Even if it’s become an out-dated evangelical buzz word, “fellowship,” captures the idea of an essential New Testament teaching: True Christians will actively seek out the fellowship of other Christians. The NT might allow for different expressions of this fellowship, whether it be corporate gatherings, small groups, Bible study fellowships, etc. But we must gather. We must associate with one another. Because of the way we see the early church conducting their lives as well as the numerous and inescapable commands concerning this issue (organized in the graphic below), we’re not really left with any room to question if we’re to be involved in other Christians’ lives. The right question is not, “should we?” But “how should we?”
Spread across the entire New Testament are approximately 40 “one another” passages that explain how this interaction should be expressed. Verbs like “love” “instruct” “greet” “accept” and “forgive” show what the affirming work looks like. But on their heels follow commands to “submit” “rebuke” “admonish” and “teach” one another. Both initially restorative and eventually restorative interactions must happen. This is a realistic and full-orbed perspective on relationships. So here are two related observations that I think might help to get the discussion going in the right direction:
Every Christian is called to
- have relationships within the local church
- have those relationships exist within certain parameters (the one anothers are a good place to start).
It’s not just leaders who need to ask these questions (although that is the angle I’m coming from). The question, “how will I interact with other Christians?” is laid on all who joyfully follow Jesus Christ. But the question, at least in my experience, is never that simple. And that’s because I myself am a human being with certain dispositions that makes a clear and reasonable command unfortunately cloudy. I bring my sin (rebellion against God) into the equation.
So, it’s simple: fulfill the “one anothers.” And it’s not simple: fulfill them as a person marred by sin with other people who are marred by sin. We now know we must “get in each other’s lives,” as my pastor says. How, therefore, are we to do this in light of our sin-permeated efforts? And closely related, are there refractions of glory in our individually blemished dealings with people?