Festo Kivengere: Fellowship is Not Uniformity

To have fellowship is not to have uniformity. It is the drawing presence of Jesus Christ, the Light of God, penetrating me and shining on my brother so that we inevitably are drawn toward each other, and into fellowship.

What makes it possible for us to go on walking and working together peacefully? St. John tells the secret: “…and the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, keeps on cleansing us from all sin.” The Spirit of God continually applies the death of Christ to cleanse out the things which break the fellowship of God’s people. This is not to make us miserable, but rather to make us happy. When something comes up between us, it makes it possible for us to come back together again, to ask each other’s forgiveness and to start again. This time our fellowship is deeper.

We cannot claim to be different from the disciples in the upper room who were arguing about which of them would have the highest rank. There is something in human nature that keeps wanting to climb ladders, no matter what spiritual gifts and experiences we have.

For example, take this not unusual instance.

A pastor was standing in a small meeting of intimate brethren. He is convicted of having set himself on a pedestal and is weeping. He tells us:

“I would go up into my pulpit with my big Bible and give God’s message with fervor. People often responded, and I figured I was doing a good job. I climbed higher and higher until I was on a little throne, but rather conspicuous and telling everyone what to do. People would come to me for help, but me — I seemingly had no need. I have been giving the impression that I am unique and untroubled by the flesh. But it isn’t true! The Holy Spirit has shown me my heart. He has told me that I am simply a little clay vessel through whom He wants to communicate His treasures. When I became more than that, I was out of place, and His blessing dried up. Forgive me, brothers, this has made you suffer too.”

When he finishes what he has to say, joy breaks out in a chorus around him. We are all on our feet singing and embracing him. Once clergyman, especially, who recently learned that the only place of power is down low at the Lord Jesus’ feet, stands with his brother and puts his arms around him understandingly.

Several times during the past thirty or forty years, the peace of the East African fellowship has been disturbed by ladder-climbing and division, usually temporary. It happens when someone or some small group claims more perfection than others, or takes control. The stand they take sounds good: “I have more zeal,” or “I have abandoned all worldly possessions,” or “I am more strict in holiness in things like haircuts or charge accounts…so come, follow me, and separate yourself from the others.” It is hard to resist.

The cure for such “climbing” (and it really works) is in seeing again my need for the grace of God and falling before Him, as Joshua did.

After the death of Moses, Joshua had assumed command of the People of God; in fact, he had been called to it. But perhaps he was taking a little credit for their success in crossing the Jordan. At any rate, now he was looking over the walls of Jericho, planning his strategy of war.

Joshua looked up and suddenly, “behold, there stood a man right in front of him with his sword drawn in his hand.” He was a stranger, obviously a soldier, and ready to fight. It was a confrontation.

Joshua did what any brave soldier would do. Without retreating, he went straight forward, demanding, “Are you for us or are you for our enemies?”

The Man answered, “No! But as Commander of the army of the Lord have I come!”

What a shock. Joshua looked at himself as the commander. Was he dismissed? Yes, as a matter of fact, he was fired on the spot, for Another had come to take over. Joshua was no longer in command. And it was a good thing. Otherwise, the People of God would have suffered defeat, as the fiasco at Ai proved.

Recognition came to Joshua, and he “fell on his face to the earth and did worship, and said to him, ‘What saith my Lord unto his servant?’”

There he took the leader’s rightful place. The man who thought he would lead on to victory was himself conquered first. In a few days, the walls of Jericho were going to fall down, but the leader had to fall first. This is always God’s order.

After that, no doubt, Joshua expected to learn how to mobilize the people and get things done. But, instead, the new Commander said, “Put off your shoes, Joshua, from off your feet, for the place on which you are is holy ground.”

Was that irrelevant? It seemed to have nothing to do with Jericho. But the Lord was saying, “Jericho is not My problem, Joshua. You are. I know what to do with Jericho, but first I need to deal with you. If you are going to work in fellowship with Me, and win Canaan, I have to teach you who I Am. Moses learned this lesson at the burning bush, but you need to learn it. You are trying to be a warrior without first falling at My feet.

You must learn the holiness of My Presence, and that the secret of victory is a cleansed heart. Take off those shoes.”

In East Africa these days, the Lord has been asking us to “take off our shoes” by repenting of unlove. Walls were built through disobedience to His command to “love one another as I have loved you.”

Down at His feet love has returned, and walls are falling.


This excerpt is taken from Festo Kivengere’s book Revolutionary Love pp. 46-48

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