Post Series on 1 John 1:1-4:
- The Proclamation: The Word of Life has been Made Manifest (1 John 1:1-3)
- The Fellowship: With the Church, with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1:3)
- The Joy: Filled up and overflowing in the Gospel (1 John 1:4)
In the opening of 1 John, the Apostle explains that his reason for proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Word of Life Made Manifest, is this: “that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). The immediate goal of John’s proclamation is fellowship in two directions–fellowship within the Church, and fellowship with the Father and the Son.
Fellowship means a relational commonality, or something actively shared amongst those in fellowship with one another. John’s description of fellowship, then, is surprising on first reading. He explains that his goal in writing is “that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” Why not allow his readers/hearers immediate fellowship with the Father and the Son? Why must we have fellowship with John and the apostles first? There are two issues here.
First, John is not describing an institutional fellowship. That is, he is not urging people toward mere church membership and involvement, as though that kind of thing is where salvation is found. Only Jesus saves, and John is suggesting nothing on the contrary.
As evidence of this statement, consider all the places in 1 John where the Apostle speaks of salvation or damnation (e.g., 1 John 1:9; 1 John 2:1-2; 1 John 2:22-23; 1 John 3:23-24; 1 John 4:2-3; 1 John 5:4-13; 1 John 5:20-21), where the main issue at stake is always believing in or rejecting Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God come-in-the-flesh, the one True God and eternal life. What John is insisting upon is fellowship (relational commonality) in the witness/proclamation/testimony of the Apostles, all of which concerns the truth of Jesus Christ.
The fellowship “with us” that John writes about is a common faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, holding to the witness of the apostles concerning the Word of Life who was Made Manifest in their midst. Of course we must have fellowship with the apostles in order to join in their fellowship with the Father and the Son–we know nothing about the Father and the Son apart from their testimony!
But second, there is a growing tendency among Christians (especially American evangelical Christians) to look upon the institution of the Church with some disdain, preferring to take a me-and-Jesus-only approach. One book title captures this tragic mindset: “They like Jesus but not the Church.” America’s long-maturing soil of radical individualism has raised a crop of Christians who embrace Jesus, but who reject the other sinners Jesus came to save.
Of course, this is understandable to a certain degree. Jesus is perfect; his Church is not. Jesus gave his very life that we might live; people in the Church can sometimes defend all manner of selfishness and egotism in the name of God.
Nevertheless, Christ has not given us the option of embracing himself while rejecting his Church. One early Christian theologian named Cyprian of Carthage put it this bluntly: “You cannot have God as your Father if you do not have the Church as your Mother.”
Again, it isn’t that membership and participation in a church can save you; only Jesus can save. Still, when Christ saves us, he doesn’t bring us as a multitude of individuals connected to himself on an individual basis; instead, he integrates us into his own body, which is the Church. We do not have the choice between Christ and the Church; Christ has given his life to identify himself as closely as possible with his Church–and if we are indeed servants of Jesus, how can we claim something better for ourselves than the crucifixion that our Master received out of love for the sake of the Church?
If you wish to have fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ, you must have fellowship with the Church that the Father sent his Son to die for.
But here is the good news concerning how God works in his Church: In the Church, God sends his Holy Spirit to bring dead men, women, and children life. In the Church, God uses his Holy Spirit to illuminate the Holy Scriptures to convict us of our sin and to grant us the repentance and faith necessary for salvation. In the Church, God’s Holy Spirit testifies to the glory of the crucified and resurrected Lord Jesus Christ, who is himself True God and Eternal Life–and whoever confesses the Son has the Father also (1 John 2:23).
In the Church, by the Holy Spirit, the Father grants us access to himself through his Son Jesus Christ. With John, I implore you: embrace the common testimony of the Apostles concerning the Word of Life made Manifest that you might have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.