I’ve been thinking a lot lately about community and this blog is an attempt to compare the ideas of two authors. I’m reading Rick Warren’s “Purpose Driven Life” (as is much of the rest of the U.S.) If you’ve read it, you’ll remember that he suggests one of the purposes of our lives is that we were formed for God’s family. This refers not only to Christians being children of God and thus being in God’s family, but also being a part of the family/community of a local church. I would say Warren’s (and others’) definition of community extends beyond the “noun” of the specific group of believers, but also to what happens between those people as they seek to love God, each other, and to serve Him as they grow in understanding of their calling. (Apologies to RW if I’ve oversimplified or misunderstood him.) I realize that this info is probably not meaningful to ones who does not have some form of a relationship to God and Christ.
Warren says that it is not just enough to believe, but we must also belong. “In Christ, we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” (Rom 12:5). Our relationship with Christ is personal, but not intended to be private. God has given each of us gifts, equipping us to serve in specific roles which we miss if we are not attached to a church. This point is backed up by the whole biblical analogy of the body, its parts, and how they work together and are necessary (Rom. 12).
Warren’s reflections also reminded me of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “Life Together.” (Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor and participant in the resistance movement against Nazism. He also worked within an underground, illegal seminary during WWII.) I believe Bonhoeffer probably is speaking at times about literally living together with other Christians, but it certainly can be applied to the church as well. Bonhoeffer says, “The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer.” Also, “But if there is so much blessing and joy even in a single encounter of brother with brother, how inexhaustible are the riches that open up for those who by God’s will are privileged to live in the daily fellowship of life with other Christians!” Also, “The goal of all Christian community: they meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation. As such, God permits them to meet together and gives them community.”
What led me to think about all of this is the people who claim to be Christians but choose to not fully participate in community. I find these people annoying, disappointing, and prideful. Some feel it is enough to watch a televangelist on Sunday mornings, or they feel a walk in nature is enough to be close to God. I don’t doubt that they have received spiritual gifts. But they are choosing isolation, and they are choosing to hoard the gift God has given to them by not offering it to a community. These folk may argue that they are involved in a broader ministry somehow, and that’s great, but not at the expense of their local community or church.
I also get frustrated with those who bounce from church to church, always experiencing something they don’t like so they move on, looking for perfection. Bonhoeffer treats this in an interesting way.
“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 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…..Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive….When a person becomes alienated from a Christian community in which he has been placed and begins to raise complaints about it, he had better examine himself first to see whether the trouble is not due to his wish dream that should be shattered by God; and if this be the case, let him thank God for leading him into this predicament.”
As a person, I know I often walk the fine line of being judgmental, and God forgive me if I’ve crossed it here. But I just wish that we could set aside petty differences and pride and come together and serve God, no matter the risk, as He would have us do. “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God has prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph. 2:10)
Thanks to Rick Warren and Dietrich Bonhoeffer for their insights.