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“Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16).

Introduction

It is probable, if you read the title, that:

  1. 1)  You expect the subject of this editorial to be a further discourse related to the relationship between fellowship, our beliefs, and the resultant boundaries of our fellowship.
  2. 2)  You wonder what the cited verse has to do with the topic. Perhaps it concerns the requirements for those in another “fellowship” to join our own.

Wrong on both counts, which is perhaps troublesome. Fellowship has become such a technical term, that we have become almost blinded to the enormous help we can gain from our association with those in our ecclesia, and with the wider brotherhood. The context of the passage in James is the way we can support each other in the trials we all face, whether the “sickness” be physical, mental, or some combination of the two.

It is a sad reflection, perhaps, of the state of our community when I have a folder on my computer called “fellowship,” but 80% of the 100 articles and probably 300,000 words are associated with unity, boundaries, and divisions. However, the vast majority of Scriptural references to fellowship, particularly in widest sense, have to deal with the benefits we obtain from those with whom we associate in our walk towards the Kingdom.

And, of course, in the words of Paul:

“I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called. With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Eph 4:1-6).

Our fellowship with each other is possible through the fellowship we each have with the Lord Jesus and his Father. “and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1John 1:4).

Practical applications

The New Testament abounds with exhortations and counsel to truly join together: So let us look at a few characteristics of practical fellowship:

Financial support (2Cor 9:13)

Partnership (Gal 2:9)

Faith (Philemon 6)

Teaching/learning (Acts 2:42)

Prayer (Acts 2:42)

Submission (1Pet 5:5)

Kindly Affectioned

(Rom 12:10)

Love

(1John 4:7, etc.)

Admonish

(Rom 15:14)

Bear Burdens (Gal 6:2)

Edify (1Thess 5:11)

Forbear (1Thess 3:5)

Have Compassion (1Pet 3:8)

Assemble (Heb 10:25)

Confess (1Thess 5:11)

Space permits the consideration of only a few of the ways true fellowship is expressed. So let us reflect on confession, assembling together, and teaching or learning.

Confess

“Confess your faults one to another.” There are several other Scripture passages, in addition to this one, where confession is enjoined. For example, in the Old Testa- ment we read “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy” (Prov 28:13). Again John says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrigh- teousness” (1John 1:9). The world around us perhaps understands this in two ways:

  • The sort of confession practiced by the Catholic Church, whereby one de- scribes one’s sins to the priest, and he would, according to the dogma of the Church, have the power to forgive, usually also imposing some sort of penance.
  • The occasional public confession of wrong doing by prominent religious leaders, seeking public forgiveness for their sins.Neither of these ideas have any roots in the New Testament. The way I understand it is indeed closely related to fellowship. The confession of faults should indeed be part of your relationship with the ecclesia, but in particular with one member with whom you are particularly close. Paul directs us to “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2). In quiet, private dialog between two mem- bers of the ecclesia, in the total confidence that nothing of what is discussed will ever be revealed, the faults and burdens we bear are shared, and the law of Christ is fulfilled. A burden shared is in practice more than halved: as we confess our sins in prayer, and in confidence one to another, surely “he [Christ] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1John 1:9).

    This type of dialog should be part and parcel of our fellowship: who better to trust but one who shares our faith and our hope? It is all the more sad if we feel we cannot trust anyone in our ecclesia: for “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1John 1:8).

    Assemble together

    As the writer to the Hebrews says “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching” (Heb 10:25).

    It is impossible to be in fellowship only with yourself, and those who decide to go into “isolation” for perceived errors in our community, are missing one of the main points of our discipleship. As we often stress, one cannot be in “isolation” and be part of the main Christadelphian community. You can be isolated by distance from the desirable frequent interaction with your brothers and sisters, but you still remain members of an ecclesia, whether it is the one that baptized you, the nearest ecclesia, or the one you are most connected too. There is no “in isolation” section of the various address lists in our community. There might be “associate members,” but such ought to be regarded as ones with whom the contact is less frequent because of distance or frailty, not ones isolated from the ecclesia. (And it is the whole basis of our “ecclesially-based fellowship,” whereby we are welcomed by others because of our association with known established ecclesias.) I, personally, have been pressured several times into relocating to areas of this vast continent devoid of established ecclesias, but have always declined such pressure, sometimes thereby being faced with employment difficulties. But I myself would always take the same attitude, trusting that our Father will not test us beyond our endurance.

    Teaching and learning

    “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). Thus the three thousand who were moved by Pe- ter’s address continued: not only in direct fellowship and prayer, but in the apostles’ teaching, as they listened to the personal accounts of Jesus’ words delivered by the apostles. They had already been baptized: as observant Jews they already had much of the gospel: the Hope of Israel, the promise of a Messiah, and the elevated moral principles of the Law. But this was not enough: they were hungry to learn more, and in company with their fellow believers they truly devoted themselves to the words of Jesus and the instruction of the apostles.

    It is perhaps a little sad in these days, that we have the tendency to instruct well in preparation for baptism, but often have no systematic practice of post-baptismal instruction. The breadth and depth of the message of Christ and the purpose of God is only begun to be explored before baptism. It is perhaps a pity that what used to be an opportunity to hear the first principles expounded and elaborated in our “Evening Lectures” has in many ecclesias fallen into disuse: not only for the hearers, but for those who taught. It is often said that there is no better way to learn than to teach: it demands a level of understanding and organization that is hard to acquire in any other way.

    We have to remember indeed that we are all part of the one body, and all parts have their own gifts, roles, and responsibilities. It is one of the vital parts of our community that we spread the burdens of teaching so widely, so that we might all learn the Truth in part by teaching: in so doing, we not only instruct one another, but the more especially ourselves.

    Conclusion

    I have only scratched the surface of the true breadth and depth of what our fellow- ship truly means. It is not about defining the boundaries, but involving ourselves in the fellowship with the Father and His son Jesus Christ through all that is involved in true Christian Fellowship.

    Peter Hemingray 
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