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God’s Life in Your Church’s Soul: Thabiti Anyabwile on Fellowship

Photo by Rosie Fraser on Unsplash

I’m pretty sure my grandmother, not a Greek scholar as far as I’m aware, knows what koinonia means. After all, were we to make a “Words Evangelicals Love to Drop” list, chances are koinonia would make an appearance.

But what is the Bible’s vision of fellowship?

In his new book, The Life of God in the Soul of the Church: The Root and Fruit of Spiritual Fellowship (Christian Focus), Thabiti Anyabwile mines the Scriptures with an eye toward this crucial subject. Extending Henry Scougal’s classic theme into the wider, corporate, public realm of the local church, Anyabwile demonstrates that shared life in Christ is the true heartbeat of Christian fellowship.

I corresponded with Anyabwile, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman, about how God’s life permeates his church, our corporate union with Christ, encouraging fruit, and more.


What’s the relationship between The Life of God in the Soul of the Church and the book instrumental in George Whitefield’s conversion—-Henry Scougal’s classic, The Life of God in the Soul of Man (1677)? 

First, I’m completely ripping off Scougal’s classic title. If you’re reading this interview and you’ve not read Scougal, minimize this window and go pick up his book right away!

In his book, Scougal essentially defines a Christian as this exquisite creature who actually has God resident in his soul. In his own way, he’s meditating on our union with Christ as a way of helping a new convert understand the Christian life. In The Life of God in the Soul of the Church, I’m attempting to extend that basic idea to the whole church. Spiritual fellowship is the sharing of this divine life inside an entire congregation. The book wrestles with the notion that our union with Christ isn’t just personal but also public and corporate.

Scougal contended that to be a Christian is to have “divine life” resident and reigning within. How is God’s life also shared and displayed in the soul of a local church?

Most people think of fellowship, or sharing this divine life, primarily in terms of certain activities. We have a women’s fellowship, a men’s fellowship, a potluck fellowship, and so on. These activities can provide opportunity for sharing divine life, but actually the entire church community ought to be one ongoing and natural communion. We share this divine life when we mourn with those who mourn, or rejoice with those who rejoice. We share this divine life when we exercise our spiritual gifts for the body. We share this divine life when we correct and encourage one another. We display and share this divine life when we love one another. In many respects, all the “one anothers” of the Bible become a display of divine life resident and reigning within the Christian church.

Why is it significant to grasp that union with Christ is both the root and fruit of spiritual fellowship?

If we don’t grasp that, we’ll run into one or two problems. First, we may lapse into an activity-based notion of fellowship. So many churches are activity-driven. There’s a program or a “ministry” for every day of the week. People come to measure their spiritual lives by how active they are. And yet, if we’re honest, the most programmed churches are sometimes the most disconnected churches. Members are active, but they’re not sharing on a deeper level. That’s a functional result of not grasping the reality of both our personal union with Christ and our union with one another in Christ.

Or, second, we may redefine fellowship altogether. We’ll look for life outside the church, or we’ll only share it with smaller segments of the church who share our interests. In the end, we’ll be undernourishing our souls.

What fruit have you witnessed in your own church arising from the sermons on which this book is based?

The glory all belongs to the Lord. It’s been wonderful to see how an already loving congregation has grown more intentional in its expression of love. We’re seeing the flourishing of hospitality, by God’s grace. The Lord has stirred up a greater emphasis on disciple-making, with wonderful relationships developing between older and younger members of the church. Even our once-dreaded members’ meetings have taken on much more life, joy, and meaning as we share life together in that setting.

What do you most hope pastors will walk away with as a result of reading this book? What about lay Christians?

My hope is that pastors and people will have a deepened or perhaps renewed love for the bride of Christ. I’ve come to think that problems in gathering with the church or objections to membership in the church are really affection problems. There’s some defect in our appreciation of the beauty and splendor of the local church, so we don’t love her as we ought. If I could ask the Lord to do one thing in this book it would be to open our hearts to love the local church more deeply.

 

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