Formation of Community: Fellowship

Formed on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, this new community of Jesus followers “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). While it is possible to understand the breaking of bread and prayers as categories under the heading of “fellowship,” the word “fellowship” also encompasses more than the breaking of bread and the prayers.

The word fellowship, though it includes those bonds that hold a community together, also refers to the material and physical dimensions of shared life together.  They broke bread together, and they prayed together, and they also shared their possessions with each other.

Luke says this early community devoted itself to fellowship and then tells us that “all who believed were together and had all things in common” (Acts 2:44).  The word “fellowship” and “common” are from the same Greek root. This community shared their resources with each other, particularly as each had need. It does not mean they held their property in common but that their fellowship was such that they let go of their property in order to meet the needs of fellow-believers. In this sense, “no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common” (Acts 4:32).

They sold their possessions in order to distribute to the needy in their community. Just as Jesus taught his disciples, they sold their possessions and gave to the poor (Luke 12:33; 14:33) so that no one among them had any material need. In this way, renewed Israel also remained faithful  to the Torah which taught that there should be no needy among the people. This included the needs of aliens and immigrants to the land, and Israel was called to share with them as well as their own families and nation. The goal to meet all needs in the land not only included their own kin but also aliens who lived in the land with them (Deuteronomy 26:12).

While “fellowship” is often conceived in terms of spiritual bonds and relationships—and those are part of fellowship, the disciples in the early church were committed to sharing their material goods and possessions with each other as they had need so that no one went hungry or went without basic human needs.

In other words, fellowship in the early church was material, physical, and concrete. It was no mere hand shake and see you later as we each retreat to our homes, but it involved a shared life together, including shared possessions, shared meals, and shared prayers. It was authentic community with deep compassion for each other’s material needs. And, as disciples of Jesus, they were willing to sell their possessions—to divest themselves of their own security and comfort—in order to provide for those who needed what they had.

The fellowship of the early church was tangible and compassionate. This shared life—where people were willing to sell what they had so that others might have what they need—characterized their communal life, and, as a result, people were attracted to them and their community grew.

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