Fourteen-year-old Karthik Nemmani of McKinney, Texas, last month won the 91st Scripps National Spelling Bee by correctly spelling the word “koinonia.” With high-tech voice-to-text, auto-correct, and spell-check, Spelling Bees might be as archaic or obsolete as their sponsoring news organizations, but “koinonia” definitely is more than just a word to spell.
I do not know if Nemmani needed to be given a definition as part of the Bee, but the press release about his win defined “koinonia” as an “intimate spiritual communion and participative sharing in a common religious commitment and spiritual community.” The word comes into English from Greek, and its Greek original is used some 20 times in the New Testament with various meanings.
In contrast to the intimate fellowship of koinonia, on account of both the original sin that we inherit and the actual sins that result, our relationships with God and with one another are ruined. But, through the death of His Son Jesus Christ on the cross, God not only calls us into a right relationship with Him but establishes that relationship for us through the forgiveness of our sins (1 Corinthians 1:9; 1 John 1:7).
The truest fellowship of the Christian Church is not in pot-luck “fellowship” meals or any other activities in a congregation’s “fellowship” hall. But, the truest fellowship of the Church is in the unity of the common confession of the faith revealed in the Bible, which unity is expressed and strengthened as only such believers participate in the Body and Blood of Christ and so also in one another in the Sacrament of the Altar (1 Corinthians 10:16-17; 2 Corinthians 6:14-18; Hebrews 13:10). In such ways, not only the Son, but also the Father and the Holy Spirit, are in and remain with those who repent and believe (2 Corinthians 13:14; 1 John 1:3).
Whether or not we can spell “koinonia” and know what it means, faithful believers, not only in the early church but also today, devote themselves to both the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship (Greek koinonia), that is, the breaking of bread and the prayers (Acts 2:42).
The Rev. Dr. Jayson S. Galler is Pastor of Pilgrim Lutheran Church in Kilgore. You can reach him through the congregation’s website: www.pilgrimlc.org.