Teaching point three: At the center of the fellowship of believers is worship of the triune God and the breaking of bread together.
Worship is first and foremost for God—it is directed toward praising, thanking, and glorifying God, remembering what God has done for us in the past. But worship is also directed toward and for the people of God—for the edification and renewing in the faith of the body of believers. Worship is an essential component in the fellowship life of any body of believers.
Read Acts 2:41–47 (cf. Eph. 5:18–20; Col. 3:16).
[Q] What do these texts teach us about worship? What elements are directed toward God? What elements are directed toward building up the fellowship of believers?
[Q] Why is worship important for Christian fellowship? In referring to Hebrews 10:24–25, Snyder notes the human tendency for some to fall away from meeting with other Christians and for all to water down what is expected of Christian community. How should the church work to counteract those tendencies?
Christians have different understandings of what the Lord’s Supper means (Mark 14:22–25; Acts 2:43–47; 1 Cor. 11:17–34). Nevertheless, in the early church the practice of breaking bread together was probably an extension of having table fellowship with each other. It was a time of remembering Jesus’ last supper with his disciples. In sharing bread and wine and these sacred memories, they deepened their fellowship with each other and with Christ.
[Q] How often does your congregation celebrate the Lord’s Supper? What does it mean to you? Do you see it mostly as a means of remembering what Christ has done for us in the past? Or do you also see it as a form of fellowship among believers? How does the Lord’s Supper create and maintain fellowship between believers?
Teaching point four: The essential practices of the fellowship of believers are mutual support, accountability, and forgiving one another.
As Snyder noted, a key word found 58 times in the Greek New Testament is allelon, meaning “one another.” In a number of the New Testament contexts, “one another” indicates particular responsibilities that believers have toward each other, practices that are mutual and reciprocal. (For a list of “one another” texts, see http://mintools.com/bodylife4.htm.) In “one anothering” each other, the faith of believers grows, and their fellowship with each other deepens and matures. Space permits us to examine only several of the “one another” commands:
a. Support one another: Read Galatians 6:2 (cf. 1 Cor. 12:26 and 1 Thess. 5:11, but note also Gal. 6:5). Life is difficult enough as it is, but where would we be without the church’s help through the tough times—sickness, job loss, or economic hardship; wayward children; death; and other disappointments? When one person in the body of believers suffers, we should all feel his pain and help to see him through. Bearing one another’s burdens is our way of fulfilling the law of Christ—that is, living out Jesus’ own teachings and example.
b. Admonish and correct one another and confess your sins to each other: Read Ephesians 4:25 (cf. Rom. 15:14, Col. 3:16, and James 5:16). As children we dislike correction and punishment. Anything that smacks of admonition seems negative, a putdown. Yet we all fall short of our calling as disciples of Jesus. We need each other to point out when we stray; we need a place where we can let ourselves be vulnerable, where we can confess our shortcomings and sins. We need a small group setting or a spiritual friend or a trusted spiritual mentor with whom we can be real—or who can set us straight when we’ve gone astray. Correction in the church should never be done with a judgmental spirit, nor should it be vindictive or punitive. Just as Christ offers unregenerate sinners grace, Christians need to extend grace to those among us who have erred. Which leads to the next point:
c. Bear with one another, forgiving each other: Colossians 3:16 (cf. Rom. 14:13; 2 Cor. 13:11; Eph. 4:2). Sin, from a biblical perspective, is essentially relational: we sin against God and we sin against each other. As the philosopher Ernest Becker said, in every relationship there is a residue of guilt. Being willful persons, we impose our wills on others in ways that violate them. The glue that keeps communities like the church together is forgiveness—not excusing sin, but forgiving people for their sins, being reconciled to one another, and moving into the future with a fresh start. Forgiveness is a solvent that cleans out the residue of guilt between us. As God in Christ has forgiven us, we must forgive each other.
Snyder makes three points about these “one another” passages: they imply behaviors, not just attitudes; they suggest appropriate social structures where they are lived out; and they are imperatives to be lived out, not just spiritual truths upon which to meditate.
[Q] Looking at each of the “one another” passages above, discuss the following:
What are the specific behaviors?
Where (in what social context) are they being lived out in our Christian experience? (Where, in other words, do we experience Christian support, accountability, and forgiveness from and with other Christians?)
What are you personally being called to do by these “one another” admonitions?
Ray Oldenburg has argued that a healthy society needs three elements: family, work, and a “third place” that is an open and inclusive social setting. The essential requirements of a third place are that it is neutral territory where rank is forgotten, it is frequented by a core of regular attenders who foster interpersonal exchange, and conversation is a central activity (The Great Good Place, Marlowe & Company, 1999). In our society, many people try to find this third place in bars or pubs. But the ideal place is the church.
[Q] How does Oldenburg’s description of a “third place” fit your understanding of the fellowship of believers? How does the church differ from Oldenburg’s description of a third place?
[Q] Some Christians maintain that no significant Christian growth happens (numerically or spiritually) without the use of small groups—smaller, primary groups where people are accountable to each other for their Christian commitment. Do you agree or disagree? Why?
[Q] Christian fellowship is a gift of the Holy Spirit, says Snyder, but it also involves effort on our part. How can we both receive this gift and do what needs to be done to allow Christian fellowship to flourish?
[Q] Christian fellowship takes time and effort. What are you willing to give up in your busy schedule to enrich Christian fellowship in your life and those Christians with whom you relate? How is God calling you personally to take Christian fellowship more seriously?
—Study prepared by Richard A. Kauffman, pastor, former associate editor of Christianity Today, and author of numerous studies in this series.