Is the Church Just a
"Fellowship of Believers"?
Q. The Church is an organisation established by Jesus Christ when he was upon the earth and I challenge you to show me one scripture which proves beyond all doubt that it is just a "fellowship of believers".
Many like yourself (Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Catholics, etc.) teach that the New Testament Church, like their present churches, are basically organisations created by God with authority to represent Him on the earth. They all teach that should every Mormon, Jehovah's Witness or Catholic suddenly disappear the Church would continue to exist. By contrast, the New Testament teaches that the Church, whilst having an organisation, is essentially, as you correctly point out, a "fellowship of believers".
I am at least happy that your Church accepts and used the King James Version because that is the version I am going to use. You asked for a conclusive scripture which says that the Church is not an organisation per se. Here it is:
Well, let us translate that passage as a Mormon, Jehovah's Witness or Catholic would translate it based on their interpretation of what the "church" is:
"To our beloved Apphia, and to Archippus our fellowsoldier, and to the church in thy house" (Phm.2, AV).
If I were to ask a Mormon where his church was, he would probably give me the address of its Headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, or name me one of the Stakes, Wards or Branches (local congregations). The Jehovah's Witness would probably tell me his organisation was in Brooklyn, New York, or point me to any one of the many Kingdom Halls worldwide. And the Catholic would direct my attention to St.Paul's in the Vatican or any any Catholic Church building.
- Mormon: "...to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in thy house."
- Jehovah's Witnesses: "...to the Watchtower Organization in thy house".
- Catholic: "to the Roman Catholic Church in thy house."
But the word for "church" in this passage, like almost every other word translated "church" in the KJV, is the Greek word koinônia, which translates as "fellowship". So what Paul is asking Philemon to do is forgive his runaway slave, Onesimus, and receive back into the fellowship or communion of his household. Thus the prodigal son, who left his home for a life of riotous living in the world, was received back into the "church of his father's house", that is, into the fellowship of family life.
And that is what the Christian Church is -- a family fellowship of like-minded souls, a sharing of one's life with others "of like precious faith" (2 Pet.1:1) -- a fellowship that becomes "effectual" (literally, "full of power", from the Greek energes, meaning "energising").
Unfortunately, most modern Bible translations do not get that sense over enough. The NIV, for example, translates this passage as: "and to the church that meets in your home", in other words, a House Fellowship. And whilst "church" (koinônia) could, in this instance, include a "house fellowship" (a group of Christians meeting in a member's house for fellowship, prayer, study and worship) the sense here is primarily of being accepted back into the household of Philemon.
I do not think, however, that it is very helpful to use "proof-texts" such as you demanded and such as your Church, and others, are fond of using, often out of context. I recommend a more thorough study of the New Testament be done by you. If you have a copy of the Olive Branch you will find a discussion on pp.613-614 in footnote #542 where you will find a more detailed description of the church as a fellowship of sharing. Alternatively, there is a booklet for Mormons written by us called, "What is the True Church?" which is available from New Covenant Press.
This page was created on 8 April 1998
Last updated on 8 April 1998
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