They’re searching for the “perfect” church. They go from one congregation to another, desperately looking for that which – honestly – does not exist. Like others before them, they will eventually realize that their efforts are futile. They will not find such an idealistic congregation. Of course, we know that people can put on a good face for a while, but eventually the imperfections become obvious.
In his classic book about Christian community, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer says that Christian community can never meet idealistic expectations. “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.”
Because – this side of heaven – we will always be dealing with imperfect, sinful people, Christian community can never be perfect. There will be people – like you and me, for example – who sometimes put our own desires ahead of others. Or we get cranky. Or envious. Or mad. Or don’t measure up to whatever standard someone thinks we should.
Bonhoeffer continues: “Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight… The sooner this shock of disillusionment comes to an individual and to a community the better for both. The community which cannot bear and cannot survive such a crisis, which insists upon keeping its illusion when it should be shattered, permanently loses in that moment the promise of Christian community.”
He’s right. If we harbor any notion that we might eventually find a fellowship of believers where there is no disagreement, no strife, no tension, we are grievously mistaken. The sooner we recognize that reality, the sooner we can get on with the life God has for us here and now.
Christian community must include the Biblical elements of forgiveness, repentance and self-sacrifice not self-fulfillment. It is about considering others better than self and considering others interests over our own. We walk in love with one another because we know the great love that has been lavished on us.
That’s good, and something I’m not sure I’ve ever heard!