Another prominent yet subtle false dichotomy is fellowship and evangelism (I’m thinking of specific expressions of this divide at TMC along with general expressions in contemporary, western Christianity at large). Happily, there’s currently a reformative trend towards missional living that’s long overdue, and I for one rejoice at God’s continued (and needed) work in my own life here. Yet sadly, I’ve also seen and heard many expressions of this fresh evangelistic emphasis that blend missional zeal with an unhealthy sense of frustration at the fellowship and edification that the church is meant to be and provide.
I can spotlight as well as the next guy those tempting versions of so-called fellowship that exclude evangelism and the lost — the holy huddle mentality, the us-four-no-more attitude, the spiritual tree house where not only do we gather as a distinct group (which is appropriate) but also through our passivity keep others from coming, seeing, believing, and joining. Yet this kind of fellowship is unbiblical not because fellowship with believers is less pleasing to God than relationships with unbelievers, but because this type of selfish, mission-less, centripetal fellowship is misled, incomplete, and abortive.
I’ll be the first to acknowledge that theologically conservative, holiness-preaching, fellowship-emphasizing churches have not often led gospel-centered, love-driven charges into the world (though I know some wonderful pastors and churches that do). But this stereotypical neglect (which has come to be vastly overstated, for the record) doesn’t mean that spending time with each other, enjoying each other, and edifying each other is a bad or lesser thing.
I’ll be the last to proclaim that TMC students need to spend more time on campus (though many could and should spend more time in their local churches). This is not at all my point. Overall, there’s a dire need for us to live normal, human lives in our communities and build normal, human friendships in our communities, no matter how cliché “get-out-into-the-community” may sound. Yet this need doesn’t diminish the need for sincere, perpetual, Spirit-saturated fellowship. In fact, it enhances the need.
In reality, our goal of missional effectiveness demands the joy, instruction, conviction, refining, sharpening, and celebration of biblical fellowship. And our experience of proper fellowship functions as both the vehicle and the fuel of mission.
On the one hand, if we are intensely joyful, obviously loving, biblically instructed, constantly refined, perpetually sharpened, and ever-celebrating our deliverance in Christ, we will be better heralds. On the other hand, it is precisely our happy experience at this banquet of fellowship that drives us to invite others to the party and that attracts them to come.
The very purpose of evangelism is to bring people into God-exalting, Christ-embracing, Spirit-baptized fellowship with the Triune God and the people of His blood-stamped covenant. And the major purpose of our fellowship (on earth) is to mold us collectively into the image of Christ so that we are clearer, cleaner, and brighter reflections of His character, so that we can demonstrate to the world what God is like and attract them to a sincere relationship with Him and His people through the gospel. Evangelism draws the lost into fellowship. Fellowship overflows in evangelism.
Most importantly, the very nature and presence of the church in the world is evangelistic. The church is a missional organism. The actual creation of the church is a missional strategy, an evangelistic move by God! God has ransomed a diverse bunch of sinners from darkness and is sanctifying the church to be an ever-brightening light to the world. So emphasizing the church doesn’t mean de-emphasizing the lost. Rather, a proper emphasis on the church, and the right kind of time spent with believers, makes the church a better and brighter witness to the world.
Peter wrote, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:9-12).
The church is a lighthouse. The church is a megaphone. The church is a broadcasting company. We broadcast God’s glory, His fame, and His worth. We echo the resounding chorus of His praise. And we beam into the darkness the light of the the Shekinah glory of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ. We declare to the world that our God is great, that our God is good, that our God saves, and that our God is God alone. We proclaim — in word and in deed, by the grace of God and in the power of the Spirit, through out-reaching fellowship and in-bringing mission — that the Father sent the Son.