J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings has to be one of my favorite series of books of all time. The exciting tale revolves around the “Fellowship of the Ring,” a group of courageous individuals, from many different walks of life, all united in a single quest to destroy the One Ring in the fires of Mt. Doom.
The story of this group of friends is truly epic, engaging, and beautiful. However, perhaps one of the best things about The Lord of the Rings is that it gives us a wonderful picture of a more epic, more engaging, more beautiful story, involving an infinitely more important group of friends: the church.
The Fellowship described in the The Lord of the Rings is a wonderful picture of the “fellowship” described in the Scriptures. Frodo, Sam, Aragorn, and Legolas (and the others) all had a common task: to deliver Frodo safely to Mordor for the destruction of the Ring. They were on this difficult mission together, and their common calling was what united them! To boil the Fellowship down to that one important meeting in Rivendell near the beginning of the story would be absurd. You would miss the fundamental reality and goal of the Fellowship itself – destroying the Ring!
Likewise, when Christians degrade Christian “fellowship” to simply refer to a meeting that we attend once (or twice) a week, we neglect the larger, more foundational reality and goal of our “fellowship.” Just as it would be silly to talk about the “community” of the “Fellowship of the Ring” without focusing on their common mission to destroy the Ring of Power, so too it is equally silly to talk about the “community” of the Gospel without focusing on our common mission to make disciples. Fellowship entails community and mission, not one or the other. And if we neglect either of these two elements (Gospel community and Gospel mission), we are missing the true meaning of fellowship.
Sadly, the reality that Christ’s church, although commanded to gather together regularly, has first and foremost been “sent out” into the world to make disciples of Jesus for Jesus, is often neglected in how we “do church.” It’s relatively easy meet together with other Christians once a week; living everyday life “on mission” for Christ is hard and painful, often requiring severe sacrifice.
However, since the very beginning, Christians have consistently understood the importance of partnership (perhaps a more helpful translation of the Greek word koinonia) in advancing the Gospel (Acts 2:42-47; Galatians 2:9; Philippians 1:5, 27-28; 4:14). As the author of Hebrews makes clear, our meeting together in community is supposed to serve our mission together in the world. We need the encouragement, accountability, correction, and example that other followers of Christ provide in order to, by God’s grace, truly live lives that are pleasing to Him:
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Hebrews 3:12-13)
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25)
Striving side by side with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ is the biblical model for the church on mission. As the authors of Total Church write,
What will commend the gospel are lives lived in obedience to the gospel and community life that reflects God’s triune community of love. People will not believe until they are genuinely open to exploring the truth about God. They become open as they see that it is good to know God. And they see that it is good to know God as they see the love of the Christian community. As Francis Schaeffer said, “Our relationship with each other is the criterion the world uses to judge whether our message is truthful. Christian community is the ultimate apologetic.” (175-176, emphasis mine)
We must remember that the church is commanded to live in community (meeting together regularly) and on mission (working together to make disciples and do justice). Both elements are vital to our calling as the redeemed people of God, sent out into the world to proclaim His excellencies until Jesus returns.
Welcome to the Fellowship of the Cross.