Friday, March 8, 2013

Five things that are killing the Restoration Movement: #4, Fellowship

Ours is supposedly a Restoration Movement, dedicated to restoring New Testament principles. There are few areas in which deviation has occurred more than in the realm of so-called fellowship.

What a grand New Testament word! Fellowship … koinonia! Oh, if only the modern church understood what it meant. Acts 2:42 gives us the traditional “big four” of worship in the early church. “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Preaching? Check! Lord's Supper? Check. Prayer time? Check! But what do we do with fellowship?

For most congregations, “fellowship” is the mish-mash of what's left over. We sing together, therefore it's fellowship. We have a time when the people can shake hands and greet one another, therefore it's fellowship. We have a potluck dinner after church. That's real fellowship! The ladies' quilting club is fellowship. The mom's exercise class is fellowship. The men's basketball team is fellowship. The coffee shop out in the foyer next to the book store is fellowship. The kids' trip to the corn maze is fellowship. It is this emphasis on the physical which is killing the Restoration Movement. We are fellowshipping ourselves to death, all the while missing the point of real New Testament fellowship.

Let's take a look at how the word is utilized in Scripture. Koinonia is used of fellowship with Christ (1 Corinthians 1:9; 1 John 1:3, 6), the lack of fellowship between light and darkness (2 Corinthians 6:14), fellowship with the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 13:14; Philippians 2:1), the right hand of fellowship offered to those being sent out to preach (Galatians 2:9), the fellowship of suffering with Christ (Philippians 3:10), the fellowship of faith within a home congregation (Philemon 1:6), fellowship with the apostles by the acceptance of their word (1 John 1:3), fellowship with God (1 John 1:3), and fellowship with one another IF we walk in the Light (1 John 1:7).

Koinonia is also translated as participation, sharing or contribution. In those senses, it speaks of sharing in the body and blood of Christ (i.e., communion, 1 Corinthians 10:16). The church is instructed to share sacrificially with others (Hebrews 13:16). We are told of the “favor of participation in support of the saints” (2 Corinthians 8:4; or “contribution,” 2 Corinthians 9:13). We read of contributions to the poor (Romans 15:26), and of participation in the gospel (Philippians 1:5).

That's it. No mention of dinners, concerts, praise bands, retreats, sports teams, exercise classes, or coffee and donuts. In fact, when you take a good look at those references, you see three particular ways in which the word is utilized: 1) Our spiritual fellowship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; 2) the fellowship we have with one another through our acceptance of God's word; and 3) the fellowship that we share as we participate in financially contributing to the work of Christ.

Hmmm. If we take a look at our worship services then, the offering time would be more “fellowship” than the meet and greet time. The Lord's Supper would be more “fellowship” than the bagel bar. The preaching of the word would produce more “fellowship” than the stories, jokes and illustrations. Seeing an increase in faith and righteousness would be more “fellowship” than increases in the attendance and offering.

But as it stands now in a majority of contemporary congregations, fellowship is purely physical. It means the same thing to the church as it does to the people at the country club. It's about getting together and doing the things you like with the people you like. Our leaders are not shepherds … they're event promoters! With such an earthly view – and with so little focus on our spiritual fellowship with heaven – it is no wonder that the Restoration Movement is slowly but surely dying.

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