August 6, 2007

Refrigerated Porcupines
by Pastor George Van Alstine

The nineteenth century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer described the challenge of Christian fellowship as a tension between individuality and sociability. In a church, believers come together like porcupines in a refrigerator. They huddle together to keep warm, but they inevitably bump into each other’s quills, which makes them recoil apart. “Thus they move backwards and forwards uneasily, trying to find the mean distance which makes life most tolerable.â€?

Two kinds of growth experiences, over time, lessen the refrigerated-porcupine effect. The first is the spiritual development of each individual. Believers go through a continual, gradual process we often refer to as sanctification, but it could also be called “de-quilling.â€? The prickly part of us, the brittle defensiveness which is a side-effect of sin, relaxes and softens, so we no longer jab at those who come too near.

The second thing that happens as believers continue in fellowship is that more heat is produced than the refrigerator’s coolant can overcome. The warmth of the Holy Spirit is released when Christians are close together in love. No refrigerator can freeze those whose spiritual heat comes from Him.

Some Christians stay away from church because it seems ice-cold to them. And when they have tried to get close to other believers to warm up, they’ve been stuck by quills. But the truth is, they haven’t stayed long enough to experience the true blessings of fellowship. Withdrawing from the cold and the sharpness of others only makes matters worse—the world out there is even colder than a refrigerator, and unbelievers’ barbs and stingers can make Christians’ quills seem like feathers.

The writer of the New Testament Epistle to the Hebrews saw this tendency to withdraw in his day. He warned believers not to “neglect meeting together, as has become a habit with some.â€? The reasons he gives are that they can “hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering,â€? “provoke one another to love and good deeds,â€? and “encourage one anotherâ€? day by day (Hebrews 10:23-25). This transforming fellowship is part of God’s purpose in establishing the church as the center of his gospel agenda.

Those of you who are still isolated, shivering porcupines trying to weather life’s winter storms, come on in! There’s room in the “refrigeratorâ€? for you. You’ll find that there’s nothing more warm and lovable than a porcupine with Spirit-softened quills.