Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Master Plan Of Discipleship - The Fellowship To Cherish!

Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he has purchased with his own blood. (Acts 20:28) 

Body Life 

In the Book of Acts, those who responded to the Gospel invitation were brought immediately into association with other persons of like faith. This fellowship of kindred spirits constituted "the church of the Lord" (20:28), those called out from the world to follow Christ.

This fellowship of kindred spirits became the primary means by which disciples were trained. Just as Jesus had lived closely with His followers, so now the gathered community of believers formed an ongoing communion with His Spirit.

In a visible, present sense, the church filled the role of Christ's body in the world (1 Cor. 12:27). Christ was the head (Eph. 1:22; Col. 1:18; 2:19), with the redeemed functioning as vital members of the body and thereby "severally members one of another" (Rom. 12:5; cf. 12:4; 1 Cor. 12:20). Not all the believers had the same office (Rom. 12:4), but "according to the grace that was given" (Rom. 12:6), all served in some useful way the work of the body (Eph. 4:11-12). Within this ministering fellowship, as followers of their Lord, they helped one another grow and mature in "the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13).

It was like a loving family. God was their Father (Rom.4:11; Gal. 3:26), and as His sons and daughters (2 Cor. 6:18; Gal. 3:26), they shared equally the inheritance of Christ (Rom. 8:17). Quite appropriately, then, members addressed one another as "brother" and refer to themselves as "brethren." Such love among themselves, a quality derived from their Lord, became the seal of their witness to the world. Christ had said: "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" (John 13:35). 

Application Today 

The implications of this upon the life of the church today dare not be missed. In our stress upon carefully ordered public services and organized campaigns, we may overlook the basic apostolic ingredient of fellowship. Times have become more complex with the passing centuries, surely, but the principle of association never changes. 

However structured, we must relate closely with one another. There are ways this can be encouraged in the regular worship services, even in formal, sacramental settings. Auxiliary meetings offer other opportunities for fellowship, especially in small-group gatherings. In this connection the Sunday School provides many options. Emphasis must be given to the home and family in the program. Through it all, personal relationships need continual cultivation in the ongoing discipling process. 

This is crucial in helping new believers get established. In their first steps of faith, they are particularly vulnerable to doubts and temptations and need someone with them to give counsel. How fortunate when this person can be a more mature Christian with whom they already have some identity. That the church has often neglected such guardian care explains why so many converts fall away or at least never seem to grow in the likeness of their Lord. 

Maturing in Christ takes time. There is no way that children can be raised in a hurry. To try to get it over quickly can only lead to frustration. The hectic way that churches have tried to force this into a few weeks of confirmation classes, if they had done it all, is entirely inadequate. Disciples must have devoted Christian friends to follow, and this can only be facilitated by being together over a period of time.

This establishes the foundation for dynamic learning. But it must not be isolated from a caring ministry to the world. To bring this aspect of the Great Commission into focus, we must study another principle of discipleship.