Christian Cyclopedia

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A. Nature of Christian Fellowship. Christian fellowship is common sharing in the Gospel (Ph 1:5), in faith (Phmn 6), and in other spiritual and mutual gifts. God creates it by calling us into fellowship or partnership with His Son so that we share in all Christ's works, blessings, glory, and goods (1 Co 1:9; 10:16; 1 Jn 1:3, 6, 7). It is a union of believers in Christ through fellowship of the Spirit (2 Co 13:13 [14]; 1 Jn 1:7). This communion of believers is unity or “oneness” in Christ (Jn 17:11, 21–22) which transcends race, soc. position (Gl 3:28; Ja 2:1), and death (1 Th 4:13–18). Non-relatives are called father, mother, brother, and sister (Mt 12:49–50; 1 Ti 5:1–2).

Christian fellowship involves participation in the experiences of Christ (Jn 14:9; Ro 6:1–8; 14:8; Ph 1:21; 3:10) and of fellow Christians. Out of basic communion in the Gospel of Christ comes the communication of spiritual and material gifts (Acts 2:42–45; Ro 15:25; 2 Co 8:4; 9:13; Heb 13:16).

As faith always produces fruit, so fellowship of the Spirit in Christ manifests itself in action. Christian fellowship is activity in the Gospel (Gl 2:9). Its mark is love (1 Co 13; 1 Ptr 1:22; 1 Jn). It causes Christians to treat each other as close relatives (1 Ti 5:1–2). It is a fellowship of feelings (2 Co 11:29), burdens (Gl 6:2; Heb 13:3), and a communication of help (Acts 20:35; Ja 1:27). It is activated by desire to bring others into its fellowship (1 Jn 1:3) and avoid or heal schism within itself (1 Co 1; 3:1–11; Eph 4:3). A climax is in the Lord's Supper (1 Co 10:16).

The ideal of fellowship was portrayed by Christ when He spoke of the ch. as one flock under one Shepherd (Jn 10:16) and of individual Christians and chs. as branches growing on one Vine (Jn 15:1–6). In His great prayer on the eve of His death the Savior prayed for unity among His followers (Jn 17:20–23).

The apostles tried to maintain Christian fellowship (1 Co 12:12–27; Eph 4:1–16; cf. also Acts 2:42; Ro 12:5; 1 Co 1:10; 10:17; 2 Co 13:11; Gl 3:28; Ph 1:27; 1 Ptr 3:8; 1 Jn 1:7), condemned schisms under various leaders (1 Co 1:10–17; 3:3–9), and tried to solve difficulties through deliberation and discussion (Acts 15:1–35).

B. Fellowship of Churches. In the early ch., unity was exemplified by fellowship in worship. Pastors in one part of the ch. were recognized in other parts and, if present at a service, were invited to take part (cf. custom of Judaism in NT times: Mt 9:35; Lk 4:16–27; Acts 13:5, 15; 14:1–3; 16:13; 18:24–28). Rise of heretics and impostors led to rules and safeguards, e.g., Apostolic* Constitutions and Canons. Cf. Mt 7:15–23; Gl 1:8–9; 1 Ti 1:5–7; 4:1–7; 6:3–5; 2 Ti 4:3–4; Tts 1:10–16; 2 Ptr 2. The schismatic spirit continued to be condemned (cf. 1 Clement) and unity praised. Ignatius makes unity flow from loyalty to the bp., e.g., Ad Ephesios, IV; Ad Trallianos, III; cf. Cyprian, De unitate ecclesiae.

With the growth of the hierarchical system, fellowship was more and more determined by the hierarchy. Disagreement was revolt and for hundreds of yrs. a capital crime.

The schism bet. E and W (see Schism, 4, 6) destroyed fellowship that could not be restored at Lyons 1274 (see Lyons, Councils of) and Florence 1439 (see Florence, Council of). The traditional RC position made fellowship depend on unity of faith, govt., worship, and acknowledgment of the supreme authority of Rome. The 2d Vatican* Council recognized chs. and ecclesiastical communities outside the RC Ch. and fostered an ecumenical spirit.

M. Luther* at first tried to maintain fellowship with the RC Ch., but his excommunication made it impossible (see Reformation, Lutheran, 7–9). Fellowship bet. Luther and the Ref. was not hastily cut off. The ideal of a unified ch. is strongly emphasized in the preface to the AC Luther's own efforts for peace are shown in his letter to Cardinal Albrecht of Mainz (WA 30 II, 397–412; cf. WA 30 II, 268–356).

The statement of AC VII, “to the true unity of the Church it is enough to agree concerning the doctrine of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments,” is variously stated in Luther's writings (e.g., unity springs from agreement in Word and doctrine, WA 34 II, 387; it springs from the inner spirit, WA 10 II, 219; 22, 57–59; from the sacraments, WA 10 II, 219–220. Love avails nothing where unity in faith and spirit are lacking, WA 40 II, 136–137).

Beginning 1530 the AC was considered by those who subscribed to it a unifying document, criterion of fellowship, and safeguard against Ref. and RC teaching. Fellowship was usually not denied whole Luth. state chs. that held this confession but did not formally subscribe to the whole Book of Concord. Later efforts at restoring fellowship with the Ref. were unsuccessful (Wittenberg* Concord 1536; Thirteen Articles 1538 [see Anglican Confessions, 4]; Regensburg* Conference 1541; Interims* 1548; Thorn Conference 1645 [see Reformed Confessions, D 3 c]; Prussian* Union 1817; modern movements). Decisions of the Council of Trent* completed the breach bet. Luths. and RCs (see Counter Reformation; Roman Catholic Confessions, A).

Early Luths. in Am. had few or no bonds of union, no important rules regarding fellowship with other Christians. They were a prey of many religious propagandists. H. M. Mühlenberg* strove to est. consciousness of Luth. unity and loyalty to the Luth. Confessions. But in this period limited fellowship with other bodies (esp. Episcopalians) was practiced. Then followed a period in which confessional distinctions were more and more disregarded and wider fellowship with other chs. sought (often following cultural or language lines). Beginning ca. 1820, S. S. Schmucker* labored to reunite Luths. and reintroduce the AC and subscription to its “fundamental” doctrines.

Reactions to the Prussian Union, immigration of Luths. from Eur., and other things led to gradual formulation of fellowship rules in the 19th c. Growth of confessional consciousness by mid-c. is indicated by widespread opposition to the Definite Platform (see Definite Synodical Platform). When the General* Council of the Luth. Ch. in N. Am. was formed 1867, the Mo. Syn., the Joint Syn. of Ohio, and the Ger. Syn. of Iowa had misgivings. The Joint Syn. of Ohio asked the Gen. Council for a statement on chiliasm, altar* fellowship, pulpit fellowship, and secret societies; this led to the Pittsburgh Declaration 1868, Akron Rule 1872, Galesburg* Rule 1875, and the action taken at Pittsburgh 1889 (see also Four Points). C. F. W. Walther* and others at the Free* Luth. Conferences tried to est. gen. Luth. fellowship based on loyalty to the AC, holding that the other Luth. confessions were not sufficiently known in Am. to serve as basis.

Doctrinal controversies among Luths. in the 2d half of the 19th c. underlined doctrinal differences, alienated Luths. from each other, strengthened syn. walls, and occasioned restatements of the boundaries of fellowship. The Mo. Syn. instructed its delegates to the Syn. Conf. not to deliberate with persons who had accused the Mo. Syn. of Calvinism (1881 Synodal-Bericht, p. 45). L. u. W., LI (February–March 1905), 49–53, 97–115, citing Jer 23:31–32; Mt 7:15; Lk 21:17; Ro 16:17; 2 Co 6; 1 Ti 6:3, 5; Tts 3:10; 2 Jn 10–11; and other passages, upheld refusal of Mo. Syn. delegates to pray with those of the Iowa and Ohio syns. at the Free Conference at Detroit, Michigan, April 6–8, 1904.

While the gen. trend in Am. Lutheranism at the end of the 19th c. was to make confessional loyalty the basis of fellowship, there was no complete unanimity. Some, emphasizing the unity of the ch., advocated gen. Christian fellowship. This view was strenuously opposed, esp. by those who emphasized the confessional nature of altar fellowship.

The 1st half of the 20th c. was marked by many efforts toward Luth. unity and fellowship. Many statements were issued to show doctrinal positions as well as doctrinal agreement or disagreement. Principles and methods varied. Some tried to adhere to the principles of M. Luther and C. F. W. Walther. Others demanded agreement on all formulated doctrines and such as are to be formulated, holding that all joint work and worship is indicative of indifference toward, or agreement with, error. Selective* fellowship has been advocated by some; others oppose it for the sake of order and hold that the individual pastor or ch. has foregone the right of selective fellowship. Distinctions are also made bet. various types of fellowship (e.g., work, private and pub. prayer, pulpit, altar). Following the precedent set by C. F. W. Walther, the Mo. Syn. Coll. of Presidents called for free Luth. conferences 1949.

The ALC, LCA, and AELC began “Interim Eucharistic Sharing” with the Protestant* Episc. Ch. in January 1983

See also Church; Ecumenical Movement, Fundamental Doctrines; Lutheran Confessions; Union and Unity Movements, in the United States; Lutheran; Union Movements; Unionism. EL

Patristic writings; standard ch. histories; Luther's works; V. Ferm, The Crisis in American Lutheran Theology (New York, 1927); F. Pieper, “Einige Sätze über den Unionismus,” in 1924 Synodal-Bericht, Oregon and Washington District, Mo. Syn., pp. 4–39; C. P. Krauth, Theses on the Galesburg Declaration on Pulpit and Altar Fellowship, prepared by an 1876 order of the General Council, dated Philadelphia 1877, and reprint. in The Lutheran Church Review, XXVI (July and October 1907), 515–527, 740–748; XXVII (January and April 1908), 129–137, 321–330; F. Bente, Was steht der Vereinigung der lutherischen Synoden Amerikas im Wege? (St. Louis, 1917); The Distinctive Doctrines and Usages of the General Bodies of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the United States, 4th ed. (Philadelphia, 1914); T. C. Graebner, The Problem of Lutheran Union and Other Essays (St. Louis, 1935); T. F. Gullixson, The Fellowship Question (Minneapolis, Minnesota, n. d.); T. C. Graebner and P. E. Kretzmann, Toward Lutheran Union (St. Louis, 1943); M. Reu, In the Interest of Lutheran Unity (Columbus, Ohio, 1940); H. E. Jacobs, “Some Considerations Involved in the Discussion of the Fellowship Question,” The Lutheran Church Review, VIII (October 1889), 243–279; M. V.[alentine], “Altar-Fellowship” and H. E. J.[acobs], “Pulpit Fellowship,” The Lutheran Cyclopedia, ed. H. E. Jacobs and J. A. W. Haas (New York, 1899), pp. 9, 399–400; W. Brenner, Dangerous Alliances or Some Peace Snags (Toledo, Ohio, n. d.); J. H. C. Fritz, Union or Unity? (St. Louis, n. d.); C. A. Hardt, “Christian Fellowship,” CTM, XVI (July 1945), 433–466; W. A. Arndt, “Selective Fellowship,” CTM, XVII (June 1946), 455–457, and “Missouri's Insistence on Acceptance of the Word of God and the Confessions of the Lutheran Church as a Condition of Church Fellowship,” CTM, XVIII (March 1947), 171–177; R. T. DuBrau, “New Testament Fellowship: A Study in Semantics,” CTM, XXII (May 1951), 334–342; M. Schulz, “The Question of Altar Fellowship According to the Halle Resolutions,” tr. and condensed by F. E. M.[ayer], CTM, XVIII (July 1947), 534–537; E. L. Lueker, “Walther and the Free Lutheran Conferences of 1856–1859,” CTM, XV (August 1944), 529–563; W. G. Polack, “Lutheran Unity: The Present Status,” The Lutheran Witness, LXVIII, (June 14, 1949), 194–196; What Lutherans Are Thinking, ed. E. C. Fendt (Columbus, Ohio, 1947); E. Rinderknecht, “Lutheran Unity and Union from the Point of View of the United Lutheran Church,” The Lutheran Church Quarterly, XIX (January 1946), 13–34; A. H. Grumm, “Church Fellowship,” The Abiding Word, II (St. Louis, 1947), 517–537; W. Elert, Abendmahl und Kirchengemeinschaft in der alten Kirche hauptsächlich des Ostens (Berlin, 1954), tr. N. E. Nagel, Eucharist and Church Fellowship in the First Four Centuries (St. Louis, 1966); Four Statements on Fellowship, presented by the constituent synods of the Synodical Conference for study and discussion (St. Louis, 1960); Church in Fellowship, ed. V. Vajta (Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1963); “Theology of Fellowship,” Mo. Syn. Proceedings 1965, pp. 264–291 (adopted, Proceedings 1967, p. 91).

Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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