Once more I’ll try to share some recent thoughts I’ve been having regarding the nature of the cell I experience. Back to a rather humanly constructed part of the theological framework, i.e. “non-essential” components which don’t constitute the core doctrine of the faith, but nonetheless is one of those things we do find essential to discuss in great depth. But of course, especially with this sort of non-essential topic, the opinions tend to be contingent on at least a thousand different things, in the very least denomination, society, demographic (including age groups and whatnot), personal experience, individual ecclesiastical structure and culture, and so on. After all, at the heart of Christianity is not doctrine, nor regulations, not tradition, nor mission (even!), but relationships. Until we agree on this, we cannot understand why rules of thumb simply do not, and never will, exist. At least this much is obvious.
And so there is a minimal context that I have thus provided to my following views.
We will attempt to answer these two questions:
1) To what extent do we bring preconceptions of the necessity and importance of fellowship?
2) How do the unequal maturities of individuals within the cell shape the overall cell culture and function and outlook?
These questions, although possibly overlapping in subtle ways, do contribute to the general question:
3) How does the cell unit exist as an integral and distinct priority with respect to the internal relational dynamics of individual members?
Firstly, everyone necessarily brings their own notions of what Christian fellowship should look like. We have several variants: some people have gone through the logical categorization and designation of the cell circle within their social life and derived their own expectations (and conversely have placed their own limitations on cell potential. I cover this later again). Of course, in this one scenario the implicit assumption people do make is that cell is commensurable with other forms of interactive communities (e.g. coworkers, classmates, etc. depending on age group). Another scenario is perhaps more saddening: some people have not even pondered about the function of the cell within their social life (do bear in mind that the focus on the cell is on internal relational dynamics). Therefore they do actually assign it some form of null value, and to make this more conceivable or comprehensible, an example of how some people might view cell is simply as a theological exchange of some sort. Everyone appears at this set time, ponders objective meanings exegeted from Scripture, writes down reflections, shares, leaves.
At this point, I would like to interject and note that this is not mutually exclusive to my final proposed vision for a cell. I am not suggesting that, but rather: there is more to cell than this. Furthermore, I note that of the above two mentioned scenarios of the approach some people take towards cell, it is highly likely that everyone inevitably adopts a mix of both. I suggest that in reality, few people do have such a distanced, unattached, objective approach (and a cynical one too) to cell, as I posit in the second scenario. Rather, I intentionally left out praying in the sequence of actions described.
Let me suggest the depth which prayer does not always encompass within cell contexts, and also let me suggest why, as a progression of things discussed above. Prayer is a matter of the heart, and can concern matters on the heart. Therefore praying for one another and/or with one another implies a deep spiritual connection shared between the people and God. By praying for others, we ask for God to humble us and give us empathy, so that we pray earnestly and desperately. By praying with others, we align our hearts with God’s in praying for the things on His heart – intercession. This is not exhaustive but seems to include majority of prayer postulated in the cell.
If we come to the cell with spiritual blindness to this dimension of our interactions with cellmates, our efforts at prayer, however valiant, will be shallow. Earnest prayers bind hearts together within God’s family. In essence, this is the result of the first scenario: when our hearts understand the cell as simply another group of friends within this church boundary, whatever our minds were conditioned to believe. This attitude must necessarily be able to be expressed as an antithesis to the ideal approach, which means that, at the very least, we implicitly place personal impositions on the potential for true cell dynamics and depth. When we do not understand what the Bible tells us about our identity as co-heirs of Christ, sons and daughters of God and therefore brothers and sisters to one another, we will not appreciate the reality of a spiritual family (Rom 12:5; Jn 13:34-35; Eph 2:19-22; 1 Cor 12:26). We limit our conversations outside of cell time to superficial topics without realising that God hardly (but ought to) come(s) up. Bringing in aspects of the second scenario/approach further complicates matters: we come to the cell expecting just to receive but not to bless, to be encouraged but not to build others up, to understand the Word but not to understand others… And a great tragedy intertwined within is that prayer time does nothing to break this, since in the first place we are unaware that we are in need of more spiritual relationships, more acts of love and concern for each member of the body, more depth. The hope is in praying about our prayer, receiving from the Spirit a fresh conviction of the limitations we have tried to place on the spiritual growth of the church starting from the cell level. While of course the Spirit cannot be hindered by human weakness, blindness and refusal, the conviction is calling us for our own sake; did not Christ come to give life, and life to the fullest? Has he not gifted us with this church, the Bride to whom he is betrothed? Only the Spirit can move to open eyes and give us tastes of the experience of true fellowship and thereby break our old lenses towards cell.
Secondly, how do we each also bring differing levels of spiritual maturity, thereby contributing to a struggling cell outlook and function? I figured that I had already covered this and traced this back to the inability to view the church as one cohesive family. I’m not really sure but I have a few slightly different explanations for this in itself. Firstly, that certain kinds of congregations might not have been adequately exposed to this concept as being fundamental to the faith; secondly, that we have either not experienced or forgotten the joy of knowing the Father’s love; thirdly, that we have allowed the inhibitions of tradition and culture (two distinct things!) to counter small steps taken in the direction of radical change.
The first possibility I have brought up is truly very specific to my experience and my case. I do belong to a youth congregation of a slightly modest 200 or so. Being 15-20+ year olds (the upper age limit is not defined), I think one argument against strong reiteration of the concept of the spiritual family is simply the very nature of this age range. It has implications in certain dimensions: a) a phase of undeniably swift, crucial changes in maturity of thought and attitude towards relationships, hovering in the foreshadowing of adulthood; b) in this phase is absent the license to the freedom adulthood brings (financially, relationally, vocationally, time-wise etc.); c) in this relatively brief phrase looms also a degree of uncertainty as to whether and how the cell (and bonds formed therein) take(s) root within the emerging larger picture. I admit that these are undoubtedly valid reasons which act in two ways: by reducing the time spent on developing familial themes, and increasing the time spent on anchoring youth on fundamental theological and doctrinal beliefs. On another note, I do not think that the reason that (insufficient) time is invested in building this community is either a belief that such a task is unnecessary, or that it will be completed naturally in the course of time.
The second possibility is definitely the most elementary and crucial in relation to the faith. What are its building blocks? Do we base our joy, our hope, our works, our love, our life upon Christ, who gave up His all to give us life both now and forever? Or are we content with the moderate sovereignty of our Lord over our lives? Until we esteem His worth, beauty, glory and love upon the cross, we cannot share in the cup of the believers. That is what Holy Communion symbolizes: the one declaration that we wholly partake in His body broken for us, and His blood poured out for us. With one authentic faith we can confess one God and therefore receive the conviction to love our brothers and sisters as Christ loved us. With one living hope we can worship in Spirit and truth as His people; with one lasting joy we serve one another and build one another up; with one Spirit we are bestowed with gifts and abilities in order to bless one another; with one Great Commission we collectively yield to the Head of the Church to use us in His divine plan to draw men to Himself. The list goes on. In essence, with one Lord we will give ourselves over to only His will, within which we find Him using us to bless one another in order that the Bride may be presented blameless to Him on that day.
The final possibility: could we be too entrenched in (cell and church) tradition or (societal) culture that it becomes difficult to model our cells after the early churches? No one rightfully dismisses these two dynamic structures, though: they serve their necessary purposes. Yet, we may need to examine how relying on our past experiences or methods to constrain our current mindsets and perceptions of cell could override God’s vision for His people. Does fear of breaking subliminal ice in the cell to host an honest and humble atmosphere hinder us? Do comparisons to other cells’ progress as relative indicators of our own cell walk desensitize us? Do past grudges or failures stumble us? Furthermore, I suggest that we should be, at a rudimentary level, aware that our societal culture does influence our approach to something as essential as relationships. As for my church, I find society’s conservative and cautious values an obstacle to breaking any present conditions. In a further vein, society as a materialistic and results-driven system can further suffocate attempts at patient relationship-building based on the seemingly more abstract and overarching things of our lives, i.e. the spiritual walk itself. Again, the material desires and the spiritual desires are not mutually exclusive; we simply ask, which must be laid as the foundation?
I put forth these arguments as a general encapsulation of my thoughts regarding cell dynamics. Perhaps question 3 is meant to be an open-ended question for everyone to reflect on in the light of our ignorance and our preconceptions, as I have taken into consideration above.