Summary: God shares his fellowship with us, enabling us to share our lives together.
One of the changes in our world in the last generation or so is a loss of security. Expectations for what life offers have risen exponentially; fulfillments have disappointed. Cell phones are a simple example: the promise a connectedness everywhere available and never before achieved; yet they more frequently provide an interruption from the person you are meeting face-to-face.
Close family relationships have also suffered during this time. Divorce, single parenting, remarriage, and complex step-families mitigate against the comfort and support we used to find in the nuclear family. And even if you have not experienced those tensions, the global economy separates many of us from the benefits of stable and secure relationships. Helen and I have lived in six cities; my parents lived in only one, as did Helen’s parents. Additionally, many of us find that the sheer number of contacts we have distracts us from deep friendships and hinders our ability to truly connect with anyone.
As the hurt from these changes escalated, many turned inward to replace the lost sense of community, fertilizing the ground for the seeds of the New Age movement. Millions of books promoting self-absorption and self-reliance have been sold as the solution to life’s ills. Books like the New York Times best seller: How To Be Your Own Best Friend.
Kirby Anderson, National Director of Probe Ministries, observed: “People frequently struggle with the idea of relationships rooted in duty and obligation. Foreign is the idea of friendship based upon self-denial and self-sacrifice. But true relationships must be built on more than communication; they must also be built upon commitment. Ultimately, many are rearing families in an era of disposable relationships” (Signs of Warning, Signs of Hope, 144).
My pastor in Mississippi, Mike Ross, summarized the situation this way: “We live in a community-less, commitment-less, cocooning, time.”
What are we to do? Certainly not conform. Our value is as an alternative community — something clearly created by the presence of God. The New Testament church had the Holy Spirit in power, and this made them a dynamic and devoted organization.
First, they were dynamic, both alive and active. They were alive — once they had been dead to the things of God, but now the Holy Spirit had untied them to Jesus Christ, the resurrected and reigning savior. They were Christians; they were alive. They also acted — theirs was not a “sit, soak, and sour” religion (to borrow a phrase from Chuck Swindoll), but one that propelled them into ministry. Dynamic.
They were also devoted; they clung to certain means of grace; they persevered against pressures to do otherwise. As a result, God not only kept them from becoming obsolete, he gave them growth — growth both outward (in evangelism) and inward (in edification).
If you are a Christian, you will want the same, because the same Spirit which lived in them, lives in us. Acts 2.42 tells us that they “devoted themselves to fellowship,” and 1John 1 gives an exposition and application of that practice. [Read 1John 1.1-10. Pray.]
Larry Crabb wrote, The Safest Place On Earth, after he moved from psychological to biblical counseling. Even so, some of us might be uncomfortable with his solutions to community life. I think, however, that all of us will benefit from his description of the challenges we face in being a church devoted to fellowship. In the introduction, he tells a vivid memory of a trip to Miami Beach.
One block west of the luxury beach hotels…was an ordinary big-city street, noisy, dirty, heavily trafficked…. We walked in front of a wood-slatted porch…where at least a hundred chairs were arranged in neat rows and columns, none touching. Most of them were occupied by a motionless retired man or woman staring straight ahead at the street…. No heads turned to follow a passing taxi, or to chat with another porch-sitter…. There was no conversation, no evidence that any of these people had been created by a relational God to enjoy intimate relating. These people’s souls were asleep, numbed by years of lifeless relationships and pointless conversations. No doubt these conversations had all seemed important at the time — business deals, romantic encounters, child scoldings, religious meetings — but maybe such encounters had never touched anything deep enough to stir life….
I wonder if the Spirit feels as we did when He walks by a group of Christians…. Every Sunday morning we stand, then sit, then sing on command…. Most of us sit still while someone talks to us. At some point we reach into our wallets and drop a mixture of green and silver into a big bowl with velvet lining to keep the silver from clanging. We’re doing a lot. But I wonder if the Spirit, who lives in a circle with two Others who are always relating, sees us as my wife and I saw the retired folks on the Miami Beach porch: lined up in chairs facing straight ahead with no life passing back and forth among them….