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We claim that the purpose of fellowshipping with other Christians is to strengthen our personal walks with God. Yet in practice, we use the act of fellowshipping to increase our sense of dependency on other Christians. In the Church today, you will be bombarded with the message that it is spiritually dangerous for you to not fellowship with other Christians on a regular basis. This is total rubbish. You only get into spiritual danger when you are depending on something other than God to keep you on the right path. Plenty of fellowshipping Christians are relying on each other way more than they are relying on the Holy Spirit. This is why they end up leading each other astray down an ego petting path of carnality until they’re up to their necks in a stagnating cesspool of self-glorifying compliments. “Wow, I could never make it without my sisters in Christ. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have this church to come to every week. Just knowing I have my brothers in the Lord to keep me accountable brings me peace in life.” These kinds of comments are all flowery ways of saying, “Holy Spirit, You are utterly useless to me. I can’t count on You for anything.” Does He find this insulting? Yes, He does.
Suppose a married couple is shopping for groceries when they run into a mutual friend. “Oh, Mary, it’s so wonderful to see you here!” the wife exclaims. “You make such a difference in my life! There’s no way I could ever stay faithful in my marriage if I didn’t have you for a friend. What could I ever do without you? If we didn’t meet every week, I just know I’d have an affair. You’re so wonderful to me. I am so glad I found you. You really make me feel like there’s a point to this marriage I’m in. Sometimes I just really don’t get this husband of mine and I wonder ‘why the heck did I turn my life upside down to be with this guy?’ But then I talk to you and it all makes sense again. You’re so wonderful.” How do you suppose the husband would feel as he stood there listening to this demeaning exchange? Christ is our Husband. How much do you think He enjoys listening to Christians go on and on about terrible it would be if they were stuck alone in His Company without any other Christians around to distract them? This is what we’re saying when we launch into these absurd speeches about how unhealthy it is for Christians not to fellowship on a regular basis. Yep, being alone with God—that’s unhealthy alright.
Those who want us to turn our churches and brothers into idols in our lives always try to say their teaching is biblically supported. After all, the author of Hebrews told his people “Don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing” (Heb. 10:25). Of course the author of Hebrews was writing to new Jewish Christians who were seriously considering ditching Christ and reverting back to Judaism. The whole letter is a desperate attempt to persuade them not to abandon their faith. Some already had, which is why the congregations were shrinking. “Don’t be like the guys who have already left,” the writer is saying. “Keep meeting, keep encouraging each other in the faith, and brainstorm new ways that you can motivate each other to stay strong.” He then tries to scare them into staying on course by reminding them of the very real wrath of God that is awaiting all those who refuse to submit to His Son. When we look at this verse in context (which we never do), we will see that it has nothing to do with going to church on Sunday. It’s not a command, it’s a logical suggestion of how to keep weak, half-committed souls on track. If you’re a weak, half-committed soul, then simply going to Church isn’t going to help you. You need to get with God and figure out what it is that’s holding you back from fully committing to Him.
This obsession with fellowship in the Church today is like a bandage that hides a wound’s festering condition from sight so that no medication is applied to stop the spreading infection. If hanging out with other Christians is the only time you feel like your relationship with God means something, then you are in a serious spiritual crisis. It’s obvious that your relationship with God doesn’t mean anything to you if He’s just some excuse you use to get in the door of a Christian social club. Such a shallow “commitment” isn’t going to save your soul from the torment of Hell. God demands sincere submission from you, and if you find it comfortable to ignore Him most of your life, then you need to review some basic theology and make sure you’re really saved.
In the realm of human relationships, our spouses should be our first priority, then our kids, then our extended family and friends. But before we invest in any of these relationships, we should be giving the best of all we are to God. Of course Satan tells us to do just the opposite: to put humans first and give God the dregs. The Church is helping Satan’s agenda in their misguided emphasis on fellowship. Your relationship with other Christians is NOT more important than your relationship with God, yet this is exactly what we say when we insist that you can’t possibly trust Him alone to guide you in life.
It is a great abuse of the shepherding role to teach the flock to feel unsafe and vulnerable in the Holy Spirit’s care. Instead of teaching souls to be afraid of being “strung out” on God, we should be teaching them that He is the only One they really need. Certainly we appreciate the joys of fellowshipping with other Christians, but fellowshipping is a double-edged sword. It comes with joys, but it also comes with dangers, for when whole groups align with false teachings, we find it enormously tempting to go along with them. Just look at how panicked Christians are about being separated from their church families. Look at how guarded and suspicious we are of the loner Christian—that renegade who doesn’t have formal membership at any church. As soon as we learn someone isn’t in regular fellowship on Sunday mornings, we label them as some kind of rebel. This is ridiculous. According to our warped teaching, we’d tell men like Noah, John the Baptist, and Jesus that they were at serious risk of going astray. What a crock.
Where was Moses’ access to a group of devoted Yahweh followers? He didn’t have any. He had Joshua and his brother and sister. That’s hardly going to fill a church pew. Moses was raised by Egyptian pagans and then was called by God to lead a bunch of idol worshiping whiners through a desert for forty years. There were no regular synagogue meetings where devoted followers would sit around discussing the importance of obedience. Moses’ only support was Yahweh Himself. The two of them would talk together face to face at the tent of meeting. Poor Moses. It’s a miracle he ever made it through given such a lack of spiritual support.
And then there was Jeremiah—a lone prophet of God in a sea of wicked people. When God announced that there wasn’t a single righteous person in all of Jerusalem, He didn’t then say, “Sorry, Jeremiah, guess you’re doomed to go astray for lack of fellowship.” Instead, when He first called Jeremiah to be His mouthpiece, Yahweh promised that He would give the prophet everything he needed to stay faithful. Today we openly mock Christians who make similar claims. “It’s not enough to just have God,” we say. “You have to be in fellowship.” And then we tell them to regularly study the very Book we are defying with our stupid advice.
Fellowship was never supposed to be a substitute for relying on God, and you can’t develop strong reliance on God as long as you’re clinging to the belief that you’d be spiritually lost without some Bible toting humans in your life. This overdependence on people is one of the reasons why God drives us out of church by giving us some wounding experience inside those sacred walls. A healthy dose of disillusionment about just how wonderful the brothers are is a necessary thing if we’re going to keep fellowship in perspective. It’s all fine to gather together for some corporate worship and teaching, but we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that GOD is the One who matures us in life, not a pastor or a bible study. The Holy Spirit is the One who keeps us on the straight and narrow by convicting us whenever we start to go astray. It’s how well we respond to His convictions, not how often we warm a church pew, that determines whether we go astray or not. When we are already not listening to the Spirit, then hanging around other Christians can end up distracting us even further. Your brothers in the Lord are great ones for serving up sermons about the dangers of pride while at the same time pumping up your ego by giving you the glory for the things that God has done. How desperately we need the Holy Spirit to protect us from the carnal temptations our brothers are constantly thrusting upon us in their efforts to help us “stay strong”. The day we entrust our spiritual well-being in the hands of fallen humans is the day we really shipwreck our faith. To the degree that fellowshipping with others inspires us to keep pursuing the Lord, it is useful. But when we find ourselves feeling like we can’t live without it, then we need to seek the Holy Spirit’s wisdom about how to undo the damage that’s been done.