Lord of the Rings. A work of such utter brilliance, it basically established the modern genre of fantasy. Now, don't get me wrong - I know that reading these books isn't for everyone. I know a lot of people that have read the Professor's work and gotten bogged down in his wonderful world-building, beautiful poetry, and epic imagery. I have talked to people who, for reasons known only to them and their god, can read this wondrous tale and get...bored. Diverted by delights like Tom Bombadil, and incapable of being caught up in the history of the Council of Elrond, these poor souls miss out on a piece of work that is imaginative and transformative.
In case it wasn't clear, Tolkien is my favorite author of all time. While Lord of the Rings isn't my favorite work (that belongs to The Silmarillion), it nonetheless holds an unbelievably special place in my heart. I have read the work at least 20 times. There have been times in my life when I had to take a "Tolkien fast" because I found myself thinking more about, and knowing more about, Middle-Earth than Earth and the Scriptures. I would not call myself an expert by any means (I mean, I can't even speak Sindarin), but I am definitely a fanboy.
All that preamble to bring me to the topic of the day: The Fellowship of the Ring. The first part of the Lord of the Rings is devoted to setting up the epic journey. For those of you who don't know the main plot, here's a summary for you. What I want to focus on is the Company, the Nine Walkers, the Fellowship. They are a group that has come together to face a terrible quest. It is going to demand everything from them, and if they fail, it will mean disaster for the whole world. There is a terrible Enemy whose cunning and power will be brought to bear against them. There are the Enemy's minions and systems that will be trying to destroy not only the Fellowship but any allies they might hope to lean on. There are traitors and people who should be allies but are too blinded by pride and place. They are a small band, upon whose shoulders the hope of the world rests. They are to go into enemy territory and undermine the systems of slavery, violence, and oppression that threaten all of Middle Earth. They are united around a common purpose: get Frodo to Mount Doom and destroy the Ring.
The Fellowship is a beautiful thing. They are an inter-racial (and inter-species) group gathered together around a common purpose. During their journey, there is a breaking down of old grudges and prejudices that result in lasting bonds and deep affection. During their journey, there is fall, betrayal, and redemption. During their travels, there is sacrifice and suffering. At many points, they are broken and sundered from each other. But ever and always they are Companions. Ever and always they are the Fellowship. And ever and always they are moving toward one unified work: the destruction of the Ring and the overthrow of Sauron.
There's another, even more, important Fellowship that Christians must grab a hold of - that is the Church of Jesus Christ. The gathering, the assembly, the ekklesia of God. It's become incredibly common in American Christianity to believe that I can be a Christian apart from the Church. There is (I believe rightfully so) great disillusionment with the institutional church. There is confusion over the fragmentation and division of the Church. There is a disconnect between the passionate, vibrant, radical, world-changing, supernatural, justice-minded, gospel-loving, lost-seeking, prejudice-overcoming, poor-serving, truth-proclaiming church described in the New Testament and what we see and experience as "church". There are so many reasons and explanations for these disconnects - some of which are old and traceable through church history, some of which are modern and difficult to see and recognize (but you can see a great explanation of in Don Allsman's book Jesus Cropped From The Picture), and some are just normal due to the nature of life in a cursed world. But I want to focus on one aspect of why we are a shadow of what we ought to be: there is a loss of focus on the magnitude of the call that binds us together.
After I became a Christian and got over being an absolute jerk to my little sister, I made her a walking stick because she loved to hike. On one side of it, I burned "Not all who wander are lost" and on the other, "Walk Worthy". Walk worthy of the calling, of the Gospel, of the Lord your God who has called you out of the darkness and into His marvelous light (1 Thessalonians 2:12, Colossians 1:10, Ephesians 4:1, Philippians 1:27, 1 Peter 2:9). You see, we are a fellowship. We are the gathered ones, the sheep of the true Shepherd, the members of the Body of Christ, a holy priesthood. Christ's ekklesia consists of those from all times, places, and peoples who owe their allegiance to Jesus Christ as Lord. And we are, all of us, called to live worthy of that. So...what does that mean?
A High Calling
It was no small thing for Frodo to be tasked to take the Ring to Mordor. The fate of the whole world was placed on his small shoulders. Neither is it a small thing to be redeemed by the Most High, for all those rescued by God are sent right back as His emissaries into hostile territory (2 Corinthians 5:15-21). Frodo could not get distracted in Lothlórien; if he stayed there in comfort and peace all would be lost. He could not just give up in the Dead Marshes, otherwise, Sauron would overwhelm all. In the same way, we cannot give up. We cannot allow power, wealth, or comfort to entice us to complacency. We cannot allow failure or discouragement to weigh us down and lead us to bitterness or torpor. We must set our eyes on the things above and strive forward toward the goal of our Fellowship (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Fellowship of the King
So, if we are not the Fellowship of the Ring, what are we? I would like to venture that we are the Fellowship of the King. We are all of us drawn together not by our commonalities, but by our common Lord. We are all of us not focused on ourselves or our pet projects or programs but on our Sovereign Lord. We are all of us loved by, and in love with the same One. And that love radiates and reflects in boundless ways to each other first, and then to those around us. We have a dastardly enemy (1 Peter 5:8, 2 Corinthians 2:11), a systematic structure of power and oppression to contend with (Ephesians 6:12), and internal sins and strifes. We desperately need to remember that we have been brought together by a Power greater than ourselves for a purpose far greater than we can comprehend with eternal significance. When we stay on target, when we stay on goal, when we are the Fellowship of the King, then this world can see something truly beautiful.
That Which Unites Us
There's a scene in the West Wing that makes me cry. You can watch it here. Basically, the call is to set aside the partisan bickering and honestly see that what unites Americans of both parties far outweighs what divides them. Treating each other as members of the same tradition, with differing ideas on how to best live into that ideal can help us treat each other with respect and move forward in a unified way. The same can be said for the Church. That which unites all branches of Christianity far outweighs what divides us. Don Davis and Don Allsman (or the Dons as I like to call them) call these unifying points the Great Tradition. There's a quote I have heard attributed to so many sources that I don't know which is right, but it basically says "in essentials unity, in non-essentials charity, in all things Jesus Christ". There are essentials to the faith, not everyone is a member of the Fellowship. But those essentials are enough that instead of sniping and degrading each other over the non-essentials, we can love and embrace each other as members of the Fellowship of the King. Because in all things, Jesus Christ. There is a battle out there raging for the souls of men and women. There is a King on the move and He calls us to take the battle into the usurper's realm and proclaim His glory in word and deed. Let us set our hearts and minds on the task at hand. Let us be who we are made to be.
This one is for Jeremy David Trist. JD, you wanted LotR, you get LotR. If anyone ever has any other requests, please feel free to either talk to me, e-mail me, or let me know on Instagram. If you want to discuss this topic further, please drop me a line!
If you want a book with more on the Great Tradition, Sacred Roots by Don Davis is a great primer.