For the last 8 years of my life, I have been involved in a Baptist church. I was actually raised Presbyterian, but I somehow wound up in the Baptist church, and over the years I have learned a lot about Baptists that I never knew before. One thing in particular that I have learned is that they NEVER gather together without food. Potluck dinners, barbecues, dessert parties–these have all served as the central component of fellowship events that I’ve attended with other Baptists. We like to eat, and we like to eat together.
Well this brings me to the next mark of the Church that we find in Acts 2:42-47–Fellowship. For a lot of Christians, the word “fellowship” means fun time with friends, or gatherings and get togethers with other Christians. For Baptists, it often means homemade food, and lots of it! 🙂 And while that is a component of fellowship, it is not what makes fellowship a central mark of the Church.
True Christian fellowship, fellowship that builds up the Church and defines its basic character, is not simply friendship between Christians. True Christian fellowship occurs when Christ is *actively* placed at the center of a friendship, group of people, event, or time together. Just because a bunch of Christians hang out together does not mean fellowship is occuring. In fact, it can be quite the opposite. The people who have pulled me down the most in my life have often been other Christians, because I trusted their judgment more and didn’t challenge them when they made poor decisions. Christ was anything BUT the center of our interactions.
You can see this phenomenon of mutual tearing-down play out in a variety of ways. I remember one time when I hung out at a guy friend’s apartment, and when I walked through the door I saw that a group of my friends were watching an R rated movie that had an explicit sex scene in it. The situation was very uncomfortable for me because all the guys were watching the sex scene transpire, yet none of them were objecting to it. If one person had just stood up and said something, the guys would have probably flipped it off immediately, but no one did. So they all watched it together, and they all pulled one another down with their passivity.
Other examples of this non-fellowshipping fellowship include the music we listen to together, how much we drink together (I know a LOT of Christians who push the limits of sobriety in the name of Christian liberty), the way we dance together (fyi, it’s not cool to grind up on a guy no matter where you are or how godly he is!), the way we gossip with one another, and so on. In all of these situations, we are by no means fellowshipping with one another, because we have placed some other idol at the center of the relationship, rather than Christ.
With all of that in mind, true fellowship requires a great degree of intention–you can’t just approach it passively. You cannot assume that because you’re all Christians, your time together will be edifying. You have to *actively* place Christ at the center.
And that is the very definition of the Church. The Church, being the Body of Christ, derives its very identity from Christ. It does not exist apart from Christ. We can go in a building and sing songs and eat food, but if Christ is not the core of it, then that is not the Church. In this way, fellowship is a mark of the Church because it describes a group of Christians who are coming together, actively acknolwedging the source of their identity and their relationship with one another–Jesus Christ.
So take a look at your friendships, and ask yourself what is at the center of them. What kinds of things do you talk about on a regular basis? No, you don’t always have to be discussing theological abstractions and spiritual insights, but if you can’t remember the last time you asked one of your friends how they’re doing spiritually, then that’s a problem. If Christ is truly at the center of our lives, then he should always be on the tips of our tongues, an easy source of conversation and thought. We all need fellowship, but it does not come naturally no matter how many Christians you hang around. We need to work together. That work is fellowship.