“All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42, NLT)
The Church in the United States—as in most of the West—needs revival. Many of our once great denominations now have realized John Wesley’s great fear—and now “only exist as dead sect[s], having the form of religion without the power.” Wesley warned that such would happen “unless [the Church would] hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.” The same denominations who once spread scriptural holiness across the world have rejected the faith once received and long-ago abandoned church discipline.
The Belgic confession, written in 1559, succinctly differentiates the true Church from the apostate.
“The marks by which the true Church is known are these: If the pure doctrine of the gospel is preached therein;if it maintains the pure administration of the sacraments as instituted by Christ; if church discipline is exercised in punishing sin.” (Belgic Confession, Article 29)
I believe the recovery of the disciplines stated in the Belgic confession to be imperative. But I also believe that reform in our age requires that we also recover the ancient Church’s emphasis on koinonia. Acts 2:42 places koinonia—or our loving fellowship as the Church—alongside the apostles’ teaching. The word, koinonia, is found20 times in the New Testament and means more than our term, fellowship. It is used exclusively to refer to the deep relationship of baptized Christians within the covenant community of the Church. “… if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7, NLT) That word, fellowship, is once again, koinonia. It is always the mark of the true Church.
Koinonia has a common faith. We share one catholic faith in common even though we may differ on other doctrines. Rupertus Meldenius, a 16th century Lutheran theologian, eloquently describes the commonality of faithful Christians of differing traditions: “In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity.”The true Church can declare in unity the three great creeds of the Church. Those of a common faith are to be in communion with one another.
Koinonia always requires a loving accountability. This accountability of love requires our commitment to one another’s needs. We find in the Church in Jerusalem that there were no unmet needs among them because each voluntarily shared what they had for the common good. As a community, they prayed together, worshiped together, and ate in one another’s homes. They confessed their sins to each other and prayed for one another. They also maintained grace-filled discipline, confronting sin in loving rebuke and correction, always seeking the restoration of those who wondered. Finally, koinonia is only present where the Church lives life together.
It is time we recover biblical koinonia. It is not enough to be a community of acquaintances who come together once or twice a week. It is time for us to fully embrace one another as Christ’s own family. It is time we build one another up, spur one another to holiness, and together tackle that great commission Christ has given to His Church.