Ready For Community?

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These notes and letters from your pastors are part of our effort to increase our communication to you. They highlight points from the Sunday sermons, or draw linkages between sermons, and will come to you as a regular series. Toby and Seng will write the letters together or take turns tackling different topics. If there is something from the sermons you would like us to zoom in on, please let us know! 

Ready for Community?

From Your Pastors (No. 1 of 2016)

 
Remember our motto at Christ Church? In Christ. Together. For the City.

The "In Christ" part is where we start out together and maybe it’s easy to embrace. It’s the "Together" part that can be tricky. When it comes to community, it's not so much a question of whether you will experience challenges and disillusionment, but when.
 
Why? Because “community” and preserving the church in a state of unity is hard. Being in community is to undertake a transformational work. We’re talking about our selves being transformed, not trying to change the people around us. Disillusionment comes as the start of that hard work, that is, if we progress to the next step of honoring and counting others as more significant than ourselves (see Rom. 12:9-10, Phil. 2:3b).
 
To elaborate a challenge from the pulpit when we formally installed our first diaconate a few weeks ago, imagine what our community would look like if we actually gave up childish ways (1 Cor. 13:11) and practiced the mature Christian way of love that Paul outlines in 1 Corinthians 13.
 
Not convinced yet that this is actually about divine reality? Consider these insights from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together
[*], where the author warns against loving the dream of community, rather than real people:

‘Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream. 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 to 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.’

‘By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world … The sooner this shock of disillusionment comes to an individual and to a community the better for both.’

‘He who loves his dream of a Christian 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.’

To build on another assertion from the pulpit last Sunday, God has designed us to be in relationship – with Him, and one another – and all our reality is relational. When we cut ourselves off from God-as-He-is-in-Christ, and others-as-they-are (while also in Christ), we live in a distorted reality, starved like a branch severed from the vine (see especially John 15:2), or an orphan bereft of his family (see John 17:15-23).

To the degree that our governing reality is determined by just ourselves (what we as individuals are doing in Christ, or what Christ through the Holy Spirit is doing in us as individuals), we are hindering our full development into the person God intends us to be.  He gave us community for that. The more we learn to lay our own visionary dreams down for God and to live in authentic unity with one another, the more room we leave for the empowerment of God’s Spirit working in community, and in us. We can trust that our relationships in the church are chosen and planned by God, safely sustained by God, and are for the purpose of showing how great God – and not any of our personal agendas or ideals – is.
 
We close with a word from Bonhoeffer about this grace: ‘… the very hour of disillusionment with my brother becomes incomparably salutary, because it so thoroughly teaches me that neither of us can ever live by our own words and deeds, but only by the one Word and Deed which really binds us together – the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. When the morning mists of dreams vanish, then dawns the bright day of Christian fellowship.’

Let’s not only start out together. Let’s walk on through together, into the bright day, abiding in the light of Christ (1 John 2:10, Matthew 5:47).
 
 
[*] Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Translated, and with an Introduction by John W. Doberstein, New York: HarperOne, 1954.
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