Gospel Centered Fellowship: What You Are Missing if You’re Not Devoted to the Local Church

fellowship with the non-saved is never as rich as Gospel centered fellowship.

I remember being saved out of the world and wondering what was next. It was difficult to let go of my former associations and friendships. I thought to myself, ‘where do I go to find fellowship with like-minded believers’? This all consumed my mind as I lost every friend I had ever had. I am not saying that you can’t have non-Christian friends, I have many through my hobbies that I keep in order to share the Gospel; however, there are boundaries with non-Christians. The truth of the matter is that fellowship with the non-saved is never as rich as Gospel centered fellowship. In my search for fellowship I looked to the Bible for answers. I found Acts 2:42-47 and sought to mirror their Biblical example. Here are some important reminders as we seek Gospel centered fellowship.

Christians Are Responsible for Their Devotion to the Local Church  

 “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” - Acts 2:42

as new born babes in Christ, we cling to the Church for fellowship and nourishment.

The Bible has a wonderful example to follow. The Greek word here for ‘continually devoting themselves to’ is proskarterountes, a present active participle. Which suggests that the action is done by the subject… the souls who were saved. This means that the early Church personally and continually devoted themselves with a “perseverance that does not falter or fail.[1]” There is a Greek nuance here that indicates an unnecessarily large number of words (circumlocution) to get to the point of saying ‘devote yourself to the Church’.[2] The sense we get as the reader is that of a child clinging to their parent after birth. And as new born babes in Christ, we cling to the Church for fellowship and nourishment. We look to the Church as our source of spiritual maturing and sanctification. But also our embassy away from this perverse world. Sadly, so many professing Christians lose out on true fellowship because they resist local Church fellowship. As Christians, we need to be under the consistent teaching of a local Church just as a Child needs correction from their parents. In the early Church we see the teaching of a local Church lead to fellowship and ordinances (baptism and communion). God always intended fellowship to happen in a local Church, not online or without the authority of elders. The local Church will provide you with the knowledge of Scripture to live against the world and learn more about prayer. Hebrews even reminds us that the assembly of Church brings more hope, more stimulating one another to love and good deeds, and more encouragement (Heb. 10: 23-25).

Christian Fellowship Prioritizes Spiritual Development, Leading to Physical Care

“43 Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. 44 And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; 45 and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. 46 Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.” – Acts 2:43-47

The Christian life was never meant to be lived in a vacuum. The word for fellowship in Acts 2:42 is koinonia, which is a “close mutual association” brought by the Spirit and rooted in the Father with His Son (1Jn 1:3; 1Co 1:9).[3] Fellowship begins in the Spirit by growing alongside one another in teaching and ordinances, and eventually expands to meeting the spiritual and physical needs of one another. The early Church grew so much spiritually that it fostered Gospel growth (Acts 2:43, 47), sharing and caring for one another (Acts 2:44), unity (Acts 2:45-46), and praise (Acts 2:47). This includes helping those with financial needs or even food. However, in the early Church, even Deacons had to be consistent in fellowship if they were to get help from the Church (1 Tim 5:1-16). Many Churches have a ‘deacons’ fund that allows them to help faithful believers who may be struggling physically. Acts 6 and 1 Timothy 5 are good examples of a Church caring for the physical needs of faithful members. The fellowship in the Word (as seen in Acts 2:42) fosters a care for one another that can’t be accomplished in socialism or society, but uniquely belongs to the Church. All Christians need spiritual accountability, prayer, and teaching in order to grow. And all Christians need to make sure that their spiritual growth is alongside others. We see that the Gospel centered fellowship points us to the light so that we may be complete in our joy (1 John 1:3-4). We can’t let our joy be less complete by distancing ourselves from Gospel centered fellowship. Instead, Christians prioritize spiritual fellowship and by doing so, Christians become acutely aware of the physical needs in the Church. John actually says in 1 John 3:17 that “whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?” John would certainty agree that loving one another is the product of Gospel centered fellowship.

What If It’s Not Safe to Fellowship?

A Lesson from Church History – The Early Church grew and gathered in difficult times: with disease, viruses, and danger. The early Church knew danger, and they cared far more about the joy of fellowshipping with like-minded believers. When we consider the underground Churches in the New Testament and their journey during times of intense persecution, we see that fellowship continues no matter the presence of danger or persecution. In fact, in the first 300 years of the Church, the threat of persecution was so prevalent that the Church met secretly. However, in the mid 4th century Constantine began to sympathize with the God of Christianity and stopped the threat of persecution; allowing the public worship of Christians in official Church buildings.[4] But what was the social life of Christians before they were allowed to fellowship publicly? Justin Martyr speaks in regards to the social life of the Church in the midst of the prevalent 2nd Century persecution:

“all those [believers] who live in the cities or the fields gather…read[ing] from the memoirs of the apostles…urging us to follow these beautiful examples. Immediately after this, we all stand as one and raise our prayers, after which…bread, wine, and water are offered…[and then] follows the distribution and partaking of  the nourishment.”[5]

Fellowship during the persecution was no different than it was in Acts 2:42-47. It was consistent with Scripture.  

the advancement of the Gospel has never happened as the result of those who fear death.

A Lesson from MissionsIn missions, it has rarely been safe for those who left everything to share the Gospel. Many missionaries suffered from virus’ just to share the Gospel. For example, consider the life of Ashbel Green Simonton who planted the Presbyterian Church of Brazil. He visited Brazil in a difficult time, without the promise of safe travel or even vaccines. He soon lost his wife after giving birth to their child and eventually died himself from yellow fever. However, his work still lives on in the fellowship of the Presbyterian Church of Brazil. I know there are personal conscience issues that we don’t have time to address here; however, the advancement of the Gospel has never happened as the result of those who fear death. Our spiritual fellowship should be valued far greater than our physical life. If Jesus is our example, we should be willing to suffer in order to show the joy of Gospel centered fellowship to those who have never been given the chance. Jesus said in Mark 8:35-36, “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?”

In conclusion

After looking at Scripture and Church history, Christians are to experience the joys of Gospel centered fellowship because it is advantageous for us. The Church needs fellowship the most because we experience loneliness in this world, especially when the world gets darker and more evil. The Church is the one place that allows us to consistently draw closer to the light with one another (John 3:16-21). Here are several questions to ask ourselves and steady our heart for Gospel centered fellowship:

-Has the Gospel led us to believe that in-person fellowship in the local Church is greater than security in this life and world?
-Am I resting in my spiritual well-being more than my physical well-being?
-Would I be willing to die for the sake of Gospel growth or others spiritual maturing and fellowship?

I hope this article helps you become more devoted to Gospel Centered Fellowship.

[1] Spicq, C., & Ernest, J. D. (1994). Theological lexicon of the New Testament (Vol. 3, p. 193). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers. [2] Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament with Scripture, Subject, and Greek Word Indexes (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan Academic, 1997), 647–649. [3] Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament) (electronic ed.). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc. [4] Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, Vol. 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation, 2nd edition. (New York: HarperOne, 2010), 137–149. [5] Ibid., 109.

David J. Lupinetti is the Associate Pastor at San Tan Bible Church in Arizona. He has a passion for Expository Preaching, Biblical Counseling, Discipleship, and Evangelism.

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