The title of this post comes from a poem by Robert Frost called “Mending Wall.” But, even before Frost included the line in his famous poem, “Fences make good neighbors” was a 17th century proverb. In this post and the next, I’m going to consider the “fences” that keep us from having fellowship or building stronger relationships with other people.
The impetus for this two-part series was a very good post (and following discussion) by Lionel Woods (at “A Better Covenant“) called “There’s Fellowship and Then There’s Fellowship.” In his post, Lionel recognizes that there are different levels of fellowship and relationship. He suggests that these three tiers of fellowship can help us live in unity. Here is his description of the three tiers of fellowship:
I think approaching the body from a three-tier circle may be beneficial for us to maintain unity and promote the oneness that we are to promote to be a witness of Christâ€™s work in the world. So we have the outer circle. These are loose but still connected relationships we have with Christians, we deal with them on a less intimate level; however, this interaction is not superficial. We serve them help them, encourage them and even correct them, but because we understand that they are in the outer tier we understand that their are limits we will not cross. This may be Jesus with many of His disciples.
Then we move to the second tier this may, but not limited, those we actually go to church with on a weekly basis, we sing with them, we go to Sunday School with them, we may be involved with outreach with them, from time to time we may hook up outside of the weekly fellowship, but there is no expectation to this day to day gathering. These people we see more and are involved a little more, sort of like Jesus with the 70. He sent them out, often times they would travel with Him, but they were not like the 12.
That leads to the inner circle or the third tier. Here we find our closest confidants. These people stay over night with us, watch our children, no are spending habits, they know all of our flaws and cover them with grace. These people can do great danger to us so this relationship takes much grace and love. These are the relationships that hurt like when Judas kisses Jesus on the cheek. This is Paul and Timothy here. These relationships just arenâ€™t based on our like faith but an undeniable connection and love. These are those we see ourselves growing old with.
In response, I asked Lionel what or who defines these three levels of fellowship?I mean, it is certainly true that we have deeper relationships with some, lesser relationships with others, and very little relationship with others. But, what filters do we use to decide whether or not someone is in level one or level three, or whether we would even allow someone to increase to a different level?
These boundaries (“fences” to use Frost’s proverb) define who is in level 1, who is in level 2, and who is in level 3. So, the boundaries are very, very important.
Do we set the boundaries? Should we set the boundaries? Do other people set the boundaries? Should we allow other people to set the boundaries? Are there boundaries beyond our control? How do these boundaries aid or hinder unity among the church?
I’m going to attempt to answer these questions in the next post, but for now, I would love to hear your thoughts.