BONHOEFFER: How “spiritual” experiences can destroy church community

bonhoefferI have often heard leaders of churches reflect on how “close” and “genuine” a Church community can feel after a weekend away on a retreat. Bonhoeffer recognises this experience…

“There is probably no Christian to whom God has not given the uplifting and blissful experience of genuine Christian community at least once in her or his life. But in this world such experiences remain nothing but a gracious extra beyond the daily bread of Christian community life.”

However, Bonhoeffer warns that that a healthy Church community life is not forged in a “retreat” or “get-away” from everyday life, in pursiut of a more extraordinary, spiritual experience. Genuine Christian community is when the everyday demands, trials and burdens of life are shared with one another.

“Purely spiritual life in community is not only dangerous but also not normal. Whenever the [experience of] those engaged in serious work, or everyday life with all its demands on working people is not introduced into the spiritual community, extraodinary vigilance and clear thinking are called for. That is why it is precisely on short retreats that, as experience has shown, Self-centeredness develops most easily. Nothing is easier that to stimulate the euphoria of community in a few days of life together; and nothing is more fatal to the healty, sober, everyday life in a community of Christians.”

Bonhoeffer concludes by reminding us that we need to be clear about what actually binds a Christian community together:

“…We do not live with other Christians for the sake of gaining such experiences. It is not the experience of Christian community, but firm and certain faith within Christian community that holds us together. We hold fast in faith to God’s greatest gift, that God has acted for us all and wants to act for us all. This makes us joyful and happy, but it also makes us ready to forgo all such [euphoric] experiences if at times God does not grant them. We are bound together by faith, not by experience.”

Perhaps then, the greatest testimony to genuine Christian community is not when our experience of each other is delightful, affirming and extra-ordinary. Perhaps the greatest testimony to genuine Christian community is when our common faith binds us together in the absence of any other coneivable reason for us to remain united.

When forgiveness is most needed because of sin.
When patience is most needed in the face of slow change.
When grace is most needed because of ungreatfulness.

In short… when Christ is most needed and relied upon because of our own daily communal shortcommings, there we have found genuine Christian community.


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