What is Fellowship?

Ina recent visit to one bhakta’s family, they raised an important and serious issue which has become common almost to every Hindu bhakta of the Lord who keeps away from the traditional church set up. These are the ones who come out from the church setup with a clear understanding that they cannot be both a Hindu bhakta and a Christian simultaneously. They have to keep one thing in their mind that everyone who is doing some kind of pioneering endeavour often needs to walk alone, ready to pay a price for it.

The main issue they face is that they miss the PHYSICAL FELLOWSHIP which they used to get in their previous church gathering. As we are very few and unable to provide that kind of fellowship, it is a bit of a shock for them to understand this reality. It is like culture shock for an Indian moving to Western world (particularly to places like Canada) where rarely could he rub shoulders with other people on the street.

Human touch and physical fellowship is essential and a basic human need. The touch of flesh speaks more warmly than all other kinds of fellowship and communication. When they miss this they feel uncomfortable and long to have it back. Above all that, fellowship gave them an outlet for them to come out from their routine life at home and provided an opportunity to meet like-minded people—particularly sharing their faith.

So the question that was asked me was if they can again have some kind of fellowship with a few people from their previous church—of course not inside the church, but outside the church, at their home etc. In response I said that if that could help them I have no objection, but each should be careful not to learn the Christian technical terms and expose children again to Christian influence.

At the same time I also pointed out that in the past he spent almost from morning 9.00 am to 4.00 pm., every Sunday with his church. But now he does not have even fifteen minutes to sit and worship with his own wife and children along with other family members who share in his bhakti in the Lord at his own home every Sunday.

I understood his problem as he is bit disappointed with us as we cannot provide the same kind of physical fellowship as he had with his previous church. But this is a shortcoming and also a challenge in our movement (a wrong word to use) as we are very few and unable to meet regularly.  But I cannot understand one thing.  If he has to meet his previous Church people, even outside the church in their house, again he needs to take time to go there. But he can do the same with other bhaktas in the same town. Of course the other bhaktas might be very busy and may not able to spare much time for them. Anyhow if he is desperate for fellowship he can force the other bhaktas by going to their homes on alternative weeks.  Of course one should not impose on others just for their own need.  But in the body of the Lord, there is mutual responsibility and accountability. Maybe by imposing on other bhaktas one might even help them to come out from their busy life and give time to other bhaktas. And how one can do and should do needs to be decided by each bhakta who longs to have physical fellowship with other bhaktas.

Some people are not good in taking initiative and leadership. So I won’t blame him as he lacks this. Above all the church has spoiled bhaktas like them by spoon-feeding by arranging everything for them ready-made.  They got an instant solution for their felt needs and they never thought about taking their own efforts to find a solution to their needs and problems and always depended upon others.

Finally, even if we take for granted that his fellowship with other Christians outside their church in their home will meet his physical and spiritual needs, soon he will find that also boring as he will miss the crowd which provided the social fellowship which the church provided him in the past.

Of course he might get proper teaching in such fellowship.  But this again shows that he always wants others to feed him rather than he himself takes the same (leadership) initiative to learn more about Muktiveda and bhakti.

Finally, my understanding of FELLOWSHIP, which is often insisted in (or as) the church gathering often makes every bhaktas always SEEKING SOMETHING from others.  But true fellowship, according to my understanding should provide an opportunity for us to also to CONTRIBUTE.  We should gather not always seeking something from others but always seeking opportunity to contribute to others in any possible way. But the church gathering always gave the impression of going there to seek something and not contribute to others.  Of course this can be counter argued by pointing out that our contribution is also there in the form of our very presence and money, time which we give.  But if we closely observe except in a few cases, most of the time the church gathering is a one man show (pastor) who alone talks from the beginning to the end and after the service everybody will rush to go back to their home.  I agree that there are several churches which provide a different kind of fellowship by arranging lunch and even providing fellowship till evening tea.  And those Hindu bhaktas who miss that kind of fellowship should remember that they are the pioneers to provide an alternative model for the future Hindu mandalies to which they should ready to pay the cost at present.

In this context, what Dr. Pennington wrote recently to me is worth reading and pondering:

Dear Swamiji,

Recently was looking at the passages in 1 Corinthians 3 and 6 where believers are called the temple of God or the temple of the Holy Spirit. There are two Greek words that English Bibles translate “temple.”

Hieron is the whole temple compound with the gates, walls, and inner buildings. Naos, on the other hand, is most often used for the inner building where the image of a god resides, or for the Holy Place in the Jewish temple where God was supposed to dwell. This word naos usually meant the shrine which housed a god, but could also be the housing in which they carried the god in processions.

Paul uses this last word, naos, in 1 Corinthians 3 and 6. We are the shrine of the Holy Spirit and the shrine of Jesus. Everywhere we go, we carry Jesus and his Spirit with us in our shrines (bodies). In our hearts we carry the image of Jesus and live lives of worship to him.

I am just beginning to reflect on these ideas, but being a shrine of Jesus resonates with me far more than being a Christian church-attender. Margaret and I are done with that life. Now we are seeking his direction for how to love and worship Jesus in fellowship with other believers who find that Christianity and church keeps them from Jesus even here in the U.S.

Your reflections on mandali, unity, and mutual life make us long for similar fellowship and community here. We have not found that yet because so many people cannot let go of their church and Christian traditions and meeting-based worship forms. It is coming, but will take some time it seems.

In my response I wrote him:

Very interesting and important observation. This will help me to understand how we are a mobile shrine for the Lord. Those who miss their church fellowship should know this fact and I will share this with them. Anyhow those who do any kind of pioneering work are often left alone, misunderstood by others and lack cooperation from their own. But we need to press forward.  Thanks for joining in this pilgrimage with me. Though we are separated by space, united in spirit.  Thanks.

Dr. Pennington replied,

This is a problem that does require careful re-teaching and coaching. I think back to this very concern…

Christians are taught a meeting-centered spirituality that depends on gatherings, even if not much fellowship.

It seems that bhaktas and other Incarnational believers need intentional coaching and help in how to start their bhakta walk without that artificial spiritual stimulation. They need help to learn how to do daily puja at home with Muktinath. Your point is correct about Sundays. They have hours available, but have no alternative form or worship tradition to express their love for Muktinath in their homes.

This has struck me as a critical change in spirit and practice for all of us who step away from church to follow Muktinath in Incarnational ways. We are also wrestling with the same.