The book of Acts chapter 2 carries such a powerful picture a Christian community where the Spirit God is powerfully at work, the gospel preached and lives are transformed. I long and pray that the Christian community I am part would look more like this.
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.Acts 2:42-47
Yet so often there seems a huge gap between this ideal and the reality of the hurts and frustrations of a diverse group of “sinners” each hindered by our own baggage, blindspots and hurts.
I know many believing friends who are now “post church”. They believe… but have stepped back from participation in a church community. The ideal of Christian community has been drowned out by the disappointments and hurts experienced within the church.
So often I find myself frustrated by the ways the community I am part of does not reflect Jesus or his kingdom. Often I find myself loving the ideal of Christian community more than the community I am part of.
So I have been greatly challenged by these wise and challenging words from the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than they love the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest and sacrificial.― Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God hates this wishful dreaming because it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. Those who dream of this idolized community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others and by themselves. They enter the community of Christians with their demands set up by their own law, and judge one another and God accordingly. It is not we who build. Christ builds the church.
Whoever is mindful to build the church is surely well on the way to destroying it, for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it. We must confess he builds. We must proclaim, he builds. We must pray to him, and he will build. We do not know his plan. We cannot see whether he is building or pulling down. It may be that the times which by human standards are the times of collapse are for him the great times of construction. It may be that the times which from a human point are great times for the church are times when it’s pulled down. It is a great comfort which Jesus gives to his church.
You confess, preach, bear witness to me, and I alone will build where it pleases me. Do not meddle in what is not your providence. Do what is given to you, and do it well, and you will have done enough…. Live together in the forgiveness of your sins. Forgive each other every day from the bottom of your hearts.”