The Ancient Faith
A RESTORATION OF THE ANCIENT
ORDER OF THINGS:
KOINWNIA, koinonia, translated fellowship, communion, communication, contribution, and distribution, occurs frequently in the apostolic writings. King James’ translators have rendered this word by all those terms. A few specimens shall be given. It is translated by them fellowship, Acts ii. 42. “They continued steadfastly in the fellowship.” 1 Cor. i. 9. “The fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ.” 2 Cor. vi. 14. “What fellowship has light with darkness.” Gal. ii. 9. “The right hand of fellowship.” Philip. iii. 10. “The fellowship of his sufferings.” 1 John i. 3. “Fellowship with the Father.” 2 Cor. viii. 4. “The fellowship of the ministering to the saints.”
They have sometimes translated it by the word communion, 1 Cor. x. 16. “The communion of his blood.”– The communion of his body.” 2 Cor. xiii. 14. “The communion of the Holy Spirit.”
They have also used the term communicate or communication, Heb. xiii. 16. “To communicate,” or “Of the communication be not forgetful, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.”
Where it evidently means alms giving in other places, they have chosen the term distribution, 2 Cor. ix. 13. “For your liberal distribution to them, and to all.”
They have also selected the term contribution as an appropriate translation, Rom. xv. 26. “For it has pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints at Jerusalem.”
THE CONTRIBUTION IN ACTS 2:42
It is most evident, from the above specimens, that the term KOINWNIA imports a joint participation in giving or receiving; and that a great deal depends on the selection of an English term, in any particular passage, to give a particular turn to the meaning of that passage. For instance, “The right hand of contribution” would be a very uncouth and unintelligible phrase. “The contribution of the Holy Spirit,” would not be “much better.” Again, had they used the word contribution when the sense required it, it would have greatly aided the English reader. For example–Acts ii. 42. “They continued steadfastly in the apostles, doctrine, in the breaking of bread, in the contribution, and in prayers,” is quite as appropriate and intelligible, and there is no reason which would justify their rendering Rom. xv. 26 as they have done, that would not equally justify their having rendered Acts ii. 42, as we have done. In Rom. xv. the context obliged them to select the word contribution, and this is the reason why they should have chosen the same term in Acts ii. 42. The term fellowship is too vague in this passage, and, indeed, altogether improper: for the Jerusalem congregation had fellowship in breaking bread, and in prayers, as well as in contributing; and as the historian contradistinguishes the koinonia (or “fellowship,” as they have it) from prayer and breaking bread, it is evident he did not simply mean either communion or fellowship as a distinct part of the Christian practice or of their social worship.
Thompson has chosen the word community. This, though better than the term fellowship, is too vague, and does not coincide with the context, for the community of goods which existed in this congregation is afterwards mentioned by the historian apart from what he has told us in the 42d verse–There can be no objection made to the term contribution, either as an appropriate meaning of the term KOINWNIA, or as being suitable in this passage, which would require an elaborate refutation, and we shall, therefore, unhesitatingly adopt it as though king James’ translators had given it here as they have elsewhere.
As Christians, in their individual and social capacity, are frequently exhorted by the apostles to contribute to the wants of the poor, to distribute to the necessities of the saints: as the congregation at Jerusalem continued steadfastly in this institution; and as other congregations elsewhere were commended for these acceptable sacrifices, it is easy to see and feel that it is incumbent on all Christians as they have ability, and as circumstances require, to follow their example to this benevolent institution of him who became poor that the poor might be made rich by him.
That every christian congregation should follow the examples of those which were set in order by the apostles, is, I trust, a proposition which few of those who love the founder of the christian institution will question.
WEEKLY CONTRIBUTION FOR THE SAINTS
And that the apostles did give orders to the congregations in Galatia and to the Corinthians to make a weekly contribution for the poor saints, is a matter that cannot be disputed, see 1 Cor. xvi. 1. That the Christian congregations did then keep a treasury for those contributions, is, I conceive, evident from the original of 1 Cor. xvi. 1, which Macknight correctly renders in the following words: “On the first day of every week let each of you lay somewhat by itself, according as he may have prospered, putting it into the treasury, that when I come there may be then no collections.”
Some who profess to follow the institutions of Jesus Christ, as found in the New Testament, do not feel it incumbent on them to make a weekly contribution for the poor, and urge in their justification, among other excuses, the two following: 1st. “In these United States we have no poor;” and, in the second place, “It was only to some churches, and with reference to some exigencies, that those injunctions were published.” The Saviour said, “The poor you have always with you;” but it seems we have lived to see the day when this is not true, in the bounds of the New World. “But,” says another, “the poor clergy exact from us all we can contribute, and all the cents which our mourning bags every week collect, are lost in this vast abyss!!” “Two wrongs will not make one right!”
That some churches, on some particular occasions, were peculiarly called upon to contribute every week for one definite object, is no doubt true, and that similar contingencies may require similar exertions now as formerly, is equally true. But still this does not say that it is only on such occasions that the charities of Christians must be kept awake, and that they may slumber at all other times. Nor does it prove that it is no part of the Christian religion to make constant provision for the poor. This would be to contradict the letter and spirit of almost all the New Testament. For, in truth, God never did institute a religion on earth that did not look with the kindest aspect towards the poor–which did not embrace, as its best good works, acts of humanity and compassion: In the day of judgment, the works particularized as of highest eminence, and most conspicuous virtue, are not, You have built meeting-houses–you have founded colleges, and endowed professorships–you have educated poor pious youths, and made them priests–you gave your parsons good livings; but, You visited the sick, you waited on the prisoner, you fed the hungry, you clothed the naked Christian.
But some excuse themselves by shewing their zeal for sound doctrine. “We,” say they, “do not build colleges nor give fat livings to priests.” No, indeed, you neither contribute to rich nor poor; you do not give to things sacred, or profane; you communicate not to the things of God, nor the things of men. You keep all to yourselves. Your dear wives and children engross all your charities. Yes, indeed, you are sound in faith, and orthodox to opinion. But your good works are not registered in the book of God’s remembrance, and there will be none of them read in the day of rewards.
But this is not my design. The contribution, the weekly contribution–the distribution to the poor saints, we contend is a part of the religion of Jesus Christ. Do not be startled at this use of the term religion. We have the authority of an apostle for it. James says, “Pure and undefiled religion in the presence of God, even the Father, is this–viz. to visit (and relieve) the orphans and widows in their afflictions, and to keep unspotted by the vices of the world” (James 1:26). There is a sacrifice with which God is well pleased, even now, when victims bleed no more. James has told it here, and Paul reminded the Hebrew Christians of it. And when any one undertakes to show that our present circumstances forbid our attending to a weekly contribution for the poor, whether in the congregation or out of it, we shall undertake to show that either we ourselves are proper objects of Christian charity, or we are placed in circumstances which deprive us of that reward mentioned in Matthew 25. And if there is need for private and individual acts of charity, there is more need for a systematic and social preparation for, and exhibition of, congregational contributions. But let it be remembered, that it is always “accepted according to what a man has, and not according to what he has not” (2 Cor.8:12)
I shall close these remarks with an extract from one of the best fragments of antiquity yet extant, which was first published when Christians were under the persecutions of Pagan Rome It is from an apology of one of the first bishops, which being addressed to a Roman emperor, shows the order of the Christian church before it was greatly corrupted. It is equally interesting as respects the weekly breaking of bread and the weekly contribution. Justin Martyr’s Second Apology, page 96 writes,
“On Sunday all Christians in the city or country meet together, because this is the day of our Lord’s resurrection, and then we read the writings of the prophets and apostles. This being done, the president makes an oration to the assembly, to exhort them to imitate, and do the things they heard. Then we all join in prayer, and after that we celebrate the Supper. Then they that are able and willing give what they think fit; and what is thus collected is laid up in the hands of the president, who distributes it to orphans and widows, and other Christians as their wants require.”
Would to Heaven that all the congregations in these United States approximated as nearly to the ancient order of things, as did those in behalf of whom Justin Martyr addressed the Roman Emperor, not more than fifty years after the death of John the apostle!
[This was published in the Christian Baptist (1889) Volume 3. Number 6. January 2, 1826, pp. 205-213.]