Whilst the term “fellowship”, as found in the New Testament, can indicate a wide range of things, it is founded on fundamental doctrine or a common understanding of the Gospel, the things of the Kingdom of God and the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus we read the believers “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and prayers” (Acts 2:42).

Fellowship before Christ

 The importance of this unity and agreement in mind among believers can be seen from the commencement of God’s work among men. It was when Adam and Eve forsook the first law given in Eden that they were banished and their sin, first in thought and then in deed, “separated between them and their God” (Gen 3:24, Isa 59:2). In contrast we read that “Enoch walked with God”. This harmony “pleased God”—it was Enoch’s “agreement” with God’s will which was at the basis for, “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3). What appeared to be a “departure from fundamental doctrine” almost led to a division between the two tribes settled on the east of Jordan and the nine on the west (Josh 22).

Belief, Baptism, Fellowship

 In apostolic terms it was fundamental doctrine that distinguished believers from the world and the Jewish community. Admission into the ecclesia of God was predicated on belief and signalled by baptism in Christ. Baptism was in itself a complex symbolic act of profound significance, indicating the believer’s union with Christ, the end of the old manner of life and the commencement of a new (Rom 6:4–6).

Doctrine and Practice

 Whilst fundamental doctrines, listed in our Statement of Faith, form the ground of unity between Christadelphians the world over, there is more to this fellowship than doctrines or teachings. There is a way of life also, a code of morals, summarised in The Commandments of Christ (compiled by Brother Roberts), which also distinguishes the ecclesia from the world. Fellowship with God depends then on more than a list of doctrinal beliefs: fundamentally important as they are, it depends upon a practical implementation of Christ’s moral teaching, summarised by him in the Teaching on the Mount (Matt 5–7). Believers will be judged by the Lord on the basis of the practical outworking of these teachings in their lives. “Wise men” will therefore build “their houses” upon the foundation of these “sayings of mine” said the Lord (Matt 7:24).

Fundamental Doctrines and Practice in Apostolic Times

 The importance of sound doctrine and practice is taught in the apostolic writings yet there is no list of fundamental doctrines found in Scripture. “The Bible does, however, state principles and illustrate them by example in such a way to convince us that such propositions as, say, ‘there is no immortal soul’ are true. In addition it gives case histories which show how doctrinal propositions arose. If there were in Corinth for a short time misguided people who said that there is no resurrection of the dead, it would have been impossible to retain such people ‘in fellowship’ after Paul had written 1 Corinthians 15. Whatever is meant by ‘abiding not in the doctrine of Christ’ and ‘confessing not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh’, John’s instructions in his second Epistle would emphatically exclude from the community the heretics who denied this doctrine. If there were those who would have tolerated incest in the community, they could have no title to do so after Paul had written 1 Corinthians 5.” (The Christadelphian, January 1972).

Incompatibility with the World

 The distinction and incompatibility between those in the ecclesia and those outside was emphasised by Paul by a series of questions put to the Corinthians : “What fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God”. The implied answer to these questions is “None”.

Fellowship and Jesus’ Prayer

 Whilst the fundamental doctrines and practice provide the basis of our fellowship we must never lose sight of the ultimate objective of unity with God. For this Jesus prayed, specifically including latter-day saints who would believe the words of the apostles, “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word. That they all may be one; as thou Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us” (John 17:20–21). We are to become unified with the Father and Son, as the Father was in the Son and the Son in the Father. There is a tremendous challenge in these words. This “fellowship” with God would be assisted by the Father and Son, for it was their desire that others should be incorporated in their unity. Thus Jesus promised that, “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him” (John 14:23).

Growth and Striving for Greater Fellowship

 The doctrines of our Statement of Faith provide the basis of inter-ecclesial world-wide fellowship. They are essential for this unity, but are not an end in themselves. Following belief of the “Truth” and baptism, there must be growth, a greater awareness of God in our lives, an increasing understanding of His ways and increasing fruitfulness and commitment (Col 1:9–10). In this way fellowship or sharing (Gk koinonia) deepens and prepares us for the ultimate consummation of God’s purpose: “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God” (Rev 21:3). Three times it is emphasised that God will be “with” men. This simple but profound statement should constantly pervade our minds as we prepare for this eternity with God. Paul expressed unity with Christ in dramatic terms when he expressed his earnest desire to “know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead”.

This conformity to the pattern and example of Christ, who was one with his Father and who did always the things that pleased Him, is the essence of the challenge of discipleship and fellowship.

The Test of True Fellowship

 Finally the words of the apostle John summarise succinctly the overall position. The objective of his preaching was that we “also may have fellowship… and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3).

John tells us that God is unmitigated light and says it is a lie to claim fellowship with God whilst walking in darkness. He provides certain tests which reveal whether we are in darkness or light: “He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness until now” (1 John 2:9). Clearly our attitude towards our fellows plays a crucial role in our fellowship with God. It is a mere sham if we have hatred and ill-feelings towards our brethren. We must always be striving to produce unity amongst those who love God and who uphold His doctrine and teaching. If this is our objective then the following will be true: “If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his son cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7).