An essay titled “What place does the church (small “c”) have in a Christian’s faith-life?” was presented to a CLC Pastoral Conference at Redeemer Lutheran Church, Cheyenne, Wyoming, in September, 2013. This is the second of two parts from that essay (abbreviated by the editor).
ACTS OF FELLOWSHIP
At the beginning of the New Testament church, St. Luke reports in the book of Acts, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers… So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God…” (2:42,46,47).
Since Christians are united in one body–the body of Christ—it is natural for them to join in acts of fellowship, a mutual relationship or partnership in which believers participate together in spiritual things.
Like-minded Christians welcome the opportunity to gather together to worship and sing the praises of God’s holy name. David expressed this sentiment when he wrote, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go into the house of the Lord’” (Psalm 122:1).
The acts of fellowship include celebrating the Lord’s Supper together. In that Sacrament Christians give public expression to the wonderful unity of faith God has established among them. At the same time they bear witness to Jesus’ sacrificial death which atoned for their sins
(1 Corinthians 11:26).
Believers also want to unite in prayer to the throne of God. In regard to shared prayer, Jesus has given the promise, “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:19). About joint prayer Luther writes, “Combined prayer is precious and the most effective, for which reason we also come together, and from which also the church is called the house of prayer. Oh, if God would, that any gathering might pray in this manner, so that a common cry of the heart on the part of all the people might rise to God, what immeasurable virtue and help would follow such prayer! What more terrible could happen to all the spirits of evil?…” (Gospel of Matthew, R.C.H. Lenski, p. 685f)
What Luther writes concerning prayer to thwart the devil can also be said of everything else that God provides for our spiritual and eternal welfare. The old evil foe will do everything he can to prevent isolated believers from having a home church or to cause believers to leave the fellowship of a Christian congregation so that they are out there on their own in the world.
Mutual Help And Support
When “God sets the solitary in families” (Psalm 68:6) by making us part of a Christian congregation and synod, another important purpose is that we might help and support one another.
As the writer to the Hebrews says, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (10:23-25). How important it is to help and support one another so that when the Day of the Lord comes, we will be ready to meet the Lord. To that end, how needful it is to keep on assembling together around God’s Word and Sacrament (Colossians 3:16; Luke 11:28), and thereby be spiritually interconnected in our lives.
The support network of the church [congregation] involves being there for others in many ways. When Christian brothers and sisters are experiencing various trials of life, have suffered loss, are sad or distressed, the Lord wants us to be there for them, offering words of comfort, encouragement, and hope.
There are times when fellow Christians are in need of material help. Consider how the early church gave help and support in that case: “And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need” (4:32-35).
Our Lord also wants us to join our hands and resources in doing mission work. All Christians have been commissioned by the Lord Jesus to “make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19). By sharing our resources we can reach farther out into the world with the gospel of Christ.
By supporting our local congregation we have a preaching station where unchurched souls can hear God’s Word and receive God’s instruction. Through outreach efforts the unchurched can be sought and found for the Lord.
Through our mission contributions we also help support our Immanuel Lutheran High School and College (Eau Claire, Wisconsin) where young Christians are trained to be pastors, teachers, and lay-leaders in our congregations. Our offerings also help to support outreach in many foreign countries where the Lord has opened doors for the gospel.
Thank God for setting the solitary in families by gathering Christians into congregations and synods committed to the Word of God! In and through these fellowships we are blessed in many ways, and together we have the opportunity to proclaim the gospel of our Savior both near and far.