The Forgotten Habit

The Forgotten Habit

Fellowship as an irreplaceable means of grace in the Christian life offers us two priceless joys: receiving God’s grace through the helping words of others and giving his grace to others through our own. Jesus does not call us to “hold fast” alone, as if we didn’t need the fellows he gives. But we help each other hold fast and thrive.

We nixed the name “Fellowship Hall.”

Our church purchased the building three years ago. “Fellowship Hall” had been the name we inherited for the other big room. Recently, in the process of doing some renovations, we needed to formalize a name for each room. The sign now reads, “Chapel.”

The word fellowship has fallen on hard times in many churches, like the word encourage — emptied of its power by casual overuse. Trivialized, you might say.

We scrapped fellowship from the name not because the biblical reality of fellowship is waning in importance. Quite the contrary. We want our church to reclaim the electric reality of fellowship in the New Testament and not have the term die the slow death of Christian domestication.

Fellowship Bigger Than Us

Perhaps the word can seem hollow if we have lost the concept of fellowship as a means of grace, with the end of enjoying Jesus.

That we have means of grace in the Christian life implies some end, some goal, some target. In other words, “means” means means to some end. The means are not the end. And if we leave the great end undefined, lesser ends come to replace it. Lesser ends like growth. Nor is godliness or holiness the goal, vital and precious as they are.

Rather knowing and enjoying God himself, in the God-man, Jesus Christ, is the goal, the end, of Christian fellowship. The final joy in any truly Christian habit of grace is, as Paul writes, “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). “This is eternal life,” Jesus prayed — and this is the goal of the means of his grace — “that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). And as J.I. Packer writes, “The more strongly one desires an end, the more carefully and diligently one will use the means to it” (Honouring the People of God, 274).

Of those means, God’s word and prayer are often emphasized for their crucial place in the Christian life. Rightly so. But in the age of the individualist modern self, a third vital means — like a forgotten middle child — needs more attention: fellowship.

Something More Than Friendship

Christian fellowship — our holy commonality of sharing in one Savior, through one Spirit, as one body — goes far deeper than games and a potluck. In the New Testament, fellowship is less the Christian Super Bowl party, and more like the players themselves huddled on the field, calling the next play.

Perhaps few of us realized how vital fellowship was as a means of grace until COVID hit. Many languished unexpectedly, and some of our churches still feel the fallout. We tend to underestimate how much our souls are fed, and stay healthy, through the regular rhythms of in-person corporate worship and face-to-face fellowship. Especially in an age of enormous technological advances which keep us in touch with those who are remote, while quietly undermining ties with those most proximate. Our devices have increased our sheer count of “friends,” while stripping our lives of real, flesh-and-blood friendships.

New Testament fellowship is far deeper than common human friendships. Fellowship, at its best, is comprised of deeply committed relationships, that is, covenant allegiance through thick and thin, through pain and inconvenience and awkwardness and annoyance. This has long been a challenge for Americans who, when they rally together, have often done so in defense of individual rights, liberties, and our personal pursuits of happiness.

God Gave Us Each Other

Hebrews’ twin texts on fellowship as a means of grace speaks into the challenges of our generation. As we see in Hebrews 3 and 10, life and health and perseverance in Christian faith is a community project. Our hearts harden, and our faith fails, as we distance ourselves from the fellowship.

But when we stubbornly stay connected, and deepen those connections, we not our find our own hearts staying soft, and our faith enduring; we also taste the joy of being Christ’s means of grace to each other. It is marvelous and deeply satisfying to be human instruments of the Spirit’s keeping work in the church.

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