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.