What does the word fellowship mean to you? In academia, it means you got some kind of grant to teach or do research. In the church, it usually means you’re getting together for a potluck dinner or some coffee.
But the word means something else entirely.
The term first appears in Middle English around the year 1000, borrowed from the Old Norse felagi. And what did felagi mean? Ever heard of the Vikings?
At the beginning of the 9th century, something happened in Scandinavia. We’re not entirely sure what it was, but something motivated a number of Scandinavians to throw their lots in together, build long boats and head south looking for open land. It was not just men – but women and children as well. They went to find new homes. Of course, they terrified the inhabitants of the lands they found. They landed in Britain and formed a kingdom known as the Danelaw. They settled in France and became the Normans.
When those people joined together, they became felagi with one another. They were bound together in their endeavor, on their journey. Combine felagi with the word scipe (the original form of both -ship as a suffix and ship as in something that floats on water) and you get felaweshipe or fellowship.
This is why, when it came time to translate the Greek word koinonia into Middle English, Jon Wyclif chose felaweshipe. He needed an English word that carried the same idea of the church, and nothing was more like the early church than those Scandinavians who threw everything they had into their ships and sailed south.
Fellowship is not just potluck dinners and getting to know one another. It is throwing everything you have into the work, the journey we share together. It is not some leisurely religious jaunt down memory lane that makes us feel better and gives us opportunities to do fun things. The imagery that was originally evoked was quite literally going “all in.”
The Scandinavians invested their resources in the construction and provisioning of their vessels. They took their wives and children with them. They were IN – all or nothing.
Fellowship is not an ends we strive for. It is the commitment we make to make God’s vision for us a reality.
The journey has four main components:
- Worship – declaring God’s worth through praise, the ordinances and teaching (another great old Anglo-Saxon word including that -ship suffix)
- Prayer – speaking to God, bringing our intercessions and requests to him as well as listening to His voice
- Giving – contributing of our financial resources for the work of the vision
- Serving – working to make the vision a reality
We need to be committed together to these things – in all three environments. This is what the journey looks like, and I’m sorry, but Christians cannot just be “along for the ride.” Everyone needs to be all in.
There’s no middle ground or passenger space on a Viking ship – know what I mean?