The Fellowship of the King
Today, I had lunch with a Christian colleague contemplating ministry opportunities from within the academy. She shared several things of interest that I will put under the categories of fears and fellowship.
Under fears, she was concerned about her academic reputation, and asked me if I had similar fears about doing an openly Christian blog on the public Internet. I told her that it was definitely something I thought through before starting, but that I wasn’t terribly worried about my reputation among my colleagues, but not for the reasons you might think. As a non-tenure track lecturer whose only responsibility is teaching undergraduate labs, the reality is that I am considered second class faculty, so they are grateful they don’t have to do my job, but some seem to assume that I do it because I’m a subpar scientist. I’m no Nobel Prize winner, but the truth is I enjoy shaping the rocks of student skulls more than asking the NSF for money. Also, as my colleagues pretty much all know I’m a Christian (sort of by accident) and a few of them are dismissive of me as a result, I don’t have that much of a reputation to lose in that regard.
Fear doesn’t have much hold over you when you don’t really have anything to lose by failure. In that regard, fear is a blackmailer. To conquer them both, the answer is the same—honesty and sacrifice. Go ahead and sacrifice in your mind (or in reality) the object of value they are holding against you, and they lose all power. When you are blackmailed over a skeleton in your closet, the solution is to expose the skeleton yourself. It’s there whether it is exposed or hidden, so the sooner it is exposed, the sooner and cheaper it can be buried, and that is freedom.
There is another antidote to my friend’s fear—God. Ok, yeah, that’s the Sunday School answer, sure. But it is also the right one. Paul says in one of my favorite passages in Scripture in I Corinthians 1:17-31:
For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”
Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.
Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”
This doesn’t mean it will be smooth sailing; probably quite the opposite. Studies have shown that soldiers who care more about winning the battle than surviving it actually have higher survival rates than those who are trying to live through it. There is something about total commitment that makes obstacles able to be overcome that reservation simply can’t do.
This actually leads to my friend’s second issue, that of fellowship. She admitted to me that she really feels lonely in her department because the spiritual attitude of so many is antithetical to hers, and this is with 1-2 other Christians in her department! To my knowledge, none of the other faculty in my department are, so I understand that. We are often small islands in our fields, and that isolation makes fearless commitment that much harder to make and hold onto.
God knew this from the beginning, as evidenced by the reason He gives for creating Eve—“it is not good for the man to be alone.” He created us to be social beings. In Ecclesiastes 4:12, there is an oft-cited verse at weddings, “Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” And, finally, in Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Studies have shown that it is possible to become so chronically dehydrated that you don’t even feel thirsty, and you are operating under a water deficit that is extremely unhealthy. Some of the chronic issues that develop are that cells lose their cohesion, nerve impulses don’t fire correctly, and blood doesn’t move through the body to oxygenate the cells properly.
One of the hardest things, it seems, for faculty in today’s ivory tower is to be able to recognize their dearth of fellowship in the academy. Part of this is due to the sheer busyness of demands on us that we feel we don’t have time for it. Part of it is that we don’t expect it at work, especially in the academy, so we look for it outside of work and tend not to prioritize it even when offered.
Yet, the church is a body and fellowship the cohesive water. In much of church history, churches were known by the neighborhood or locales of that group of believers who lived and worked in the same communities. They weren’t the buildings, but the people. Even in Acts and Paul’s letters, there are descriptions of ‘churches’ at places of employment, such as the believers in the praetorian guard and the believers in Caesar’s household.
By these descriptions, Christian faculty on a given campus are just as much a church as the folks at First Corner Church, and it is not inappropriate to act as one, even while being a worshipping member at FCC. We understand the pressures we are facing and can meet them together, influencing our culture both individually and together, simply because we know we are not alone and have folks to support us when struggles come. There is synergy in fellowship and it is silly not to take advantage of it.