What Is True Fellowship?
by Ernest L. Martin, Ph.D., 1997
Edited by David Sielaff, April 2006
There is a difference between corporate fellowship among Christians who band together to teach the Gospel and individual fellowshipping with other Christians. We need to know the difference. Let us note a scripture of the apostle Paul that explains this. He said that as we see events approaching the End-Time, we should increase our incidence of “gathering together” (this is the original Greek meaning) with one another. The text reads:
“Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the gathering [the KJV has “assembling”] of ourselves together, as the manner of some is: but exhorting one another and so much the more, as you see the day approaching”
Not only is this statement by Paul excellent advice, it is a divine command to all who live at this threshold period known as the Time of the End. Indeed, as the prophesied period gets nearer, we are all in need of the type of fellowship (or “gathering together”) that will provoke all Christians throughout the earth to practice an attitude of love to each other and perform good works to all with whom they meet.
How is this “gathering together” mentioned by Paul to be accomplished? Recall that Christ Jesus characterized His Ekklesia [God’s divine Community] as an organization of people who will be geographically located throughout the earth like salt is scattered on a plate of food (Matthew 5:13). That describes us today. Here we are at the doorstep of entering the prophesied Time of the End and God allows us to remain dispersed on this earth like “grains of salt”. But Paul said we ought to “gather together” these scattered particles of salt into a dynamic association of educated people well versed in the Holy Scriptures in order to teach the Gospel.
We at A.S.K. have taken this command of Paul to heart We have attempted with all the vigor that we can muster to “gather together” in a proper and biblical manner those individual grains of salt (as each of you happens to be) into a unified body of Christians who have a common purpose of mission to teach the Gospel. We are doing this while you remain geographically as “grains of salt” in your own areas of the earth. We accomplish this “gathering together” with a ministry of sending each of you biblical teachings each month via the Communicator, providing various types of books, sending you Doctrinal and Prophetic Reports and lectures on cassettes.
Indeed, A.S.K. is at the forefront of exhorting God’s people (those “gathered together” like Paul said) to know these prophetic events, true doctrines, and real biblical history (as well as a sacred geography with a right chronology). We always teach within a context of “growing in grace and knowledge.” There is no Christian group on earth more concerned with “gathering together” those scattered “grains of salt” to observe the command of Paul in Hebrews 10:24–25 than A.S.K. This Doctrinal Report will explain.
Most people misunderstand what Paul was talking about in Hebrews 10:24–25. They assume (and the translators of the King James Version also guessed) that Paul was speaking about coming together in an assembly of people (like in a church) where Christians could speak individually with each other on a personal basis and in the physical presence of each other. Some believe that Paul wanted Christian people to meet more often with one another in “churches” or in their own homes in order to have more personal and physical contact with one another as the End-Time gets near. In other words, some believe that Paul was advocating more personal and physical associations with other Christians as the crucial period of the End-Time approaches.
If this is the right interpretation of Hebrews 10:24–25, it might be said that Paul was emphasizing the need for Christians who are strong in the faith to support the weak with their physical presence in the time of trial that is prophesied for the End-Time. As desirable as this is, this is NOT what Paul meant.
This interpretation may look correct on the surface, but this is not what the apostle Paul meant in Hebrews 10:24–25. True, having a physical presence with other Christians is needful and satisfying, but Paul had something more essential and important in mind. Indeed, look at some major problems that would be encountered in the normal interpretation of the verse (assuming that Paul meant to “assemble in churches” with greater frequency or “congregate in your homes” more often as Christians observe the Day of Trial getting closer to them).
If this is what Paul meant, then let us pursue the natural result of such teaching. Let us say that the groups normally met together on the Sabbath each week as ordinary Jews were accustomed to do. Is Paul now saying for these “Hebrews” to set aside more time and meet also on Sunday, and even on Wednesday (as many Protestant churches do at present)? And, as they witness “the Day” approaching even closer, does Paul mean to step up the times of meeting and make Christians assemble ever day of the week? And when “the Day” gets right at the threshold, is Paul now telling them (as most people think he does) to increase the number of meetings even to twice a day or even three times a day for all seven days a week? In fact, does Paul mean not to even go home or to work? Does he mean to simply stay in the assembly place all the time? Such a belief is absurd. Truly, Paul meant something else.
Since the phrase “gather together” represents one word in the original Greek and it is singular, was Paul actually telling his readers to “gather together” in a single place? Note that no geographical region is addressed by Paul in his treatise to “the Hebrews.” It has to be recognized that his readers represented a great number of people in a wide area of habitation.
Is he now telling them that as “the Day of Trial” approaches, it would be proper to assemble together from all their regions (or even from all over the earth) into a single area on earth? If that were the meaning, then why does Paul not tell them where that geographical area is located? Interestingly, the only other time this one Greek word [meaning “gathering together”] is used again in the New Testament, it refers to the “gathering together” of the corporate body of Christians (the whole group of Christians from all over the earth) who are resurrected and then gather together over Jerusalem at the Second Advent of Christ (2 Thessalonians 2:1).
In this case, however, Paul was not intending his brief admonition in Hebrews 10:24–25 to be reckoned as a geographical reference. He did not mean for his readers to assemble in one place (and to do it often) as his readers would observe the Time of the End approaching.
[As a matter of fact, many prophetic teachers today, and in the recent past, have assumed that Hebrew Christians would be taken to one place to escape the great trials of the End-Time. That region is normally assumed to be the area of Petra in the Kingdom of Jordan. This, however, is not what Paul intended.]
What Paul did mean, on the other hand, is that all Christians should “gather together” in a corporate manner in love and good works, and have a unified and single-minded attitude of exhortation in exercising faith in the promises of Christ. He did not mean to “gather together” in a geographical place (like in a church or a home). What Paul wanted was a “gathering together” of the faithful as a corporate body of Christians into a universal attitude of love, good works, with a constant exhortation to believe the promises of Christ and to teach the real Gospel.
What disturbed Paul was the fact that NOT all Christians wanted such unity and singleness of teaching. It had even become the custom of some of his readers to “strike out on their own” in an individual manner and they did not want to show the love, good works, and exhortation as a corporate group. The manner of some was to forsake the combined unified thrust in presenting the basic teachings of Christianity. Some wanted to go their own way and not be united and combining their efforts with the body of Christians to whom Paul was writing (Hebrews 10:25).
What Paul wanted and what he was desperately trying to disseminate to his readers in the Book of Hebrews is his command that they all should give up their own “pet groups” and their own independent ways that caused disunity and division. He wanted them to unite once again with the main body of believers. Paul desired all Christians to “gather together” as a unified and undivided body of believers with an unflinching positive attitude in teaching the standard beliefs of the Gospel. He especially saw that this was necessary as Christians began to witness the End-Time approaching. He wanted Christians to come to get the Ekklesia to do the work of teaching the Gospel to all.
True, Paul knew that it was certainly pleasant and beneficial for those of like belief to meet together in an individual and physical fellowship from time to time in order to encourage one another in the faith. This, however, was not his principal interest when he wrote Hebrews 10:24–25. This can easily be proved if people will simply look at the context in which Paul presented his admonition. Note the previous two verses in Hebrews chapter 10 (verses 22 and 23). They provide the proper context for Paul’s teaching on what the “gathering together” actually was intended to be. Note his contextual environment in setting his theme.
“Let us draw near [that is, let us “gather together” to God and to His holy house in heaven, see verse 21] with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he [God] is faithful that promised).”
In this biblical context, it shows that Paul meant that the people to whom he was writing should all “gather together” at the symbolic House of God in heaven no matter where they were on earth. He did not mean to increase the number of times people would assemble on earth in some church or in some home. Paul wanted Christians to “gather together” in teaching the Gospel with a “full assurance of faith” and holding fast their “faith without wavering.” This “gathering together” of Paul was for them to gather in unison and in full agreement and concord around the true House of God in heaven (and to God himself).
It was a supreme necessity in Paul’s eyes that they assemble around God’s heavenly House (especially when his readers would begin to realize that the End-Time was just on the doorstep). Indeed, this appearing before “God’s House” (verse 21) was a symbolic assembling toward heaven, not a gathering in Jerusalem at the Temple on earth (which physical Temple, by the way, was still in operation when Paul made his appeal in Hebrews 10:22–25). He was not talking of physical fellowship with one another.
Paul advocated personal fellowship, but he also gave a biblical principle of association that he held in highest esteem as a means to give individual and personal fellowship and teaching to those under his care. Look at 2 Corinthians 12:14. Paul said: “Behold, the third time I am ready to come to you.” Couple this verse with 2 Corinthians 13:1: “This [now] is the third time I am coming to you.” What did Paul mean by his phrase “the third time”? When we comprehend his meaning, a great deal of light comes on the scene regarding what God regards as personal fellowship and teaching.
It is easy to see what Paul meant in the original Greek (and shown in many modern translations), though it is a little unclear in the King James Version. Paul was stating that the writing of his present epistle (Second Corinthians) was reckoned as his “third time” to see them in a personal and individual manner.
(1) The first time he visited them, he did in fact appear in person in an actual physical sense and he lived and taught among them for 15 months (Acts 18:1).
(2) Five years later, Paul visited the Corinthians a second time. He did this by letter. He wrote to them his First epistle to the Corinthians that we find in the New Testament. In that epistle Paul knew (and the Corinthian people knew) that he did not physically (that is, actually) appear before them in person when he wrote First Corinthians. It was, as Paul said, “as if I were present” (Second Corinthians 13:2). Nevertheless, Paul reckoned his first epistle to the Corinthians as a personal appearance to the Corinthians as if he were in Corinth himself having physical fellowship with them.
Indeed, even later (when he was writing Second Corinthians about three months later), Paul admitted at “being absent now I write to them which heretofore have sinned” (note also verse 2), “Therefore I write these things being absent” (verse 10).
(3) Even though Paul admitted to being “absent” from the Corinthians when he wrote Second Corinthians, he still acknowledged that this occasion was the third time to visit them in a personal manner. Indeed, both his second and third visits were only BY LETTER while he was actually absent from them.
Then Paul warned them: “If I come again [the fourth time], I will not spare” (verse 2, end of verse).
Paul referred to a written statement in the Old Testament concerning Abraham. He said that the literary account was reckoned by God to have been an event that had not yet actually happened. Still, as viewed by God, “those things which be not, [are] as though they were” (Romans 4:17). Paul himself adopted this same type of interpretation: “For though I am absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit” (Colossians 2:5, italics mine). Again, when judging the Corinthian fornicator:
“Verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present. … in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, and my spirit with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such an one unto Satan”
1 Corinthians 5:35
Paul considered he was “gathered together” with them in person, though he was actually absent.
These references of the apostle Paul show God’s evaluation of literary works of instruction as given either by Himself or His prophets and apostles. Though God may be in heaven, or the prophets and apostles may be in other regions (or even dead), their writings that you read are reckoned by God as being actual appearances of those individuals to you in a personal way (though in spirit).
This also applies to my writings to you at the present time. Though Ernest Martin is simply your brother in Christ and in no way do I compare my writings or lectures as being like those of the prophets and apostles, still, when you get a teaching from me every month (or whenever you read my material), God reckons the occasion to be a personal fellowship between you and me. That principle applies to every other brother or sister you are in contact with, or they with you.
You are aware that A.S.K. turns out quite a lot of biblical material for you to read and to study each month. True, our output is normally literary and not personal teaching by word of mouth with all of you in my physical presence (other than the cassette taped lectures which are audio — but even some of these tapes are accompanied with literary transcriptions so that they can be read). Nor does A.S.K. provide musical themes for worship no matter how useful such activities may be (but musical requirements can be obtained from music stores if you desire and if you feel you need them). A.S.K., however, does provide you with what the Bible calls personal fellowship each month with me (Ernest L. Martin).
Thus, in God’s eyes, when you use letters, telephone calls, website chat lines, forums, email, etc., you are having a personal type of fellowship with your brothers and sisters. While you remain scattered in the earth as “salt of the earth,” you may not have as many actual personal fellowship opportunities. The time is soon coming, I feel, when you will have such things.
As for the physical social contacts that all of us need, there are all sorts of ways to meet decent and socially acceptable people with whom to relax and exchange ideas, to gain deeper friendships, or even to develop loving relationships. One thing for certain, you will never find someone to fellowship with (male or female), to be friends with, or (with one of the opposite sex) to love and even to marry, unless you actively take part in searching for such a person. There are literally thousands of social clubs in your midst (such as, for example, sewing clubs, model airplane clubs, science clubs, Senior Citizens’ clubs, etc.) which meet regularly and where people come together to share common interests and to fellowship socially. The churches do not have a monopoly for Christian fellowship. You should join the good clubs — as many as you want.
Indeed, all of us need personal fellowship with others of like belief. However, concerning harmonious Christian beliefs among brethren, you will never find someone who believes identically with you on every detail of Christian teaching. What you should do is to discover those individuals who hold the same basic value systems of conduct and social norms that you do. Clearly, you will get along better with those who share your likes and dislikes in music, foods, movies, TV programs, vacations, exercise, etc.Though Hebrews 10:22–25 is not a reference to physical and individual fellowshipping, such fellowshipping is still important. But how do people scattered over thousands of miles of earth (as “grains of salt”) get together for encouragement and intimate association? Surely our heavenly Father is aware of our situations. And just as surely, He has provided us with the mail services, telephones, and now the Internet and many social clubs. I am certain that God has even more pleasant surprises in store for us and He will soon provide a means to meet Christians of like faith. But all of these fellowship and social conveyances require interaction. They demand actions by you in order to seek them out. If you want fellowship, friendship, or even to develop a love relationship with another Christian, there are plenty of people waiting for you to lead the way in the relationships. There are also numerous facilities already there to help you. Get out there and actively discover them. You will be surprised at the opportunities that God has provided. May God bless you in your quest to find fellowship.
Ernest L. Martin,
Edited by David Sielaff, 2006
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