One of the most practical, and biblical, ways to study God — and test Him — is by meeting regularly with other believers. We do this because He has commanded us to, but more importantly, because to do so is to commune with God Himself. This is true communion.
If we are to take the New Testament at face value — and why wouldn’t we?--the fellowship of Christian believers is the body of Christ. The biblical word for this body is ekklésia, a Greek word that references the assembly of decision makers in ancient Greece who were responsible for declaring war and electing other political leaders. The New Testament writers co-opted the word to use in reference to the called out assembly of God’s people who gathered together for worship and fellowship in the first century.
So why is fellowship with other believers important for testing God?
‘Going to Church’ is Not Like Being the Church
In our century, we are accustomed to attending a weekly or bi-weekly gathering of believers and calling that “church.” Such a concept was foreign to the first century. Their word for their gathering together was ekklésia. Another word they used to describe their relationship to each other was koinónia. Together, these two words adequately describe what God’s church actually is.
On the one hand, God’s people are an assembly. It is an assembly gathered for the purpose of worshiping God, encouraging one another, and living out the love that Jesus Christ demonstrated by his life when he walked among his disciples. This is the idea embodied in the use of the word ekklésia when the Apostle Paul uses it in the book of Ephesians. Jesus Christ is the head of the church (ekklésia) while the assembled believers are the body.
On the other hand, fellowship (koinónia) is the word used by John in his first letter when he communicates the shared intimacy that the church has with Christ and with each other. It is also used in both Corinthian books to denote the same thing.
These two words throughout the New Testament illustrate the special relationship that believers have with our Lord and with each other. It is best described as a mystical union where the people of God, the ekklésia, share a common fellowship (koinónia) with its head, Jesus Christ. Becoming a member of this union puts one in a special category of persons called out of the world to be used for God’s purpose. It comes with a price and with very specific promises, which can and ought to be tested, that do not come with attending periodic events with like-minded individuals assembling in a special building set aside for special events (modern churches, for instances).
A Christian fellowship then, unlike other fellowships like the Masonic Lodge or the Girl Scouts, involves an intimate spiritual connection (a communion) with others through the spiritually binding love of Christ that empowers each individual member to live out the holiness of God together. There are no lone rangers in the body of Christ.
How Christian Fellowship Helps Us Test God
Throughout the Bible, there is a core communal aspect to worshiping God and following His commands. At creation, God gave Adam Eve so that he would not be alone (Genesis 2:18, Berean Study Bible). When God delivered the Israelites out of Egypt through Moses’ leadership, He delivered the whole nation. He ordered Noah to take his entire family into the ark with him. He made Abraham the father of a nation that He set aside as His own remnant. And much of the New Testament is taken up with the concept of unity in love, unity in Christ, and unity of spirit that to miss this very important component of the church’s intrinsic character is to miss the point of God’s plan for His church entirely. In modern vernacular, it simply means “we are all in this together,” and by “we,” I mean the Christian fellowship.
In Hebrews 10:25 (New King James Version), the author encourages those to whom he or she is writing to not forsake “the assembling of ourselves together.” In other words, the author isn’t talking about missing an occasional church service but to not give up meeting with other Christians altogether. We need the gathering together for encouragement in the face of our obstacles.
The Christian faces three primary enemies. These are:
- The self
- The devil
- And the natural world
These three constantly bombard believers with temptations, heresies, alternative truths, fake support, outright lies, and encouragement to walking away from our faith. If we have no defense against them, we’ll soon find ourselves abandoning the grace of God and doing our own thing. For that reason, fellowship is a practical defense against the attacks we constantly find ourselves facing. Let me discuss each one in turn.
As an American, I’m encouraged to “be myself,” fly the flag of independence, express my individuality, and essentially worship my own ego. While I certainly believe that God has created each person in His own image and with individual personalities, as creatures we do not have the right to trade worship for the creator with worship for his creation. Yet, it is our natural inclination to do so.
Self-love is the natural state of man. We are inherently self-consumed and self-absorbed. But the two most important commandments of God are
- to love God with all of one’s heart, mind, soul, and strength; and
- to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37–40, Berean Study Bible).
Without God’s grace leading us and the Holy Spirit animating us to do so, we cannot naturally obey this command. Even as Christians, it is difficult because we are constantly fighting our own nature.
Our natural inclination is toward sin. To combat that inclination, we need the comfort and encouragement of others who have also had to fight that battle to come alongside us and motivate us to persevere. When we allow them to do so, and we commit ourselves to the discipline required to persevere, we will find that God is faithful to His promises, and there are plenty of promises in scripture to indicate that God blesses abundantly those who are faithful to do the good work He has prepared for them. If we want to test God on these promises, one of the surest ways of doing so is by maintaining Christian fellowship with other believers, encouraging and being encouraged by them, as we make this walk of faith together.
We live in an age that is quicker to jettison the idea of the devil as mere fantasy more so than the idea of God. One can easily find people in our day who believe in some idea of a Higher Power, even if that higher power has no resemblance to the Judeo-Christian God of orthodoxy, but who also reject the idea of a devil. As Christians, we are told there is an adversary who is looking for souls to devour (1 Peter 5:8). The danger of such a belief is that we could take this too literally and begin looking under every piece of furniture and into every crevice for something that might appear in devil-like form, whatever that is, and ready to pounce upon us and devour our flesh. Of course, that is not the idea at all.
The idea of Satan is that there is a temptor whose sole occupation is to search out God’s faithful and find ways to distract them, lead them astray, and show them what they are missing out on by remaining obedient to Christ. There are likely as many ways for him to perform this mission as there are people trying to resist him.
I do not think the devil busies himself with tempting non-Christians. Why would he? His occupation is to destroy, and where there is nothing to destroy there is no need for the occupation. A man whose job is demolition and who gets paid to knock down buildings will find that he has no work to do if all of a sudden there were no buildings. The devil’s occupation is to destroy the faith of those who are committed to God, and if anyone has not accepted the provision of salvation that He has provided in Jesus Christ, then there is no faith to destroy. That is why I do not find it at all offensive or bothersome that non-believers consider the devil a figment of our imagination. They have never seen him, have never encountered him, and therefore have no reason to believe that he exists.
But let that man discover the reality of Jesus Christ and his kingdom, that man will soon encounter the devil.
The devil works through three primary media:
- The self;
- Others; and
I said earlier that our natural human inclination is to go our own way. We are sinners, and sinners we remain (though saved by grace) even after believing in Jesus Christ. However, as sinners justified by faith in Christ, we are saved eternally. We don’t need the devil to lead us into sin; we are capable of doing that on our own.
Still, one thing the devil likes to do is convince us our sin keeps us separated from God for eternity. His sole purpose is to steal our joy. Many Christians have let him. They’ll fall into some sin and then commiserate on their guilt until it turns them into mental zombies. That’s precisely what the devil wants. He can’t take our salvation away, but he can destroy the joy that it produces. And he does that primarily through psychological trickery.
The way he tempts us through others is by putting someone in our path who will offer us a temptation that we might be naturally inclined to reach out for. If we have a weakness for taking things that are not our own, for instance, we may find ourselves befriended by a kleptomaniac who tries to get us to assist him in his thievery. Or, if we are prone to anger, we’ll cross paths with the most annoying and crude individual who misses no opportunity to get under our skin.
Circumstances can often be more tempting, and blindside us in unimaginable ways. Anyone who has ever sat in traffic during rush hour understands other people are not necessary to drive us to brink of insanity. The devil delights in using the circumstances of our lives for placing obstacles in our path. Whatever circumstances are likely to get us to thinking that God isn’t real, that we can’t gain the benefits of salvation, or that our sin is a permanent separator from the love of God are the very circumstances the devil will use to get us to abandon our faith. And if it’s worked in the past, he’ll use it again. It’s not that he creates the circumstances that lead us away, but that he delights in using those circumstances to get us to question our belief in God, or God’s love toward us.
The devil is a temptor and a destroyer. One need not believe in him for him to be effective. In fact, I think he’d rather us not believe in him at all. His wiliness is the very reason we should be on guard against him. Fellowship with other believers helps us to stay on guard, and when we can’t be on guard, we have a brother or sister who can be on guard on our behalf.
The concept of the world is somewhat more nebulous than the concept of Satan. When the Bible talks about “the world,” the meaning is often determined by the immediate context. It usually does not refer to the earth. It may refer to the cosmos — that is, all of creation — or it may refer to unbelievers, all people everywhere including believers, or some other nuance. And it may not necessarily be a bad thing.
For the purpose of this discussion, “the world” represents all the components of our natural order that do not point us to God. That can include the media we watch or listen to, scientific philosophy that attempts to tell us the age-old belief in materialism is fact simply because a cabal of men and women in white lab coats have deemed it to be so, or the fellowship of agrarian atheists that meet every Tuesday night in our neck of the woods. Quite simply, the world is the natural order of things after the Fall. And it is currently under the control of Satan and demonic powers.
Very often, Christians find themselves at odds with the natural world. We want to believe in God as the supernatural all-powerful creator who made us in His image, but everything else around us tells us we evolved from primates. We want to stay away from the nightclub because we know that once we go in we’ll drink too much and we’ll end up in the arms of someone whose arms should not be wrapped around us, but the nightclub is there, our friends have gone in, and our pastor is on vacation, so what harm will it do? It will do a lot if we go in, and we know that it will, but we are tempted nonetheless.
Quite often, the natural world isn’t a bad thing at all. It can be quite good. The smorgasbord of marketplace trinkets are not all that bad to own, and they may provide some usefulness to us, but if we own so many that we treasure them more than we treasure the love of God, then we have lost our soul to the trinkets. The world is full of shiny things that get our attention. It’s when they hold that attention that they are the most destructive.
A walk in the woods may very well be what we need some of the time to clear our heads and get in touch with nature, but if we spend all our time walking in the woods and none of our time working for a living, we may soon find ourselves, with our families, living there with no shelter. A good thing becomes a bad thing by focusing too much on it and not enough on other good things. And because of this reality, the world that God created and said was good could quickly become the thing that leads us away from the creator.
Even things of God can become temptations and faith destroyers. Our church might be a very fine church, but if we love it so much that we fight tooth and nail to make it the thing that saves us, then we have done our own faith a disservice. It isn’t the church that saves us. It’s God who saves; the church is merely His instrument, and as soon as we forget that, we have lost faith in the only object that deserves it.
Fellowship with other believers is not a thing to be worshiped, but a thing to rely on to keep our heads in the right place for worship. The world is that collection of things we call reality that can lead us to believe that reality is the thing that should hold our attention more than the person who created it. Fellowship is what reminds us that there is a person who created reality and that we should focus our energies on Him.
Fellowship is The Means of Perseverance
One of the abiding tenets of Reformed theology, or what some people call Calvinism, is perseverance of the saints. In fact, all Christians have some concept of this perseverance, but in Reformed theology the concept is more fully developed and connected to the divine sovereignty of God. My own view is that this perseverance is inherently wrapped up in the fellowship of believers. Perseverance is possible only insofar as the individual Christian maintains fellowship with the universal body of believers who hold true to the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3), and the local expression of the ekklésia.
In other words, as Christians continue in fellowship with one another, encouraging one another to persevere in the faith, holding each other accountable to God’s word, sharing each other’s burdens and caring for one another in a brotherly/sisterly sense, they will find that God is faithful to His promises and will bless them individually and collectively as only He can.
The bottom line is this: Testing God involves Christian fellowship, and those who remain in fellowship with other believers will abundantly receive the gifts of God’s promises. This is testable.
Allen Taylor has been walking (and wavering) with the Lord for 28 years. He has served local churches as a Sunday school teacher, a small group leader, a worship leader, a prayer group leader, and a minister of the Word. His journey isn’t over yet, and he still needs discipling.
Originally published at https://thecrux.substack.com.