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The Church: Not an ideal but a divine reality

Posted by on Jan 20, 2012 in books, community, fellowship | 6 comments

The Church: Not an ideal but a divine reality

Recently, a friend of mine returned my copy of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community. I’ve read the book a couple of times, and my friend had asked me if he could borrow it. To be honest, I had completely forgotten that I had given it to him.

But, when my friend returned the book, I decided to read through it again. Early in the first chapter, I ran across a paragraph that I know that I had read several times. But, this time, it caused me to stop and think and think some more. As a matter of fact, I’ve been thinking about this paragraph for the last week or so.

This is the paragraph that I’m talking about, the first paragraph in a section titled “Not an Ideal but a Divine Reality”:

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. 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.

Our dreams and designs are NOT community in Christ. This point that Bonhoeffer is making is so important for our life in Christ and for our life with one another.

The reality in Christ is that we are broken people, and any designs or dreams that we place on community in Jesus Christ will be broken as well – even and especially when it looks perfect to us. What we design will always reflect us, not God.

However, God places broken people together – people who should never be able to share life together. This reality, as Bonhoeffer says, God shatters by his grace. Doesn’t that sound strange? God shatters our idealistic dreams of community by placing us among real people… this is his grace.

So, what is this “knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship” that Bonhoeffer talks about in the middle of this passage about real, divine community (not ideal community)? It is just that – sharing life in the midst of real, divine, broken, overwhelmed, hurting, disillusioned, wrong, selfish, unloving, stressed, messy community. When we can fellowship with one another IN SPITE of our brokenness and THROUGH Jesus Christ only (not our designs or dreams), then we are living in community in Jesus Christ.

Community in Christ is realized among those with whom we should not have community. It’s similar to what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount. Even those who are not God’s children know how to love people who love them back. But, God’s children love those who hate them, who persecute them, who curse them. God’s children fellowship with those who are different than them, who disagree with them, who are disillusioned with them.

Why? Because God’s children seek community and fellowship ONLY in Jesus Christ… and everything else is allowed to fall away.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 1-20-2012

    Oh Alan!

    “‘knowledge of genuine …fellowship’ – sharing life in the midst of real, divine, broken, overwhelmed, hurting, disillusioned, wrong, selfish, unloving, stressed, messy…”

    This seems uncannily like our relationship with Him, so that you might change the following to also reflect the personal realities of walking with Him:

    When we can fellowship with Jesus Christ IN SPITE of our brokenness and THROUGH Jesus Christ only (not our designs or dreams), then we are living in community with Jesus Christ.

    Maybe these two parallels are significant, because we need to learn both and enter into both. We unwittingly resist Him by striving to fulfill our own understanding of these things–our design that reflects us–rather than simply ceasing our efforts, and being humbled by our weaknesses and inabilities, yield to His grace and find peace in our messiness taken up in His arms.

  2. 1-20-2012

    So that raises the question, one that someone asked over on my blog. Why don’t we live in community?

  3. 1-20-2012

    Arthur, I wonder if it has something to do with the fact that there are little in the way of external pressures/forces to do so?

    In the US, our “poor” eat every meal every day, most live in A/C houses with color TV’s, have cell phones, etc. etc. At every level of society here we have so many things to distract us, to occupy our attention and affection. Our “hope” centers on new job, better furniture, career, new car, etc.

    I think we are frighteningly depicted in these words to the Laodiceans, “Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked…” (Rev 3:17)

    But if we begin to experience our wretchedness, miserableness, poverty of spirit, blindness to spiritual things, and our lack of holiness (abandoned to Him and no longer living to indulge ourselves), then we have a chance. Often, this requires serious trouble entering our lives to awaken us to eternity.

  4. 1-20-2012

    I was re-reading Life Together a couple weeks ago and got stuck in the same section. It made me think about all that God not only had break off of me when I stopped attending a traditional church to pursue church life in community, but also all the expectations of organic church that He’s had to break off of me. It really only is by Him, through Him and for Him.

  5. 1-20-2012

    Art, I think that makes a ton of sense. Someone made a similar comment on my blog around the idea that in places where the church is not so comfortable we are forced together in community. It is only when we live at ease and in comfort that we are free to eschew community because we don’t really need each other all that much.

  6. 1-23-2012

    Art and Arthur,

    Thanks for the great discussion and for adding so much to this post!


    I appreciate many things that people write about organic church. But, like you said, much of it could turn into more stuff to get in the way of what God is in and through his people.