Salvation and Fellowship
Entering into fellowship with the church is a key aspect of salvation. In Hebrews 10, the author begins with the gospel to support the exhortations to follow:
“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God,…” (v. 19-21)
The words “therefore” and “since” indicates there is an imperative or truth which will be the resulting conclusion of this statement regarding salvation. Continuing on, the passage reads:
“…let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful…” (v.22-23)
These commands seem like they could be focused on personal thoughts or spiritual disciplines, such as private prayer. However, the use of “our”, “us”, and the following verses indicate these actions are to be carried out with other believers.
”And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (v. 24-25)
An imperative of having received salvation is meeting together in a local church body with fervor “all the more” as we look to Christ’s coming. In Revelation, we see people from every tribe and tongue praising God; worship is corporate not solitary. Our praise of God individually finds its ultimate use in worshipping with other believers at church. If Heaven, our future hope, will be corporate worship, then we should desire our lives to reflect and enjoy fellowship.
In 1 John 1:3-4, John chooses to point out first the fellowship that will be between him and those he is writing to as result of proclaiming the gospel, rather than how the gospel saves souls: “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us.” John continues,
“…and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ… But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” (v.3,7).
However, this fellowship cannot exist in exclusion to fellowship with the Father and Son. The union and relationship we have with God is unending and all-encompassing. This fellowship is distinct from worldly examples where we have different circles of relationships we step in and out of and can remain separate from each other. The fellowship believers should strive for is one that emulates the fellowship found in the Trinity. Jesus on the night before his crucifixion prayed,
“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. … “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us,” (John 17:17, 20-21).
Also in I Corinthians 12, the church is described as the many members of Christ’s one body, who were baptized in and drink the same one Spirit (v.12-13).That is why Paul could say in Colossians 2:5, “For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.” Thus, having true fellowship with the church would indicate we have fellowship with God, and vice versa.
One of the signs that we have been saved and God abides in us is if we love other believers.There are many other things that show we abide in God such as the Spirit and our confession that Jesus is God’s son (1 John 4:13,15), but these must be present along with loving the fellow brethren.
“No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us”… If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” (1 John 4:12)
Growing the Church and Fellowship
Fellowship with other believers is key to the Great Commission. Living our faith alone is extremely ineffective for carrying about God’s plan of growing the church. Besides church fellowship being commanded, there is benefit from it. Wisdom recognizes,
“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! …And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken (Eclesiastes 4: 9-12)
A practical application of lifting another up is church discipline found in Matthew 18. However, confronting sin should be done in a “spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6:1).
There are many different ways we as believers could be with one another in secular contexts (BBQ, Disneyland trips), where fruitful, spiritual conversations can arise. However, there are certain spiritual events that must occur in a local church. Acts 2 tells us that the early church was “devoted to the apostles’ teaching”, “fellowship”, “breaking of bread”, and “prayer”.
The central focus of church gatherings is to proclaim the Word of God. If there is not a lesson, then the church is still applying what they learned. Even between the pastor and congregation, there is mutual encouragement. Because the pastor is up in the pulpit preaching and the congregation sits quietly in the pews, it may seem like he is giving truth and encouragement and we simply receive. However, in Romans 1:11-12 , Paul says, “For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you— that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.” What we learn from the sermon and then practice encourages the teacher. That is why just watching a video of a pastor without actually being in the congregation is not church; he cannot see you, talk to you, hear you worship, or see your spiritual growth.
Meeting together frequently with a local church is necessary to increase our love for one another.With continued fellowship, there is growing familiarity and unity. When there is no desire for a personal relationship, it is hard to have “ unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind “ for other believers (1 Peter 3:8). The relationship between believers was so strong in the early church that “... all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need,”(Acts 2:44-45).
The breaking of bread mentioned in Acts 2;42 refers to the ceremony of communion, which involves breaking the bread and drinking the wine in remembrance of Jesus Christ as the sacrifice for sin. Communion reminds and renews are commitment to Christ and his church. Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:23 begins his explanation of communion with, “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you,” focusing again that salvation is shared by believes.” Earlier in 1 Corinthians 10 Paul argued,
“The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread,” (v.16-17).
Then Paul proceeds in chapter 11, causing us to think on Jesus’ sacrifice .
“..the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” (v.23-25)
Our commitment to follow Christ is renewed in these words, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (v.26) The church together has taken communion and together committed to proclaim the gospel.
Finally, the church’s devotion to prayer includes individual and corporate prayer. Corporate prayer is important as it is us as a single unit coming to God with our praise, worries, and requests. There are multiple examples in Acts of believers coming together in order to pray for missions and those in prison (Acts 4:31,12:12,13:3). Our local church must likewise mimic the early church coming together to pray for the church and its members, for their burdens and that they would be used by God to His glory.