Session Two – John Lin

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THEOLOGY OF FELLOWSHIP GROUPS

One of the central themes throughout the Bible is the fact that God is creating a people who belong to Him. See this in OT and NT.

Ex. Exodus 19, Israel called a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation.

Holy Nation = means a people who are distinct, set apart and unique in the world – it is a Nation or a collection of people unified together like other nations with a purpose, a mission, laws that govern, etc., and yet it is a people who are “holy” and unique or somehow unlike the world.

Kingdom of Priests = what’s critical here is that priests throughout the Old Testament, fundamentally called to serve – to care for the sick, care for the poor, to intervene for people in the world – in other words, what makes this community unique, unlike the rest of the world, is that it is fundamentally a servant community – in other words, if you look at the fundamental motivation that we all have as sinners, it is self-gratification, self-service – and yet, what makes a Kingdom of Priests and Holy Nation that is distinct is that Christian communities motivated by self-sacrifice – giving ourselves to others – listening when others won’t listen, loving when others won’t love, praying when others won’t pray

NT – see this in 1 Peter 2:9-10 speaks about same concept – fulfillment of Holy Nation and Kingdom of Priests – reminds us of what we are called to be as a people – that we may “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” What’s critical is v. 10, which describes why – the foundation of our community – v. 10, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” In other words, being a people has nothing to do with us – anything that is common in us – i.e. ethnicity, class, occupation – everything to do with God making us a community/people. More importantly, we are a community because we have received mercy – everything we are as community founded on the mercy of God, which means we have nothing to boast in – nothing to celebrate about ourselves – everything we have is because God gave it to us graciously to form us into a community.

See that God is not just saving individuals – in fact, he is building new community where he is at the center – a new society with different values, yet still in the world – like aliens in a foreign land. Church is called to be this new community.

THE COMMUNAL NATURE OF GOD

One mystery of God is the fact that He is a unity and a community – on the one hand, we believe in one God – on other hand, we believe that this God exists as a community in himself – relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit – not just a God who exists as one unitary entity, but expresses himself as three personalities. Makes clear that community is intrinsic or inherent part of the universe and reality. Or, community not created but foundational to nature of the universe. If God were only one, there wouldn’t be community. If two, there would be love, but no family or community – but because triune, God exists as a community. Fundamental to universe.

Giving and receiving constantly within God Himself – in other words, interaction and love within the community. Matt 3:17 – God delights in the Son. John 8:29 – Jesus receives love and pleases the Father. Matt 12:31 – Jesus honors the Spirit. John 16:14 – Spirit glorifies the Father and the Son. Each part of Trinity loves, honors and glorifies the other and receives love and honor from the others.

Other way of thinking about this – because there are three persons, none of them are designed to live only for themselves. They are persons in social relationship. Think about names of the members of Trinity – can only be a Son if there is a Father, can only be a Father if there is a Son, Spirit is breath of one who speaks, so can only exist with someone else.

In God’s image, we are built for community and connection. Without living in community, our lives are compromised. Will always be unfulfilled.

THE COMMUNAL NATURE OF GOD’S PEOPLE

Genesis 2 – states that not good for man to be alone. Means that in some ways, God is not all that we need – we need a community also. Amazing because made humanity to need something in addition to Him – namely community.

Revelation 7 speaks about fact that people from every tribe, tongue, nation in heaven – why not a mass of individuals – or why not one nation? Because, every nation/tribe/tongue has slightly different experience of God – in order to fully understand God, must see Him worshipped and celebrated by different tribes, tongues, etc.

Israel – dealt with primarily as a community, not as separate individuals. Covenant and commandments directed to them as a people – calling as a nation, lived out as a nation, not individuals.

When someone in community sins, God deals with them not as individual, but as a corporate body. Example in book of Joshua – when Achan sinned and stole plunder from Jericho – entire family was executed. Entire nation suffered. In next battle, Israel was defeated. God could have dealt with Achan alone, but taught that actions of one affect all. God sees his people as deeply connected and responsible for one another.

In calling 12 apostles, clear that Jesus is reconstituting Israel. Church replaces Israel as community of God. Church is the new Israel – new community which he is forming.

Mark 10 – Jesus expects that people will rely on one another as members of a new family he has created. Now each others’ brothers, sisters, mothers, children. Possessions and capital (homes and fields) viewed as belonging to each other. Note that fathers don’t multiply, because God alone is the father – connected by one father.

Romans 12:1 – “Therefore I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy to offer your bodies (plural) as a living sacrifice (singular), holy and acceptable to God which is your spiritual worship.” Church as corporate body is living sacrifice, not individual Christians. We are to offer selves to God as a community. Community has priority over individuality. 11 chapters of doctrine, then chapters talk about community.

1 Corinthians 12. Paul uses metaphor of a body – we belong to one another and need each other. We are baptized in one spirit, partakers of one spirit – connected. Cannot say, “ I don’t need you – we are affected by what is going on in one another’s lives – if one part suffers, every part suffers. Think about “member” concept.

In OT, tabernacle and temple are God’s dwelling or “house”. In NT, people of God are the dwelling of God. Individuals are “living stones” being built up into God’s “spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:5). 1 Cor 3:9 says we are God’s building. We are together a building in which God dwells.

In NT, rarely are letters written to individuals but entire communities. 1 Cor 5 – issue in church about man sleeping with father’s wife. Dealt with entire community. We are to read passages and say, “what does this mean to us” not “what does this mean to me”? Should ask, what does this mean to me as member of this community?

THE PURPOSE OF COMMUNITY

God’s desire to be in community with humanity. God created us that we might enjoy life with him and one another – look at garden with Adam and Eve and then promise of a city – God dwells in the garden of Eden with humanity and in the city with new humanity. He delights in relationship with his people. Community is critical.

Christian community exists to provide support and encouragement so we can live God pleasing lives. Cannot live up to God’s standards on our own. Need each other. We can remind each other, confess to one another, encourage one another, call on each other, care for one another. Think about all the one another statements in Paul. We can remind each other of what God has done.

Christian community is to be “city on a hill.” Idea is that city is to shine to others – to show forth a true community of God – lifestyle and character draws people to God. Church takes place of Israel that existed as light to nations – community through which world is blessed. Church exists to make character and ways of God known. This is Jesus says we will be known by how we love one another – not necessarily personal holiness, or our own Bible memorization or personal disciplines, but by community – community is where we really see our faith lived out. We are to be compelling example of kingdom, which attracts people of world to God – avoid being conformed to world for sake of the world. Like a “model home.” Particularly areas like hospitality, care for the poor, care for the sick – very natural for us to care for people who are like us, in our immediate family – true hospitality, however, not towards people who are naturally like us, who affirm who we are, but for people who are not like us.

Spiritual maturity always has to happen in context of a community. Based on health of relationships as much as it is on personal devotion and piety. Think about all areas of obedience that require community.

COMMUNITY THAT EMBODIES THE GOSPEL. In other words, church is the body of Christ – we represent Christ to the world as a community together.

Worshipping community. We are defined by what God has done in Christ for us – therefore, we are people who are grateful to God and who are amazed at his love. Therefore, we worship God with our praise.

Accepting community. Gospel is that we have been accepted at our worst – when we were not worthy and God did not ask anything in return. We are to extend similar acceptance to one another without demanding they change before we offer it. We are not to frown upon or be surprised by another’s sin or weakness. We extend grace not judgment.

Holy community. We are destined to b e like Jesus and that God has begun that process. We urge one another to live lives that are pleasing to God – in accordance with fact that we are sons and daughters of God. As we grow, we begin to resemble in character what we already are in status.

Truth-telling community. Gospel allows us to truly care for people. Real love requires that we not leave people to their sin – that we get involved with lives of others by being gentle but telling honest truth that allows others to change. Probably very hard for Asians, but at same time, important way for us to help people to grow. Not harsh because we know our own weakness. Not cowardly because we know our acceptance in Christ. We can also hear from others, because we know we are accepted in Christ.

Upbuilding and encouraging community. Work of Christ in church is building up. Acts 20:32 (God is the one who can build you up) or Eph 2:21 (whole building is joined together and rises to be a holy temple in the Lord). Church grows by uniting people in the Spirit. Main work of living stones is building up – 1 Thess 5:11 (therefore encourage one another and build each other up), Eph 4:15-16, “speaking truth in love…whole body grows and builds itself up in love as each part does its work.” Because of acceptance we have, we don’t have to look down on others to feel good about ourselves – we can encourage others and work for their success.

Sacrificially generous and giving community. 2 Cor 8:9, “For you know the grace of our Lord JC, that though he was rich…” We are to spend and give ourselves for others. Early Christians known for their generosity towards anyone in need – not just people like them – Acts 2:44-45 – “Selling possessions andgoods. – or Acts 4:32-35.

Suffering community. Jesus loved while we were enemies. He didn’t retalitate but bore the pain of persecution. Suffered so that we might become friends. We are to avoid retaliation. Love to point of suffering if necessary.

IMPLICATIONS TO CALL TO COMMUNITY

Significant regular face to face relationships. Required effort. Cannot happen in large service. Cannot assume that by gathering together, we are actually growing together. Need place where we can share our lives together – where we can practice “one anothering”. This is part of credibility of our Christian witness – the degree to which we can show people our love for one another – also, this is the way that people can see an “alternative community” – not just personal evangelism, but immersion and experience of a grace filled community. Requires face-to-face groups and interaction. Not just social, but know lives of one another. Like Bible’s house churches – 1 Cor 16:19; Romans 16:5 – “the church that meets in their house” – not necessarily meaning all churches should be house churches, but this captures spirit of smaller intimate community – like a family (can tell story of my experience in Kyoko’s family – gradually growing closer only through sustained time together). Acts 2:24ff and Acts 20:20 talks about how Christians met in homes as well as temple courts.

Each person must see himself or herself as a minister. Ministers must allow church to operate under every member ministry – not take all responsibilities of care for people on themselves, but need to help others to care for one another – think about Jethro principle. Many churches think pastoral staff will build up believers – Bible says belivers build up one another. Absolutely critical. Many churches expect pastor to attract and wine new people, but Bible says t hat the body does this – entire body grows member to member speaking in love, building up, equipping each other. 1 Cor 14 – each has a psalm, a teaching…let all things be done for building up. Everyone ministered. Everyone participated. Too often we ask “what am I getting out of church”, but we should ask “what am I giving”. Critical for pastors to allow member ministry. Example of Jesus who could have fed the multitudes Himself and yet asked the disciples to do it so they would understand what it meant to minister to people and serve people. Will transform our ministries if we allow this. Real life change.

We must work hard at developing community. Takes time and effort. We are very comfortable with a certain kind of community – tight, reserved families – need to move beyond that. Caring for the disadvantaged – for people who are not like us – people in need (widows, poor, handicapped, mentally ill, etc.). This is what we were created for – we will never be what God wants us to be unless we work to be God’s new society.

ADDITIONAL BENEFITS TO FELLOWSHIP GROUP CHURCH
•    Require no money for space – do not need a large church building.
•    Relate people who are geographically separate – i.e. covers more space.
•    Helps congregation become more heterogeneous, since there may be a group of people like them. I.e different neighborhoods in NYC
•    Church’s growth not limited by size of building – key is raising lots of leaders
•    Make it possible for church to operate with smaller staff and really expand ministry – plus, a very important easy entry point for non-believers – not just come to church to listen to the speaker, but come to into my home and experience hospitality
•    Younger demographic may really desire this kind of smaller community.