What I Learned in Church Today: Fellowship

In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.

Ephesians 1:13-14 (NASB)

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life—-and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us—-what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.

1 John 1:1-3 (NASB)

As I write this, it is Sunday afternoon. Pastor Dave gave a sermon on Christian fellowship based on 1 John 1 and 2 (Pastor Randy had been out-of-town all week at a conference and wasn’t able to prepare a sermon for today). Pastor Dave doesn’t give sermons very often but I think he did a really good job at this one. I found that he was touching on many Jewish concepts, probably without realizing it. He spoke of walking in darkness or light 1 John 1:6-7 which I associated with halachah or the way to properly “walk” in lived obedience to God. He also talked about how God as light doesn’t mean like a light bulb, but as something that reveals what was once hidden, which brought me back to D. Thomas Lancaster’s commentary on Purim, which I reviewed yesterday.

Further, he talked about how Christian fellowship should be more than just liking each other and getting along. It should be more than just getting together over football and beer (my words, not Dave’s). It should be fellowship surrounding a core of our common faith and identity as Christians. That, to me, is really Jewish:

Rabbi Shimon would say: Three who eat at one table and do not speak words of Torah, it is as if they have eaten of idolatrous sacrifices; as is stated, “Indeed, all tables are filled with vomit and filth, devoid of the Omnipresent” (Isaiah 28:8). But three who eat at one table and speak words of Torah, it is as if they have eaten at G-d’s table, as is stated, “And he said to me: This is the table that is before G-d” (Ezekiel 41:22).

Pirkei Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers) 3:3

But he also spoke of the heart and from the heart about fellowship. Just being in church with fellow believers doesn’t mean you have fellowship or at least, it doesn’t mean that you’ll always feel like you have fellowship.

Man aloneThat point really spoke to me because I don’t have a lot of what I consider true fellowship in church…and it’s probably my fault.

Everyone is friendly and approachable, but I know if I let myself off my chain and really start talking about what I think and believe relative to the Bible, a lot of those people won’t want fellowship with me, or they will think I’m deluded or a heretic or something that would make fellowship impossible. He even said the very words I sometimes think:

“I don’t have any real friends at church.”

That’s not exactly true. I do have one, Pastor Randy. I’m friendly with many others, but outside of Sunday services, for the most part, we never see each other. If I had left church after the sermon, I probably would have been depressed.

But I went to Sunday school where, for this week, we departed from studying Acts and focused on Ephesians 1. I recently learned that if I have any serious questions about the lesson, mentioning them to the teacher before class begins is really helpful. He has more time to respond and I don’t think he feels so much “under the gun” since it’s just him and me.

I was having a tough time with his notes trying to figure out what his point was. It wasn’t until he started class that I realized it had a lot to do with what I’m learning from D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermon series Holy Epistle to the Hebrews and especially a concept I’m going to explore in tomorrow’s review. How Jesus could have all authority over literally everything granted to him at the ascension when he sat down at the right hand of the Father, and yet we barely see a glimmer of that reality in the day-to-day world around us.

His lesson worked over various bits and verses of scripture, but I was taking the entire chapter and to some degree the entire letter as a single unit, trying to summarize in my head why Paul even wrote the epistle and what his overarching message might be to Ephesus.

How can we have all spiritual blessings now and have authority to rule with Jesus and at the same time be mere mortal creatures struggling just to survive and discover some sort of meaning for our existence here and now?

Adult Sunday SchoolAnd then, when one of the people in class asked me a question in response to something I’d said, the answer hit me, but visually. I quickly asked permission to use the whiteboard, hopped up, and drawing a few pictures, gave a sixty second lesson on God’s perspective vs. ours and how I saw Ephesians 1 being some sort of bridge between the two.

I think I made the teacher nervous for a moment because he asked how long I was going to take. I told him “less than a minute,” which calmed him down, and afterward, he jokingly said that he might have to put me to work doing some teaching.

I know he was kidding and I also know that Pastor Randy would never sanction me to do any teaching in the church, since he knows what we agree and especially what we disagree on, but it felt good to “teach” again, even if it was just for a few seconds. I also felt that momentarily, I was part of the flow of transaction in the class. After class ended, I stopped to talk with the teacher and another fellow for about fifteen minutes, including sharing just a little about how “Jewish” some of the concepts Pastor Dave presented in his sermon. Every once in a while, I get the opportunity to drop a little pebble in the pond with the hope that the ripples it makes will be productive.

As I was leaving, I was able to chat with Pastor Randy for a bit, mainly over further suggestions I have for the church’s website (which I built to replace their previous and archaic web presence). He had to rush off to a Deacon’s meeting, but as I left church today, I felt a little lighter, a little brighter than on other such occasions.

I have to admit that I’ve been afraid of fellowship at the church, of becoming really involved, because of what I thought the impact would be on me and particularly how my wife would see it, not that she’d complain. Naturally, I have no problem at all with her involvement with our local Jewish community and it’s right for her, as a Jew, to be involved with other Jews. But letting the door swing both ways, I worry that she’ll be put off by being Jewish and yet having not only a husband who’s a Goy, but a Christian…one of those.

If I invest in fellowship in the church, what does it do to my wife’s feelings? We live in a fairly small community. Word gets around. How many of her Jewish friends already know I go to a church and what do they think? Not that I’m overly concerned about what people think, but I am concerned about how who I am affects her relationship with other Jewish people, especially if that affect is “damaging” in some way.

But if I don’t invest in fellowship in the church, then what am I doing at church? How will I be able to make a significant and positive contribution if I don’t develop relationships and interactions that go beyond merely attending services and Sunday school? Pastor Dave called fellowship vital not optional.

He also asked a funny question that has a serious answer, which is at the heart of my fears. Apparently Pastor Dave is a naturally friendly guy and he can’t imagine not getting along with someone or someone not getting along with him. He asked why we sometimes fail to allow ourselves to be vulnerable in our relationships at church. The following quote, I have no idea where it came from originally, popped into my head:

The church is the only army that shoots its own wounded.

In spite of Stephen McAlpine’s rebuttal, there are plenty of people who can say they’ve been “burned” by church. Given my own theological bent, I can expect to be rejected if I dropped too much information to too many people about my understanding of the Bible vs. what is typically taught by Evangelicals.

Good SamaritanBut there’s another answer I could give to Pastor Dave, and it’s another cliché of a sort, but I think it’s a useful one. Sometimes atheists will say that “religion is just a crutch” to which the cliché response is “but everyone is limping, or beaten, or bleeding.”

But it’s not religion that’s a crutch in the functional sense, but fellowship. One of the functions of fellowship, of friendship, of family, is when you’ve been knocked to the ground, and you’re having trouble getting back up, someone is there to help you. Fellowship in Christ is walking the path the Master set before us when he said this:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 13:34-35 (NASB)

So fellowship in Christ not only helps us support one another when we are “limping,” but it is a direct public witness that we are Christians obeying the command of our Master by being loving.

It’s risky. Any participation in a community of people is risky. But Christian fellowship is supposed to be worth a few risks and may be the only way, or one of the only ways to encounter God as part of the body of Messiah.

Joseph was a stranger in a strange land, even as he held royal power and authority in Egypt. Moses was raised in Egypt and was a stranger in Midian, where he found a wife and raised two sons. The Torah admonishes the Israelites in how they treat strangers because they too were once strangers and aliens in Egypt.

In many ways, I’m also a stranger in a strange land, a Christian who doesn’t fit very well into a Christian church, someone who finds Adon Olam in a siddur more familiar than anything in a hymnal.

But it’s my fault. If I am to accept the challenge of fellowship, then I have to take risks, well, more risks than I’ve already taken. I just don’t know where the path will lead, the price not only I, but my family will have to pay, and how to do my best to not hurt anyone and to avoid the obvious trapdoors and pitfalls involved in “mixing” theologies, relationships, and identities.

What I learned in church today.

12 thoughts on “What I Learned in Church Today: Fellowship”

  1. I’ve been thinking of this lately. Even in the midst of church service we may often neglect the purpose of fellowship with God and others. We naturally lean toward the selfish when it’s really about giving and receiving (more so the giving). In terms of fellowship with our spiritual family, it is summed up in this: iron sharpens iron. That takes more than a simple “God bless” or “Amen” or “I’ll keep you in prayer.” It takes love (priority, patience, effort, and sacrifice).

    Thank you for this post. It has reminded me to reconnect with some forgotten brothers and sisters.

  2. I want to do more than just click the “like” button, but all I can say/do is to give a big smile and say that I appreciate today what you’ve written (on Sunday).

  3. I totally can understand. I have been told I don’t fit into (aka. go away) a couple of non-denominational churches for my view on the Hebrew nature of Christianity. So I generally don’t say much so that I don’t offend anyone, and because my wife. It’s hard and it makes me feel very cold at times, like I can’t really get to close to others because of the repercussions. It’s always good to know you’re not crazy in feeling this way. I left the Hebrew Roots group for this very reason and here I am years later having trouble finding a church to stay in, still for the same reason.

  4. I think anyone with a Hebrew Roots or Messianic Jewish perspective is going to feel at least a little odd in a church setting. A number of the people I used to worship with in HR had long histories in churches, so they could still attend the occasional service and were fine with it. There were even a few folks that attended our group on Saturday and went to church on Sunday.

    But I’ve probably spent more time as a believer outside a church setting than in one. I wasn’t really “raised in the church” (my parents took me to a Lutheran church when I was in junior high but it never really stuck) and in some areas, am very ignorant about “church”.

    I’ve spent many a Wednesday evening having private conversations with the head Pastor at church, who lived in Israel for fifteen years as a missionary/tour guide. He has a great love for Israel and the Jewish people and at first, was wanting to get my perspectives on Messianic Judaism. Then, once he found out, he was pretty upfront in trying to convince me that Evangelical Fundamentalist Christianity was a more correct way of understanding God and the Bible.

    We’ve had many lively conversations but while disagreeing on almost everything, we remain friends. Due to his brutal work and school schedule (he’s a distance student in the Ph.D program at Master’s College), we don’t see each other for conversations as often as we used to, but we continue to enjoy each other’s company and dialogs. Iron sharpening iron and that sort of thing.

  5. That’s really awesome that you have someone like that. When i left the HR movement my family and i practically got shunned by all our old friends and congregation because we started going to Sunday churches again, (after they couldn’t bring us from the errors of our ways.) We have found a Evangelical Presbyterian church that isn’t so bad and my family loves, but still my pastor isn’t a huge fan of disagreeing.

  6. I don’t think the Pastor likes disagreeing and I think I frustrate him sometimes because I don’t accept his arguments about why Judaism “faded away” during the time frame chronicled in the Book of Acts, but he’s willing to engage me, maybe not as often as he used to, though.

    I try to mind my manners in Sunday School but occasionally give myself permission to insert a few of my viewpoints.

    My wife being Jewish and a non-believer doesn’t accompany me to church. Most of my old associates in HR don’t really stay in contact, but I do have coffee every other week with someone I met in HR and who sees things a lot like I do (and when he doesn’t, he challenges me in compelling ways).

  7. Great post & allow me to encourage you to hang in there with your community. Six years ago, after several years of studying the works many Hebraic roots authors (Stern, Young, for example), I started dropping comments in our SS class – 50 somethings in a very large, very SB church. Eventually, I was asked to teach occasionally. The response I received from these older believers was typically, “why am I just now learning this?” (Lamb selection day, for example.)

    Three years ago my wife & I were asked to teach a class of 30 somethings & this is the basis of our teachings. They are also eating this up. A year after that, one of the 50 somethings, also grabbed by the way of looking at scripture in its cultural context, was asked to teach another young married class and is teaching in the same manner.

    I say all of this to say to you, keep at it. You never know when the sparks will turn to flame. And there are people who are hungry to hear what you have to say.

  8. Thanks, Jim. As I mentioned above, the minute or so I “took over” the class felt pretty good. I don’t think the head Pastor would ever sanction any SS teacher who didn’t teach along the same lines he does, but who knows what God has in mind?

  9. Hi James. Would you be kind to us and give us too that sixty second lesson on God’s perspective vs. ours and how you see Ephesians 1 being some sort of bridge between the two?

  10. In short, Ephesians 1 speaks of believers already having received full blessings from Jesus who completely rules all things, and yet we don’t see the Messiah’s rule in our world yet, nor are we seated next to him, so to speak, in rule. How can both things be possible unless we choose to “spiritualize” or “allegorize” these verses?

    Fortunately, the answer is contained in today’s “morning meditation” which is my weekly review of D.T. Lancaster’s “Holy Epistle to the Hebrews” series. He discusses how Jesus can possess full authority over everything now and why we don’t see it in our world at the moment. My review also includes a link to the full recording of the sermon (about 45 minutes) for all the details, Alfredo.

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