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Jesus is the way,
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fellowship IN CHURCH

 

 

 

 

The fellowship between Christians is an important issue according to the Bible. This can be seen in the words of Jesus below, where He urged to fellowship and His prayer that refers to the same issue. He spoke about this just before leaving this world:

 

- (John 13:34,35) A new commandment I give to you, That you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.

35  By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another.

 

- (John 17:21-23) 21  That they all may be one; as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that you have sent me.

22  And the glory which you gave me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:

23  I in them, and you in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that you have sent me, and have loved them, as you have loved me.

 

The Bible teaches about fellowship that it is based on birth, i.e., that people have been born to be children of the same God. It is not so much a question of cooperation but that of similar views, but the fellowship of believers has a supernatural foundation. We "have been all made to drink into one Spirit" (1 Cor 12:13), and the same Holy Spirit lives in us creating fellowship. People who were formerly separated by race, social status, sex, or similar issues, are now through Christ sisters and brothers, members of the same body and they have the same Spirit of sonship. Therefore, Paul did not urge us to create a fellowship between believers, but to retain it:

 

- (Eph 4:3-6) Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

4  There is one body, and one Spirit, even as you are called in one hope of your calling;

5  One Lord, one faith, one baptism,

6  One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

 

- (1 Cor 12:13) For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.

 

- (1 Cor 6:19) What? know you not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which you have of God, and you are not your own?

 

- (Gal 3:26,28) For you are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.

27  For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

28  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

 

Even though fellowship should thus be self-evident, this is not always the case. The fact is that in the course of history and also nowadays, there have been several factors that have been an impediment to it (1). The most important impediments are at least the following:

 

ARROGANCE TOWARDS OTHERS

 

Arrogance towards others is the first separating factor. It means an attitude that other congregations and people are inferior. We may think that our own spiritual home is the best, and deem the others as being astray, even renegades. We may also think that others are not as "mature", "sober", reasonable or "perceptive": that they are far behind. Another typical feature of this attitude, which is described well by Jesus' allegory in the Gospel of Luke, is also that fellowship is built only with those who belong to the same religious movement. It is based mainly on external forms, a similar view of creed, common habits and festivals among one's own movement, but there is usually very little contact with other Christians. Also, visiting speakers usually come only from the own movement, a natural consequence of the facts stated above.

 

- (Luke 18:9-14) And he spoke this parable to certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:

10  Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.

11  The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank you, that I am not as other men are, extortionists, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.

12  I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.

13  And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven, but smote on his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.

14  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalts himself shall be abased; and he that humbles himself shall be exalted.

 

When we have a proud and arrogant attitude towards others, there is only one piece of advice: we must repent. The Bible says "but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves" (Phil 2:3), and this is a good piece of advice that should be followed. Instead, if we always criticize others and regard ourselves better, it is an indication that our own spiritual life is not on the right track. It is clear that this kind of an attitude that goes against the will of God cannot lead to anything positive:

 

Criticism seems to be wise but it is one of the basic forms of pride. When we criticize someone, we actually proclaim that we are better than the other person. We may be better than others in some way, but if so, it is only because of grace. Those people who recognize the real grace of God never search for means to put others down: rather, they find ways to elevate them. As the old proverb says: "Any fool can kick a barn down, but a skilful carpenter is needed to build one." (2)

 

DIFFERENT CREED

 

- (Rom 12:16) Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.

 

- (Phil 2:1) If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies,

2  Fulfill you my joy, that you be like minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.

 

Different creed is probably one of the major separating factors. Such issues as the date of the rapture, the gifts of grace, music and the view on baptism can be issues that divide congregations. They can be a large obstacle in the way of fellowship and cause dispersion if people are unable to live in harmony and be gentle towards each other, issues of which the Apostles spoke.

   We should note, however, that the worst disagreements and quarrels in a congregation do not, after all, arise from different views regarding some issues, but they always arise from a hard and judging attitude. Lack of love when discussing, for example, what is the right kind of music for the congregation is the reason why most problems occur. God's purpose is for us to love, in addition to Him, our neighbors more and more, but we do not always want to obey it. A hard, quarrelsome and loveless attitude towards others (for example, refusing to love those who have different tastes in music, such as supporters of Christian rock music, hardened people or bitterness because the leaders of the church support issues we are unable to accept), is only an indication of our own spiritual life not being on the right track. If we drive whatever matter we deem right and the will of God, but we forget gentleness, we are always wrong before God. It indicates that we have forgotten the most important thing of spiritual life, love, as Paul said (1 Cor 13:13: but the greatest of these is charity.) John Wesley wrote in his time:

 

"I am sick of opinions. Show me a man who is humble, gentle, loves God and people, who is lenient and bears fruit, in whom there is no partiality and hypocrisy. Let my soul be in the company of such Christians, whoever they are and whatever their views. Whoever does the will of my Father is my brother. (…) Fanaticism is extremely powerful devotion to one's own group or opinion. How unwillingly people are ready to admit that there is something good in those who are not always of the same opinion as them. We must not take the matter of God only to our own group, but we must be glad about goodness, wherever it appears." (3)

 

The following verses also warn about a hard, quarrelsome and loveless attitude. According to them, if we have "bitter envy", it is actually earthly, unspiritual wisdom, about which James warned us. We are then in the darkness and liars. We do not remember that we must be "gentle to all men" (2 Tim 2:24,25) and not show a hostile attitude towards those who are of a different opinion (Paul warned about foolish and unlearned questions, "knowing that they do engender strifes", 2 Tim 2:23) or who criticize us:

 

- (Jam 3:14-17) But if you have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.

15  This wisdom descends not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.

16  For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.

17  But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.

 

- (1 John 1:6,7) If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth:

7  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleans us from all sin.

 

- (1 John 4:20) If a man say, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar: for he that loves not his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?

 

- (1 Cor 13:2) And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.

 

THE Wrong gift of distinguishing between spirits

 

The so-called wrong gift of distinguishing between spirits, an imitation gift of real distinguishing between spirits, is one of the largest separating factors. In other words, it is a "gift" where one deems himself "perceptive" and having "reliable information", even though he is in fact overpowered by such blindness that he cannot see the work of God in others, but deems it coming from the devil. He cannot see what God does to help other people; he sees only their faults, not what is right. He acts like the Pharisees who did not understand the work of God, but blamed Jesus and said that He is driving out demons by the power of Beelzebub.

   It is clear that this kind of a gift only produces bad crop in a congregation. It usually causes people to be irritated and heated, because it is presented in a way that kills and does not build. It is possible that this "gift" is the largest deception among Christians because it often spreads widely through books and spiritual magazines. Besides, it is possible for each of us to be overpowered by this delusion because "we know in part" (1 Cor 13:9). Even great men of God, such as Oswald Chambers and F.B. Meyer, were mistaken in their time when they did not understand that the Pentecostal Movement was from God.

   Rick Joyner has written well about this imitation gift. He says that the real gift of distinguishing between spirits can work only through love. He also says that criticism from a person who does not love the people he is criticizing should be left unnoticed:

 

Religiousness is often connected with the wrong kind of a gift of distinguishing between spirits which is motivated by suspicion and fear. This false gift looks for faults in other people instead of seeing what God can do to help these people go forward. A religious spirit using this kind of distinguishing between spirits can cause great harm to the congregation. Its actions almost always leave behind more damage and dissolution than healing, agreement and growth. Its wisdom comes from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and even though the information might be true, it is brought out in a spirit that kills.

   Suspicion arises from things like rejection, protecting one's grounds or general uncertainty. The real gift of distinguishing between spirits can function only through love. Any other motive distorts spiritual understanding. Whenever someone condemns or criticizes another person or a group, we must not pay attention to it until we know that he really loves the person or group and is committed to serving them. (4)

 

"Not SOBER"

 

In the paragraph above we talked about the wrong gift of distinguishing between spirits, which is one reason why there are divisions in congregations and fellowship does not work.

   Another, almost similar, problem is that some people have been offended by various phenomena or dictions because they have not deemed these sober-minded (the current Pentecostal Movement was also born under similar circumstances). Instead, these may have been regarded as "upsurges of emotion", "fanaticism" and vain fuss. Many may have behaved in the same way as Michal, the daughter of Saul, who despised David because his behavior was not "sober-minded":

 

- (2 Sam 6:15,16, 20-23) So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet.

16  And as the ark of the LORD came into the city of David, Michal Saul's daughter looked through a window, and saw king David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart.

20  Then David returned to bless his household. And Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, How glorious was the king of Israel to day, who uncovered himself to day in the eyes of the handmaids of his servants, as one of the vain fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!

21  And David said to Michal, It was before the LORD, which chose me before your father, and before all his house, to appoint me ruler over the people of the LORD, over Israel: therefore will I play before the LORD.

22  And I will yet be more vile than thus, and will be base in my own sight: and of the maidservants which you have spoken of, of them shall I be had in honor.

23  Therefore Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death.

 

The description below excellently illustrates this negative attitude towards feelings. It shows how people can accept feelings in others parts of life, such as in rock concerts, football matches or other events, but not in spiritual life. This is strange because the enthusiasm and fuss in these earthly issues is due to quite insignificant and fleeting issues:

 

   "I do not believe in any kind of religious ecstasy."

   Per built a defensive wall and blocked my words. Then his sister interfered the conversation.

   "Per, it is not fair to say that. People must indeed be allowed to show their feelings also in Christian events. Just look at people in sports events or theaters or various concerts! A couple of weeks ago, the curtain of the Dramaten Theater in Stockholm was opened approximately twenty times after a performance. The audience stomped their feet and howled with delight. The applause was furious…"

   "Okay. I was also there for the premiere", Per said laughing and looking at me. He had already heard that argument. (5)

 

How can we adjust spiritual activity so that it would not get on the wrong track? Sometimes it is really so that those people who are in the center of blessing can ruin everything with their wrong behavior (lovelessness, rowdiness, fierce eagerness and senseless actions) or emphasis. They can cause confusion, ruin the faith of others and estrange other people from God because they are not careful.

   The answer to the previous is that we need above all followers of the humble and gentle Christ, as Frank Bartleman has poignantly written in his book Azusa-katu 312 (Azusa Street), p. 133, 134. He also emphasizes the order of importance where the Holy Spirit and gifts do not come before Jesus. Whenever we make such issues as gifts, the Holy Spirit, the revival or miracles and phenomena the main point and put them before Jesus, we have our priorities upside-down, and this will cause confusion. Then we may experience the same as the Israelites when they began to worship the bronze snake Moses had made (2 Kings 18:4), which caused the nation to be lost.

 

At that time I wrote a tract, from which I have picked the following fragments: "We cannot even have a creed and we cannot search for an experience of faith in any other way than in Jesus. Many of us wish to scrape together 'power' from any source we can get our hands on, to do miracles and to get the interest and admiration of people on ourselves. In that way, they take away the honor from Christ and merely present human deeds. Most of the religious life today seems to need actual followers of the humble and gentle Christ. Religious enthusiasm easily spreads seed. (…) Activity that raises the Holy Spirit and gifts over Jesus will finally end in fanaticism. Anything that makes us praise and love Jesus is right and safe. The opposite destroys everything. The Holy Spirit is a bright light, but it is always is directed at Jesus and His appearance."

 

George Jeffreys also wrote about the same issue in 1933. He emphasizes how the suitable amount of control over the phenomena is important for the congregation to stay intact. Therefore, control is not always a bad thing: it can be important even though we should keep in mind not to quench the Spirit, as Paul warned us (1 Thess 5:19):

 

Revival has begun - The Spirit comes down from Heaven, the wonderful gifts are proofs of it, and everything is in motion. Then, we give up the good control which shocks the wise, and allow power and gifts spread freely. The equilibrium of the congregation, in accordance with the model of the New Testament, is shaking, and it does not take long before irrelevant emotionalism comes along, followed by excessive physical powers, and results in the congregation being broken to pieces over time. (…) The genuineness of dynamics cannot be questioned, for there is nothing bad in it. The problems started when no attention was paid in the need of control that so clearly appears in the Bible. Those in charge noticed too late that there is no slavery in control in accordance with the Bible, and neither is there any freedom in uncontrolled power. (6)

 

slander

 

- (Jam 4:11) Speak not evil one of another, brothers. He that speaks evil of his brother, and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law, and judges the law: but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law, but a judge.

 

- (2 Cor 12:20) For I fear, lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I would, and that I shall be found to you such as you would not: lest there be debates, contentions, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, arrogance, tumults:

 

One reason behind problems in a congregation and one reason why fellowship vanishes is slander and gossip. This means that negative words about other congregations and servants of God are uttered behind their backs instead of just praying for them. Often the reason for negative speeches can be prayer: "I'm just telling you this so you would pray for him."

   Jealousy can also be a reason behind slander. This can be seen in someone having difficulty being happy if someone else seems to be used by God more often than them. They have a similar attitude as Saul had towards David (1 Sam 18:8,9, And Saul was very wroth, and the saying displeased him; and he said, They have ascribed to David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed but thousands: and what can he have more but the kingdom? And Saul eyed David from that day and forward.). If you suffer from jealousy, confess your sin to God and start to rejoice about the success of others.

   Francis Frangipane has written well about this hurtful attitude we may have. He says that slander is related to the nature of Satan. He also urges us to respect incomplete leaders because slander can often be manifested as dissatisfaction with them and their modes of action, and is probably the most usual reason for breaking of fellowship in a congregation. (Michael Howard states in his book Tottelemattomuuden hinta (Prize of Disobedience) p. 29: "Most congregations break or dissatisfaction occurs in them because someone deems himself better than he ought and thinks that he can be better than the nominated leaders of the congregation"):

 

Perhaps you know people who always have something negative to say about others, who always point out some negative piece of information about others. I pray that the Holy Spirit would show us how slander is related to the nature of Satan.

   The Bible says that by our words we will be acquitted, and by our words we will be condemned. God uses our words, even those we say to our spouse or friend in secret, to measure our obedience to His will. James writes, "If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body." (James 3:2) (7)

 

So, in order to succeed, we should submit ourselves to incomplete leaders without being disrespectful towards them. I do not mean that we should submit ourselves to leaders who have committed serious sexual sins or crimes deserving imprisonment, but we should not have any difficulty to show obedience to men and women who are only incomplete.

   (…) This does not mean that you should not worry when you are faced with problems. You can really have good pieces of advice or even revelation information that can help your leader. But do not give people opportunities to treat their leaders disrespectfully, especially in the congregation! If you see a problem, do not follow the example of Ham. (8)

 

What is Jesus' advice in a situation where an offence has taken place or people blame someone for it in their speeches? We can find an answer in Matthew 18. His advice in this chapter is very clear, and according to it we should always go to the person to resolve the issue. We must get in contact with the person in question and not spread rumors as facts. According to the advice given by Jesus, we must talk privately with the person, then together with a brother, and not spread the issue further. This is important also because many can falsely say all kinds of evil things about others (Matt 5:11, 2 Tim 3:12, 1 Tim 5:19):

 

I have heard numerous excuses to why Matt 18 is not obeyed. One popular explanation is this: "I knew that he wouldn't listen to me." I have also heard this excuse: "If he has a public mission, I have the right to expose him publicly." This is absurd, because every ministry is public to some extent. The Lord did not set such preconditions. People who take these kinds of liberties against the clear commands of Jesus claim that they have the authority to put words in God's mouth. (...)

   If we have disobeyed God's instructions of how to treat a brother who has made a mistake, we have absolutely no right to speak about it to anyone. What we may call asking a second opinion, God calls gossip. We cannot bluff God, and we have to pay a price for this kind of rudeness. His command was that we first have to speak privately with the person. After that has been done, we can speak with someone else and only so that we could help the person who has been guilty of a sin. Our goal must always be saving our brother from sin, not exposing him. Paul wrote: "Brothers, if a man be overtaken in a fault, you which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering yourself, lest you also be tempted." (Gal. 6:1)  (9)

 

THE FALL OF A LEADER

 

One cause of dissolution in a congregation may be the fall of a person who is in a leading position. If this happens to someone who we have trusted, it can have a negative impact on many and those persons may perhaps leave the congregation altogether and abandon their faith. Especially sex, money, popularity and crowds, i.e., the sin of pride as a consequence of them, may cause falls. The congregation may be divided:

 

Sometimes the factors causing the division of a congregation are connected with the sins of leaders. Here, I am not referring to minor offences or faults but sins that are either sexual or break the laws of the society in a way that can lead to imprisonment.

   (…) However, sometimes leaders fall. Both men and women can underestimate cunningness of the enemy and become involved in a serious sin. When such sin is finally revealed, it has a destructive effect on a congregation even to the extent that people go away from the congregation in large crowds. This kind of division does not come from the ambition of the people who are leaving but from the failure of the leader. Both those who leave and those who stay need purification, so that the sheep could be led back to the blessed presence of God. (10)

 

Can these falls be prevented?

   At least one piece of advice we have not always obeyed are the words of Paul in Tit 2:1-5. Paul clearly says that older women - not men - should help younger women, especially in problems with their marriage or family. This should be the principal rule. For example, Lester Sumrall, a well-known person in the Christian circles, dismissed every employee from his organization who he found in the same room and behind closed doors with a person of the opposite sex, even if because of pastoral care only:

 

- (Tit 2:1-5) But speak you the things which become sound doctrine:

2  That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience.

3  The aged women likewise, that they be in behavior as becomes holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things;

4  That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children,

5  To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.

 

The second important issue is that responsibility belongs to elders, and there are always several of them in a congregation. An organization where one man is over the others or there is a one leader in a country or there is central management, such as the Pope in the Catholic Church, is not biblical. Instead, we can see from the Bible that the congregation is local (Rom 16:16, 1 Cor 1:2, 16:1,19, Acts 15:41) and that there are elders in each congregation. The reason for this is that the delusions will not spread so easily to other congregations and that work can go on, even if someone falls. Many mistakes and delusions would certainly not have spread so easily, if we had followed this operations model:

 

- (Acts 20:17,18) And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church.

18  And when they were come to him, he said to them, You know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons,

 

- (Phil 1:1) Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:

 

- (Tit 1:5) For this cause left I you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed you:

 

- (1 Tim 5:17) Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially they who labor in the word and doctrine.


 

Chapter 1 - Lack of after-care

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jari Iivanainen

 




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