Apostolic Fellowship

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Galatians 1:1-24

One of the truly important New Testament words is koinonia, which means communion or fellowship. It’s also the second mark of an authentic Christian church.

Do you know the difference between description and prescription? Well, it’s simple, isn’t it? If your friend is describing something to you she’s telling you what she saw. If your doctor is prescribing something to you, he’s telling you what to do. So the question when we come to a narrative passage of scripture is this: is a situation simply being described for us here, or is this a prescription that we’re intended to follow?

When we come to a passage like Acts 2:42, I think the answer clearly is that it is both:

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. . . .

This is, in one sense, a simple description of the early church. This is how the first Christians lived. But more than that, I’m sure that we’re meant to see the marks Luke describes here as a prescription to be applied to every church that seeks to be authentically Christian. Listen to what Calvin says in his commentary on this passage: “Luke . . . defines four marks by which the true and genuine appearance of the church may be distinguished. Do we seek the true church of Christ? The picture of it is here painted to the life.”

Koinonia

Today I want to consider the second of those marks: fellowship. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship.” “Fellowship” is the familiar New Testament word koinonia, whose root meaning is “that which is common” ??” not common in the sense of “run-of-the-mill” (common as opposed to special), but common in the sense of “what is shared together,” common as in communal, community, communion. Dietrich Bonhoffer, the great German Christian theologian who was martyred by the Nazis, entitled his last book (a book about the life of the church), simply this: Life Together. Koinonia is what we share with one another in the body of Christ: it’s our common life, our community of faith, the communion of the saints. That is what is meant by “apostolic fellowship,” and it is a hallmark of the life of the Christian church.

Human beings were made for community. How could it be otherwise, for God made us like himself, and God ??” the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit ??” is himself an eternal community of love. As creatures made in his image we, too, need to give and receive love. We cannot flourish in any other way. “It is not good,” the Lord said, “that man should be alone.” And he meant it. The church is God’s plan for providing that fellowship without which we cannot live as human beings. So many counterfeit ways of finding community are being sought by people who need what the church was designed by God to provide: a place where they can know and be known, where people can love and be loved; a place where anything can be said and shared, where people are unshockable because all are a company of sinners together; a place where secrets and confidences can be kept, and where acceptance can be extended on the basis only of the cross and not on the basis of any human merit. That is God’s design for the fellowship of the church.

Two Truths

Now listen to a couple of hard truths. Here’s the first one: authentic Christian life can only be lived in the community of the church. This is a truth we see plainly on the pages here of the book of Acts and elsewhere throughout the New Testament. Let me put it even more bluntly: you can’t be a real Christian all by yourself, outside the church. I call this a hard truth because it’s hard to accept in a society like ours so driven by individualism. In fact, many of us have a faulty idea not only of what it means to be a Christian but how one becomes a Christian.

Christianity is not a religion of isolated individuals. God is not merely in the business of selecting souls here and there in order to save them. God is in the business of creating a new society, a community built on the foundation of Jesus Christ. To become a Christian takes more than simply accepting Christ. Well, of course, that is a fundamental need. But that’s not what makes you a Christian, at least not that alone.

What makes you a Christian is not just accepting Christ, but joining the church. The conclusion of Acts 2 says this: “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” According to Luke, it’s quite straightforward. When God saves anyone he adds them to the church. That is why Christian theology has made the audacious claim that outside the church there’s no salvation.

Now I can’t think of very many biblical truths that are more out of sync with our society and our culture than this one. We are a nation of hyper-individualists. We are rapidly approaching the state in which Americans will have 300 million different religions, each of which has but one adherent. Even among Christians there’s a cafeteria approach to Christianity where people want to pick and choose which things they accept and which things they reject from the faith of the church. How often have you heard someone claim, “I don’t need to go to church to be a Christian”? The biblical view is quite different.

In the biblical view you cannot have a real relationship with Jesus Christ unless you also have a real relationship with his body, the church. Trying to be a Christian all by yourself is a little like trying to clap one-handed. So this is hard truth number one. And it’s hard for us to accept because it cuts against our individualistic grain. But here it is: to be an authentic Christian demands that we also be part of the fellowship of the church.

Now for hard truth #2: to be an authentic fellowship our Christian community must go far beyond the superficial ways in which we tend to think of Christian fellowship. After all, we have fellowship halls in our churches, fellowship hours after the morning service, and fellowship gatherings in our homes as well. That’s all fine. But authentic community must go much further, and that is hard. Not hard to understand ??” I think we all get it ??” but hard to do.

Acts 2 tells us that the church in Jerusalem shared five specific things together in their fellowship. First, they shared belief. Luke says that “all who believed were together” (v. 44). A commitment to the apostles’ teaching precedes the experience of the apostles’ fellowship. If you don’t believe then there’s no basis for Christian communion. So the first thing the church in Jerusalem shared was their faith.

The second thing they shared was time. “All who believed,” Luke says, “were together.” Now that isn’t so hard to grasp. The early Christians shared each other’s lives. I’ve seen this so often in parts of the world where the church is a beleaguered minority. The believers in those places where it’s really tough to be a Christian covet the time they can spend together. It’s not a hardship for them to go to church, that is, if they even have a church, or to gather in a home if they don’t. I remember looking once at some pictures of a house fellowship in Iran, and I noticed there was a cake. “What’s going on here?” I asked. The Iranian brothers and sisters told me, “Oh, we always celebrate birthdays together as a church.” I caught in that moment a glimpse of the book of Acts. Apostolic churches are places where believers who have been ostracized from family or friends for the sake of Christ turn to one another for fellowship and support.

The third thing these Christians shared was their possessions. Luke says. “. . . and all who believed were together and had all things in common . . . They were selling their possessions and . . . distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need” (vv. 44-45). So are Christians supposed to be, not just communal, but Communistic? We do read in Acts that this sharing of property was voluntary, not compulsory. It also seems to have been temporary. But the lasting principle is that those who have must be willing to give to those who don’t. That is how real Christians live. That is how community is expressed: by meeting real needs. The first Christians shared their money with one another. Do we?

They also shared in worship together. “Day by day,” Luke says, these believers were “attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, and they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people” (vv. 46-47). So they worshiped both in the temple (that is in public, with great numbers of people), and in their homes (in smaller, more intimate settings.) They shared in worship, formal and informal, public and private. And, of course, last but not least, they shared their food with one another. (Acts 2:46 is a justification, if one were needed, for every church pot luck and Sunday school picnic ever held!) So the first Christians of Jerusalem shared these five things: they shared faith, they shared time, they shared possessions, they shared in worship, and they shared meals.

And I read this, and ask, Why can’t my church be more like that? How could we make fellowship more real? And I reply, “I don’t know. I don’t have an answer.” But I do know it’s good to ask these question. It’s true we live in a different time and in a different culture. We have a different form of government, different ways to help the needy. Almost everything about our life is different, except this: surely such community, such koinonia, must be at the heart of our church’s lives, too. And I also know this. If we could even begin to do church more like this, the Lord would be adding to our number daily those who are being saved.