(Principles of Fellowship—The Nature of Church Communion 2)
I speak as to wise men; judge ye what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion [κοινωνία] of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion [κοινωνία] of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread. (1 Cor. 10:15-17)
Question.—What is the basis upon which Christian fellowship is to be founded?
Answer.—The Word of God is the alone infallible rule to direct us how to glorify and enjoy God and none other foundation can establish the faith, obedience and fellowship of the Christian church, 1 Cor. 3:11. The design of the Holy Ghost is this place is to represent Christ as the foundation of the communion of saints in their church state. The apostle reproves their contentiousness and combats the folly of their disjointed confession, reminding them that they are to constitute a single building, 1 Cor. 3:9. Additionally, he points out the folly of seeking to erect their fellowship upon lesser principles than the clear precepts of Scripture, 1 Cor. 3:12-15.
This proposition we support with the following observations: 1.) The nature of the church, which is the kingdom of Christ, and is not of this world, indicates the transcendent nature of its constitution, John 18:36. 2.) The character of grown church members furnish another evidence of this, because they must profess faith in Christ and obedience to him, 2 Cor. 9:13; 1 John 2:6. It is the nature of saving faith to credit the divine testimony concerning Christ and obedience to him is obedience to his authority, 1 John 5:10. This testimony and authority are only to be expected or found in the Scriptures, which testify of him, and declare his pleasure to men, John 5:39; 1 Pet. 1:11. 3.) This proposition is expressly set forth by the apostle, Eph. 2:19, 20. The progress of church fellowship is additional proof that it is built upon the foundation of revealed truth, Eph. 4:1, 7, 13-17.
Since the doctrines and duties of Christianity, which are the conditions and object of church communion, are the truth of God, and revealed in his word, we should endeavor to obtain a competent knowledge and proper evidence of what is therein delivered, Rom. 15:14; Acts 17:11. After all, the honor and safety of the New Testament church is found in the profession of the truth, Matt. 16:18.
Question.—What are the great objects of church communion and fellowship?
Answer.—Every society proposes some end which it reckons important and useful. The ends for which the church fellowship are erected are those purposes which no other society is competent to perform, Gal. 4:26.
The church communion exists for several reasons: 1.) Only in the context of the church’s witness can men experience that mutual and united edification and comfort which results from the Spirit working with that truth, 1 Cor. 14:3. In fact, when the Spirit is working in and through the church men are joined in concerns for their mutual comfort in all departments of life, Acts 4:32. 2.) This edification and comfort which Christians ought to pursue consists in growth, evidence and fruits of their faith, love and obedience unto revealed truth, 1 Pet. 1:22. It is in this joint concern and communion that the church fellowship expands into the unbelieving world, Isa. 54:1-5. The saints are those who are faithful, Eph. 1:1; and their church communion makes their faith conspicuous in the world, 2 Thess. 1:3; Rom. 1:8. 3.) There is a joint walking in the obedience of the faith, corresponding to the divine law, that makes visible the obligation of faith and is a convincing testimony before the world, when they see the saints uniformly and cheerfully doing the will of God, Rom. 14:16-18. Revealed truth is the only rule of all Gospel obedience (i.e., acceptable obedience through a Mediator), which when neglected renders the best service like garnishing a sepulcher, Matt. 23:27. Thus, practical Christianity is accounted a walking in the truth, 2 John 4.
Wherever this faith, love and obedience to revealed truth prevails, the church is edified and comforted, her head—the Lord Jesus—is publicly honored, and his presence is enjoyed, and the prayer of Christ is made manifest in its answer, Col. 3:12-17; John 17:19-23.
Question.—What additional benefit may be enjoyed only in a state of Christian society?
Answer.—The liberties and blessings of the Gospel are most to be enjoyed in retirement from the world, which is highly useful in the Christian life, cf. 1 Cor. 11:18. The communion of the saints, in their united social state, puts them in the best capacity to enjoy these liberties and blessings, Heb. 12:22-24.
The fact is, religious society best provides for the opportunity for properly directed intercourse which increases and diffuses knowledge, warms the heart, requires sanctified use of the affections, excites emulation, along with many other good things, Phil. 1:27. Thus, our Lord Jesus, in his goodness and wisdom, ordained the fellowship of his disciples for the magnifying of his kingly office and their common edification. Hence, they are joined as members to one body, 1 Cor. 12:14, 20.