The question of what and who to fellowship is a perplexing problem fraught with many dangers. In the solution to the problem there are certain Scriptures which serve as guideposts, and the danger lies in ignoring the Scripture. If we follow the Scripture we will be unquestionably right, but if we extend our fellowship beyond Scriptural bounds we get into the realm of darkness.
The word fellowship is from the Greek "koinonia" which Thayer defines: "fellowship, association, community, communion, joint participation, intercourse." Webster defines fellowship: "state of being a fellow or associate: community of interest, activity, feeling; friendliness, comradeship; any union or association, esp. a company of equals or friends." There is fellowship when people are united in working to accomplish a certain purpose or reach a certain goal. There is no fellowship between antagonistic parties. People may work together in fellowship in numberless activities. Political fellowship is when the members of a political party are working together for the election of the candidates of the party. Civic fellowship is when citizens of the community are working together to accomplish a definite goal for their community. Criminal fellowship is when a gang of outlaws are working together to break the law and perpetuate a crime. So the naked word fellowship does not indicate the goal toward which the fellowship is directed nor the kind of fellowship that is meant.
Christian fellowship means the working together of Christians to reach Christian goals. There can be no Christian fellowship where there are no Christians, there may be fellowship but it is not Christian fellowship. In the Scripture the word Christian is used as a noun only, and denotes a person who has believed on the Lord, repented of sins, confessed faith in Christ, and been baptized for the remission of sins. There can be no Christian fellowship, if the person has not obeyed the gospel to become a Christian. In common vernacular the word Christian is also used as an adjective to show specifically that an item is part of the religion and teaching of Christ. If doctrine is in truth in harmony with what Christ taught, it is said to be Christian doctrine. If a teaching is untrue, out of harmony with what Jesus taught, it is said to be unchristian. The New Testament is the standard and source of all that can properly be called Christian. If a religious notion is not found in the New Testament, or is contrary to the New Testament, it is unchristian. So in the phrase "Christian fellowship," the word Christian puts a limit on the word fellowship. If you extend the fellowship beyond the limits of the word Christian, you just do not have Christian fellowship.
In genuine Christian fellowship the first and paramount purpose is to have fellowship with God and the Lord Jesus Christ. 1 John 1:3 "That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you also, that ye also may have fellowship with us: yea, and our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ." Many claim fellowship with the Lord, but who in reality are not in fellowship with him. 1John 1:6-7 "If we say we have fellowship with him and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanseth us from all sin." This shows that Christian fellowship is not just a working arrangement and agreement among men—it is with God. This passage teaches that if we will seek and maintain fellowship with God, that our fellowship with men will in a large measure take care of itself. Christ is the center of Christian fellowship, and all who are united to him are thereby united with each other. All who work in fellowship with his will are working in fellowship with each other.
Many have misplaced their fellowship; they emphasize and seek fellowship with men, without regard to fellowship with Christ. Fellowship built on human friendship, human doctrine, human practice is not Christian fellowship because it leaves Christ out, Notice that there is forbidden fellowship. Eph. 5:11 "And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them." 2 Cor. 6:14 "Be not unequally yoked with unbelievers: for what fellowship have righteousness and iniquity? Or what communion hath light with darkness?" What is the consequence of holding forbidden fellowship with darkness? 1John 1:6 "If we say we have fellowship with him and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth." When one forms a fellowship with a person, doctrine, or practice that is inimical to Christ, such a one forfeits his fellowship with Christ. This establishes the point, that some fellowship is not Christian fellowship. There are many things that I do not want fellowship with, because such fellowship would destroy my fellowship with Christ.
(1) I want no fellowship with denominationalism. Jesus prayed, "Neither for these only do I pray, but for them also that believe on me through their word; that they may be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us that the world may believe that thou didst send me." (John 17:20-21). The division inherent in denominationalism is contrary to the will and prayer of Christ, and if I form a fellowship with that which is inimical to Christ I forfeit my fellowship with Christ. I do not regard denominationalists as Christians, because they have not obeyed the gospel; therefore I cannot have Christian fellowship with them. Some preachers do fellowship denominational preachers and call on them to lead prayers etc., but such fellowship is not Christian fellowship.
(2) I want no fellowship with digressive instrumental music. Paul said, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto God" (Col. 3:16). In order to use the instrument and fellowship the digressives, one must stretch his fellowship beyond the word of Christ. I certainly do not want to break fellowship with Christ, just to gain fellowship with the digressives. In recent years some preachers among us arranged and entered fellowship meetings with the digressives; in such meetings they walked in darkness because they certainly had no light from Christ to direct them in that course. When the digressives give up their unchristian instruments and have fellowship with Christ, I will try to be right there and have fellowship with them at the same time.
(3) I want no fellowship with premillennialism. Paul said, "Who delivered us out of the power of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of the Son of his love" (Col. 1:13). Premillennialism denies the establishment and existence of the kingdom and the fullness of Christ as king. I certainly do not want to fellowship a Christ dethroning doctrine because it is not compatible with fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. Some brethren have shed floods of crocodile tears over the fact that every one did not get out the mantle of fellowship to throw over the premillennialists. It is true that there is a fellowship built up around premillennialism, but it is not Christian fellowship and I want no part of it.
(4) I want no fellowship with defections from the church nor schemes which destroy the simplicity of the gospel. Eph. 1:22-23 "And he put all things in subjection under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all." The church is the fullness of Christ, and I want no fellowship with any defection that corrupts the organization of the church or makes the church subservient to a human institution. Rom. 1:16 "For I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek." I want no fellowship with any missionary scheme that puts the emphasis on anything other than the gospel of Christ.
In conclusion; remember to be careful with fellowship, and be sure it is centered in Christ and his word. If we extend fellowship beyond the light of Christ into realms of darkness, we break fellowship with Christ.