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.