CNEWA

CNEWA Connections: Fellowship and Solidarity

Last week, I looked at how CNEWA relates to the three characteristics of the church: koinonia, martyria and diakonia. This week, I want to dig more deeply into how CNEWA participates in those characteristics which, broadly defined, mean fellowship, witness and service.

Let’s start with koinonia.       

 Although Greek is usually a precise language with a word for almost everything, koinonia covers a large field of meanings. While it is often translated “fellowship,” and in some cases this is correct, “fellowship” in common speech connotes socializing or partying; while not totally lacking in the New Testament (NT), there is much more to it than that. And those other nuances really help characterize how CNEWA shares in this vital aspect of the church. 

Almost all of the various usages of koinonia in the NT describe a relationship — a relationship between God and the believer (and vice versa) and relationships within the community of believers both locally and globally. There is also some hint of the word being used to describe the relationship of the persons of the Trinity. While there is, however, a great deal of interest in the unity of the Father and the Son in the NT, the role of the Holy Spirit within the Trinity receives less attention. Thus, putting too much stress on koinonia as descriptive of what is called the “Immanent Trinity” is probably anachronistic and would not be helpful here.

In 2 Cor 13:14 Paul expresses the wish that “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the koinonia of the Holy Spirit” be with the Corinthians. These are presented as gifts of the one God that are shared with humans. In 1 Cor 1:9 Paul speaks of the Corinthians being “called into the koinonia of his (i.e. God’s) son, Jesus Christ, our Lord.” The expression “fellowship of his son” is ambiguous. It can mean the solidarity which the son bestows (objective genitive) or solidarity with the son himself (subjective genitive). Later in 2 Cor 13:14, that solidarity is also with the Holy Spirit. Solidarity, however, extends further to the solidarity the believer has with the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist, the solidarity with Christ (1 Cor 1:9; 1 John 1:3, 6) and the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 13:14). The solidarity of koinonia is here based on the solidarity within the Triune God and the solidarity of the Triune God with humanity in the Incarnation.

Perhaps the clearest and most familiar expression of solidarity between the human and the divine Christ is found in 1 Cor 10:16, (the following chapter 11:23-27 also happens to include the oldest biblical account of the institution of the Eucharist). Paul reminds the Corinthians that in celebrating the Lord’s Supper — the Eucharist — they have a participation (koinonia) in the blood and body of Christ. In the Eucharistic meal the believer experiences a sacramental participation/solidarity with the saving act of God in Christ.

The solidarity spoken of here between divinity and humanity is not a solidarity between equals, but a solidarity accomplished through the indwelling of the Father, Son and Spirit.

But there is even more to this expression — and this has particular meaning for CNEWA. The word koinonia is also used to describe the relationships between believers. Just as there are several levels involved in the solidarity/fellowship of the divine and human, koinonia in its relation to human beings is also built on a several levels of solidarity: the formal agreement, the unity of believers (Acts 2:42) within the local community, the solidarity of the believers in one place with those of another (e.g. Jerusalem), and even the very material of that solidarity, i.e. the actual contribution itself (Rom 15:26; 2 Cor 9:13).

“Solidarity is a driving force behind CNEWA’s ministry. Fundraising is important — St. Paul sends more than prayers to Jerusalem — but koinonia neither starts nor ends there. Koinonia, solidarity, also disperses encouragement, empowerment, hope, presence and communion.”

Elias D. Mallon, S.A., Ph.D.

In Galatians we find koinonia at a purely human level. When Paul finally introduces himself to Peter and the Apostles in Jerusalem, he says they “extended him the right hand of ‘fellowship’” (Gal 2:9). That is to say they recognized him as one of their own.  Solidarity here is almost a business relationship.

As we’ve seen, the solidarity contained in koinonia in the NT thus runs a broad spectrum: from the mystical solidarity of the Father, Son and Spirit in the Godhead; to the solidarity of the believer with God; to the sacramental solidarity of the believer with the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist; to the solidarity of believers within a given community; to the solidarity of all believers throughout the world. It is finally concretized in the actual practical working out of that solidarity in the collection sent to the believers suffering from famine in Jerusalem (cf. Acts 11:27-30).

While there is a great difference between the solidarity between the persons in the Trinity and the monetary gift sent to the believers in Jerusalem, there is a real and particularly important continuity here. To isolate the monetary gift is to make it into a “good deed,” a generous “free will offering” to those in need. This misses the theological and incarnational aspects of koinonia.

Koinonia is an essential characteristic of the church — and, as an essential characteristic of the church, Paul’s collection is an act of that church. It is not an isolated “good deed.” It is rather the church actualizing itself as church in a solidarity not only with the Godhead but with all believers — and, ultimately, with all creation.

In this we find something distinct that relates to CNEWA’s work in the world —a sense of not only solidarity, but responsibility for others. There is connectedness and continuity.

It is important to recognize this continuity. The church — CNEWA — does not engage in acts of charity as one of many things that it does. In koinonia, all acts of solidarity — financial, medical, educational, social, and so on — are acts of the church being church and becoming more in solidarity with the members of the Body of Christ and ultimately with Christ himself. Thus, while financial aid is important — as it was for Paul and the church in Jerusalem — it is only a small part of what koinonia, solidarity, means.

This koinonia, solidarity, is a driving force behind CNEWA’s ministry. Fundraising is important — Paul sends more than prayers to Jerusalem — but koinonia neither starts nor ends there. Koinonia, solidarity, also disperses encouragement, empowerment, hope, presence and communion.

It is, quite simply, the solidarity we share with the Trinity and actualize and make visible to those in need of any sort.

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