Fraternity … what does that word mean? For me “fraternity” reminds me of the Orange Institution and the bonds of friendship which I enjoy amongst its members, and I truly believe that the Church could learn from the many different groups and associations present within our communities.
Apart from relating to a club or group the term fraternity may recall one of humanity’s great mottos, the rallying cry of the French Revolution: “Liberty, Fraternity, Equality.” Although it is often forgotten “fraternity”, along with equality and liberty, was one of the highest ideals and concerns of our forefathers.
Fraternity may also prompt us to think of the American school clubs where alcohol and debauchery are seemingly rampant, or the more “mature” orders and brotherhoods such as the Hibernians, Elks, OddFellows and Masons as well as service clubs and victim associations.
The ideal of fraternity is also extolled in the sporting world, especially where teamwork is required. How many of us have heard that well used cliché “There’s no I in Team”? It is true though, for a team to be successful each part must come together and work as one, in fraternity and teamwork, with all as equals rather than as a group of individuals.
Think of the England football team. Wayne Rooney is a great player, great goal scorer, yet he cannot win a game by himself. The defence have to defend, the midfielders have to get the ball forward and Rooney has to work with the other strikers to capitalise on the chances they get at goal. Each man must play his part, focus on what he is good at and focus on helping the team rather than simply himself, otherwise the match is lost.
Ironically when it comes to sports, fraternity also exists in “single” sports and not just teams. For example a friend’s son (Alan) is an Olympic Rower (men’s single skuller) from Coleraine. Single’s rowing may not strike you as a stirring battle of wits, yet that is exactly what it is. The race is man vs. man, with no team to support you. At the starting line the rower has to make sure he gets away fast, during the race he needs to push hard at the right time to overtake his opponent, yet he must also take it slow at the right time so that he has enough energy for a final push if necessary. It is a battle of fitness, technique and strategy and is often the result of months (indeed years) of physical training and mental preparation. Yet though that desire to win is all consuming during the race, at the end the winners and losers will often stand and congratulate each other, shaking hands with an obvious bond of friendship.
Why do they do this?
It is because a competitor is trained in their individual sport not only to compete with their opponent but also to respect them? Is it because when engaged in a race that tests them to their limits, they may come away exhausted, maybe even beaten, but nevertheless still possess an enormous respect for their opponent?
It’s not hard to spot the fellowship that exists between competitive rowers, indeed that fellowship can be seen amongst many other competitive and demanding sports, wherein there exists a kind of fraternity, that only individuals such as these “Olympians” understand.
As I said at the beginning fraternity always makes me think of the Orange Institution. The “orange” is a “brotherhood composed of Christian men, striving to promote Christian values and the reformed faith” and in truth we fail in that. Many of my “brethren” don’t know Christ, many have rejected the churches, and many have hatred rather than love in their hearts, yet many others have a true and sincere love for Christ, and a longing for a revival of Christian witness in this land, as well as love and respect for their fellow man. True there are divisions within our Order and different views on almost every issue but one thing remains... fraternity.
The knowledge that we are united together as one in a fraternity, where all ranks and social standing are wiped away by that simple word... “brother”... unites us, because we know that working together in respect and understanding is to be cherished more than any individual achievement or goal.
But there can never be a fraternity as important or as significant as the Church and the Communion of Saints. Okay the Church is not exclusively male (thank goodness) so it might be better to think of the Church as both a Fraternity and indeed a Sorority, made up of both brothers and sisters who participate in Christian witness. No matter how we think of it, the Church is all about teamwork and participation for the benefit of all, and not just the individual. After all there can be no such thing as a one-person church.
Now I’m not for an instant saying that salvation is a corporate matter, or that it somehow depends upon your friends or family. Instead I’m talking about that group we are placed into when we are saved, call it the “elect”, or the “saved” or even just the “true Church”.
The church exists as a corporate body, a body of believers in Christ, united by and through Christ. That’s what defines the New testament Church, where individuals came together not to find personal glory or honour but to join together as “One”. There was no room for the glory seeker, or the self serving individual, for no one man or woman had been given all the gifts of the Holy Ghost, no one individual could make a church by themselves.
The same is true today, for we are not all endowed with the ability to make great sermons, or heal the sick, or discern the Will of God. Instead a church is only as strong as its members and their respective gifts in combination.
But what we have lost (in my opinion) is that sense of family within the Church and its membership... that sense of brotherhood and sisterhood that once was a hallmark of Christianity. To get it back I believe we have to look at and learn from outside the confines of Christendom, be it sports, the military or even the Masons or Orangemen because for many the church has become a cold house, where only the “chosen few” are welcome...
We need to get out there once again (as the early Christians did), extending the right hand of fellowship to one and all, so that we can show that there is no common bond like the bond that is found amongst Christians.
We need to do that sooner rather than later.