22 April 2008

the living church (5)

John Stott, The Living Church (Downers Grove: IVP, 2007).

Chapter Five: Fellowship
The next chapter in Stott's reflections on the church is, appropriately enough, the shortest.  For it is impossible to achieve a sense of koinonia without doing it; you can't learn by sitting back and speaking about community, you must develop it.  The question that remains is whether or not our fellowship and *community-building* has reached that which it was supposed to be.  In moving forward on the issue of fellowship among believers, Stott approaches it in threefold manner: biblical, historical, and practical.

Simply enough, Stott begins his comments with Genesis 2:18, where it asserts that it is not good for man to be alone (86).  Yet this cannot be cured by large crowds alone (87), which calls into question the habits of many Christians who seek larger churches without the participation in small group ministry.  Thus, Stott affirms the need for larger congregations to structure themselves in such a way as to facilitate smaller, more intimate group settings.

Historically speaking, there is much to be drawn from the Reformation of gathering together in small groups to fellowship and study the Scriptures (cf. 88).  There is also the Holy Club of Oxford which fostered the growth and explosion of the Methodist movement, among others he mentions.  "It is from such small and unpretentious beginnings that great movements have sprung up and spread" (88).

The third argument is pastoral, in that in every church the clergy cannot reach out to meet the needs of every person/family.  This means that fellowship is not just a way of having a good time, but the proper mode in which our lives are invested into one another's for the nurturing, care and growth of the gospel.  "Moreover, the Bible indicates that each of us is our brother's keeper" (89).  Such an approach reminds me of another good read about discipleship (I have no idea if Stott is familiar with this work): Greg Ogden, Transforming Discipleship (Downers Grove: IVP, 2003).

Stott continues to develop this chapter, emphasizing our common inheritance (91), our common service (92-93), our mutual responsibility (93-94) and drawing out some practical illustrations about fellowship (94-96).  It is a good chapter, but brief and largely presented in bare-bones theology so that the gaps may be easily filled in by each specific and unique community.  Discipleship and fellowship have been lost on many churches, but are making a comeback in many way across the board in Christianity.

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