Friday, July 26, 2013

What is Fellowship? Part VI

Now, I know that having said yesterday that I have only seen fellowship twice since my conversion and today, a lot of pastors, individual members, and congregations of going to get their socks in a bunch. I know it is usually a different article of clothing that gets in a bunch but I don't think I can say that in a G-rated blog.

A lot of pastors and congregations are going to make the case that they have a good and have good fellowship. After all they smile each time they see you, they shake your hand, they even ask you how you are doing - lingering long enough to get the perfunctory "fine" response. They will point out their regularly scheduled pot-lucks, bible studies, quilting and crafts, VBS, neighborhood outreach, and or any other number of programs. They call all these things fellowship. They will think I should have seen these things and thereby should have seen "fellowship."

However, as I pointed out, these things are not in and of themselves fellowship. They can and should lead to and facilitate real, true, Biblical fellowship. Sadly, most of the time they do not. Sadly, you could not tell the difference between some of these activities and a secular activity if it weren't for the "name" attached to them and a few bibles that may be present. I have been at a few pot-lucks that would have made Peyton Place look tame. 

What is fellowship? Well, since we have discussed it previously, suffice it to say, that fellowship is the intimate edification of a fellow believer. Remember J. I. Packer's definition?

"[Fellowship is] a sharing with our fellow-believers the things that God has made known to us about himself, in hope that we may thus help them to know him better and so enrich their fellowship with him. "Sharing": Fellowship is, secondly, a seeking to share what God has made known of himself to others, as a means to finding strength, refreshment, and instruction for one's own soul."

First of all, true and biblical fellowship begins with God. God has made fellowship with him and with each other possible through His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Second, God intends and works to fulfill His intention of making us one in absolute unity, conformity, and likeness to His dear Son through fellowship with Him and with the saints. Spiritually intimate participation and sharing with our Sovereign and the Saints is the means and manner of finding strength, refreshment and instruction for the soul of each all members of the body of Christ.

What did I see at the Bremerton Bible Church (BBC) and Living Water Community Church (LWCC)  that I had never seen before? What instruction did I hear that I had never heard before? What was the difference?

The congregants - the members were taught a number of biblical truths. They were expected and held accountable to live out those biblical truths. They were shown by the Elders what was expected of them. They were assisted, empowered, and monitored by the Elders. They were given an opportunity to "practice" what they were taught. They lived out on a daily basis and in public/private places what they had been taught.

How did this come about? First, let me say that I was not aware of BBC or LWCC when the Elders first began to teach and practice biblical fellowship. So, I am not sure what precipitated this emphasis nor do I know what it "took" to accomplish it. I do know what "toll" it took on the congregation.

Second, I am not pretending to relate everything that was either said or done to facilitate the level of fellowship experienced and was practiced at BBC and LWCC.

The elders dispensed [this occurred at BBC - LWCC met in a school and did not have Sunday evening services] with the "preaching" on Sunday nights. This was no problem because the preaching Sunday morning was more than adequate. Sunday evenings the body would gather for a pot-luck meal. It is hard to beat the "breaking of bread" together to foster an intimate setting. After all, look at the experience of the early congregation in Acts:

"And they continued steadfastly in the apostles doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers." (Acts 2:42, NKJV)

"So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart." (Acts 2:46, NKJV)

"Now when they had come up, had broken bread and eaten, and talked a long while, even till daybreak, he departed." (Acts 20:11, NKJV)

Who isn't aware of the pot-lucks that the Corinthian Community Church used to throw? Some members got stuffed and drunk at those gatherings. Unfortunately it was at the expense of poorer believes who were left to remain hungry. 

Christ loved to eat and drink by the way. He ate and drank so much with common people the religious crowd accused him of being a glutton and a drunkard. (Matthew 11:19)

The difference in BBC's pot-lucks was seen in the conversation. The Elders encouraged the conversations to focus on God, Christ, biblical things, the morning sermon, the Sunday School lesson, the Small Group topics - in other words spiritual things. Yes, at times conversation included the kids, grandkids, illnesses, and such. We were taught to talk about the Lord, our faith, and our Christian walk.

 We were taught and encouraged to talk about our struggles, difficulties, failures, falls, and even sin. Yes we also talked about blessings, victories, answers to prayer, and ministry opportunities.

We also were taught how to praise God and share blessings. The congregants were trained to take the focus off of themselves and what they did and place the focus on God and what He did. That is an education in itself! 

We were taught to be open, honest, and transparent. We shared our needs - spiritual, physical, financial, and/or material. We were taught to meet those need at that time. If a dentist bill needed paid someone volunteered to pay it. If a lawn needed mowed someone said that they would do it. If groceries were needed we gave and they were purchased. If someone needed a car and someone had two they loaned and even on occasion gave someone a car.

We were also taught when and how to confess sin to one another. First, we were cautioned as to what sins should actually be confessed in a mixed gender public setting. Second, we were taught what words to use. We were taught not to use words like mistake, problem, or similar. We were taught to use words like, sin, transgression, wickedness. We were taught to say, "I sinned" not "I made a mistake." We were taught to take responsibility and to become accountable.

We confessed to one another or the group. We wept with many, laughed with many.

We then participated in the Lord's table together. It wasn't with tiny stale cracker-ettes and thimble sized cups of grape juice. We had loaves of bread and glasses of wine and juice. We were given a real appreciation for the Lord's Table. We participated in it together. We shared together. 

Of course we sang songs of praise and worship. We were taught biblical fellowship. When we left the time of gathering we lived what we learned and had just practiced. 

The nice thing about being around those believers was the fact that when you met them on the job, in their home, in your home, at the park, at the ball-game, at Freddie's, at Wal-Mart, or at Taco-Bell they were the same as they were when they gathered at the meeting place. The conversations centered on God, His glory, His goodness, His blessing, and His grace. We prayed for one another in the aisles of Wal-Mart as easily as in the meeting house basement.

What I am saying is that the congregants truly participated and shared the things of God that He had made known to us about Himself in the hope that they would help us to know God better and to enrich our lives as brothers and sisters in Christ.  Even on a Monday night while watching Monday night,oops I just dated myself, I guess I should say on Sunday night watching "Are you ready for some foot-ball?" Sunday night football they were the same.

How is this different than many places I have visited or been a member of? Well, first, in some cases the conversation was never about God, His glory, His grace or His blessings. It was also about self, secular things, and material things. In many places no one shares their intimate needs, struggles, or fears nor do they inquire about anyone else's needs, struggles, or fears. Exhortation, encouragement, instruction, reproof, correction, or assistance is left up to the pastor. Burden bearing is rarely seen. 

There is no doubt we can have fun and good food at a pot-luck. There is no doubt some good things can be taught and shared at a bible study. But it doesn't end there. Fellowship isn't something that can be scheduled or programmed. It can't be "expected" to happen because Christian people are meeting in a "Christianized" building or setting. There is not doubt that most congregations like and even love one another. 

However, as we try and conclude this post, we can experience biblical teaching, eat good food with friends at a pot-luck, and experience zero fellowship. This is why on occasions a faithful member of a good bible-teaching evangelical church can say to their pastor, "Pastor, we just can't find fellowship at our church." 

They can find friends. They can find good food. They can find a lot of activity and programs to either be involved in or sit in. They can find people that truly like them and love them and call them brother of sister. But many times they can't find people who intimately share the things that God has made known about Himself with the design to help them know God better and to enrich their relationship with God. Many times they can't find someone who with share what God has made known of Himself with them as a means of strengthening, refreshing, or instructing their souls.

Well, I have rambled on for too long. Please forgive me. 

5 comments:

ROBERT LLOYD RUSSELL said...

Hi Gregg,
I appreciate your great series on a neglected topic.
Do you suppose a major reason for the lack of fellowship with one another is a lack of intimacy (i.e., fellowship) with the Trinity?
Fellowship with the Father – 1 John 1:3
Fellowship of the Son – 1 Corinthians 1:9
Fellowship of the Spirit – Philippians 2:1
In Him,
BloggerBob

Susan said...

Hi Gregg,

Really enjoying your thoughts on this topic. Thank you.

As I was reading today's episode, I couldn't help thinking on Jesus being the WAY the TRUTH and the LIFE. When we are his disciples, truly He should be in everything we do and say. And we are brothers and sisters in Christ, so an openness and genuineness needs to be in our interactions that is different from how we interact with the world in general.

Recently the Lord has really been dealing with me on this issue. I even broke off "fellowship" with someone over this because the fellowship wasn't really there, and was in fact a sham. It was difficult to have to do, but I cannot call something fellowship that isn't and I had to let this person know that the superficial "intimacy" that we had was fake, and it wasn't all about Jesus, it was all about ourselves. It hurt to admit it, and it hurt to have to let go...but it was necessary, and in effect my relationship with Jesus has become stronger and deeper.

While I was going through this relationship trouble, a pastor I enjoy listening to talked in a sermon (sermon audio) about the prophet in 1 Kings 13, and the warning about not stopping to talk with false brethren. I know this can be taken into all kinds of unhealthy extremes, and even a cult can be born on taking something like this out of context, but in my situation it was fitting, and I know the Lord was speaking to me about my situation.

I continue to pray for this person, and I do hope that eventually the Lord will in His time heal it. It is something beyond my ability to do but nothing is impossible with God. In the meantime, I have to put Him first and not my fleshy affections.

Sorry for my ramble, but it did seem to dovetail with what you are speaking on...

Pat Donovan said...

I am guilty of keeping my problems to my self for the most part, Oh I will share about my son but not about me. I don't want any one to know how truly retched I can be. I have had good fellowship and truly miss it, it was very close to what you described in your blog and I believe it was in the beginning stages. if the pastor had not left and the old guard had not taken back over it would have become as beautiful as your description in your blog. I have become hardened and even though I desire that type of fellowship I don't know if I can let go and open myself up again. that last statement makes me ashamed of myself, at this point though its true.

Gregg Metcalf said...

Robert - Thank you! It warms my heart and makes me feel as if I have done something worthwhile. Yes, very much so. I think we don't have spiritual fellowship with one another because we don't have fellowship with the Trinity. I agree 100%!

Susan - Thank you! I also appreciate the fact that you say you have enjoyed this series. Means alot to me. Sorry about your experience but sometimes it is necessary to break off a relationship that is not spiritually beneficial.

Pat - I understand brother. I am with you. Thanks for your transparency. Most believers are not so transparent.

Susan said...

Thanks Gregg, to be clear (just in case someone reads these comments and gets the wrong impression) the relationship I was talking about in my previous comment was NOT sexual. My husband and I are doing just fine. :)

Another situation came to mind after I put in that previous comment. It involves my flesh and blood brother. As of this time he is an atheist...sigh....and years ago while he was living at our mom's I had a television set there in the house, and often he would watch horror/slasher movies on that set. I was still a relatively young Christian and I got the notion that I had to be bold and destroy that television set. I even had him help me take it out of the house (it was a huge old Sony Trinitron) and he watched incredulously as I put a pick ax through the front of the tube and we heard a hisssss as it died. I was being obedient (though I felt like a perceived idiot) and I'm sure that memory is something that still stays with my brother.

Sometimes the Lord had the OT prophets do some unusual things to "speak" with those around them, so looking back this doesn't seem quite so strange anymore.

I agree with what you say about sometimes needing to break off...sometimes what the Lord has us do seems contrary to His love, and yet, it isn't because I don't think we always have a clear understanding of what His love really is.