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  • I want you to open your Bible to the second chapter of Acts. At least by way of an introduction,

  • as we talk about the issue of fellowship tonight. For those of you who have been with us, you

  • know weve been in a series in the Book of Acts, and we have been essentially looking

  • at the beginning of the Church. It began on the day of Pentecost, subsequent to the Lord’s

  • death and resurrection. The Spirit of God came. 3,000 people were converted, and the

  • church was born.

  • We have found ourselves now in chapter 2 at verse 42, and it introduces us now to the

  • life of the church. Let me just read a few verses here. Verse 41 ends, that those who

  • received the preaching of Peter, the gospel, were baptized. That day, there were added

  • 3,000 souls. That is the beginning of the church. Then we find out about how they conducted

  • their life together. “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostlesteaching

  • and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone kept feeling a sense

  • of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those

  • who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their

  • property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need.

  • Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house,

  • they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising

  • God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day

  • by day those who were being saved.”

  • What strikes you when you read that is the common, shared life. It’s all bound up in

  • verse 42 in the wordfellowship.” But even the breaking of bread around the Lord’s

  • table was an expression of fellowship. Prayer, an expression of fellowship. All of the believers

  • were together, in verse 44. They even held their possessions in common trust, so that

  • if anyone had a need, they would gladly sell what they had to give to the one who had the

  • need. They were daily continuing with one mind, in the temple. Breaking bread, that

  • is having meals, from house to house. Taking their meals together with gladness, sincerity

  • of heart. This is a community of people who are committed to one another. That is the

  • first expression of the life of the church, it’s mutual commitment.

  • This is magnificently defined for us in 1 Corinthians chapter 12, and I would ask you

  • to turn to it for a moment. Because here we have a metaphoric presentation by the apostle

  • Paul of this kind of common life. He says, starting in verse 12, “Even as the body

  • is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many,

  • are one body,” speaking of the human body, “so also is Christ. For by one Spirit,”

  • and that happened on the day of Pentecost, “we were all baptized into one body, whether

  • Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. For

  • the body is not one member, but many. If the foot says, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am

  • not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any less a part of the body. If the

  • ear says, ‘Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this

  • reason any the less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the

  • hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now

  • God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. If they were

  • all one member, where would the body be? Now there are many members, but one body. And

  • the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; or again the head to the

  • feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, it is much truer that the members

  • of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body which we deem

  • less honorable, on those we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become

  • much more presentable, whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so

  • composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which is lacked, so that there

  • may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another.

  • And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored,

  • all the members rejoice with it. Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members

  • of it.”

  • This is a magnificent metaphor that says we are all sharing one common life under one

  • head, who is the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the defining character of the church. It is

  • marked by its unity, by its shared life, its commonality, its community. In a word, it’s

  • fellowship. Fellowship is critical to the life of the church. Christianity is not a

  • spectator event that happens on Sunday. It is a common, shared life with other believers.

  • In the gray dawn of an April day in 1945, in the Nazi camp of Flossenburg, a pastor

  • by the name of Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed. He was executed by special order of Heinrich

  • Himmler, Hitler’s executioner. He had been arrested two years before, and over that period

  • of two years, he had been transferred from prison, to prison, to prison. From Tegel,

  • to Berlin, to Buchenwald, to Schönburg, finally to Flossenburg. And in the moving of Bonhoeffer

  • from place to place, he lost all contact with the outside world. Everyone that he knew was

  • severed from him. He lost, according to his own testimony, the most precious possession

  • he had, and that was fellowship. Fellowship.

  • Bonhoeffer wrote a book calledLife Together.” I would commend it to your reading, based

  • on Psalm 1:33. He had written that book years before. He wrote in that book of the richness

  • of fellowship, which he, during his imprisonment, leading up to his death, lost. This is what

  • he said. “The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy

  • and strength to the believer. A physical sign of the gracious presence of the triune God.

  • How inexhaustible are the riches that open up for those who, by God’s will, are privileged

  • to live in the daily fellowship of life with other Christians.” Further, he wrote, “Let

  • him who has such a privilege thank God on his knees and declare. It is grace, nothing

  • but grace, that we are allowed to live in fellowship with Christian brothers.” That’s

  • the church. That’s the church.

  • As Christ’s church, we are one wife, in Scripture metaphor, with one husband. We are

  • one set of branches connected to one vine. We are one flock with one shepherd, one king

  • with one kingdom, one family with one father, one building with one foundation. But uniquely,

  • introduced only in the New Testament, the body of Christ is one body with one life source

  • and one head. It is our unique identity. We are living organisms dependent on each other.

  • Understanding this basic unity is strategic to living out the principles of fellowship

  • in the life of the church.

  • When I was a kid growing up, when I thought of fellowship, I thought of a place they called

  • fellowship hall. It had a tile floor, and they served stale cookies and red punch. And

  • people talked about fellowship, and it was pretty superficial. True fellowship is much

  • deeper than that. True fellowship is spiritual. It is profound. It is essential. It is our

  • very life, and our Lord’s great high priestly prayer in John 17, He repeatedly prays that

  • the people who come to Him, the elect, the chosen, those who will be saved throughout

  • redemptive history will be one, that they will be one. That prayer is answered, because

  • when any believer is given salvation, he is immediately placed into the union of the body

  • of Christ, that they may be one is a prayer that is answered. But it should work itself

  • out in our conduct with each other. We have a shared life. We have a shared eternal life.

  • We have a shared faith. We have a shared love, shed abroad in our hearts. We have a shared

  • purpose: the glory of God. We have a shared ministry, the proclamation of the gospel and

  • the advancement of the kingdom. We possess a shared truth: the revelation of God in Holy

  • Scripture. We possess a shared power: the Holy Spirit. We are, literally, the temple

  • of the Holy Spirit collectively and individually.

  • That is fellowship, and that is what defines the life of the church. And no sooner is the

  • church born on the day of Pentecost than this unity, this commonality, this one-ness begins

  • to work itself out. The verb, to fellowship, in the Greek, is koinonos. It’s used eight

  • times in the New Testament. Seven of those are translated share. That’s what it means.

  • It means to share, to share. One other time, it is to participate. Second John 11. A common

  • participation. The noun, fellowship, koinonia, a familiar word, used about 30 times. It carries

  • the same idea. Sometimes translated sharing, sometimes contributing, sometimes partnership,

  • sometimes participation. The concept then, is very clear. It is partaking, contributing,

  • sharing, linking together in common partnership. Common cause. Part of this relational definition

  • of Christianity is the image of God. God made man in His own image, and God is a relational

  • being, because God is a Trinity, and God has made us for relationships. That’s part of

  • His image.

  • So when we see the church in the Book of Acts, it is intensely relational. It is as I said,

  • not a spectator event. It is not salvation, and then youre on your own to wander around

  • at your own discretion. When you come to salvation in Christ, you are embedded, as it were, into

  • a union of common life with every other believer.

  • As true as that is, as purely as it is revealed in Scripture, I have to ask the question:

  • is that the contemporary, evangelical view of the church? I don’t think so. I think

  • the contemporary evangelical world has lost this great reality of the life of the church.

  • Part of it, of course, is because evangelicalism today appeals to people on the basis of what

  • they want. And so, they start by seeing Christianity as something that gives me what I want. That

  • doesn’t turn you loose to sacrifice your life for the needs of others. It’s the opposite

  • of that. It’s narcissistic self-indulgence that is presented so very often.

  • Back in the 1980s, there was Jewish humanist by the name of Neil Postman, and he wrote

  • a very interesting book calledAmusing Ourselves to Death.” Some of you may know

  • about the book. He spoke of the rather epic and tragic loss of serious thinking in Western

  • civilization. He said, this is back in 1980, thatserious thinking is being replaced

  • by entertainment. In specific, the mind-crippling power of television.” But at least, at least

  • TV was, and is, a group experience. And, screens have been getting bigger, and bigger, and

  • bigger, and bigger so that more people can watch. So, television, for all of its dangers,

  • is at least a group experience. And that is, at least in a minor sense, a redeeming virtue.

  • I’m not so worried about huge screen televisions. Neil Postman could never have imagined massive

  • screen televisions. Neil Postman could hardly have seen that at the same time when screens

  • were getting bigger, they were paradoxically also getting smaller. And that is really frightening.

  • That, in fact, is terrifying.

  • And our society is beginning to see the result of it. The seductive entertainment has gone

  • from the big screen to the small screen. It’s gone from being a group experience and public

  • experience to being an intimate, personal, private experience. As small as an iPhone,

  • and the upcoming Google Glasses, where you put the glasses on, and they are screens for

  • you to see whatever you want to see. Every person now becomes a creator of his own private

  • world. It is a secret world. It is a secret world of preferences. It is a secret world

  • of temptations. It is a secret world of relationships. It is a secret world that has a force and

  • ubiquity that is unparalleled in human history. Unparalleled.

  • The small screen is the most selfish necessity ever devised, ever devised. Once, you had

  • a phone to talk to someone. No more. Technology has put in the hand, and soon, on the ears

  • and the nose, of everyone, the most constant, incessant, accessible, visual, private world

  • of self-centered indulgence, temptation, and entertainment ever conceived.

  • You choose. You choose everything. Choose your entertainment, and no one knows. You

  • choose your music. You choose your relationships. You become God in your little world. And on

  • your little screen, you create the world that you want. You are the creator of your own

  • private universe. And outside your own private cyberspace, and your Facebook friends, is

  • the outer darkness of whatever and whomever you reject.

  • Theologian Carl Trueman writes, “The language of friendship is hijacked and cheapened by

  • the internet social networks.” I don’t know what friendship is anymore. Carl Trueman

  • says, “The language of Facebook both reflects and encourages childishness. Childishness,”

  • he writes, “has become something of a textually transmitted disease.” Why does he say childishness?

  • Because, what is most characteristic of a child is complete self-centeredness. Carl

  • Trueman says relationships play out in the disembodied world of the web. By the way,

  • the latest statistics say the average high school students, the average high school student

  • looks at the small screen nine hours a day. Carl Trueman further says, “Such are human

  • amoebas, subsisting in a bizarre non-world that involves no risk to themselves, no giving

  • of themselves to others, no true vulnerability, no commitment, no sacrifice, no real meaning,

  • and no value.” End quote.

  • Real fellowship cannot exist in a world of self-created avatars. It requires real persons.

  • I think this is one of the reasons people don’t get married young like they used to.

  • Theyve created their own world. They live in it. And you can’t break in. They don’t

  • need anyone outside their own cyber world. But I want to hasten to say Christianity is

  • not an individual experience. Christianity is not a private experience. You were not

  • meant to live by yourself in a world where you can isolate yourself with a massive form

  • of temptation that you are in complete control of and nobody else knows about. That’s deadly.

  • The rapid trend is heading to the norm of people creating their own virtual world of

  • virtual self. And they recreate themselves as wonderfully as they would like themselves

  • to be, and then project themselves that way. You can upload your self-creation into the

  • Eden of the internet, the perfect you. Beautiful, indomitable, intelligent, wise, cool, self-actualized

  • like some technological form of science of mind. You can create a digitized self-projection

  • of your idyllic design. I tweet, therefore I am.

  • The culture of this is becoming more isolated, more narcissistic, more self-absorbed, more

  • individualistic, more morally relative, more entitled. Deadly.

  • This might be tolerable and maybe understood if it stayed outside the church, but it doesn’t.

  • The evangelical church has, for decades, been trying to give the culture what it wants,

  • and people want what they want, and they have created a world in which their own wants dominate.

  • What do people want? They want privacy. They want convenience. They want low commitment.

  • They want anonymity. They want unaccountability. And mostly, they want self-promotion and self-actualization.

  • Church life is falling victim to this seductive self-design. People say, oh, it’s so hard

  • to find a church. Well, of course. You have created the first church of my personal iTunes.

  • Youve created your own music. You have your own playlist. Youve created your own

  • messengers. You know who you want to hear. Youve created your own friends. You don’t

  • feel comfortable at a church because you might have to, you might run into an enemy. You

  • might even run into someone who’s disgusting. You might hear a message from a preacher who

  • doesn’t say what you want to hear. Worst of all, you might have to listen to old hymns

  • in 4/4 time led by a senior citizen. Unthinkable. How horrific is that?

  • So what do you get out of this? You get a generation of people who are entitled to the

  • world the way they want it, and that’s the world they have created for themselves, and

  • that’s where they live, and you can’t break it.

  • For many, entitlement to their own view of everything dominates, their own view of information,

  • their own view of experience, and their own view of relationships has ruled out truth,

  • accuracy, credibility, rationality, sacrifice, deferred gratification. And evangelical leaders

  • don’t get how deadly this is. You have people such as Louie Giglio talking about the online

  • church, and he says young millennials are leaving church but going toward Jesus.

  • Really? Theyre leaving church but going toward Jesus. That should cause you to panic.

  • Panic. One church advertises: join an e-group. Join an online e-group. Church is becoming

  • unnecessary. You are becoming unnecessary. You can’t entertain people the way their

  • little private TV can, the way the internet can. So, people essentially are becoming church

  • planters, and theyre planting churches with one member.

  • Of course, as Kevin Miller wrote in an article in Christianity Today, Don Miller, Rob Bell,

  • and Brian McLaren all kind of original leaders of the emerging church, they were leading

  • the parade for the emerging church a few years back. Kevin Miller’s article saystheyve

  • all left the church.” Ten years ago, those names, Miller, Bell, and McLaren, were the

  • most influential in American evangelicalism. The emergent church, of course, imploded.

  • It just, it disintegrated, completely disintegrated.

  • Why did it disintegrate? Because they all had a personalized vision of Christianity,

  • and there was no point in getting together. It had no purpose. They would come with their

  • lattes and their computers. They didn’t need each other. They all showed up at first,

  • with all their computers, as I said. It’s amazing how fast the emergent movement disappeared.

  • So, Donald Miller, who was a leader in it says, “I don’t worship God by singing.”

  • He says, “I don’t go to church very often.” He talks about a most notable communion he

  • had with his buddies on a road trip, a communion with hot chocolate and cookies that he called

  • a fantastic binding. Create your own sacraments; create your own religion, hyper-individualized