Often discussions of what Christian community should look like, focus on the idealistic picture of community life as found in the opening chapters of Acts: Believers having everything in common, sharing every moment, dedication to prayer, radical generosity and relational/spiritual intimacy. However Bonhoeffer brilliantly expounds how these very expectations of Christian community, can often be what destroys it!
Before we consider what Christian community should look like, we should heed Bonhoeffer’s warning.
“On innumerable occasions a whole Christian community has been shattered because it lived on the basis of a wishful image… Serious Christians who are put in a community for the first time will often bring with them a very definite image of what Christian communal life should be, and they will be anxious to realise it. [But] by sheer grace God will not permit us to live in a dream world even for a few weeks and to abandon ourselves to those blissful experiences and exulted moods that sweep over us like a rapture…”
“Precisely at this point Christian community is most often threatened from the very outset by… The danger of confusing Christian community with some wishful image of pious community.”
“Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself, become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest and sacrificial… They act as if they have to create the Christian community, as if their visionary ideal binds people together.”
“They are looking for some extraordinary experiences of community that were denied them elsewhere. Such people are bringing confused and tainted desires into the Christian community.”
“…Is not what has been given us enough: Other believers who wil go on living with us through sin and need, under the the blessing of God’s grace?”
“Will not another Christian’s sin be an occasion for me ever anew to give thanks that both of us may live in the forgiving love of God in Jesus Christ? Therefore will not the very moment of disillusionment with my brother or sister be incomparably wholesome for me because it so thoroughly teaches me that both of us 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.”
Bonhoeffer’s point is that it is the forgiveness of Christ, the application of the Gospel, that lies at the heart of Christian community. While radical generosity and relational/spiritual intimacy are good things, Christian community can not itself be based upon such ideals abstracted from Christ. Christian community is founded upon the Gospel of grace, through which we continue to love and forgive, esspecially when our precious dreams of the common life have been shattered by human sin.
Perhaps rather than beginning with pictures such as Acts 2:44-47 and 4:32-35 to inform our notion of what Christian community can and should be like, Colossians 3:12-17 might be a better place to start.
Acts 2:44-47 = http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts%202:44-47&version=HCSB
Acts 4:32-35 = http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts%204:32-35&version=HCSB
Col 3:12-17 = http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Col%203:12-17&version=HCSB