Battlelines No. 4

Jason Haygood and I have been friends for over twenty years. We attended college together in the early 2000s. From the onset, I respected him and valued the small amounts of time we spent together in the dorm, in class, or at worship. Life has separated us for the better part of the last few years, but we’ve been able to stay in touch. Now, writing together here is bittersweet. I appreciate him so much and this article simple entitled Fellowship is one of the many reasons why.

My entire life has been shaped by Christian fellowship. Some of my earliest memories are of time spent with the families that made up the small church we worshipped with in Wisconsin when I was a child. Fellow Christians have taught me, encouraged me, corrected me, prayed for me, laughed with me, cried with me, been there for me when no one else was, and supported me in countless ways. 

Add to that the fact that I’m a natural extrovert, and you can begin to understand why I crave time spent with other believers. Unfortunately, that craving has been tempered over the past year by what has turned out to be an incredibly challenging time for churches all over the country. 

Together is a beautiful place to be.

Fellowshipping with the saints that we love has become a challenge not just because of things outside of our control (like a worldwide pandemic), but also because of obstacles of our own making. The divisions that plague our nation have begun to seep into the church. As a result, fellowship is fractured. In thinking about how to heal these fractures, it would serve us well to also think about the fellowship that the first Christians enjoyed. 

The early church was made up of an incredibly diverse group of people. People who, while not usually drawn to each other, found a reason to come together in their mutual devotion to a new King: Jesus Christ. Think about Galatians 3:27-28.

For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Jews and Greeks. Slave and free. Male and female. In other words, the largest divides in humanity had been bridged by Jesus. That’s the lasting impact of the steps they took in the first century. And that should be one of the greatest compliments of our brotherhood today.

However, 2,000 years later the Church is more divided than it has ever been (in some places at least). Race, social status, and gender continue to be our three largest divides, but, not content to maintain the status quo, we’ve added a fourth: political affiliation. This raises many questions: 

Have we forgotten what unites us? Why do we keep adding conditions to fellowship that undermine the work of Christ? Why do we so passionately resist the work of the Spirit? Why do we try so hard to find reasons to dislike each other? Why do we continue to choose animosity over peace? And, perhaps, the most pressing questions of all: 

If Christ has broken down the walls that divide us, why are we so busy building them back up? 

We would do good to remember the words of Ephesians 2:13-22 as we consider the need for unity, the benefits of fellowship, and the reality that we must wipe away the things that divide us. It says:

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”

We might live in a kingdom plagued by division, but we are citizens of a kingdom perfected in unity. Our fellowship should reflect that reality. 

Diversity within the body of Christ is a beautiful thing.

It serves as a powerful message to a broken and fractured world that humanity can indeed come together for good. And diversity isn’t just beautiful, it’s necessary, because it offers us all the opportunity be challenged in our thinking and grow collectively into more mature disciples of our Lord. 

Many of us have become far too comfortable existing in a digital space, where social media has made it possible to reduce your “friends” to a list of likeminded people who come together to form an echo chamber which lulls us into intellectual laziness and spiritual complacency. 

Fellowship, on the other hand, invites us into a much different kind of space, where we don’t have the luxury of close-mindedness that social media affords us. We can’t unfriend and unfollow those who differ with us until we find ourselves isolated in little pockets of people that look, act, sound, and think exactly like we do. 

In the fellowship of His body, Christ invites us to join Him in a place where His sacrificial love has already overcome all of those things would typically divide us. This realization compels us to set aside our superficial differences and seek out real, meaningful, life-changing fellowship. 

We need each other right now.

We need each other badly. And the world needs us to show them what God has made possible through the unity and love that are put on display in true Christian fellowship.   

Jason Haygood is the evangelist for the Yorba Linda Church of Christ in Yorba Linda, California. A graduate of Freed-Hardeman University, he is married and the father of a very adventurous daughter.

All Scripture is taken from the New King James Version (c) 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Photo by Zach Reiner on Unsplash