Posted in fellowship, Uncategorized

Rules for Walking in Fellowship

The Bible Belt has been on a diet. The belt keeps tightening its notches as the belly shrinks… which is to say that the Bible Belt isn’t really as fat with Bible as people think.

I surmise that nowhere is as biblical as people think. Everywhere has its challenges.

However, in the south, we use words that are Christian-y. Due to a lack of comprehension about what these words actually mean, they’ve been drained of meaning.

Fellowship is one of those words.

We use the word fellowship here as a synonym for most any social gathering where some Christians are likely to be congregating, and even non-Christians with us. Now, it’s OK to gather in social affinity, like-minded people enjoying each other. But fellowship under the umbrella of Christian love means something specific in the Bible. Here, Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary helps bring the word and its command into clarity

To appreciate the full meaning of the word-group in the New Testament that conveys the nature and reality of Christian fellowship (i.e., the noun koinonia [koinwniva], the verb, koinonein [koinwnevw], and the noun koinonos [koinwnov”]) as used in the New Testament, it is necessary to be aware of two fundamental points.

First, the fact and experience of Christian fellowship only exists because God the Father through Jesus Christ, the Son, and by/in the Spirit has established in grace a relation (a “new covenant”) with humankind. Those who believe the gospel of the resurrection are united in the Spirit through the Son to the Father. The relation leads to the reality of relatedness and thus to an experienced relationship (a “communion”) between man and God. And those who are thus “in Christ” (as the apostle Paul often states) are in communion not only with Jesus Christ (and the Father) in the Spirit but also with one another. This relatedness, relationship, and communion is fellowship.

In the second place, it is probably best not to use the word “community” as a synonym for “fellowship.” The reason for this is that in modern English “community” presupposes “individualism” and thus carries a meaning that is necessarily foreign to biblical presuppositions since individualism (i.e., the thinking of a human being as an “individual” and as the basic unity of society) is, technically speaking, a modern phenomenon. So “community” seemingly inevitably today usually refers to a group, body, or society that is formed by the coming together of “individuals” in a contractual way.

The emphasis is on the initiative of the “individuals” and on the voluntary nature of the group thus formed. In contrast, koinonia [koinwniva] has its origin in a movement out of the internal, eternal relation, relatedness, and communion of the Godhead of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Koinonia [koinwniva] for baptized believers is thus a participation within human experience of the communion of the living God himself.

There is a difference between community and fellowship. Community is not fellowship, because Christians are not individuals, but part of one body- Christ’s, bound by the Spirit’s indwelling, under the ordination of God.

If this is a little confusing, then here is a short book to help. It’s by John Owen. Most of what Owen wrote is dense and difficult because of archaic language and outdated writing style, but this little book is accessible to the modern reader.

There are two sections of the book. The first regards rules with respect to walking in fellowship with the pastor, and the second regards rules with walking in fellowship with respect to other believers.

9Marks reviewed this book favorably. Healthy (true) fellowship makes for healthy churches.

What makes a healthy church? That’s a question many prospective pastors are asking as conversations about church planting, church revitalization, and church membership seem more popular than ever. Does church health depend on a particular model, set of programs, or a good marketing strategy? Or is it something else altogether? How do we know?

Thankfully, Scripture doesn’t leave us in the dark. We’re not the first generation of Christians to wrestle with this question … The book is comprised of 22 “rules” or Scriptural commands [to fellowship] that Owen says are responsibilities of every member of a Christian church. These rules are broken down into two distinct sections…

More at the link above.

Takeaways

#1: Understand exactly what fellowship means.

Not this (necessarily):

This:

#2. Fellowship is a command

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:3).

And think about this too:

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
(Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

That is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. (Romans 1:12) .

 

Posted in encouragement, fellowship

True Christian Fellowship

Fellowship is defined as friendly association, especially with people who share one’s interests.

In Acts 2:42 we read that Christian fellowship was practiced among the new believers in the new church

They were devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 

At Bible.org we read the following opening paragraphs regarding fellowship and what it has come to mean. I agree with these statements, and I’m disappointed that what passes for fellowship today is often absent some critical ingredients. More on that in a moment.

Introduction
In Acts 2:42 we read that one of the four things the early church devoted itself to was “fellowship.” Fellowship was a very important part of their reason for meeting together. It was one of their objectives. But what is fellowship? 

We often hear people talking about fellowship. We hear it said that what we need is more fellowship. But our modern ideas of fellowship have become so watered down that the word no longer carries the same meaning it did in New Testament times. 

We are not surprised that the early church devoted itself to “the apostles’ teaching” and also “to prayer.” Apart from the ministry of the Holy Spirit, these are the two most important means of growth, power, and effectiveness in the Christian life and this is everywhere evident in the rest of Scripture. 

But Luke tells us these early Christians also devoted themselves to fellowship. They just didn’t have fellowship; they devoted themselves to it. This means that fellowship was a priority and one of the objectives for gathering together. They made fellowship a priority. 

Today, however, we often view fellowship as what we do in “fellowship hall.” It’s the place where we have casual conversations and savor coffee and donuts. This is not bad and can contribute to fellowship, but it falls far short of fellowship according to biblical standards and according to the meaning and use of the Greek words for fellowship.

In today’s watered-down Christian fellowship world, we’d simply be “devoting ourselves” to more coffee and donuts and sitting for longer periods on the hard folding chairs before the Youth come and take them away so the kids can start AWANAs. But is that true fellowship?

The critical ingredient that is often missing from Christian fellowship, even when it’s organized and intentional, is talk of Jesus. See this paragraph from John Bunyan’s allegorical book, Pilgrim’s Progress,

Now I saw in my dream, that thus they sat talking together until supper was ready. So when they had made ready, they sat down to meat. Now the table was furnished with fat things, and with wine that was well refined; and all their talk at the table was about the Lord of the hill; as, namely, about what he had done, and wherefore he did what he did, and why he had builded that house; and by what they said, I perceived that he had been a great warrior, and had fought with and slain him that had the power of death, Heb. 2:14,15; but not without great danger to himself, which made me love him the more.

The beginning of fellowship is to focus on Jesus, talk with praise and awe about all that He has done, and by the end of the fellowship time, you love Him all the more. Yet too often when we finish our fellowship time, no one has even mentioned Jesus.

The Bible.org article continues,

You may be thinking, “My view of fellowship is much richer and deeper than mere social activity. True fellowship involves getting together for spiritual purposes: for sharing needs, for prayer, for discussing and sharing the Word to encourage, comfort, and edify one another.” And you are right. This certainly is an aspect of Christian fellowship, and one much more important than the first idea. It is an area of fellowship that is often lacking in the church today and one that needs to be remedied. But even this does not comprehend or grasp the full and rich meaning of “fellowship” in the New Testament.

The article goes on at length to describe the deeper aspects of true Christian fellowship. We also have fellowship with the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 13:14) and that is a rich study in itself. The Bible.org study begins its conclusion this way-

Fellowship in the body of Christ is certainly no side issue. It was one of the four things the early church devoted itself to, and from this brief study, we can see why. It is a means of support and encouragement to others and of ministry in the Savior’s enterprise on earth. We have seen four words (relationship, partnership, companionship, and stewardship) that describe the general emphasis of this New Testament concept, but how does this carry over into specifics? How do we have the kind of fellowship that encourages, edifies (builds) and serves one another? How do we find the strength, the wisdom, and the courage to have true fellowship?

I encourage you to read the article. At the very least, fellowship in the “fellowship hall” over coffee and donuts is a mere social activity. Let us seek deeper fellowship, and devote ourselves to it, making Jesus central in the conversation and fellowshipping with the Spirit.

Posted in fellowship, hebrews

Stirring up to good works

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, (Hebrews 10:24)

I like coffee. I like two cups in the morning, with creamer. Not in the afternoon or evening, just the two cups early then I quit drinking the bitter brew.

On vacation weeks like this one from school, I love having the time to sip it. On a workday morning, well, you know how that goes. Brew, pour, gulp, drive, finish gulping, hustle to work. Half the time the liquid doesn’t even land on my tongue but gets hotly gulped right down the gullet.

On vacation mornings, it’s the opposite. I have all the time in the world. The other morning I’d poured the second cup and was looking forward to languidly drinking it. I’d been to the grocery store the day before and had bought another jug of creamer. The coffee isn’t the same without the sweet addition of the cream. Let’s face it, coffee is bitter. It tastes awful. It’s dark, sour, and heavy. But with the hazelnut creamer, yum.

I’d poured the coffee and cream and used a straw to stir. I was lost in thought, casually watching the cream that had sunk to the bottom, stirred up and blending with the dark roasted brew. As I stirred, the coffee lightened and sweetened.

The ‘stir up to good works’ verse came to mind. Without fellowship with the saints, we can tend to get dark and bitter. But the saints that stir us to love and good works, make the fellowship seem light and sweet.

In the fellowship of the saints, stir someone up to love and good works.

Posted in fellowship, first century church, love, worship

Let’s stop idolizing the first century church and love our own churches a little more

It’s fashionable today to hate the church. People like to come across as wise sages, decrying the ecclesiology of the western church. Many people note that church is shallow, entertainment-driven, and lukewarm, with worthless shepherds leading clueless goats. Some even go so far as to say that most churches should be closed. They say they love Jesus but hate religion. They say that they love Christ but disparage the church.

You hear more and more that the First Century church is what we should get back to. Continue reading “Let’s stop idolizing the first century church and love our own churches a little more”

Posted in fellowship, gracious, hospitable, hospitality

On being hospitable; Part 2

Yesterday I excerpted Jen Wilkin’s essay on the difference between entertaining and being hospitable.Today I have a more personal take on being hospitable.

I envy people who can easily converse in a crowd. The art of conversation is one that, I believe, is a dying art.

Once we had a friend Mike, we called him Mikey. He was a huge man, 350 pounds, built like an aging football player, with an easy laugh. He lived next door and often, he would stop at our house on his way home. When we heard his truck we knew we were in for a few laughs and a good story. He was a true raconteur, regaling us loudly and always had us laughing in two minutes flat. Mikey was the kind of friend you were always glad to see coming. We were glad we were the kind of friends he felt comfortable stopping in to see.

Public Domain

Other people can converse on a more quiet and less showy way. My gal friend had a husky laugh and her eyes sparkled in delight when we talked. She didn’t say much, but her words were always insightful and full of love. Her style of conversation was more of the listening kind. She would listen with full attention, too. I’d storm in, say, “Guess what happened?!” and she would stop what she was doing, fold her hands across her Buddha belly, and look me full in the eye. She would laugh at all the right spots, and was entertained by the smallest incident. Often, she would add an insightful comment that left me pondering a new thought for the rest of the day.

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
(1 Thessalonians 5:11).
I think that the dubiously named skill of “multi-tasking” has had a negative effect on conversation. Have you noticed that people do a lot of things while they say they are listening to you? Cell phone message checking, taking notes, shuffling papers, glancing at the computer. I am a bad offender of that as well. I need to do better at my listening, I admit. What if we all stopped doing other things and really listened to each other? Gatherings at home would be more hospitable. Please turn your cell phone off.

Italians’ style of conversation is steeped in storytelling. We call it ‘l’historia.” Even the simplest query from a friend, the smallest question designed for a short answer of “fine”, to the Italian, is met with excitement. Immediately we launch into a long, lyrical story that has a beginning, middle, end, and ranges from laughter to tears and back again. Watch out if you ask me how I’m doing! You are likely to get a long, and to me, absolutely fascinating story.

Remember the movie Moonstruck with Cher? A Brooklyn Italian-American family and their trials and triumphs? The brother-in-law character was named Raymond Cappomaggi and it was he who saw the large moon years before. Around the dinner table he was urged to repeat the legendary incident, with the family exhorting, ‘Come on, Ray, tell about Cosmo’s moon!” he responded apologetically, “Well, it’s not a story…but…”

Moonstruck

I knew exactly what he meant. It’s almost genetically impossible for me converse without having a fully born story in my mind, accompanied by hand gestures that usually knock over the salt shaker.

Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:25)

There are many different styles of conversation, and the one I like best I had the good fortune to experience one long ago Thanksgiving. As a person with no family nearby I was invited to spend the day at a friends’ house. There were ten of us there, their family members and me. Even though I was meeting some of them for the first time, they included me in conversation that was flowing, relaxed, and easy. I was really touched by their hospitality. Ultimately, the best conversation style is not verbal, it’s one of the heart, one that includes, listens, and loves. I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving and can be hospitable by being a good listener and a lover of people.

Public Domain

That is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine. (Romans 1:12)

Posted in church, encouragement, end time, fellowship, gather together, prophecy, putnam

Churching Alone: The Collapse of American Churches

In 2000, an important book was published. Robert Putnam wrote Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.

Since the founding of America, we as a nation have always emphasized the importance of a strong and active civil society to the consolidation and perpetuation of democracy. When Thomas Paine wrote “Common Sense” before the American Revolution, people grabbed up his pamphlet and brought it to the tavern to discuss. Taverns and public squares were abuzz with discussions of ideas, concepts, philosophies. A robust public conversation with personal engagement among neighbors was the foundation of democracy.

I grew up in Rhode Island, the 13th state in the American Colonies, a place where there are more pre-colonial buildings still standing than anywhere else in the US. The first American Jewish synagogue is in Newport. (Touro). The first Baptist church is in Newport. A letter written in 1790 from George Washington to the RI Hebrew Congregation, assuring them, citizens of a newly independent United States, of tolerance and freedom of religion. Washington wrote,

May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants — while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.

But back to the old days. Men discussed ideas together in public spaces- taverns, the town square, the general store, front porches. They argued, persuaded, they met, they wrestled with ideas and formed community. It was that wrestling and knitting that made us strong enough as a collective of disparate farmers, millworkers, sailors, and the like, to dare to poke the eye of the mighty United Kingdom, and fight for freedom, including freedom to assemble and freedom to worship.

In this paper, the Daily Life of the American Colonies: The Role of the Tavern in Society Noon Inn Barroom, we learn of the importance of a citizenry discussing ideas together,

In the century or so leading up to the Revolution, colonial taverns and inns were an essential part of the community. Horses need frequent rests, travel by coach and horseback were far from comfortable. In Massachusetts on the roads leading to Boston, taverns and inns were spaced about every eight miles, which worked out to a reasonable journey in the winter cold before a person needed to warm up, inside and out.

The main reason for the importance of the colonial era tavern was as a social hub. Issues of the day were discussed and hammered out here, in fact, often in official settings. The City Tavern in Philadelphia, was the site of the first continental congress. The Virginia legislature met in the taverns of Williamsburg. And the initial investigations of the Salem Witch trials were supposed to be held at Ingersoll’s ordinary, [a name for a small tavern] though it was in the end was too small for the crowds.

To the common man, the tavern was where you learned the current prices for your cash crops. It was where you could find a newspaper, often read aloud for those who couldn’t read. It’s where local issues were debated and local governments met. The colonial era tavern was the link to the outer world for those in rural areas, and a place where you could meet your neighbors for conversation, games and diversion.

Entertainment included gambling; on horse racing, cockfights as well as cards. Actually the colonists were known to gamble on almost anything, including guessing the weight of pigs, a practice eventually outlawed on Long Island as it led to too many fights. The tavern also served as courthouse, where you learned of new business opportunities and worked out trades with your neighbors.

The tavern also served as post office. Originally the practice was to put your posts on a table, which travelers would then take along the route with them. It was commonly accepted that the travelers had the right to read your mail, providing a bit of entertainment along the way. Mail arrived in the community in the same way that it left, eventually becoming more organized and efficient.

In addition, recruitment and deployment of the militia took place in the taverns. Prior to the battle of Lexington, the militia organized and fortified themselves at Buckman’s tavern, before marching out onto the Lexington Green and into the history books.

In Newport RI, where our family would often drive on a Sunday, the White Horse Tavern still stands. It was constructed before 1673, is one of the oldest tavern buildings in the United States. It is located on the corner of Farewell and Marlborough streets in Newport. We used to eat brunch there. I’d sit in one of the many small rooms, with small fireplace blazing, hardwood floors and ladderback wooden chairs, and wonder about the Colonists who lifted a tankard in debate as to whether to separate from England.

In Wikipedia it is stated,

“In the first half of the 19th century, Alexis de Tocqueville had observations about American life that seemed to outline and define social capital. He observed that Americans were prone to meeting at as many gatherings as possible to discuss all possible issues of state, economics, or the world that could be witnessed. The high levels of transparency caused greater participation from the people and thus allowed for democracy to work better.”

White Horse Tavern, Newport, in 2009. Wikipedia

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

If the foundation of a democracy was forged by citizens together in community, discussing things of import, ideas traded, dispensed with, held onto; how much more should those behaviors be replicated in the church? Where do the community of Christ’s members gather, discuss, flesh out biblical ideas, knit ourselves together in His name? Where are the robust discussions, healthy praises to Jesus, songs and fellowship? Because it’s not in church. And increasingly, it’s not in homes, either. Forget the public square, if a gathering occurs, say at Cracker Barrel, the talk is rarely biblical. Other times, Christians are prevented from speaking of Jesus in public.

Public domain

Corporate worship is extremely important. In this sermon by Phil Johnson called A Foretaste of Glory Divine. Pastor Johnson explains the verse from Psalm 122.

Notice the plural pronouns in the first two verses: “I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD.” Our feet are standing Within your gates, O Jerusalem.” One of the distinctive joys David is writing about here is the corporate nature of this worship experience. He had spent much of his youth alone on the hills tending sheep and meditating on the truth of God in solitude and that’s certainly a good and valid exercise. But it cannot take the place of fellowship and public worship with the multitude of God’s people. That is why the feasts were so important in Israel. Verse 4: “The tribes go up, even the tribes of the LORD–An ordinance for Israel–To give thanks to the name of the LORD.”

And,

There’s a sanctifying influence in the gathering of believers that you will not benefit from if you think watching a church service on TV or streaming church on the Internet is a valid substitute for real live participation in the public worship of God’s people. Hebrews 10:24-25: “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

There are two problems in today’s ‘churching alone’ era. One is that people increasingly satisfied to stay at home and watch someone on TV or streamed online. The second and the greater problem is that when people do attend church for any reason at any function, rare is the talk of doctrine. We might sing some ‘me-oriented’ songs, listen to a (too-short/self-help/topical) sermon. And then when the last ‘Amen’ is said, people are out the doors, never to speak of Jesus again until next week.

When believers gather these days, too often it is not really to worship God but merely to entertain one another. ~Phil Johnson
What are we losing by ‘churching alone’? What are the effects on the church when its members forgo social intercourse, fellowship, and good discussions and praises to the Lord? Wikipedia summarizes Putnam’s book,

Putnam surveys the decline of “social capital” in the United States since 1950. He has described the reduction in all the forms of in-person social intercourse upon which Americans used to found, educate, and enrich the fabric of their social lives. He believes this undermines the active civil engagement which a strong democracy requires from its citizens.

iPhone wallpaper

When we ‘church alone,’ whether at home or alone as an island at church, our biblical lives are not enriched. When we are not educated in biblical literacy, we weaken. When we are weak, the scarlet thread of our lives that should be evident when we gather with others isn’t connected. And the Preacher said in Ecclesiastes 4:12,

And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

If Putnam’s notion of social capital is an investment in social relations with expected returns in the marketplace, then in the church world, social capital is investment in spiritual-social relations with expected returns in the church. In Acts 2 we see the priority of fellowship, and along with that came praise for the Lord. (Acts 5:42)

It seems clear that the more we meet in His name, breaking bread, having fellowship, and discussing His doctrine, then the more we have glad hearts, generous spirits, and praise for Jesus on our lips. It stands to reason that the opposite is true too; less we get together, the fewer times we discuss His doctrines, break bread, and have glad hearts, and thus we praise Him and proclaim Him less.

And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, (Acts 2:46)

And truth be told, if we do get together, how often do we really discuss His doctrines as the verse in Acts 2:42 states the first church did? Not a lot.

Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment. (Proverbs 18:1)
Yet personal engagement at an all-time low. The previous networking availabilities in church, such a personal visits, dinners on the ground, home gatherings, have gone the way of the dinosaur. People don’t do that anymore. We do not ‘continually devote ourselves to… fellowship.’

More often than not, the way this generation engages today is via social media online. Visiting in person is a relic from the past.

What do colonial times in the 1770s to 1800 have to do with today’s church? Cut to 100 years later, the 1900s. There was still a public square. Before television, before the internet, people sat and talked. They had coffee. They visited. They had Sunday suppers. They sat by the pot bellied stove at the feed store and talked. People played bridge, gathered for parties, told stories. They discoursed.

The iconic Andy Griffith show reflected this reality- front porch sitting was a favored past time.
It was a time when people were invested in each other’s lives. They know when someone wasn’t feeling well. Or wasn’t themselves. They knew when someone was struggling. They celebrated victories and pitched in during hard times.

We have lost that.

We’re “crazy busy” now.

Yet the youngsters don’t know any other way of engaging except what they see online or through their parents or other trusted adults. They think fellowship is gathering at a google hangout.

I’m not saying anything that is unknown to anyone living in the year 2014. It’s old news that we do not socialize anymore. Here is the new news. New, at least to me.

We are forgetting HOW to socialize.

The influence of personal cellphones and texting have infiltrated our psyche to the extent that front porch sitting, passing the time, just being with someone is a lost art.

If people socialize at all in person now, it includes a phone interruptions and texting, looking at email, or a myriad of other things that distract from looking fully into someone’s eyes and listening to what they are saying with full attention.

This is my favorite episode from Andy Griffith. A business man in a hurry breaks down in Mayberry on a Sunday. Initially chafing at the slow pace of life and the almost uniform commitment by its inhabitants to the priority of fellowship on the Lord’s Day, the man eventually succumbs to the love shown to him- and he slows down.

Will you visit someone this week? Will you sing with them, or speak of the glories of our savior, or read the bible together? Will you linger at church for a while afterward and praise the sermon and flesh out some of its points- coming to happy agreement with a fellow believer? Let us not “church alone.” The foretaste of glory divine Mr Johnson was preaching on is the corporate gathering of believers on earth being the glad foretaste of the gathering in praise of all of history’s saints at the end of time. What a true foretaste- glorying in the Lord together, never alone forevermore.

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” (Genesis 2:18)

Man in a Hurry- full episode