EPIC LEADERS NOTE: I have to apologize of the delay in getting back to our “Life Together” discussion. With everything going on with Emily’s wedding, move to AZ and start of school…some of the plates fell and this was one of them.
This chapter was like drinking from a community fire hydrant…almost too much insight about the Body of Christ to absorb. The spiritual insight for me was this … we often have defined Christian community completely wrong. Often in the church we believe small groups and community life is about creating relational connection based around affinity, God’s word and relationships. We work hard to build community so that one day we can experience it. Those aren’t bad things, but Bonhoeffer blows that vision out of the water. Christian community is NOT about building human connection…It about realizing that IN CHRIST Christian community is a DIVINE REALITY.
We DON’T BUILD community…we ARE Christ’s community
In our “me centric” culture, we tend to define community IN and THROUGH OUR experiences. For Bonhoeffer, everything is defined IN and THROUGH Jesus. “Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. No Christian community is more or less than this. Whether it be a brief, single encounter or daily fellowship of years, Christian community is only this. We belong to one another ONLY through and in Jesus Christ.” (p.21). Experiences are a blessing, but community is not defined by our experiences. The Body of Christ is defined only what Christ has done for both of us. Christ is what unites us together.
One who wants more than what Christ has established does not want Christian brotherhood. He is looking for some extraordinary social experience he has not found elsewhere; he is bringing muddled and impure desires into Christian brotherhood. Just at this point Christian brotherhood is threatened most often at the very start by the greatest danger of all, the danger of being poisoned at its root, the danger of confusing Christian brotherhood with some wishful idea of religious fellowship, of confounding the natural desire of the devout heart for community with the spiritual reality of Christian brotherhood. In Christian brotherhood everything depends upon being clear right from the beginning, first, that Christian brotherhood is not an ideal, but a divine reality. Second, that Christian brotherhood is a spiritual and not a psychic reality. p.26
In twenty years of ministry, I have seen this expectations exposed in destructive ways in churches. Interestingly, it hasn’t been defined by culture or the type of church. I experienced it in small groups in the States…in churches overseas…even between missionaries serving together on the mission field. And probably most of all I’ve seen it in my own self. The two primary ways I’ve seen expectations destroy community:
- Pride/Dissension- “We got something awesome here in our little group. Why don’t others grow like us? Why don’t they want this deep connection like us? There is a problem with that group of people…they are spiritually immature. They need to get their act together spiritually like us.” – In there pride, this group unintentionally causes DIVISION in the church as they spew their poison on others.
- Hurt/Disconnect – “I trusted these people and they let me down. What is their problem? I can’t believe they could act like this to me. There is problem with that group of people…they aren’t loving enough.” – This group can cause division, but more often they just DISCONNECT and gossip about THAT community.
For each of these groups it started with expectations. They have this vision in their mind of what Christian community “should” be and when it doesn’t live up to their expectations they can unintentionally destroy the Body of Christ. We are not called to love the idea of community, we are called in grace to love the person who is with us in community.
“Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than they love the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest and sacrificial. God hates this wishful dreaming because it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. Those who dream of this idolized community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others and by themselves. They enter the community of Christians with their demands set up by their own law, and judge one another and God accordingly. It is not we who build. Christ builds the church. Whoever is mindful to build the church is surely well on the way to destroying it, for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it.” (p. 27)
What insights stood out to you in Chapter 1? What was the Holy Spirit saying to you?