That elusive fellowship

On Sunday past, thirty-two of us met in Marthinus and Heidi’s lovely home on the Port Elizabeth seaboard for ‘fellowship.’ We gathered as those wanting to follow Jesus outside of religion and the institutional church. Once more all ages, many cultures, rich and poor were represented, with the commonality clearly JESUS. The gathering included a lovely pot-luck meal, kind hospitality, fun on the lawn outside, conversation and inter-action, climaxing in ‘the breaking of bread.’

At the outset we focussed on a single Bible verse viz. Acts 2:42 (NIV), “They (i.e. those who accepted Peter’s message and were baptised, v. 41) devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” We noted other renderings of ‘the fellowship,’ viz. ‘they shared everything with each other’ (ERV), ‘they were like family together’ (CEV), and my personal favourite ‘the life together’ (MSG). I like to think of the latter in terms of the very Life of Jesus. By the way, if you ever get a chance, read Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s THE LIFE TOGETHER – a wonderful insight into the essence and practice of ‘fellowship.’

Next we focused on the Anabaptist leader, Hans Schlaffer, and his confession just before he was beheaded for his faith in 1528:

‘The body of Christ on the earth is the Gemeinschaft (community) of those who believe on him. Whoever eats the bread of the night-time meal expresses with that his desire to live in Gemeinschaft with this body and to be a part of it in all things – to stick with the Gemeinschaft through joy and sorrow, riches and poverty, honour and shame, mourning and rejoicing, death and life. He expresses his desire to give everything he has, both body and life for his brothers even as Christ gave himself for us.’ (in passing, I shared with the group how during the early eighties, at the height of ‘apartheid’ segregation when ‘black townships’ were burning, one of my black brother-pastors from Vosloorus, with whom my family and I had built a close relationship, vowed to protect me with his life should mine be threatened in his presence)

And so we ‘broke bread together’ and interceded for the needy among us. Some practical needs were met. A sense of unity, serenity and joy prevailed, giving us just a tiny foretaste of that fellowship which the Lord intends for His people now and in His new heaven and earth.

We concluded with a reminder from Alan Knox (via one of his blogs) that growing past the traditional church programs and activities many of us have grown up with is a very difficult thing! It is only when we step away from such church programs and activities and the many meetings, that we learn that we don’t actually know how to relate to and serve people. All we know how to do is attend services, programs, meetings, etc. It is only once Christians grow beyond this stage, that they begin to form real relationships with other people, working through mutual flaws and strengths, no longer hiding behind church programs and activities. Just one example: are you and I willing to trust other people with our own weaknesses, do we accept others with their weaknesses, warts ‘n all??

As Knox reminds us, the task is not easy. In fact, apart from Christ and the Holy Spirit within, it is impossible. However as we surrender ourselves to Christ together and learn to listen, encourage, admonish and help one another, we will find amazing growth toward maturity in Christ AND that wonderful, elusive fellowship!