“First, Christian community is not an ideal, but a divine reality; second, Christian community is a spiritual and not an emotional reality.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 9.
We can recognize the “divine reality” and live our lives based on that reality, or we can ignore the divine reality and construct an ideal for us to strive toward. We can displace what Christ says is reality with what we say is reality, and if we do then we have made Christian community (along with much else) an ideal that denies the reality of Christ.
An ideal is something we strive for, and in striving we confess that we are not there. When an ideal becomes the test of community, of relationship, then it is but a matter of time and circumstance until a clash of ideals or a clash of methods used to attain an ideal results in the disintegration of community. An ideal may be so strong that it tyrannizes a community; a quest for conformity oppresses the community’s members, stifling growth, expression, and organic life.
We all have images of what Christian community should be like, but we must submit our images of community to the divine reality, and this divine reality means that we look at the spiritual and not the emotional or therapeutic. We cannot trust the emotional, we can only trust Christ.
As an example, if we look at Ephesians we see that we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ (1:3), we see that we have been redeemed (1:7), we see that His body is the fullness of Him who fills all in all (1:23), there is no more Jew and Gentile (2:14), we are a holy temple (2:22). These are facets of the divine reality. We see divine reality throughout the Scriptures in Christ; the question is whether we recognize and live in this reality or whether we discount what the Bible teaches because we focus on what the natural eye sees and what the natural person emotionally feels. The “walking out” of our calling that begins in Ephesians Chapter Four is based on the divine reality set forth in chapters 1 – 3.
Often our response to the divine reality is “yes but”. That is, what Christ has done and who Christ Jesus is can be well and good and we may believe it on some level, but we also believe that it is impractical to live on the basis of the reality of Jesus Christ alone, and we make His reality our ideal. In making God’s reality our ideal we provide ourselves with an excuse for not living His reality, and we also set the parameters for Christian community – we justify our own community, and we may acknowledge other Christian communities – but to live as if there is only one community in Christ is not a reality we choose to recognize – it is nice as an ideal, but impractical.
As an example, the divine reality, if we are to believe the New Testament, is that we are saints. Our “ideal” is that one day in the sweet bye and bye that we will be saints – hence our ideal conflicts with the divine reality. If I accept the divine reality and see my brother as a saint (as opposed to a sinner) then I will encourage him to live out of this divine reality in Christ Jesus, a reality set forth in Ephesians Chapter Two. Our identity in Christ, according to the New Testament, is that of a saint – as I live in that reality the reality of the work of Christ in manifested in my life; as we as a community live in that reality then the reality is manifested in us as His people, His community, His body.
In the next post or two we’ll look at our frailty in community, disappointment in community, and disillusionment in community; hopefully we’ll see that these are opportunities for koinonia and also see that in the midst of disillusionment that we need to remind ourselves that “First, Christian community is not an ideal, but a divine reality; second, Christian community is a spiritual and not an emotional reality.”
[Note to the reader: I don’t know whether Bonhoeffer would entirely agree with what I’m writing or not and it is not my intent to interpret his thinking in everything I write. The reader who wishes to thoroughly explore Bonhoeffer should actually read Bonhoeffer – always good advice when desiring to understand or know a person. My intent is to interact with what Bonhoeffer has written. I do think Bonhoeffer would say that most everything he wrote was a work in progress – one can only speculate what might have been had he lived longer. I highly recommend the Fortress Press Reader’s Edition of Bonhoeffer’s Works, the four volumes can be purchased as a set at an attractive price.]