George and Eileen Anderson

`You must fellowship.'

Ever been told that? If you've taken time out from going to church - or if you've dropped out altogether - you've heard that time and time again.

(Along with gems like `a coal removed from the fire soon grows cold', and `you'll never find the perfect church'.)

Okay. What is fellowship and why must we?

Before we answer that, ponder the following...

The second main plank of the Baptists is `the priesthood of all believers'. A major teaching of the Brethren is a (men-only, mostly) freedom to `say something' on Sunday mornings. A favourite hobby-horse of Charismatics is `body ministry'.

But in practice there are any number of safeguards to prevent spontaneity, to favour `devotional' themes, even do away with `lay' utterances because of `unwise' elements who have disturbed the `harmony', `unity', whatever.

In fact the tendency of any religious gathering is to formalise, script, channel, limit, programme away from unpredictable (perhaps Spirit-led) informality towards something more structured and `reverent'.

So what is fellowship and why must we?

Fellowship isn't - is not- sitting shoulder-to-shoulder, standing up and sitting down on cue, singing, clapping, hugging, praying...

What, for heaven's sake is fellowship and why must we?

Fellowship - koinonia in Greek - in Grimm-Thayer's lexicon means `the share which one has in anything; participation; intercourse; intimacy'. Don't get any wrong ideas about those last two words - this is nothing sexual. Not nohow. But hopefully you get the picture: a relaxed situation where you can be yourself, giving and getting...

Which is why we've called this `Low-level Fellowship'.

Because we've found any number of good church persons, ministers in particular, who - while insisting that we should fellowship - haven't the foggiest notion what it is.

Fellowship is the ten-dollar religious word for chattering over a cuppa, disagreeing, questioning, flitting from subject to subject. No bullying, no grandstanding, no blackmail. Concepts can be challenged head-on without attacking the person.

Fellowship - low-level fellowship - starts with small talk. Trivia. And slowly builds on that. You don't run down your favourite checklist of shibboleths (British Israelite, tongues-speaker, baptised in the Name, anti-Branham, pro-Toronto, demon-chasing, non-tithing, Sabbath-keeping, KJ-only...or whatever) to decide if the person is okay. You're building a friendship, not clone hunting.

But (you ask) doesn't doctrine matter? Doctrine is a number one red herring. It's a cold, simplistic, humanistic way of avoiding the simple witness of the Spirit.

Now - all this is good, but it's not the starting point.

The starting point is actually quite startling. It isn't us being friends with you. Or even husbands and wives communicating. Take a look at the last part of 1 John 1:3.

`Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.'

You'd better believe it.

All the church stuff, all the togetherness, isn't worth a brass razoo unless you've genuinely got something going with your Dad and Elder Brother. We don't mean salvation. Nor an arms'-length worship. Rather an ongoing, casual, mutter-without-ceasing, real-life, involving of Them in everything - window shopping, hitting thistles in a paddock, kids' problems, sunsets, aches and period pains, doing the dishes. In short: life.

Make it with the Lord - really - and you're likely to manage a spot of fellowship with his mates. Now go back to the start of verse 3: `We're telling you what we've seen and heard, so's you can have a bit of fellowship with us'.

If the only thing that you've seen and heard is that you were saved 'way back in 1820 and have failed the Lord many times but he's never failed you, then you aren't going to get far with human fellowship. But if you know the Lord on a 24-hour basis, then you're worth getting to know.

You won't dive into friendships headlong. Friendship, fellowship, takes time to grow. But grow it will. And you won't tolerate synthetic substitutes (`hug the person next to you', `bless you, brother, nice to see you again') at the overcrowded cocktail party emptiness of the `Fellowship Lunch'.

So - going back to the opening sentence of this little lot: `You must fellowship' - with the Father and the Son. Everything else follows.

Including avoiding dear sisters and brothers whose motives are not transparently honest. There are bullies out there. Those who want to press-gang you into joining something (bribing, even); or want you to espouse their pet ideas. (We all have pet ideas; they're open for discussion. They must just stay optional, that's all.) And there are those who've made a set of rules for themselves and know you won't be really spiritual until you get into the same bondage.

Avoid 'em all. (Be prepared for them to change, but take care.) We'd had a bit of correspondence with some fellow. Interesting. Odd ideas, but haven't we all. Then came The Letter - he was coming to Whangarei to see us `...and hoped we wouldn't be a disappointment to him'. Warning bells rang. We had to conform to his odd ideas or else. So we replied that the only person we try not to disappoint is Jesus the Messiah. Others can like us or lump us. That wasn't fellowship; that was bullying. And if you have to live up to someone else's expectations, you're being bullied. Sometimes by nice people: parents (often), family (usually), religious groups and leaders (frequently). Be yourself.

Fellowship is real. Start with your spouse.

And don't rush it. Three blokes - believers - drove up to our humble mansion in a beat-up old bomb one afternoon and we spent a pleasant enough couple of hours with them. Before they left, the oldest and wisest of the trio made a formal sort of declaration, pledging that because we were brothers and sister in the Lord, all that he and his cobbers had of this world's goods was (or were) ours. Unreservedly.

Quite a statement. Then he paused for breath and looked at us rather pointedly. The implication was that he'd offered all their goodies to us; it was our turn to reciprocate.

Call us unspiritual. They had one clapped-out old dunger, not much else. On the strength of two hours of chat we were not about to jeopardise the family estate. And we told them so in just as many words. We're stewards; accountable to God; we take it seriously and so does he.

Sure - there are times when fellowship, friendship, has been and will be costly. Costly in heartache, time, money, possessions. But always in knowledge. And never in a rush.

And there will be times that prove to contain revelation, prophecy, life-changing communication. All in a relaxed, informal setting.

So start low-level. And let God make it happen.

Not on a predictable weekly-or-whatever basis. Jesus is Lord in reality, in real time. So he doesn't regiment. Believe Psalm 23:1 `the Lord is my pastor' (pastor=shepherd; okay?) and you'll find you can trust him to make fellowship available.

...Like, people you `just happen' to meet. Or those whom you decide to drop in on. (`Ministry' works the same way, but that's another subject.) Just don't try and formalise it. Or regularise it. Or bigger-and-better it, unless your home is the kind of place where folk can chat in small bunches in odd corners about everything and anything and you don't try and stop them.

And don't forget the phone. Telecom and Clear are wonderful aids to fellowship.

George & Eileen Anderson, PO Box 946, Whangarei, New Zealand

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