A young man wrote me the following note several weeks ago:

I wondered your theological opinion of Christian fellowship. It is a term that's been thrown around a lot in my circles lately but to be honest, what I see in churches is not much different from a TV show like Cheers or even less than that.

I mean Christian fellowship is considered to be shaking hands and asking about your church friends' week and then sitting down and singing and listening to preaching and then going home. How is that any different than going to the bar and seeing familiar faces over a couple of beers?

Interesting that he should mention the TV show Cheers. Although it first aired over 20 years ago, it remains popular in reruns. Set in a bar in Boston, the show featured a cast of offbeat characters who gathered at the bar every day after work to kibbutz, to trade war stories, to tell a few jokes, to blow off steam, and to commiserate with one another. Each week millions of people tuned in watch Sam and Diane and Rebecca and Carla and Norm and Sam and Cliff and Dr. Frasier Crane and Woody sit around and talk about their joys and sorrows, their victories and defeats, their good times and their bad times, their problems at home, and their dreams for the future. That was the whole show. It doesn't sound very profound, yet Cheerstouched something deep within the American public. Each week, in their own quirky way, the characters talked about life and we tuned in to listen.

Do you remember the theme song? 

"You wanna be where you can see that troubles are all the same. 
You wanna be where everyone knows your name."

"He Was a Great Marine" 

I was reminded of Cheers when I read a story in one of Chuck Swindoll's books. He tells about an old Marine Corps buddy of his who became a Christian after he left the Corps. Swindoll said he was surprised when he heard of his friend's conversion:

He was one of those guys you'd never picture as being interested in spiritual things. He cursed loudly, drank heavily, fought hard, chased women, loved weapons, and hated chapel service. He was a great Marine.

When Swindoll finally met him, his friend told him how he had come to Christ. Then with a look of sadness, he put his hand on Swindoll's shoulder and bared his soul:

Chuck, the only thing I miss is that old fellowship all the guys in our outfit used to have down at the Slop Shoot (Greek for tavern on base).  Man, we'd sit around, laugh, tell stories, drink a few beers, and really let our hair down. It was great. I just haven't found anything to take the place of that great time we use to enjoy. I ain't got nobody to admit my faults to. . . to have ‘em put their arm around me me and tell me I'm still okay.

Counterfeit Grace

The words hurt because they are so true. Swindoll goes on to quote from Bruce Larson and Keith Miller (The Edge of Adventure, p. 156).  Ever wonder why so many people are pulled to the neighborhood bar?  Here is their answer:

The neighborhood bar is possibly the best counterfeit there is for the fellowship Christ wants to give His church. It's an imitation, dispensing liquor instead of grace, escape rather than reality, but it is a permissive, accepting, and inclusive fellowship. It is unshockable. It is democratic. You can tell people secrets and they usually don't tell others or even want to. The bar flourishes not because most people are alcoholics, but because God has put into the human heart the desire to know and be known, to love and be loved, and so many seek a counterfeit at the price of a few beers. 

With all my heart I believe that Christ wants His church to be . . . a fellowship where people can come in and say, "I'm sunk!" "I'm beat!" "I've had it!"  (All quotations from Chuck Swindoll,Encourage Me, pp. 17-18)