Thursday, January 24, 2008

Church Reform - Edification and Fellowship

Most church families like to spend time together. I think this is a wonderful thing. Some people criticize churches by saying that they care too much about each other, and not enough about the lost world. Frankly, I do not see this as an “either/or” issue. Yes, churches should care about lost people. But it is also fine and good for them to care about each other.

If we return to Acts chapters two and four, we see people who enjoy being together. Acts 2:42-47 says, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”

A simple look at these verses tells us that the early church enjoyed being together. In fact, they probably spent much more time together than churches do today. As the church gradually faced more persecution from the pagan world, I imagine that they continued to fellowship with one another a great deal.

When the church gathers for fellowship today, what do we see? In many churches fellowship = food consumption. When the food (meal) is gone, the people go home. I’m not sure why this is the case, except that people have very busy lives and often are preoccupied with various sorts of entertainment.

While the early church appeared to actually share their lives with one another and depend upon one another, the church today seems to like spending time together, but does not actually depend on one another. This is a sad thing. When we rely upon the Lord first, and our Christian brothers and sisters second, I believe we have the sort of fellowship that Christ desires.

Another key thing to keep in mind is that when the church comes together (for fellowship, worship, discipleship, etc.), all things should be done for the edification of the body. In I Corinthians 14, where we actually get a peek at the gathering of the early church, we see the word “edification” used four times (NKJV translation). I Cor. 14:26 tells us, “How is it then, brethren? Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.”

So whenever the church gathers, everything that occurs must be done for the edification, or the building up, of the body of Christ. This includes fellowship.

If real fellowship means more than hanging out together at a meal, what can we do to move toward real dependency upon one another? If all things that occur when fellowshipping are to be done for edification, how can we spur this on? How do we promote real, biblical fellowship?

I have a few ideas, but would really like to hear from you all. Honestly, I’m somewhat stuck on what to suggest here. This is what I have at this point:

  1. The church must teach what biblical fellowship is, and how that differs from what we often see today.
  2. Along with #1, the church must teach about how important edification is.
  3. The church should have more opportunities to get together when specific programs are not scheduled. These get-togethers often lead to genuine, Holy Spirit-guided interaction and fellowship.
  4. The church needs to rid itself of as many committees and extra programs that it can.
  5. The church should encourage all members to take the time to get to know one another, serve one another, and share life with one another.
  6. The church needs to strive to meet one another’s needs. In general, those within the church should not have to depend upon government sources to meet their needs.

Suggestions?

10 comments:

Rhea said...

I think that this is a very hard issue, b/c it seems that most people (specifically leaders within the church) have equated church programs with fellowship. We've made fellowship something that happens once a week that we can tick off on our "to do" list. Ultimately, I think that for this to change, we have to get individuals thinking about this differently. Practically, how do we do that? I really don't know.

I tend to think though that some of the problems with fellowship have to do with American culture. We're very individualistic in our society. Do you think perhaps that in Asian countries that put a greater focus/value on the group rather than the individual have this problem with fellowship that we do in the US? I think that if we, as Christians, can get a better handle on the fact that we're interdependent, and that we are the body of Christ. We cannot separate ourselves from each other. I think that the more we get that, the more that we'll have genuine fellowship.

Eric said...

Rhea,

I agree with you that many churches are now relying on programs to create fellowship. Unfortunately, this often feels artificial.

Our individualistic culture definetely impacts our view of fellowship. We lived in India for a while, and it seemed to us that the Christians there enjoyed more real fellowship than churches here tend to experience.

Quite honestly, persecution of the church seems to help in this matter. When the church faces persecution, its members often want to spend more time together and desire to build each other up. We could use a little persecution in this country.

One thing that I have seen lead to more genuine fellowship is when churches gather informally for group prayer and testimony.

Eric

Jeffrey E.W. said...

Eric,

I've really enjoyed your series thus far! You've pin pointed some major problems in the church and offered some very sound, biblical, and practical solutions.

I think we (American Church) haven't had our priorities strait for quite some time now, if ever. Our live's revolve around the "almighty dollar" instead of around Almighty God. Most of my time and energy has to be spent on making money to keep up with my lifestyle. I'm getting extremely convicted and exhausted as of late. Most of my struggles in the flesh can be attributed in some way to chasing money. This leads to little time, energy, and desire to fellowship with my brethren.

I think the crumbling of the economy is going to be a rude awakening for a lot of Christians forcing them to get their priorities strait. Maybe the American Church will finally realize that we actually need each other and that fellowship in the spirit isn't a luxury it is a necessity.

Jeff

Rhea said...

Eric:

I tend to believe that persecution would be a good thing for the church in America. I feel like it would weed out the "weenies." The people who simply go to church as more of a cultural obligation (I live in the Bible Belt, and I see this often). There are too many "Sunday Christians" who on Monday are then back to their worldly lives revelling in their sin. If there was the chance that you could be harassed, imprisoned, or injured on your way to a church meeting (or even at the meeting), it would force people to really "count the cost." We would be FORCED to rely on each other...it would force us, as a body, to really be there for each other. Our faith would no longer be ONLY personal/individual, but we'd learn how our life affects the lives of other Christians.

Alan Knox said...

Eric,

If I could add something to this discussion, I would suggest that another aspect of both edification and fellowship is active participation by all believers. This is something that has to be taught and modelled as well as expected by leaders. Passivity does promotes neither edification nor fellowship.

-Alan

Eric said...

Jeffrey,

Thanks for commenting. Thank you also for your kind words. I've tried to keep these posts relatively simple and practical. I hope they are helpful for some readers.

You make a good point about money. Many American Christians rely on money far more than they do on their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

I hope that we all seek Christ first, and strive to serve his church with all our energy. Money offers fleeting pleasures, while in Jesus we find true fulfillment.

Thanks again.

Eric said...

Rhea,

Persecution does seem to be good for the church. It certainly would cause us all to look at our priorities.

Our challenge now is to live in the church in an age when their is relatively little persecution (at least here in the USA). We probably need to find other believers who are seeking the things we are looking for, and then fellowship a great deal with them.

Eric said...

Alan,

Thanks for your comment. I know this post focuses on an area that you have studied a great deal and are very interested in. I was hoping to hear your insights.

I agree with you 100%. It is so difficult to get both leaders and the entire body to see that active participation is needed by all members. You are right that teaching and modeling are the keys for beginning a transition to body-active participation. I think less formal meetings that are unscripted might be a help in this.

Joe Blackmon said...

Eric
One thought that crossed my mind was that we as Christians need to recognize that we relate differently to different people-and that's ok. While we should love everyone in the body of Christ, we're not all going to "click" in exactly the same way and that's ok. I think sometimes people make a bigger deal out of this than is necessary. Just a quick thought before I try to get tHe little ones to sleep.

This series is a real blessing to me.
Later

Eric said...

Joe,

I'm glad that this series has been helpful for you. It has for me as well.

I agree that we will not always "click" with everyone in the church in exactly the same way. There will probably always be people that we have more in common with or just enjoy their personalities more than others. That said, we also need to be sure to try to build everyone up in all we do in the church. This will be easier to do with some folks than with others.