Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: fellowship

Problem or blessing?

At 10 a.m. last Sunday morning half of our congregation was seated in the pews. The song leader rose, walked to the mike and announced the first song. Then he stood there patiently as the other half of the congregation walked in and were shown to their seats.

(We don’t use musical instruments in our churches. Congregational singing is a capella in four part harmony. The song leader sets the pitch and starts the hymn.)

This is quite a common scenario in congregations of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. People walk in the door of the church, see their friends, share greetings, ask what’s new and start to visit; soon it’s time for the service to start and they are still visiting in the foyer. I remember much the same thing happening the very first time we attended a service in this church, 41 years ago at Linden, Alberta.

Is this a problem? Every once in a while someone will ask why we can’t be like other churches where people walk in, find a set and wait quietly for the service to begin. That seems much more solemn and reverent.

I’m not so sure, having visited and even been a member of churches like that. Often the people don’t know each other very well and don’t really have anything to say to their neighbour in the pew.

In one church that my wife and I visited many years ago, at the beginning of the service the pastor asked everyone to stand up, shake hands with the people on ether side and in front and behind and introduce themselves. It seemed genuinely warm – until the end of the service. When the last amen was said everyone got up, turned around and headed for the door without another glance at those around them. We didn’t go back for a second visit.

The problem we have, if problem it be, is that we actually like each other and we want to visit, before the service and after the service. And when there are visitors in church we want to meet them and get to know them. Is there something wrong with that? I thin it’s a blessing.

“Behold how pleasant and how good it is for brethren to dwell together in unity” (Psalm 133:1).

It would be difficult to maintain this level of fellowship if our congregations became too large. Our North American congregations average 100 baptized members. The largest has 300 members. When a congregation becomes too large for the members to know each other well, they will often decide to build a new church a few miles away and part of the membership will choose to make this their new spiritual home.

At the same time, there are always families moving out of these larger congregations and establishing new congregations in new areas. There is a special kind of fellowship that develops as brethren from different areas unite to establish a new congregation in a new location. An additional benefit is that as the local folks become acquainted with these newcomers they might allow their curiosity to be used by the Holy Spirit to investigate the faith and be drawn into the fellowship.

 

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Grace for daily life

We have gone hurtling through the sky in a series of hollow metal tubes and are now safely home. We left a week ago today, flying by WestJet from Saskatoon to Winnipeg and Winnipeg to Montréal and came home two days ago by the same airline, flying Montréal to Toronto and Toronto to Saskatoon. We were seven or eight miles up in the sky and saw nothing but fluffy white stuff below us, except over Saskatchewan. Both going and returning we could see the ground beneath us as we flew over our home province. It was nice to watch the ground below, but worrisome, too. Clouds would be welcome here; we need rain. There have been a couple of little showers since we got home, but serious rain is needed. Québec, on the other hand, is a lush, dark, green. We had forgotten how beautiful it is.

This trip, the planning and the trip itself, was a whole series of grace moments. I was invited to come to a meeting in Quebec of the Publication Board of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite and the French Editing and Proofreading Committee, of which I am a member. It had been many years since we had visited Quebec and I was enthused, but I wanted my wife to come, too. She was unwilling at first, fearing it would be too tiring (she is coping with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia). After a few days, Chris said she would come.

Then it was announced that there would be revival meetings in our congregation during the days we planned to be gone. The day before we left, it was announced that one of the ministers who planned to come to our congregation couldn’t make it and the meetings were postponed until further notice.

So we left, feeling the Lord was blessing our trip already. The meeting on Friday was a pleasant surprise, we found the Publication Board to be more enthusiastic about our work than we had expected. They are pushing for more books to be translated and prepared for publication. Perhaps pushing is too strong a word, we did not feel that they were being pushy, but they certainly weren’t wanting to apply the brakes. They see the need and said there was money available for more publications.

Then the visiting began. We had no definite plans before leaving home, but everything fell into place once we were there. There are congregations in Montréal and Roxton Falls. We last visited Roxton Falls 10 years ago and hadn’t been in Montreal for 18 years. We lived in Québec for five years and many of the members are old friends. Others we knew only by name. I had never met two of the members of our committee. Their voices were familiar from conference calls, and I had formed pictures of them in my mind. They didn’t look anything like I had imagined.

I considered it a special grace that this was the weekend when the Montreal congregation had an evening service and that we received an invitation to ride along with one of the Roxton Falls ministers and his family to that service. Thus we were in church at Roxton Falls in the morning and in Montréal in the evening and got to meet practically all the members. One couple is in the process of moving from Montréal to Roxton Falls and we missed seeing them.

Chris enjoyed the trip as much as I did and was no more tired than I was when we got home. It was altogether a blessed time, possibly more of a revival than if we had stayed home and the planned revivals had happened.

Don’t listen to them

Eight or nine years ago, Minister Isaac Akinyombo of Nigeria was in one of our Canadian congregations to assist in revival meetings. An invitation was given at the end of one of the meetings, and as brother Isaac was giving the invitation he added these words: “Be aware that there is someone right beside you, you can’t see him but he is there, and he is telling you that ‘Of course you need to repent and get right with God, but you don’t need to do it tonight. Tomorrow will be just as good, or next week. Take time to think it through clearly.'” He went on to warn that if someone was clearly hearing the call of the Spirit that night, there was no guarantee that the call would be as clear tomorrow, or that the person would even live until tomorrow.

The messengers of the enemy of our souls are very sly and speak to us in words that promise comfort, but leave us with our burden of sin. They are present in every worship service to point out the faults of the preacher and the inconsistencies of the people around us in the pews.

Yes, the people around us all have their flaws. But other people’s flaws don’t lessen my guilt. I am a sinner by nature and if the preacher is telling me that Jesus died for my sins I shouldn’t criticize him for not choosing exactly the right words, or the right tone of voice, to give me that message of hope.

The messengers from the realm of darkness want to entice us into the darkness where there is no hope. They want to convince us that everyone around us is in that darkness, that there is no hope. Yet when we step out into the light, we are able to see the light in so many of the people around us. Even though we are weak and sinful by nature, we can walk in the light and have fellowship with our Saviour and with others who are walking in the light.

Friendship

When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping which came with her, he groaned in the spirit, and was troubled, And said, Where have ye laid him? They said unto him, Lord, come and see. Jesus wept. Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him! (John 11:33-36).

I have at times wondered about the accounts of the close friendship Jesus had with Lazarus, Mary and Martha. The gospel accounts make it clear that there was a special connection here and He loved to visit their home. What do we think about the preference that He seemed to show for the company of Lazarus and his sisters?coffee-367887_640

Then again, what would we think of Jesus if He had no close friends? What if He had gone about treating everyone with the same kindness and respect, yet never allowing Himself to get too closely attached to anyone? What if He had never been moved to tears by the sorrow of close friends?

In everything Jesus is our example. If we belong to a congregation of believers, they should all be our friends. Yet it is completely normal, and highly desirable, that we should form closer bonds with a few. These close friendships should not be limited to our own kinfolk either. There will be those whose nature and interests naturally draw us together. These close bonds of friendship should not ever be the source of divisions in the body, they should rather bind us more closely to the whole body. Our closest friends may also feel close to someone with whom we might other wise not have been able to develop much rapport, but our mutual ties will draw us together.

It would also be entirely normal to have friends outside the bounds of our Christian fellowship. They may be unsaved family members, work associates, people with common interests. We should be just as much Christians when with them as when with our Christian friends. Not that we should browbeat them with the gospel or constantly remind them of shortcomings in their lives. Those could be quite effective means of ending the friendship. But if they never have questions about our faith, perhaps we are trying to hard to be like them.

A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly  (Proverbs 18:24). When we show a genuine interest in other people’s lives, they are more apt to be interested in what makes us tick. That is the basis for forming true friendships and also the basis upon which those friendships can become a setting for heart to heart sharing of spiritual concerns, trials and victories.

A second foundation?

Why are there so many churches? One part of the explanation can be found in what has been described as “the unpaid bills of the church.” One church may have had a rigid hierarchical structure, allowing little liberty for the free working of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the members. A portion of the membership withdraws and decides to organize on a congregational basis. Perhaps the ordained ministry is still too authoritarian, and another group organizes on the basis of church government by elders from the laity. The work of the Holy Spirit is still not evident, thus another, more charismatic, group emerges.

Some churches were formed by immigrants of a particular ethnic origin and some of the traditions of that ethnic group are still regarded as an essential part of Christian life. There are yet other churches that seem to be mostly united by what they see as wrong in other churches.

All of this is an unfortunate part of church history and the present church scene. We all say we are founded solely on the foundation of the Lord Jesus Christ, yet somehow it seems that in may cases a second foundation has developed which is hidden from the view of those who take their stand upon it.

What is the answer? First of all, only “lively stones” (1 Peter 2:5) can be part of a living church. That is, those who are truly born again, led by the Holy Spirit and submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. These are the material that Jesus can use to build His church.  He is both the foundation and the head of this church. As such people are placed together in the walls of God’s spiritual house, they will bond together on the basis of their common relationship with Jesus.

In the church that Jesus is building, fellowship between the members must be solely based on this one foundation. Some of the members may have a common ethnic heritage and relate with each other from time to time on this basis. There is nothing wrong with this, but it should not be mistaken for Christian fellowship. It is merely a social fellowship. Other points of contact may exist on the basis of trade, education, historical relationships, etc. This goes with being part of the human family, the spiritual relationship between believers of like precious faith should outrank all other relationships.

May God open our eyes to see whether we are in some ways basing our Christian lives on another foundation, rather than solely on the foundation of our Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ.

Walking in the light

There is a line that is crossed when we come to the Lord.  That line is the border between darkness and light, unbelief and faith, death and life.  Glimmers of light and faith from the realm of life have helped us find the way to this line, but the new birth takes us across the threshold that separates spiritual death from spiritual life.

This is not the end of the journey, only the beginning of a new journey.  We should not stop and rest as soon as we cross the line.  Yet too many people do just that.  They had to abandon some baggage on the other side that would be an unnecessary load on the new journey.  Still, that baggage was precious in their former life, an essential part of the way they identified themselves.  As they mill around, just across the line, the way ahead begins to seem difficult and the baggage once left behind grows in importance.  All too soon, they are back on the wrong side of the line.

They give all kinds of reasons for this: people inside the line just did not understand them; they were never told what it was going to cost to leave that baggage behind; people inside the line are not as friendly as they first seemed; and on and on.

The true reason is that these people have stopped when the Lord said “Come.”  He wants us to continually come closer to Him.  If we obey that call, we will find that with each step of the way the light grows brighter and faith grows stronger.

Many of those who have gone back the way they came still claim to have a good relationship with the Lord.  Let all such measure their claim of fellowship with God by their fellowship with God’s children.  The teaching of the New Testament is that if our relationship with our neighbour is broken and our fellowship with our brethren is broken, our fellowship with God is also broken.

“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).

“He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now” (1 John 2:9).  “We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not his brother abideth in death” (1 John 3:14).  “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?”  (1 John 4:20).

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.  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.  And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).

Some folk profess a holy allegiance to this commandment to love their neighbour and all mankind.  Yet it seems that this love is largely theoretical, for in observing their relationship to individual people, it appears they just cannot get along with many of them.  May that never be said of a true child of God.

So how do we press deeper into the kingdom of light?  I would suggest a very simple answer: spend time with God and with His people.

Read the Bible to understand how God worked in ages past and how He works today.  Read the whole Bible.  It is good to read the Bible from beginning to end at least once or twice in your life.  It is not necessary to do that continually, but reading the Bible in context leads to a deeper understanding.  Therefore it is best to read one complete book of the Bible at a time, breaking it up into bite-sized pieces for daily reading.

Thank God daily for salvation and all the blessings He has showered upon you.  Take a little time to remember all He has done.  Pray for grace for each day, pray for your family, pray for the ministers, pray for our governments, pray for those you have difficulty understanding.

Be present in every worship service of your congregation, as much as possible.  We simply cannot worship God as fully when we are alone.  Maybe there are some people in church who rub us the wrong way.  This may be a question of the chicken or the egg — did we first rub them the wrong way?  We have no doubt rubbed others the wrong way and they have chosen to ignore it and love us anyway.  Try to emulate such people.

Practice hospitality.  The apostle Peter gives this as a commandment: “Use hospitality one to another without grudging” (1 Peter 4:9).  If you ever feel that the other members of the congregation have left you out of the loop and you do not feel a part of what is going on, ask yourself how long it has been since you had company in your home and sat around and talked of the things that really matter.  If circumstances make it difficult to prepare a big Sunday meal, invite people for night lunch or afternoon coffee break.  Such little things do make a big difference.  Do not be too choosy whom you invite.

Friendliness is next to godliness – part two

“The strong Anabaptist emphasis on discipleship has led to a warm fellowship among the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite congregations and a gentleness in human relations which makes visitors feel unusually welcome among them.”

– page 228, An Introduction to Mennonite History, Cornelius J. Dyck, editor © 1967 by Herald Press.

It was many years ago when I first read the above quote and it gave me the extra courage I needed to first set foot inside the door of a congregation of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite.  I found it to be exactly as described above.

Now we have been members for many years and are no longer total strangers when we visit another congregation.   We are leaving today to visit relatives in south-eastern Saskatchewan and tomorrow morning we will attend the worship service at the Sinclair, Manitoba congregation, the Lord willing.

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