“It is a solemn thing, and no small scandal in the Kingdom, to see God’s children starving while actually seated at the Father’s table.” – A.W. Tozer
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” – Col. 3:16-17
In addition creating time for solitude and silence to experience conversational communion with our God, developing more “white space” (previous post) will aid us in participating in the communal growth process described in the New Testament. Spiritual formation is not easily accomplished through the group instruction and cognitive learning that characterizes the modern church. The New Testament-New Covenant process for growth among gathered followers of Jesus is transliterated in the Greek, “koinonia.” We usually render that word as “fellowship” in the English.
True koinonia does not look much like what is commonly called fellowship today. Fellowship has been reduced to spending time chatting each other up over worldly topics. Sports, weather, farming (if you live on the Northern Plains like me), politics, and current events are the common fare at church “fellowship” events. Almost completely absent is the spiritual sharing or spiritual communion the Bible identifies as taking place in the Book of Acts and in the epistles. In true koinonia, believers conversationally share what the Spirit of God has spoken to them and exercise the spiritual gifts given to them. The goal is to help each other grow in intimacy and conversational communion with their God. The core feature of koinonia is the tangible presence and work of the Holy Spirit within the group. Together, the group is God’s temple, the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, who is at work when the group is actively seeking His movement among them (see 1 Corinthians 3:16-17).
I have experienced this true koinonia often over the years and am involved in such a koinonia-based fellowship today. Currently, this is a group of about 20 men who meet every week for two hours or more. The purpose of the group is to work together on building a lifestyle of conversational communion, intimacy with our God, to learn to live crucified with Christ to the self-life and to allow the Holy Spirit to live His life in place of ours. We have no agenda except to start out each meeting with the simple question, “What has God been speaking to you about this week?” Usually, all the men have something to add, and everyone’s contribution makes for a rich time of fellowship. We have learned to pray, dig deep into the word of God, and share from the heart. We rely on the Holy Spirit and the Bible, not curriculum, to guide our time together as much as possible.
This type of gathering is a far richer experience than the typical corporate church, which is itself a far cry from the New Testament-New Covenant model of believer-based body-life ministry. What is often called “church” today (a misuse of the biblical Greek term) is essentially viewing hours for God, who is normally experienced second-hand and vicariously. When the community of saints operates without a program, under the direction of the Holy Spirit with everyone participating according to their gifts and the prompting of the Spirit, there will be a deep, rich, and energized level of spiritual formation in the individual and the group. No church service, with its programmed experiences, limited time-frames, and single-source teaching can consistently accomplish anything close to true koinonia.
When any number of believers come together with no agenda other than to be led by the Holy Spirit, and with no constraints in regard to “one-hour” schedules, and when they each come prepared to share what the Spirit has given them, great things can happen. This is the “order of service” to which Paul is referring to in 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 and 14:26. The Spirit of God intends to develop deep conversational communion with every believer individually, and with every group of believers meeting together.
The apostle Paul is confident that believers can and will edify each other in the conscious presence of the Holy spirit and true koinonia. Thus, he writes in Romans 15:14, “I myself am convinced, my brothers and sisters, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with knowledge and competent to instruct one another.” Whether in solitude as an individual seeking conversational communion with God daily, or a gathering of such individuals who together are seeking that level of union with Him, the key factor is the Holy Spirit. He was given to us to seal our redemption, to connect us in an intimate relationship with our God, and to live the God-life in us in place of our own lives.
“There is today no lack of Bible teachers to set forth correctly the principles of the doctrines of Christ, but too many of these seem satisfied to teach the fundamentals of the faith year after year, strangely unaware that there is in their ministry no manifest Presence, nor anything unusual in their personal lives. They minister constantly to believers who feel within their breasts a longing which their teaching simply does not satisfy. I trust I speak in charity, but the lack in our pulpits is real. Milton’s terrible sentence applies to our day as accurately as it did to his: “The hungry sheep look up, and are not fed.”” – A.W. Tozer