Why Does Christian Fellowship Fall Short?

This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.  If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

  • 1 John 1:5-7

He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them.  For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.  All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

  • Mark 7:20-23

Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.  When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.”  From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

  • John 19:25-27

“Because Christian community is founded solely on Jesus Christ, it is a spiritual [pneumatisch] and not a emotional [psychisch] reality.  In this respect it differs absolutely from all other communities.  The Scriptures call pneumatic or “spiritual” [geistlich] what is created only by the Holy Spirit, who puts Jesus Christ into our hearts as lord and savior.  The scriptures call “emotional” what comes from the natural urges, strengths, and abilities of the human soul.
The basis for all pneumatic, or spiritual, is the clear, manifest Word of God in Jesus Christ.  At the foundation of all emotional, reality are the dark, impenetrable urges and desires of the human soul.  The basis of spiritual community is truth; the basis of emotional community is desire.  The essence of spiritual community is light.  For “God is light and in [God] there is no darkness at all” (1 john 1:5); and “if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another” (1 john 1:7).  The essence of emotional community is darkness, “for it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come” (Mark 7:21).  It is the deep night that spreads over the sources of all human activity, over even all noble and devout impulses.  Spiritual community is the community of those who are called by Christ; emotional community is the community of pious [fromm] souls.  The bright love of Christian service, agape, lives in the spiritual community; the dark love of pious—impious urges, eros, burns in the emotional community.  In the former, there is ordered, Christian service; in the latter, disordered desire for pleasure.  In the former, there is humble submission of Christians one to another; in the latter, humble yet haughty subjection of other Christians to one’s own desires.  In the spiritual community the Word of God alone rules; in the emotional community the individual who is equipped with exceptional powers, experience, and magical, suggestive abilities rules along with the Word.  In the one, God’s Word alone is binding; in the other, besides the Word, human beings bind others to themselves.  In the one, all power, honor, and rule are surrendered to the Holy Spirit; in the other, power and personal spheres of influence are sought and cultivated.  So far as these are devout people, they certainly seek this power with the intention of serving the highest and the best.  But in reality they end up dethroning the Holy Spirit and banishing it to the realm of unreal remoteness; only what is emotional remains real here.  Thus, in the spiritual community the Spirit rules; in the emotional community, psychological techniques and methods.  In the former, unsophisticated, non-psychological, unmethodical, helping love is offered to one another; in the latter, psychological analysis and design.  In the former, service to one another is simple and humble; in the latter, it is to strangers treated in a searching, calculating fashion.
Perhaps the contrast between spiritual and emotional reality can be made most clear in the following observation.  Within the spiritual community there is never, in any way whatsoever, an “immediate” relationship of one to another.  However, in the emotional community there exists a profound, elemental emotional desire for community, for immediate contact with other human souls, just as in the flesh there is a yearning for immediate union with other flesh. …”

  • Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

Yesterday, I wrote about how much of our “Christian” Fellowship breaks down into gossip, but here in Bonhoeffer’s next paragraphs, it does not have to go as far as gossip to be superficial and worthless in a Christian and spiritual framework.

And I feel that this emotional versus spiritual issue is the trap which destroys not only Christian Fellowship, but it masks the concept of true conversion to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

I wrote a funny piece recently about what we get out of a particular experience is based upon the preconceived notions that we carry into that experience.  I quoted C. S. Lewis who sets that concept out for us to consider and then I told my version of an old Jerry Clower joke.  The post was called, When the Dam Busted …  The link is HERE.

Whether you enjoyed the humor or not, there is a problem within our churches due to the mask of emotional experience.  I have noticed at least four groups of people who attend church regularly.  There is a fifth group of those who maintain their membership, but only darken the doors of the church on Christmas Eve and Easter.  Since I have no idea who those people are, I cannot speak of them, or the sixth group of church members that do not even bother showing up on those two days.

Of the four groups that show up to church regularly, not necessarily every Sunday, there are those who, in private, will admit that they do not believe.  Most of these are people who have no fear of condemnation for not believing.  They have decided that their god is going to see them through that passage, even though they do not believe in God, but some only disbelieve in Jesus.  A few privately admit, however, that they go to bed at night, in fear that they will not wake up, because they do not believe.  And yet, they resist committing their life to Jesus – yet, some are elders in the church.

The next group shows up to small group meetings and proudly proclaims that they have no testimony.  They simply believe and have always believed.  For this group, what they say is full of contradictions, but they do not seem to notice, nor do they care.  To them, being in church on Sunday is the “thing to do” and it does not interfere with their lives the other six days of the week, and truly it only interrupts an hour or two on Sunday.  Jesus never enters their minds the rest of the week.

The next group, to a great extent, only differs from the previous group in that their testimony is that as a youth they had an emotional experience at a conference, a church camp, a youth group meeting, or a mission trip.  Because the hormones were firing while doing “Jesus” stuff, they attribute that emotional experience to being saved.  That is not to say that some emotional experience at such events cannot be life transforming, but this group does not seem to have any transformation.  The rest of their week belongs to them.

Then there are the true believers.  Most have a strong conversion testimony, but some cannot remember when they ever did not believe in Jesus.  They have relied on Jesus for every breath since that early time when Jesus came into their heart.  Some preachers, like Vance Havner, accepted Jesus very early in life.  Rev. David Jeremiah has given his testimony of accepting Jesus twice, not that the second “conversion” meant anything other than the first was at such a young age, he re-confessed his sins and asked Jesus into his heart when he was old enough to understand what that meant.  The key to these true believers is that they live the life of a Christian all seven days of the week.  Their attendance at church is more to praise God and thank God for the other 167 hours of the week (assuming a one-hour worship service).  And of course, to recharge their spiritual batteries.

The key is that you have all four groups at any random table in the Narthex, Welcome Center, Fellowship Hall, etc.  Wherever you have Christian Fellowship.  Then the conversation usually stays in that emotional range.  But read the Bonhoeffer quote again, if necessary.  See what we lose in the process.

My fear is that if we stay in the emotional connection and feed off how that makes us feel, we never experience the true Christ as we converse with others at church.  We are perfectly content with Satan’s emotional image of Jesus that is really not Jesus at all.  And that could even include some people who can tell you the date, the hour, and even the minute when they said the salvation prayer and accepted Jesus.  It was only an emotional experience and once the emotion faded, so did the faith, the reliance upon Jesus to fill our lungs with another gulp of air.

In the Scriptures, I copied the two Scriptures that Bonhoeffer used in the quote, but then I followed it with some of Jesus’ words on the cross.  People focus on Jesus’ concern for others rather than Himself, even as He is dying.  I love that concept and I have heard a sermon on it within the past week, but let’s go even deeper.

Jesus also said that those who call upon Him as Lord are His brothers and sisters.  In the quoted Scripture, Jesus clearly states that John must treat Mary as his mother and Mary must treat John as her son.  There is obligation upon both parties in this verbal contract, binding because it was made by God in the person of Jesus.

Now, if my neighbor is my brother, my blood brother, I am going to do him favors; hopefully he does me favors; we share in the good times; we are the first to give an embrace in the bad times and provide other support.

For those in northern states of the USA, let me tell you something about the South, the South I remember and still exists in places.  If someone has lost a loved one who has passed to the Lord, meals pour in from everyone in the community, even from members of other churches or even the unchurched.  If you are in the South, you want an empty fridge when someone dies in your family or a neighbor with an empty fridge who can help you out.  The food keeps coming, sometimes for over a week.  The church does not have to organize anything.  It is just what Southern folk do.  The last thing you ever want to think about as relatives from all over the place are packed into your spare bedroom like sardines is “How am I going to feed all these people?”  Then on the day of the funeral, the church spontaneously has a potluck dinner, in addition to all the other food in your fridge, and you do not get the bill from the church.  If someone dies in your family, you could easily gain weight, even when you do not really feel like eating.  The old training comes through to eat because we are not throwing it out.

But even this Southern tradition is on the emotional level, or it could be, out of tradition and obligation rather than out of genuine love and a spiritual awareness.

People in the South are thinking, hunh?!?!  But I have seen funerals in the North where there is a catered meal that the surviving spouse is given a bill to pay for all those who ate the meal after the burial ceremony, which can get pricey.

We need to treat fellow believers as brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, and grandchildren.  If I said “children” you might think of that bratty child that you want to spank.  No, leave the discipline, for the most part, to the real parents, but love the other folks as if they were your own parents, siblings, or children.

My wife always says that we help others, but we especially help family, to the point of sacrificially helping them.

Now, if we expand that to our Christian brothers and sisters, we might come closer to what Bonhoeffer is saying in our Christian fellowship.  Mary, here is your son.  John, here is your mother.  We need to have a spiritual connection with one another, that goes far beyond an obligation.

I have commented in the past that I often feel closer to my blogging friends than I do the general populace of the church that I attend.  That excludes the Sunday school class where I presently teach.  I love them a lot.  However, in reading other people’s blogs, in commenting and reading their responses, I get to know that inner person.  If we met in real life, face to face, would it feel the same?  As one blogging friend commented, seeing each other face-to-face might feel weird; it might detract from the spiritual connection that we have.

But in church, you have those four groups that I mentioned earlier to deal with and only the true believers can delve into the spiritual connection, going beyond the emotional connection.  And while you are trying to feel them out, they are trying to feel you out, and just when you think that you can take one step toward the spiritual connection, a bell rings telling folks to start moving toward the sanctuary for the service, or your spouse whispers in your ear that they are hungry or that they are tired and need a nap.

In other words, that face-to-face spiritual connection is often missed due to the hustle and bustle of life.

But if we could just have a small group that meets early enough in the evening so that it does not matter how long the fellowship lasts…  If that come really happen, you might just get a small community on a spiritual fellowship level.

But with God, anything can happen.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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