I recently finished reading Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It's one of the best books on the topic of community I've ever read. In the first chapter, Bonhoeffer deals with the expectations that we have of the Christian community and how many of those expectations are false––his main point being that we too often expect too much out of the Christian community. Bonhoeffer keeps it simple saying that, “Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ alone. No Christian community is more or less than this. Whether it be a brief, single encounter or the daily fellowship of years, Christian community is only this. We belong to one another only through and in Jesus Christ.” In other words, what creates and sustains Christian community is the person and work of Jesus Christ alone. Our commonality is that we've been saved by him and are kept by him.
Bonhoeffer goes on to say that our idea of Christian community is often nothing but a "wish dream." That is, we have grand ideas of what it's supposed to look like, but these ideas are not mentioned in the bible, and are often nowhere near reality.
Listen carefully to what Bonhoeffer says about these "wish dreams" and how they are actually community killers:
“One who wants more than what Christ has established does not want Christian brotherhood. He is looking for some extraordinary social experience which he has not found elsewhere; he is bringing muddled and impure desires into Christian brotherhood.”
“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. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial. God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. 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 stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of the brethren. 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. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.” (Emphasis mine).
Community is hard. Any time you get more than one sinner in the same spacial dimension for any extended period of time, there is going to be tension. Being a member of Christ's Church doesn't change this. The very real reality of the Church (both local and universal) is that she is messy. The church is filled with sinners, some who have been saved by grace, and some who still haven't. Hypocrisy, difficulty, brokenness, and more should be expected. In light of this, we need to remember that sanctification is complete for none of us, therefore, Christian community will be perfect for none of us.
The question we need to ask ourselves is this: are we killing the Christian community by our idealistic wish dreams? Are we killing what God has graciously brought together in Christ––the church––because we're expecting what we will only get in eternity?
Rather than imposing our "wish dreams" upon the Christian community, Bonhoeffer's exhortation to his readers is that we would give thanks. The community of the church is not something we should ever take for granted––though we often do. Today, instead of complaining about how your church community is not how you have dreamed it up to be, give thanks and rejoice that you yourself are a messy part of this beautiful and messy church community for whom Christ died!