I’ve been reading from two books over the past two days and have encountered the same quote from Bonhoeffer’s Life Together in both. Here it is:
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 his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly. 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. . . . So he becomes first an accuser of his brethren , then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself. – Excerpted from The Strategically Small Church by Brandon O’Brien
As one who considers himself a visionary leader, this quote gives me pause. Having contemplated it personally and through the lens of the authors who have referenced it, I’ve become impressed with the idea that God will not fulfill our dreams of church.
I know a man who is sure that the local church should be around 150 people and led by a group of 12 unpaid elders. After many years of failed attempts to forge such a fellowship, he has retreated to a position as ecclesiastical armchair quarterback within a mega-church.
Of course, its easy to confess the sins of other people. While not quite so specific, I know I’ve held on to my ideals and attempted to hold others accountable to them. This enterprise has inevitably led me down the blind alley of cynicism and self-loathing. Crumpled behind the dumpster of my failure, Christ finds me time and again. There he reminds me that any fellowship of believers must flow from an enduring pursuit of fellowship with him.
[We] can never live by our own words and deeds, but only by that one Word and deed that really binds us together, the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. . . . Christian community is not an ideal we have to realize, but rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate. The more clearly we learn to recognize that the ground and strength and promise of all our community is in Jesus Christ alone , the more calmly we will learn to think about our community and pray and hope for it. -Quoted in Everyday Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis
If we are going to share life, we must first receive it from Christ. But having received it we must also share it. Jesus told us that he is the vine and we are the branches. Through this analogy, he admonishes us to remain in him drawing our nourishment from him as our source. He also warns that this life we accept must move through us to become the fruit of brotherly love if we are to continue to receive anew.
So, in the community of Christ we only need to aspire to hear the gospel word and then express it together through self-giving love and public proclamation. Such pure aspiration will take its own shape as God, the gardener, lovingly prunes us for even greater fruitfulness.