“There are great stories in the Bible…but it is possible to know Bible stories, yet miss the Bible story.” – Ed Clowney
This was origionally posted at The Gospel Project blog.
In the Book of Genesis, we read that after God created everything on earth He declared that it was good. However, after God created Adam, He declared that it was not good for man to be alone. This break in the pattern of the creation narrative indicates something significant. Each and every one of us was made for fellowship. While Genesis 2:18 refers specifically to the marriage relationship between Adam and Eve, I think we can infer that all the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve were created for relationships beyond ourselves. Like Adam and Eve, we are all created in the image of the Trinitarian God, a relational God, who exists in three persons (Father, Son, and Spirit) who are in perfect fellowship with one another. At our very core, we are relational beings. We were created for fellowship. It is not good for us to be alone. This explains why each and every one of us desires fellowship.
The word fellowship literally means “sharing in a common life.” As Christians, we understand that the Christian community offers a “common life” much deeper than that of any other type of communal association on earth. For example, the car club may gather and fellowship around their mutual love of the automobile, but in most cases that is about as far as it goes. When Christians gather, their basis of fellowship reaches into every aspect of their lives. Fellowship centered on one’s love for cars might never get beyond what sits in their garage. Two individuals whose fellowship is centered on Christ are able to apply the gospel to every area of their lives—to their friendships, marriages, work, family, and even to their own individual struggles. What’s even more unique about Christian fellowship is that two Christians from very different background, ethnicities, and social status are able to experience the deepest of fellowship solely based on the work of Christ. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, Christian fellowship “…is not something that we must realize, it is a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.” (Life Together).
In Christ we are able to enter fellowship with other Christians just as we are because our fellowship is based on our connection through Christ, not on anything else. There is a freedom in Christian fellowship that does not exist in any other type of community. We are free to be who we are, even in our brokenness, because we are accepted by God in Christ, and thus also accepted in the Christian community. Not only does fellowship around Christ add more freedom and depth to our relationships, it also makes Christian fellowship more lasting than any other type of fellowship in this world. The author of Hebrews makes it clear that together, the people of God long for a better country—a heavenly one (Heb. 11:16). The apostle Paul speaks of joining other believers who have fallen asleep before him when Christ returns (1 Thess. 4:13-14). The Bible indicates that we will not only be with God in eternity, we will also be with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
While other relationships, associations, and communities will pass away, our Christian fellowship lasts for eternity. Our deep, free, and lasting fellowship is more central to the Christian life than we might have previously imagined. Consider the quality of fellowship in the life of the church. Some of the most formative, meaningful, and memorable Christian fellowship in this life is experienced when we mourn with those who mourn, or rejoice with those who rejoice. Some of the most fruitful fellowship is experienced when we use our individual spiritual gifts to contribute to the life of the community. Our fellowship as the body of Christ not only has a sanctifying purpose for us as we move toward our heavenly home, it also has a missional purpose for the world around us. Our quality of fellowship can be a means for gospel demonstration when we display the beauty of Christian fellowship to the world in our love for one another. It should be no surprise that the early church in Acts 2 is described as devoted to fellowship.
As we have already seen, the church has a distinctive form of fellowship when compared to the “fellowship” the world offers. In fact, one could argue that the experience of fellowship as God intended it is impossible in this fallen world without the power of the Holy Spirit. How else would the biblical writers expect us to live out the more than thirty one “one another” passages we find in the New Testament, if not by the power of the Spirit? So, the type of fellowship mentioned above must be grounded in the gospel and lived out among the people of God. Our fellowship is not only important for our Christian life together, it can also be a means to God’s mission in the world. We were created for fellowship. The church is a fellowshipping people, from now into eternity.
This fall, The Gospel Project will begin a new chronological, Christ-centered Bible study plan for all ages—babies through adults. With the new plan comes a new website, and today, I want to invite you to the all-new gospelproject.com!
- Promote Gospel Transformation, Not Behavior Modification. Every session points participants to the gospel of Jesus Christ as the source of life-transformation and the foundation for spiritual growth.
- See How the Whole Bible Fits Together. From Genesis to Revelation, understand how the entire Bible reveals God’s plan of redemption through Jesus Christ.
- Unite Every Age in Christ-centered Study. For churches that wish to align all ages, The Gospel Project provides Christ-centered study for babies through adults.
- Compel Men and Women to Live on Mission. Every session challenges participants to consider how the gospel compels them to live on mission every day.
- Understand the Key Themes of Christianity. Helps men and women identify and understand the 99 essential theological doctrines of the Christian faith as they are found throughout the Bible.
You can download a full month of The Gospel Project free at gospelproject.com!
This blog was first posted at Facts and Trends.
The availability of the Bible for Christians in the West is a blessing.
Most of us have Bibles in various translations at our disposal, ensuring God’s transformative Word is always within arm’s reach. This affords us the ability to read the Bible any time we choose.
While this personal reading is essential for Christian formation, the practice of individual Bible study in the modern church may have eclipsed the historic practice of reading the Bible in community with other Christians.
Think about it: Before Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, few Christians had access to personal copies of the Scriptures. One could argue it wasn’t until the revolution of mass printing that personal quiet times were even possible for the majority of Christians.
Before that time, God’s Word was almost always studied in the context of community—primarily as part of a corporate gathering (Deuteronomy 31:12; Nehemiah 8:1; Luke 4:16-21; Acts 13:44). While most of us have the benefit and blessing of reading the Bible personally on a regular basis, we may be downplaying the transformative power of studying the Bible in Christian community.
For the most part, the modern world has exchanged information for intimacy. In our world, relationships are increasingly built through technology like phone calls, video chats, and social media, rather than face-to-face encounters. Yet, we were created for intimate community and fellowship (Genesis 2:18), which take place best when we are together with other people. “It is easily forgotten that the fellowship of Christian brethren is a gift of grace,” Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his book Life Together.
The church has a unique opportunity to hold up intimate community and face-to-face fellowship as a value that meets the deepest needs of humanity. Something absolutely beautiful, transforming, and miraculous happens as God’s children gather to study God’s Word.
The Apostle Paul proclaims in Colossians 3:16 we are to “teach and admonish one another.” It’s hard to do this when we’re not together with other members of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12). Christian sanctification is as much a group project as it is an individual pursuit. Community Bible study guards and guides our beliefs and feelings about God as we hold each other accountable and challenge one another with God’s Word.
In community study, we also benefit from the insight, wisdom, and perspective of others. We’re able to hear from those who are at different life stages, enabling us to see through the rich prism of the experience of others.
“When people are deeply affected by the Word, they tell other people,” Bonhoeffer wrote in Life Together. “God has willed that we should seek and find God’s living Word in the testimony of other Christians, in the mouths of human beings. Therefore, Christians need other Christians who speak God’s Word to them”
As we study in community, our understanding of God’s Word progresses as we grow together. And studying in a group may also improve our personal quiet time.
A recent study, published in the book Transformational Groups, found that 42 percent of Protestant churchgoers who are actively involved in a small group say they also regularly study and reflect on God’s Word on their own throughout the week. That drops to 10 percent for those who aren’t part of a small group.
The Bible is clear: none of us lives to himself (Romans 14:7). We are living stones being built up together (Ephesians 2:20, 22). We are to speak the truth in love to one another, as the body of Christ, being conformed to Christ together (Ephesians 4:15-16).
At the center of the biblical picture of spiritual growth is the study of God’s Word in the context of community. As J.I. Packer argues in his book Grounded in the Gospel, “The church is to be a learning-and-teaching fellowship in which the passing on of what we learn becomes a regular part of the service we render to one another.”
God designed us for community and fellowship. And God gave us His Word as the foundation for our community life. Like jagged rocks thrown into the rock tumbler of community, as we study God’s Word together, we will work out the rough edges of our life, and end up as beautiful, smooth stones reflecting the image of His Son.
This post first appeared at The Gospel Project blog.
We Are All Prideful, Aren’t We?
We all struggle with pride. It is a perpetual nagging temptation. Pride is what causes us to connect every experience and every conversation with ourselves. In a sense, pride is the sin beneath every other sin because at its core, pride is self-worship. What makes pride so dangerous is that it can be subtle, perverse, and sometimes undetectable.
Certainly there are people whose pride exudes from them as if it were a badge of honor. In some cases, this happens unknowingly. Pride has very effective ways of blinding self-awareness. And there are others who proclaim their humility by complaining about (or condemning) prideful people. How prideful! Even those who seem to be the least prideful of people—people quietly paralyzed by low self-esteem, anxiety, and worry—can actually be full of pride. To echo the words of the apostle Paul in Romans 7:24, what wretched men we are!
What Can We Do About Our Pride?
Feel exposed yet? Good. As long as you know that you are proud, you are safe from the most subtle form of pride. The first step of fighting pride is to realize that you are proud. And since pride and humility are direct opposites (Prov. 16:19; 29:23), shouldn’t we aim for humility? Yes, but this is not as simple as it seems. As C.S. Lewis once put it, “A man is never so proud as when striking an attitude of humility” (Christian Reflections). In other words, it is possible to adopt an outward demeanor of humility while burning with pride on the inside.
In order to develop true humility we need to take the focus off of ourselves entirely because true humility means we stop connecting every experience and every conversation with ourselves. To put it another way, Tim Keller says that the “… essence of humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less” (The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness). And the only way to take the focus off ourselves is to be totally enraptured by something else.
How Can the Cross Deal with Our Pride?
To break our pride is to fix our eyes on God and bask in His beauty and splendor (Ps. 27:4). As long as someone is proud, they cannot know or love God (Ps. 10:4). True humility is the necessary condition of not only seeing God but also accepting His grace in Christ Jesus. No one stands before God looking down through their nose. Certainly, no Christian stands at the foot of the cross with their chest puffed out.
Before God we all, like Abraham, realize that we are mere “dust and ashes” (Gen. 18:27). We have nothing to be proud of. This gives us the deep humility we need. Yet, on the other hand, we also realize that in Christ God accepts us and loves us on the basis of His perfect life and sacrificial death. These truths crucify any reason for pride, as if we had one in the first place.
Hope for the Humble
Seeing that we can only boast in Christ—and in Christ alone—gives us hope (2 Cor. 10:17; Gal. 6:14). The Bible is clear: God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble (Prov. 3:34; Jas. 4:6). So, one of the best ways to fight pride is to reflect continually on one’s true position before God, namely, as a dependent child (Matt. 5:3-5; 18:1-4). We are dependent on Christ and on what He has done on our behalf (Matt. 20:28; Rom. 5:7,10). The good news is that Christ’s work is perfect and complete, lacking nothing. Even better, we have a Father who loves us dearly.
See, proud people rely on themselves, and seek their own glory. Humble people realize they are reliant on God, and in response to His love, they seek to live for His glory. Pride gives us the deadly illusion that we are competent to run our lives, attain our sense of worth, and find purpose or meaning on our own. However, pride ends in a fall (Prov. 29:23). On the other hand, “The poor in spirit are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs” (Matt. 5:3).
Over the weekend Thom Rainer presented 15 trends for the church for 2015. They are presented in reverse order of their potential magnitude. His predictions are below:
15. A rapid increase in bi-vocational church staff. We have noted the growing trend of bi-vocational pastors. We will see in 2015 an accelerated trend of other church staff becoming bi-vocational.
14. The tipping point of churches eliminating Sunday evening worship services. We see the number of U. S. churches offering a Sunday evening service to dip below 5 percent of all churches in America. In other words, this service will become almost extinct.
13. More emphasis on congregational singing. In many of our churches, both traditional and contemporary, you can hardly hear the congregation sing. There will be an increased emphasis on intentionally bringing the congregants into worship through singing.
12. Growth of verbal incarnational evangelism. Incarnational evangelism is simply defined as presenting the good news through our Christ-like lifestyle to non-believers. There will be an increased emphasis to share the gospel verbally as well as demonstrating a gospel witness through our lifestyle.
11. The waning and reconfiguration of denominational structures. This trend is already taking place, but it will accelerate in 2015. Denominational structures will continue to get smaller and more streamlined, and churches will not be able to expect the same type of resources they have received in the past.
10. Congregations growing in favor in their respective communities. Churches are transitioning from being an island in the midst of their communities to being a real and positive presence. As church members seek to serve their communities in a plethora of ways, the communities will see these churches more as valued partners.
9. Continued flow of people from smaller churches to larger churches. There will be a continued increase in the number of attendees in churches with an average worship attendance of 1,000 and larger. Churches with an attendance of 400 to 999 will be collectively stable in attendance. And the number of people attending church in congregations with an attendance under 400 will decline.
8. More partnerships between denominations and churches. Of course, not all churches belong to a denomination. For those that do, denominational entities typically created the resource or mission opportunity and churches would follow their lead. In 2015 we will see more “bottom up” partnerships, meaning that churches lead the partnerships, but denominations participate in them. That is particularly true for seminaries. That issue is thus a separate trend, noted in the number 7.
7. More focus on theological education in local churches. I am not among the pundits who believe that seminaries will become extinct. They still have a vital role for training ministers. I do see, however, a continued shift for more theological education taking place in local congregations. The successful seminaries in the upcoming years will seek to partner with churches rather than compete with them.
6. The tipping point for a plurality of teaching pastors. In the recent past, churches that had more than one regular preacher or teaching pastor were an anomaly, and they were usually very large churches. In 2015 multiple teaching pastors will become normative, and they will be pervasive in smaller churches as well.
5. Continued increased in the number of multi-site churches. Two years ago, the multi-site movement in America reached a tipping point. Their growth will continue unabated in 2015.
4. The beginnings of prayer movement in our churches. I am seeing the growth of more and more organizations dedicated to prayer in the local church. I am observing this passion become a greater emphasis with pastors, particularly Millennial pastors.
3. The tipping point for small groups. The evidence for the efficacy of small groups in the local church is too overwhelming to be ignored. I see a new movement of “groups” taking place that will be similar in growth as the Sunday school movement was in the late 19th century through the first half of the 20th century.
2. Increased difficulty in matching prospective pastors with churches with pastoral vacancies.This trend is growing and frustrating to both pastors and those in churches seeking pastors. It is particularly frustrating for those churches that use the pastoral search committee model. I will not be surprised to see that model begin to change in 2015.
1. Smaller worship gatherings. The era of the large worship gathering is waning. Churches that are growing will likely do so through multiple services, multiple venues, and multiple sites. This trend will accelerate through the growing influence of Gen X and the Millennials.