Written by Eric Weiner
In his short book, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer makes this challenging statement about Christian community: “Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.”
What Bonhoeffer is talking about is the temptation to inject our own standards and expectations onto what we think our fellowship with other Christians should look like. Being the body of Christ is not an aspiration we must achieve or some ideal we must see realized. Rather, Christian community is something God has given to us in Christ, and therefore, something we are invited to participate in.
The church should never be a safe place for sin to thrive. But it should be a safe place for sin-impacted people to encounter real love and true healing through Christ’s body. This, in part, is what makes us ministers of the gospel and why Bonhoeffer says the goal of all Christian community is to “meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation.”
Not a bringer of accusation and condemnation, but of salvation through the forgiveness of sins in Christ!
What Bonhoeffer teaches us about community is first, that our relationship to one another is one way we experience union with Christ. A second thing that Bonhoeffer teaches us is that our commitment to one another is one way we practice receiving the gift of community.
But I wonder if we are prone to believe that the dreams of community, we manufacture are better than what God himself has to offer us. When we elevate our dream of what we think community should be, it actually produces grumbling and disappointment - in others, in ourselves, and in God.
But when we humbly receive Christian community as a gift from God, it actually produces gratitude in us for God and others. And, as Bonhoeffer recognized, “What may appear weak and trifling to us may be great and glorious to God. Just as the Christian should not be constantly feeling his spiritual pulse, so, too, the Christian community has not been given to us by God for us to be constantly taking its temperature.”
In other words, gratitude > grumbling.
Here are some questions that Bonhoeffer’s chapter on community provoke in me:
Do you see Christian community as a gift from God?
Do you understand the nature of your relationship to others who are saved by grace through faith in Christ? We are more than friends.
Do you love the people God has called his? Are you committed to them out of reverence to Christ?
Let me end with a brief story.
Over the Christmas break, I was having a late-night conversation with one of my non-Christian relatives. He asked me what book I was reading, so I told him. What ensued was a deeply philosophical conversation about Christianity that honestly surprised me. It wasn’t the nature of the conversation that surprised, nor the conclusions made about Christianity. What surprised me is that the conclusions came from him, not me. He said, “Christianity brings people together in a way that is stronger than all the other relationships I have. I don’t have that kind of connection with my neighbors. I don’t have that kind of connection with my co-workers. I have other friends outside of work. But Christianity creates a stronger bond than any other relationship I’ve experienced.”
This is someone outside of the church; someone who doesn’t believe in the church’s witness about Christ. But he does find something about Christian community deeply compelling.
Now ask yourself: What is he witnessing that would lead him to this conclusion?
God has given us a wonderful gift through Christian community. Let us not take it for granted but receive it humbly and gratefully as ones who are joined together by something as solid and as sure as the cross of Christ. Let’s enjoy our life together for He has given it to us!