they had with no others. This was Christian fellowship. It was known to them before Paul wrote his first letter to them. In chapter 1 of his first letter, he refers to this known link and enlightens them as to its exalted level – it is the fellowship of God’s Son. FER refers to having the things before we have the words and I think that this applies here.

I seem to discern believers amongst ban elaboration of Paul’s statement that the Corinthians had been called into the fellowship of God’s Son with which I am uncomfortable. It suggests that this is a calling, which is additional to the call in the gospel, and that there are those who have responded to the call in the gospel but have failed to respond to the call into the fellowship of God’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. I don’t accept this. It implies a division in the body of Christ between those who have entered into this fellowship and those who have failed to do so.

There is the intimation, in this point of view, that fellowship is a membership system which is narrower than membership of the body of Christ. It has been ministered that ‘we form an association and all the members of the association are governed by the same thoughts and feelings and ‘All those breaking bread form part of the association, as we all partake of one loaf.’ An inescapable conclusion from these statements is that those members of the body of Christ not breaking bread have no part in this membership system. Fellowship is thus defined as a membership system which is narrower than membership of the body of Christ. This is the definition of a sect.

There is no higher expression of that which Christians have in common, i.e. Christian fellowship, than participation in the breaking of bread but I think that it must be borne in mind that that we do this for a calling of Him to mind, according to His request. To make the breaking of bread the confirmation ritual of membership of a fellowship, which is narrower than membership of the body of Christ, is to degrade it from what was instituted by the Lord.

If, as I believe, fellowship is experience, expressions such as ‘a fellowship’, ‘the fellowship’, ‘in fellowship’ and ‘out of fellowship’ lose their force; they all seem to me to imply membership. We, very simply, walk with others and find fellowship with them as we do so. The scriptural warrant for this, which includes moral and spiritual requirements, is in 2 Tim 2 and 1 John 1.

You refer to FE Raven Vol. 17 p40-41. Also are relevant is Vol. 18, p.63: ‘I have nothing to do with anybody else save to walk with them’ and so on. I have the impression from his ministry in the USA in 1902 that FER had become increasingly concerned with the way in which brethren were institutionalising. My view is that this concern about “brethrenism” was disregarded and accounts for the development of corporatist views of fellowship.

One comment

  1. I believe you are right in your views expressed here. I have always understood that that is why we do not announce the Lord’s Supper for the next Lord’s Day. Each one comes on his own exercise to remember the Lord. When we gather each time it is a fresh statement of my desire to remember the Lord and it is “with those” others who on their own, without a membership requirement, wish to do the same.

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