I am just continuously impressed with Bonhoeffer’s insight into Christian community. Reading his book is both refreshing, and alarming, at the same time. Refreshing because I think he hits the nail on the head so many times, and he gives insight into what community, and sharing life together is really about. Other times it is alarming, because some of his statements are so radical, that you have to ask yourself sometimes…..really? And alarming because you find yourself guilty of those things that he talks against.
Yesterday, we saw that in his opinion, Christian commmunity, and life among Christians is not to be takend for granted. Jesus lived his life amongst his foes, and so shall we. Bonhoeffer is concerned with the wishful thinking that takes place in many Christian communities, and what happens when those wishes are not fulfilled.
In Chapter 1 on Community, he continues:
Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it.
How true this statement is. How many times have we come into a church, or a Christian community, and complained that the community was no good; or that the teaching was no good; or that people weren’t friendly? How many of us move from fellowship to fellowship searching for the perfect community to meet all of our needs? One of the biggest complaints that I often get as a college director is on the issue of our community. “People aren’t friendly enough.” “I don’t connect.” “You don’t have this, and my old church had this.” And has our community broken down at times because our ideas have come from a wish dream. Because we have come to The Quest, or another church with our own agendas, constantly comparing places and experiences. Bonhoeffer continues:
But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves. Be sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for brief period in a dream world.
I suppose that one of the advantages of growing up in the church, as my dad was a pastor, and being behind the scenes, is that it afforded me the opportunity to see the Church, and community from a different angle. I have no illusions (which is probably not true), that the Church will be some garden of roses, where everyone prays all day, and gets along with everyone, and everyone is on a spiritual high. Rather, I have seen the craziness that takes place, the fueding, the disappointments, etc. But that has made Church, and community all the more joyous to be a part of. Because it is real tough work. It is the bringing together of many people, and learning to function together. If it was so easy, then the Apostle Paul probably wouldn’t have needed to pen most of the letters in the NT. The sooner we realize our own wishful thinking, and deal with the reality of Church, and life in community, the sooner we can go about really being in community, and allowing God to transform it, and us.
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.
How have I hindered the work of God at The Quest, or in other Christian communities? What dreams, wishes, and ideas have I brought with me, and expected them to be realized? What about you? Bonhoeffer continues:
God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. Whoa! That’s hard to swallow. How often do we talk about visionary dreaming in our churches? He continues though:
The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. Whe his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash . So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.
How many of us our guilty of such things? I know that I am. Believing that I am actually responsible at times for the community and how it has taken shape. Just because I am the pastor, does not mean that I set up community, or determine what form it takes. That is a divine task, of which I have no qualifications. And how do we measure success in community? Is success determined by what I want it to look like? No. Actually, it seems that we are more successful when it looks nothing like I had wanted, planned for, or imagined.
Because God has already laid the only foundation of our fellowship, because God has bound us together in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ, long before we entered into common life with them, we enter into that common life not as demanders but as thankful recipients.
I am struck by a few things. One, God has already laid the foundation, so who are we thinking we can add to it, or change it, or improve upon it. It may not look how we want it to look, but it is what it is. Two, the phrase that we enter into that common life not as demanders but as thankful recipients, really strikes me. It seems that all we do is demand things in life. And the church is no different. We demand that they play this style of worship. We demand that the preacher preach this way. We demand that they provide activities. We demand that they meet all of our needs. And on, and on, and on. When we demand, we cannot receive and be thankful recipients.
I hope that The Quest ministry, and those involved, especially me, can enter into this next school year as thankful recipients. Thankful to receive, and not demand.