The Fellowship Environment…
If the New Testament church’s biblical purpose or function is to create a biblical, Spiritual environment that best encourages Christ-like Spiritual birth, growth and maturity, what then does that Spiritual environment look like or consist of? What Spiritual environment is best conducive for producing Christ-like rebirth, growth and Spiritual maturity?
If the church as a whole or its individual members are to be Spiritually reborn, grow, mature and therefore, function in a manner approaching the stature belonging to Christ’s fullness, then four biblical, timeless and ongoing essentials or “ships” are required. They are: 1) the Worship of God; 2) Discipleship in his Truth (the Word of God); 3) the Stewardship of one’s Spiritual gifts and abilities for the strengthening of the Fellowship of Christ’s body, 4) despite all life’s many struggles and Hardships.
A More Detailed Explanation of the Church’s Biblical Environment for Spiritual Growth…
The word “environ” means “to surround.” The word “environment” has to do with the “sum total of something’s surroundings.” And just as it takes the proper environment to raise a healthy child (love and discipline, for example) or grow a healthy plant (water, soil, sunlight and carbon dioxide etc.), is there, according to Scripture, a healthy Spiritual environment in which to grow up Spiritually healthy believers or to create a healthy, sustainable church experience?
Yes, there is. At Fellowship, we call these four Spiritual essentials, the Ships.
There are four essential Ships necessary for both the individual Christian and the church’s Spiritual growth. They are derived from two fundamental passages: 1) Acts 2:42-47, in which Luke describes the church’s four earliest activities and 2) Col. 1:9-14, where the Apostle Paul describes his four ongoing prayerful goals for the church at Colossae.
Acts 2…They devoted themselves to: 1) the apostle’s teaching, 2) to the fellowship, 3) to the breaking of bread and 4) prayer…
In Acts 2, after describing the earth-shaking events surrounding the day of Pentecost, in which as promised earlier by Christ to his disciples (Acts 1:4-8), the Spirit of God suddenly thrusts himself upon Christ’s apostles (or disciples) so that they do the seemingly impossible—they began to prophetically speak in all the many languages represented by all the Jews who had come from all the all over the world to celebrate the annual Jewish Pentecost festivaL (2:1ff). Despite, along with the rest of the disciples, of having been falsely accused of having imbibed in too much wine (v. 13), a God-inspired apostle Peter stands up and courageously indicts the Jewish people for having cowardly crucified their divine Savior-Messiah, Jesus, whom, in turn, God raised from the dead, thus proving Jesus’ divine Sonship. Having risen from the dead and seen by many hundreds (1 Cor. 15:3ff), this Jesus, Peter declares, having ascended back into heaven, is the one now responsible for this pouring out of God’s Spirit (2:14-35).
Validated by the obvious evidence of the Spirit’s presence and power within Christ’s disciples, Peter’s stirring indictment begins to sink into his listener’s hearts and minds. The now-remorseful and repentant crowd begins to beg Peter how they might be saved from God’s impending judgment for having killed their Messiah or Savior?
In turn, Peter exhorts them all to turn or repent, each from his present state of having rejected Jesus as the divine Messiah to his or her acceptance of who Jesus was–the Son of God– and what he did—he sacrificially gave his life as a divine-human atonement or payment for the sins or wrongs of the world) and because of this inward act of faith or trust, then symbolically be baptized, immersed or cleansed with water in Jesus’ name just as they have been cleansed of all their sins Spiritually, and not just the sin of having rejected God’s deliverance and Deliverer, and as proof, they too would receive the Spirit of God, just as Christ’s disciples had received him.
Peter then goes on to prophetically declare a ground-breaking precedent—this promise of divine forgiveness and the gift of God’s Spirit is not just for those confessing their guilt before Peter at this historic moment for having rejected their Messiah, but this promise of forgiveness of all sin and the receiving of the gift of God’s Spirit is also for their children… AND for those far off…ALL whom the Lord our God will also call also to himself through Christ’s apostles’ message (vv. 37-39).
Dr. Luke goes on to add that 3,000 accepted Peter’s words and were baptized that day (vv. 40-41).
So what did this greatly expanded church (or newly “called out assembly” of God’s children) devote itself to?
Luke paints us a stirring masterpiece of four essential ongoing activities: “They were continually devoting themselves to: 1) the apostles’ teaching (discipleship) and 2) to the fellowship, 3) to the breaking of bread (communion) and 4) prayer (worship)” (v. 42).
Luke then goes to describe these four elements in further detail in vv. 43-47a.
And the result of the infant church’s devotion to these four biblical, Spiritual essentials: “And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (v.47b).
Col. 1… 1) Bearing fruit in every good work; 2) growing in the knowledge of God; 3) being strengthened with all power and 4) joyously giving thanks to the Father who has given us a divine inheritance among the saints.
Very similarly, thirty years later, the apostle Paul paints his own masterpiece of the biblical essentials for Spiritual growth when he writes to the church at Colossae and describes the divinely-inspired desires of his prayer…that the Spirit of God will fill them with the knowledge of God’s will in ALL Spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that they (the Colossians) will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord and please Him in all respects. (How? By) 1) bearing fruit in every good work (fellowship/stewardship); 2) increasing in the knowledge of God (discipleship), 3) being strengthened will all power according to his glorious might for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience (enduring hardship) and 4) joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light (worship)…(Col. 1:9ff).
When one overlaps these two foundational passages and their four church growth essentials, four timeless elements or Ships seem to emerge: 1) worship, including prayer, the breaking of bread, praising God and giving thanks; 2) discipleship in the apostles’ teaching and growing in the knowledge of God; 3) fellowship/stewardship, including in those very early days, meeting together in the temple courts, as well as, one another’s homes, as well as, having everything in common enough that they felt moved to sell their possessions and goods to care for one another’s needs, as well as, bearing fruit in every good work, and finally, 4) enduring persecution and (hardship) with supernatural patience, having been strengthened by God with ALL power.
Bottom line: if both the church or Body of Christ and its individual members or parts are to be Spiritually reborn, grow, mature and function in such a manner as to be consistent with its Head, Jesus Christ, there are four essential, timeless ingredients, or Ships, that must always be present: 1) the Worship or value of God; 2) Discipleship in his Truth (the Word of God); 3) the Stewardship of the individual members’ gifts, abilities, talents and resources for the strengthening of the Fellowship of Christ’s whole Body, 4) despite all life’s sin and evil’s challenges–Hardships.
So, now that we know the essential environmental elements required for the church’s purpose of Christ-like Spiritual Growth and Maturity, what does environment look like? The Answer: Christ’s Spiritual Growth Bridge to Maturity…the Church.