We meet together because by God's grace we belong together. We have all heard the one gospel, received the same Spirit, and been united as members in the one body of the Son. We meet to express the fellowship in Christ that is God's gift to us. Unbelievers may be present and should be welcomed, but the primary purpose of the regular gathering is not to evangelise unbelievers.

Reflection: Read 1 Corinthians 14: 23-5 and consider how unbelievers might be converted in the course of an ordinary church meeting.

 

  • What should we do to make sure that they are not hindered in understanding the gospel?
  • In what positive ways should our gatherings take account of the presence of unbelievers?

 

The nature of Christian fellowship

Christian fellowship is a sharing together in Christ and the benefits of his salvation, not merely friendship with like-minded people. We participate in something beyond ourselves. We are always in fellowship with each other and the Father through the Spirit (Ephesians 2:18), because we are all members of the heavenly assembly of Christ. We have believed the apostolic witnesses and share in the apostles' fellowship with the Father and the Son (John 17:20-3; 1 John 1:2-3).

Nevertheless, there is a practical demonstration and experience of that fellowship when Christians assemble here on earth (Acts 2:42-47). Encountering God together shapes the nature of our relationship with God and determines the nature of our relationships as the community of Christ. We are addressed by God as a congregation of his people, and respond together in prayer, praise, and submission to his will. We grow together in him and share together in the grace he bestows (Ephesians 4:11-16).

The presence of God

Matthew 18:20 and 1 Corinthians 5:3-5 indicate that the Lord Jesus Christ is truly present when his people gather in his name. While these passages focus on meeting to make disciplinary decisions, the promise of Christ's presence applies to any assembly in the name of the Lord. He speaks through the gospel and the Scriptures (Colossians 3:16; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 3:7-11), and through Spirit-directed ministries of exhortation, admonition, and encouragement to one another (1 Thessalonians 5:14-23; Hebrews  3:12-15; 10:24-5). Christian assemblies may therefore be referred to as 'God's temple', because God's Spirit is living and working in and among his people (1 Corinthians 3:6-7; 2 Corinthians 6:16).

The Lord's Supper

The Lord's Supper is a particular way of expressing our fellowship in the Lord, since it is 'a participation together' or means of sharing together in the benefits of Christ's sacrifice (1 Corinthians 10:16). Paul makes it clear that this is only possible because Christ as the 'one bread' has brought us together as 'one body' (10:17). 'Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrifice for us' ( 5:7), and his death has formed the new people of God. For this reason, believers must behave considerately towards one another, 'discerning the body' (11:29) in their gathering. Only through displaying love for one another in sharing this meal together do we truly 'proclaim the Lord's death until he comes' (11:26). The power of the cross is seen in the reality of Christian fellowship.

Confessing together

Confession in the New Testament means the open and verbal acknowledgement of the truth about Jesus and about ourselves. We confess with our mouths that Jesus is the Lord Christ, the Son of God, who saves and gives eternal life (Romans 10:9-10; 1 Corinthians 12:3; Hebrews 3:1). This should characterise our praise and public testimony to Christ in every sphere of life. But confession may also be an open acknowledgement to each other and to God of our sinfulness and continuing need for the grace of salvation (1 John 1:8-10; Hebrews 4:14-16; James 5:16). When we gather, we testify to one another what is in our hearts, both the sin that remains with us, and our faith in the Lord Jesus for pardon and cleansing.

Praying together

Prayer is another way we verbalize our faith and express our fellowship together in Christ. Prayer is fundamental to the Christian life and foundational to congregational ministry. As we pour out our requests and petitions to the Father, we give vital expression to our trust in his goodness and power. We should pray in faith for each other (James 5:15; Acts 4:23-31), for the progress of the gospel (2 Thessalonians 3:1), for rulers and the communities in which we live (1 Timothy 2:1-2), for the coming of God's kingdom and for our everyday needs in the meanwhile (Mtatthew 6:9-13).

Shared ministries and generous giving

Christian fellowship is also expressed through the commissioning, sending and support of gospel workers (Acts 13:3; 18:27-8). It is further expressed through the sharing of news about the work, with encouragements to pray (Acts 4:23-31; 14:26-8). Generous giving to those in need (Acts 4:34-7; 11:27-30), or to support gospel ministry (Philippians 4:10-19; 1 Timothy 5:17-18), is a particular indication that God's grace has penetrated the hearts of his people and moved them to respond with love. The collection and distribution of money is clearly an important aspect of the fellowship of believers (1 Corinthians 16:1-2; 2 Corinthians 8-9), and 'an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God' (Philippians 4:18; Hebrews 13:16). Eating meals together and providing hospitality, particularly for those who are engaged in gospel ministry, can be further practical ways of expressing our fellowship together in the Lord (Acts 2:42; 16:15; 20:7-11; 27:3; Romans 12:13; 1 Peter 4:9).

Baptism

Baptism is part of the process of bringing people to Christ and making them his disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). The salvation promised in the gospel is offered through baptism and is secured through repentance and faith (Acts 2:38-9). Those who are drawn to the Lord in this way are added to his church (Acts 2:41-7). Although some baptisms in the New Testament took place in isolation (Acts 8:36-8; 9:17-18), others were more public (Acts 10:44-8; 16:14-15, 32-4). Christians have traditionally sought to baptise in the context of Christian assembly, to testify to the reception of salvation and membership of the body of Christ and to express the corporate implications of discipleship.

Next: Building towards maturity in Christ

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