The Essential/Non-Essential Doctrine Debacle
Fellowship is a State, not a Command
Unity must precede fellowship; fellowship depends on unity.
Fellowship, considered by itself, is powerless to establish and maintain true unity. But, when you turn the statement around, in the presence of true unity there will be true fellowship. It can't be otherwise.
Where there is real, identifiable, humble and willing commonality of mind and purpose there will be fellowship Where these are lacking, true unity is impossible, and it is also true that it can’t be otherwise.
Astonishingly, this simple point is missed by most churches today. To borrow one of the Lord’s descriptive phrases and apply it to this context, these churches apply whitewash over the real cracks in their “unity” in the self-destructive and self-contradictory hope that those divisions will, somehow, magically disappear under the "spackling" of their so-called "fellowship".
Of course, the Lord sees through all of it for the masquerade that it is.
This biblical principle is easy to prove. Involved are two Greek nouns (κοινός, κοινωνία):
- κοινός [G2839 (koinos): common (positive, as in “shared”; negative, as in “profane”)]
- κοινωνία [G2842 (koinonia): fellowship, community, joint participation]
[The Greek verb, κοινόω [G2840], is not used in any context involving fellowship. Instead, its root meaning, "to make common", is found in universally negative contexts.]
If you study each of these, you’ll find no example in which any type of fellowship was commanded by the Lord; rather, fellowship was the normal, natural and expected result of the pre-existing unity of mind and beliefs: fellowship was the natural result of unity.
Examples of the noun κοινός (positive connotation):
And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common;
[Note the context: “believed”.]
And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them.
[Note the context: “believed”, “one heart and soul”.]
To Titus, my true child in a common faith: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.
[Note the context: it was the "common faith”.]
Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.
[Note the context: “contend earnestly for the faith”.]
Examples of the noun κοινός (negative connotation):
But Peter said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.” Again a voice came to him a second time, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.”
And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean.
I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?
and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Examples of the noun κοινωνία:
They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
[Note the context: the first disciples were devoted to the apostles’ teaching; note also that fellowship was only one of four stated components. Their common element was that the early disciples were united in mind and purpose first.]
1 Cor 1.9
God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
[Note the context: how could there be fellowship with the Lord Christ unless one is devoted to Him in all ways?]
1 Cor 10.16
Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?
[Note the context: The Apostle Paul uses common doctrine (the body and blood of the Lord Christ) as a point of reference for the “sharing”.]
2 Cor 6.14
Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?
[Note the context: metaphorically, “light” and “darkness” are mutually exclusive belief systems within each of which were its adherents. Any type of cooperation between these systems is impossible.]
2 Cor 13.14
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.
[Note the context: how could there be fellowship with the Trinity unless one is devoted to the One God in all ways?]
and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.
[Note the context: because Paul and Barnabas believed and did the same things as those in Jerusalem and labored as missionaries for the same Lord, they were extended fellowship. There were, nonetheless, serious problems with this form of fellowship, as this article details.]
in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now.
[Note the context: the gospel is a message, not a state of existence. There was a participation/fellowship in that message because they believed and shared the same gospel.]
Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion,
[Note the context: the mutual fellowship enjoyed by Paul and the Philippians was the logical outcome of their common life in Christ.]
that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death;
[Note the context: Paul’s desire for a life joined to his Lord was due to his firm belief in the death, burial and resurrection of his Lord.]
and I pray that the fellowship of your faith may become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Christ’s sake.
[Note the context: it was the fellowship of their faith and common knowledge.]
1 Joh 1.3
what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.
[Note the context: there was commonality of what they saw and heard—their "common faith" in their Lord.
There is also an interesting detail in the verb tenses used here:
so that you too may have fellowship with us
ἵνα καὶ ὑμεῖς κοινωνίαν ἔχητε μεθ’ ἡμῶν
our fellowship is with the Father ...
ἡκοινωνίαδὲἡ ἡμετέραμετὰτοῦπατρὸς ...
In the first phrase, "may have fellowship" is in the subjunctive mode; that is, the expected—but not guaranteed—result of the "commonness" of the "things seen" was to be fellowship.
In the second phrase, the omitted (but implied) verb (something very typical in the NT text), "is", would be in the indicative mode and is a statement of the actual result. We have fellowship with the Father and Son as a result of the "shared" life we have in the Lord Christ.]
1 Joh 1.6-7
If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.
[Note the context: true fellowship can exist only in the presence of a unified walk in light, in contrast to living in darkness.]
As the above references clearly show, fellowship between believers is never commanded. (Indeed, the verb form is never used in a positive, imperative context, such as "Have fellowship with one another!")
In every case, true fellowship flowed naturally from consistent, shared beliefs in the One Lord of All as revealed in His unified Word.
Unity is the source of fellowship; in the absence of true unity, true fellowship is impossible. Without doctrinal unity, any so-called "fellowship" is nothing more than a sham: fellowship is a guaranteed failure as an intended substitute for doctrinal unity, though most conservative, evangelical "churches" continue to remain woefully and willingly ignorant of this simple, Bible fact.
It also should be obvious by now that those “churches” which regard fellowship as the priority over doctrinal unity actively distort the Scripture and are in gross disobedience to the Lord. Moreover, this explains why they are essentially powerless in the current world: how could they dare to expect the LORD's blessing when they automatically and characteristically discount His word at nearly every turn?
The Lord will not overlook their carelessness and obstinance in the day of judgment.