I want to share one more quote from Dallas Willard’s new book Knowing Christ Today. He speaks in the book about the spiritual discipline of fellowship with other believers, and I wanted to share a beautiful passage about the purpose of disciples gathering together. This passage deserves deep and lengthy reflection.
When we gather “in the name” of Jesus, we gather to love one another and to be loved, to serve one another and be served. That is why we “go to church.” The one sure mark of being his disciple was said by Jesus to be that we love one another in the way he loves us (John 13:34-35)… So when we “go to church,” we go to love those who are there and to be loved with his agape love. But that love is not confined to when we are “in church.” It is for everywhere in life. Church is for catching it and practicing it.
It is of absolute importance that you get this right if you are to know Christ. We know Christ in others. Reflect on what goes on within you upon first sighting another disciple. It may be a member of your family or someone at your job, or it may be as you approach your meeting place (your “church”). Is your first thought that they should be blessed by God in every way? That they should be “better” than you are (“In humility regard others as better than yourselves” Phil 2:3)? Are you prepared to serve them spiritually by lifting them to God in prayer for his utmost gifts to them and by assisting them in their needs? Do you earnestly long that their light should shine in such a way that others would see their goods works and glorify God because of them? (Matt. 5:16). It is out of such a heart and overall disposition that we spontaneously and without thinking “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). Or do we meet others more in the spirit of the Pharisee who prayed alongside the tax man?
The most important thing about our fellowship with other disciples is that Jesus, the trinitarian presence, should be in our midst. For that, we must meet “in his name” (Matt. 18:19); that is, we meet for his purposes, with his resources, and in his presence. This will no doubt require some serious readjustments, given how “church” is generally practiced today. But it can be done if you and I are willing to walk with Jesus in doing it and not get caught up in superiority and in condemnatory comparisons as we look upon those around us–especially upon those who do not agree with us or even attack us.
If we come together in this way, Jesus’s idea of evangelism and “mission” will fall into place: “I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:23). As Frank Laubach says: “The simple program of Christ for winning the whole world is to make each person he touches magnetic enough with love to draw others.” If we grow our fellowship in this direction, it will naturally affect those around us, whether in the fellowship or not. This kind of love and the “Presence” go with us wherever we go. They cannot be hidden. A “missional church,” in a wording often used today, is actually one that cannot be stopped from increasing, because it grows by contiguity–skin on skin.