May 28, 2011

Could someone please tell me where fellowship is?

It feels like forever since I remember my first struggle with the ideal of 'simple church.' You can call it home church, organic church, real church, or whatever church. But, principally, I was wrestling with what others were exclaiming to me was "biblical church."

You see, it all began when I started reading the scripture. No, I mean really reading the scripture! As I became more acquainted with the 'stories' and started to relate the 'characters' to actual 'events' lived out by real life 'people,' my biblical church view was becoming challenged.

As I was in the membership class of yet another church I had begun attending, looking for biblical fellowship and teaching, I started to feel completely torn in two. My brain was quite literally being divided between two positions. These two positions became the proverbial dogfight for quite some time.

One one hand, I was in an established church, in a respected community with excellent well accomplished elders. Their degrees and pedigree spoke loudly enough to attract any man dignified enough to label himself 'evangelical.' There were morning bible studies that brought together those who could get up early enough to make it in and hold their eyes open, and it was profitable, and allowed great discussions. Then at the strike of the hour, everyone shuffled from the classroom, to the foyer, to the sanctuary. Then, as the regular folk's began arriving, the sanctuary got settled, the organ piped on and the opening hymn began. At this point, you knew exactly what was going to happen, when it was going to happen, and at what time it would happen. Like clockwork, you could count on your worship folder and your watch to dictate your actions, and along with everyone else, fall in lockstep with the symphony of the meeting that is called church.

On the other hand, I was not quite satisfied with the 'fellowship' endured through three songs, a prayer, a sermon, and a benediction. I felt completely isolated in a room full of people. Something was missing. I guess I had fellowship in the coffee room with the leftover McDonald's someone graciously brought in, but that would not really pass scriptural muster in most places for 'fellowship' would it? That would be too much like a soccer game being sanctified because a couple church folk show up there. I did get to chat with the pastor briefly in the foyer and shake his hand. Even though I knew him pretty decently, it was like I got to meet him all over again each Sunday morning. He was a pretty busy guy, and if I had tough questions after the sermon, he would ask me to hold on to them until later, there was a line forming behind me. I suppose I could understand that, people really do not like waiting in lines, especially when they are in a hurry.

It is safe to say I was torn. Although I was struggling greatly with it, I had started driving to a friends home after these Sunday services to meet with them, to share scripture, to pray, and to break bread as we remembered the Lord Jesus. We were actually allowed to casually approach one another, share in each others lives, and honestly dig into the scriptures together. There was no pulpit, and nobody bothered arranging music. But someone always had a teaching, and someone almost always brought a song. Even though there was no worship folder, I knew what to expect. Whenever I would arrive there after the Sunday services I attended, I would expect fellowship. Each Sunday I drove there, I left fulfilled. It was indeed challenging, and these days were often very long, but I was starting to see something I had never seen before. I was seeing the lives of other believers, having things in common with them, and bonding with them as if they were my own brothers and sisters.

I cannot recall the length of time that this went on, but the more it did, the more challenged I became. Ultimately, I found myself at war with what I experienced in the morning because of what I witnessed occur in the evenings. I was also confused by what was going on in the evening because of what I knew from the morning services. And in between the two, I was forced to open my bible and begin to study this thing called the church. My conscience became so conflicted that I could no longer read what I knew was the status-quo in the mornings into the texts that were coming alive in the scriptures when I was allowing them to say what they meant. The book of Acts stopped being obscure and primarily descriptive and began demanding my obedience to the truth of what the early church gave their lives for.

In all of this, I was left holding a bible, looking at two meetings, and asking myself, where is fellowship? Most importantly, I had to open the bible and begin listening to the words that God inspired himself, and asking myself the question, what is fellowship?

How about your experience? Do you struggle with the traditional established churches of today? Do you see a discrepancy between today's practices and what the New Testament illustrates? Which discrepancies are the most difficult to reconcile? I am curious to hear your thoughts? Is this a conversation you have ever had with yourself?

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