My wife and I hadn’t seen our son and two grandsons for a while, so we arranged to meet at a children’s playground traffic park over a picnic basket for some togetherness. In this way we’d get to inter-act with dad while the two boys learned the traffic rules and had fun on their bikes. At the centre of the little traffic park there was a concrete, hexagonal seat, which served as a little table for our picnic lunch. It worked while we were lunching together but not so well (my feeling) when we were watching the boys while trying to engage each other in meaningful conversation – I think the reason was that we adults weren’t facing each other, in fact we were facing away from each other.
The hexagonal table/seat experience illustrates what often happens not only in families but in church ‘families.’ There is extremely little face to face connection, which, if neglected, works against true fellowship. As a family we made up for it the following weekend when we chatted and played mini-cricket in our back-garden while preparing a lamb-and-veggie ‘potjie,’ a low-heat, slow-cook of many hours in a cast-iron pot over an open fire. ‘Face to face!’
FACE TO FACE FELLOWSHIP WITH GOD DOES HAPPEN, DOESN’T IT?
- Take the man and the woman in Eden and their face to face fellowship with the Creator and each other ‘when the cool evening breezes were blowing’ (Gen. 1ff). [Treat yourself to Cheryl McGrath’s latest blog, The Magnificent Pursuit, especially the two paragraphs commencing with words from Amos. cf. Bread for the Bride]
- Moses, a fragile saint in some ways, regularly engaged with God in the ‘Tent of Meeting.’ On other occasions he spoke with him ‘face to face, as a man speaks with a friend’ (Ex. 33:11, NLT).
- The apostle Paul has provided us with the basis for such face-to-face fellowship: “For God, who said, ‘Let there be light in the darkness,’ has made us understand that this light is the brightness of the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ… this light and power that now shine within us – is held in perishable containers, that is, in our weak bodies. So everyone can see that our glorious power is from God and is not our own.'” (2 Cor. 4:6-7, NLT). Keeping our eyes on Jesus produces the purest faith and fellowship!
FACE TO FACE IN GOD’S COMMUNITY ON EARTH?
- Paul, in his unusually personal Second Letter to the Corinthians Paul, defends his apostleship in the face of some false apostles among them: “By the meekness and gentleness of Christ, I appeal to you – I, Paul who am ‘timid’ when face to face with you, but ‘bold’ when away! I beg you that when I come I may have to be as bold as I expect to be towards some people who think that we live by the standards of this world…” (2 Cor. 10:1-2, NIV)
- The Apostle John, especially in his letters, loves to be face to face: “The elder, to the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in the truth… I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you soon and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete” (2 Jn. v. 1, 12). “The elder, to my dear friend Gaius, whom I love in the truth… I have much to write to you, but I do not want to do so with pen and ink. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face” (3 Jn. v. 1, 14).
- Check out the face to face stuff in the early Church. The believers meet largely ‘from house to house’ around the meal table (Acts 2:42ff) – the destruction of the temple by the Romans in AD 70 re-inforced this intimacy. According to v. 42 the believers “committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers” (Acts 2:42, MSG). I love Peterson’s paraphrase of koinonia as ‘the life together,’ i.e. the very life of Jesus, indwelling his followers, producing a ‘common life’ of intimate sharing. ‘Sell your shirt’ and purchase Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s little gem, ‘The Life Together,’ to get an insight into the fellowship of the true Church! I have a good friend in Hong Kong who travels once a month across the border on a Sunday to teach a group of about thirty plus believers in a house church, officially prohibited from accommodating more than six – those believers look for any excuse to fellowship the whole Sunday, every Sunday, around the Word, coming back for more the following week! Try that in the West…
IT’S A FACE TO FACE FELLOWSHIP WHICH LEADS SOMEWHERE!
I’ve been reading the Letter to the Hebrews. The writer (?) calls his persecuted readers (Jewish Christian house churches in Rome?) to persevere in the faith: “Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming (there are many days of reckoning, including Christ’s return) is drawing near” (10:23-25, NLT). This text is not a ‘freeby’ for preachers to beat over the heads those present in their Sunday ‘services!’ Rather it is an encouragement, arising out of our hope in Christ, to give expression to fellowship and service under the headship of Christ. In 1982 already Dr. Raymond Brown of Spurgeon’s College stated, “Since in the teaching of this letter Christians are brothers in the same family (3:1; 13:1,22), partners in the same enterprise (3:14) and members of the same household (3:6; 10:21), they have a responsibility not only to ‘hold fast’ themselves, but also to encourage their fellow believers to do the same… the exhortation is not simply to the exercise of fellowship, but also to the stimulation of compassionate activity in the work of Christ…’ He then asked, ‘is this an impossible ideal in the twentieth century? Aware 0f the selfish and materialistic pressures of contemporary society, and convinced of the needs of a more distinctively Christian lifestyle, some believers have turned from the institutional churches to communities…” He cites the ‘Jesus People’ of the late 1960’s, house churches around the world, etc. For what it’s worth, having ‘pastored’ traditional churches as well as a ‘a cell church’ for 38 years in all, I believe the Acts and Hebrews kind of body life is a virtually ‘impossible ideal,’ given all our institutional red tape, machinery, hierarchies, structures and programs. I mean, how do you ‘fellowship’ week after week while staring at the back of someone’s head, unless you deliberately want to hide and remain unchanged? Or following the senior pastor’s meticulously planned cell group agenda Wednesday by Wednesday? [On a lighter note… In my last denominational congregation we replaced our pews, cracked and broken, with chairs, in an effort to promote a little more face to face inter-action. I asked the stewards repeatedly to put out the chairs in a half-moon around the ground-level lectern – on each occasion it lasted about two weeks before they were back in perfectly straight lines, facing the ‘performers’ up front!]
FACE TO FACE FELLOWSHIP: WHERE DO I FIND IT??
- Many believers, especially in the West, with church buildings around every corner, long for this, look for this, without finding it.
- At the same time there are pockets of believers around the world, finding it and being ‘wrecked’ for good.
- For some in the First World the only way they can experience something of this ‘fellowship’ is on the internet, inter-acting with their unseen family across the globe who share the same heart.
- For some it may entail sharing a monthly coffee with a kindred mind just to chew the fat together.
- It may include just you and your family at this stage. That’s a highly biblical and good start! Prayerfully consider opening your home to others. Let it be a Spirit-led, bottom-up, serving one another thing. Often your best results will come through serving poor and broken communities, working with children and teens yearning for a spiritual father/mother, working with ‘fringe people’ just like Jesus did. Yes, it’s possible! ‘If two of you agree here on earth concerning anything you ask, my Father in heaven will do it for you. For where two or three gather together as my followers in my name, I am there among them.’ (Mt. 18:19-20, NLT)
a few weeks ago I came across a tv program that is titled “Country Family Reunion.” It is normally a gathering of country music artists singing. But this particular episode was called “Wednesday night prayer meeting” and by the end I was weeping uncontrollably. Funny, isn’t it? What can strike so deeply in our hearts. They were on a small set that had seating that faced each other with only a piano at the center where a pulpit would normally go. They sang songs and they shared stories. At the end, Ricky Skaggs told the man who hosted it to prayerfully consider taking this show on the road, not to churches but to the marketplace. And I was weeping still. Yes. Oh, Lord, yes! I’ll go! Where will it be and how can I get there? It was full of songs and sharing of testimony and holding hands and praying. Erroll, if that is what true fellowship is, I’ve not tasted it once…not once. But here is what I am tasting in this malnourished land or at least the malnourished circle of where I live…the fellowship of the Lord. Sigh. Oh, I share that humbly, I hope you know. He has brought me in and is teaching me and applying the Cross in ways that have been deadly (haha!) Surrounded by unbelievers, family and friends, I am the salt and light, often the only one in their worlds. I could not be here with any longevity if it were not for Christ in me. As I just replied to Susanne over at my blog, it is the ‘power that worketh in us’ that keeps us. And I know that to be true like I know I’m sitting here writing you right now. My mother and I are on a similar journey, so she and I talk and can talk for hours when the day offers the opportunity. Knowing our history, we are both astounded at the Lord’s ability to redeem and bring glory and light out of rebellion and chaos. He is so very good!
Blessings now to you and your family across the world! We are one in Him!
Becky, I only have the highest admiration for you and your mom! Truly. My goodness me, considering your relative isolation, you share from such depth and ‘get it’ every time. Love in Jesus to you both.
May that be a testament to our Lord’s saving and keeping power, as well as the Spirit’s teaching. Love in Jesus back atchya 😉
What a rich conversation! I follow both Erroll and Becky’s blogs so know a little of our very diverse situations… South Africa, United States, Australia. After several years of comparative isolation I have just recently been released by the Lord to offer small regular gatherings in the marketplace, meeting face to face around tables in a local coffee shop or along the foreshores of the beautiful beaches we have here, around the word of God. I felt led to place a small invitational advertisement in our local community newspaper with my phone number and simply call it Coffee N Jesus. It is early days yet but already we have seen the Lord deeply touch a woman from a denomination that does not allow her to take communion because she is divorced. How I have craved that ‘face to face’ fellowship, but have had to wait until He gave the green light and am moving out now with trepidation and expectation. Yet, I still deeply need and appreciate the fellowship and rich life lessons shared by a small, select group of people on a similar journey half a world away, like yourselves. Though not meeting in the flesh, I believe reading and receiving from one another as we do in the Spirit is also ‘face to face’ in a different sense, just as we meet ‘face to face’ with Jesus in the Spirit. I appreciate your writings and fellowship very much Erroll and also Becky if you’re reading this, because what you share are real narratives from a very real journey we all share.
Thank you Errol. What a wonderful prophetic word! I think of Jesus’ words “I will build my church,” when I read this. And he is busy doing it. There are thousands of people worldwide who are dipping their toes into real fellowship for the first time, and it has nothing to do with someone’s agenda or church program. It is a work of God. What a blessing to be part of it. Greeting to the family of Christ in PE!
Cheryl, thanks for your gracious response. I am so much the richer for this fellowship we share in Jesus – it would be very hard to keep going without it. Becky’s excitement at the possibility of fellowship in the market place and what you have shared about Coffee ‘N Jesus, at the release of the Spirit, excites me no end! Be sure of my prayers in this regard. I recall with such joy, a few years ago, meeting with three men for breakfast at a local coffee shop. One of the men, dying of bone cancer, had just come to know Jesus in a very simple but real way through our conversations in his bedroom over a period of months. We paid for a slice of bread and bottle of grape juice, and shared communion. He died soon afterwards. Our raw fellowship at that coffee table was unforgettable. Oh I wish you and your group every kingdom success!
Thankyou Erroll. And I really do value (and need) your prayers for Coffee N Jesus (and anything else the Spirit impresses!).
Ag Tobie, my broer (being translated, ‘Dear Tobie, my brother’), I am so indebted to you and the Free State men and women for enriching my journey in fellowship. It remains a treasured memory and makes me hunger for more. May this ‘face to face fellowship tribe’ increase in all the earth!
Our love to you all, and keep up the good rugby at the Cheetahs.
Just a quick little addition Erroll. I was reading in Genesis 4 today and after reading your post one particular thing caught my attention. One of the immediate consequences of Cain killing Abel and being made a fugitive and vagabond was that he would henceforth be ‘hidden’ from the face of God (Gen. 4:14). I think there’s a lot to be explored in that little gem. Blessings to you!
Interesting. I’ll be taking a look at that. It immediately reminds me of John’s letters and the inter-action between our relationship with God and one another, and vice versa. Thanks for taking time to share that with us, Cheryl!
To dear Erroll, Becky, Tobie and Cheryl. What a joy to read all that has been shared. Truly the Lord lives in His people and His life is evident by the love seen amongst them. Even on a computer screen. The Lord is surely moving by His Spirit and building His church one living stone at a time, hey. The way of the cross, the being called apart, the losing our lives so that we gain His, the Father’s work of placing us in the Vine where we draw from all that is Christ. A hard way, but a most glorious way and one that delights our Father. Christ in us all, the hope of glory indeed, here and forevermore. A thousand blessings I pray, for you all.
We value your fellowship and encouragement, Donnalee!