More than just a handshake

Talk to someone new at church …

Koinonia, now that’s a 1970’s charismatic word which seems to have fallen out of use, save in the realm of retreat centres. It’s often translated as “fellowship” or “partnership”, yet no single English word is adequate to express its depth and richness. It’s used 51 times in the NT.

Koinonia embraces a strong commitment to Kalos k’agathos meaning “good and good” – an inner goodness toward virtue, and an outer goodness toward social relationships. When the NT refers to koinonia, it means the joint participation in something in a community. There is always an implication of action included in its meaning.

It can mean the generous sharing with others of possessions held in common. When koinonia is present, the spirit of sharing and giving becomes tangible. Sharing Expands, Hoarding Contracts. It can also mean “to have a share in a thing,” as when two or more people hold a common world world – such as their faith. What is shared, received or given becomes the common ground through which koinonia becomes real.

In the NT, James, John, and Simon are called “partners” (koinonia) in their shared fishing business. To create the bond of koinonia, people are recognised, share their joy and pains together, and are united because of their common experiences, interests and goals. Fellowship creates a mutual bond which overrides each individual’s pride, vanity, and individualism, fulfilling the human yearning for fraternity, belonging, and companionship. Unsurprisingly, marriage is the “koinonia of life”; to live together a life in which everything is shared.

The early Christian community expressed koinonia within the church and through the Holy Spirit. In particular, the New Testament applied the Greek word of koinonia to describe the fellowship and communion that existed at the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion [koinonia] of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?”1 Corinthians 10:16. It explains also why there was an ease by which sharing and generosity flowed. Christians have fellowship God, sharing the common experience of joys, fears, tears, and divine glory. Those who share in koinonia know their true wealth lays not in what they have, but in what they give to others. Fellowship is never passive, it is always linked to action; not only being together, but also doing together.

One wonder within when parts of the church try to discover something of genuine expressions of relationship, it picks the word koinonia. It’s is at the heart of the Baptist expression of “gathered church”. In a country where a sense of community is becoming existent yet longed for by many, koinonia takes a mission imperative and opportunity.

Talking to someone new in church is an vital first step – but the journey needs to be towards something much deeper.

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