Mar 12, 2009
The Fellowship Abduction
I grew up hearing the word "fellowship" so often in my church that I thought it was a Greek or Hebrew word. They used the word in ways that no one else in the world did. People don't say, "Let's get together and have a time of fellowship." That's just not normal talk in the world. In fact, I'm not sure people in the world even use that word anymore. It's pretty much outdated. In the Christian world when people say the word fellowship, they do so with a proud gleam in their eye, as though they did something good. In a bizarre way, it elicits a cooing response from others in the room. It doesn't matter if everything you say is wrong and twisted; if you use the word fellowship somewhere in the sentence, it makes everything feel fluffy and spiritual.
Ironically, many churches actually use the word fellowship in their name and the only real fellowship that takes place is a nod in the foyer and wave in the parking lot. In that respect, I think the word fellowship is a bit like the word communion. Communion means "sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings," but in the Christian world,communion means nothing of the sort. We quietly wait our turn until the wafer and juice comes around and then swallow the bread pill and take the juice shot, fold our hands and sit in silence until the service is over. No sharing, no exchanging, no intimate thoughts, no feelings; nothing. It's basically just an appetizer to hold you over till lunch. Just as the word communion has been abducted, I believe there has been a fellowship abduction in American Christianity.
I think I have had the ever-popular Hebrews 10:25 verse about not forsaking the fellowship quoted to me over 500 times. This verse is a favorite, spewed to anyone who may consider becoming a Free Believer. Ironically, when you tell someone that you have friends with whom you fellowship every day of the week, it doesn't seem to count. They don't think it counts because they've been taught to read the verse as saying, "Go to church." In other words, they've redefined the word fellowship and it matters not how much of it you really have in your life; if you're not going to a planned church service once a week, you're not fellowshipping.
I actually find it comical when someone in the IC quotes this verse to me because the verse, in and of itself, is evidence against attending the modern-day Church. In order to adhere to the fellowship verse, one would have to leave the IC, because for the most part, it stands directly against authentic fellowship. I can have more authentic fellowship with a person in line at the post office than I can in ten weeks of church services. I have found that for most people, attending a local Church actually causes a "fellowship deficiency" in their lives, rather than an increase.
I've watched in amazement as people become Christians and in a matter of months, end relationships with their friends who don't go to their church. It's encouraged. As a church-going Christian, the list of who you CANNOT fellowship with gets longer and longer every week. In a few short years, most Christians find themselves without any friends outside their church.
The Hebrews fellowship verse was quoted to a friend of mine by the pastor's wife when she found out my friend was leaving their church. She told me the woman was literally crying when she said it, as though she was warning my friend of imminent danger ahead. She pleadingly stopped her in the halls on her way out and said, "Whatever you do; do not forsake the fellowship." There was a urgency in her voice that told my friend that she honestly believed spiritual death was imminent. My friend was not concerned or fearful over this. In fact she was amused because this was the FIRST time the pastor's wife had ever talked to her. Go figure.
The "fellowship verse" was one of the last things my father said to me before he died. He had a worried look in his eyes as he said it. He felt like all my friends were pulling me away from Church. He was concerned that my fellowship was pulling me away from the fellowship. I valued my time with my friends because we could openly talk about God, without fearing anyone's judgment. My dying father referred to this as, "Dangerous ground." Ironically, my father never once "forsook the fellowship," and he died with eight children; none of whom he had a heart connection with.
I believe that the average church-attending Christian has been drained of their inborn ability to fellowship. Authentic friendship is out of the question because the natural linking parts of the soul have been ground to a nub by repetitive teachings that conflict with true intimacy. Even the heart's desire to connect is often numbed and deflated. Gradually, over time, the new "churchy" definition of fellowship begins to take form in the subconscious, while the organic truth that once was, fades away into never-was-ness.
It's ironic that an organization that actually describes itself using the term fellowship, is responsible for producing people who are virtually incapable of doing so. From the moment we enter the institutional church system, we are slowly taught to surrender our "intensity" and behave like robots. We nervously chuckle when the pastor instructs us to "turn to our neighbor and say......." (something stupid), but we do it playfully nonetheless. That one little compromise leads to a thousand more just like it and before we know it, we can't relate to any real person who crosses our path.
I believe that Christian relationships are frail and phony because Christians are put through a series of exercises that make them weird and unattractive to people who truly want heart connection. We are taught to be that person that no one wants to be friends with and everyone avoids. Weird talk is praised and encouraged. Insincerity is rewarded with a title of wisdom. Christians become whatever they need to become in order to manipulate people to come to their church. In a weird way we become like the friend who got involved with the multi-level marketing scheme and hounded every one of his friends until they all left him for good.
Rather than experiencing the pattern of heart connection in the same way as everyone else in the world, Christians are taught to leave their relationships up to the church. They learn to expect the church to find them someone to connect with. They no longer have to groom themselves and behave in order to get along with others and make friends. Now all they have to do is show up and everyone has to be their friend because they're Christian.
From our birth, we are taught to force our hearts into open intimacy with whoever is around us, regardless of the lack of foundation. It's considered "Christian" for us to open up fully to someone we've never met before. Rather than allow the natural organic process of relationship to take its course, we're encouraged to skip the first foundational points of intimacy and jump straight to a level 5. The end result is that most Christian fellowship is paper-thin and is not grounded in anything authentic. It falls in an instant because there is nothing substantial holding it up in the first place. To make matters worse, we are also taught that we can never have enough close friends, so we feel the obligation to give all of ourselves to everyone in the world.
The moment the first sign of a natural and real relationship begins to appear, the church leadership is quick to jump on it and dissolve it. Such relationships are referred to as "clicks" and are snuffed out as soon as possible. If people meet for a Bible study they are taught to be extra careful that their meeting doesn't turn into a "social" event. Think about that for a moment.
Relationships in the Christian world are similar to arranged marriages in other countries.Someone else decides who you'll meet with, when you'll meet, what you'll talk about and for how long. If true intimacy isn't accomplished on cue, you are accused of holding back or covering something and being unwilling to open your heart. "Intimacy" is defined in the IC by whether or not you cry in front of everyone else. If you're not comfortable doing that; you are made to feel like a lesser Christian.
I have watched in astonishment as the same pattern of freedom seems to visit every Free Believers. As their heart's desire for love and truth grows, their hatred for phoniness increases. Your love for truth and your hatred for phoniness move on the same scale. They rise and fall together. The more you love truth, the more you hate fake friendships. The less you care about love and truth, the less you care about fake friendships. I am convinced that institutionalism has effectively drained the desire for love and truth from an entire generation. Once that is accomplished, words can be hijacked and replaced with little or no retaliation. There is virtually no escape until the desire to love is awakened.
I believe there is fellowship, and there is "Institutional fellowship." The two are as far apart as the east is from the west. They are literally complete opposites. In the end, it comes down to what type of fellowship you want in your life. If you have love in your heart, you'll almost always be repulsed by institutional fellowship. It's cold and lifeless. It's a lie. Free Believers are people who have made the decision that they actually aren't getting fellowship in their institutional church. They aren't forsaking fellowship; they are demanding it!
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