Idealism Kills Christian Community
I have a confession to make. I am a closet idealist. I like to day dream about how I think things could be or should be. Here lately I have been thinking about what the ideal christian community should be like. It warms my heart to think about brothers and sisters in Christ acting and relating just how I think they should. There is only one problem, genuine christian community and idealism are mutually exclusive.
This fact dawned on me as I was preparing to teach this past Sunday morning on the purpose and mission of the church. I began reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. I was hoping to find fuel for my fantasy but what I found there was not at all what I was expecting. Imagine my surprise when I read the following statement:
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 demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.
I hate to admit it but I was that guy. I had begun to develop standards of what I thought was the ideal and I had begun to measure both God and man by them. It dawned on me how much in danger I was of becoming an accuser of the brethren and an obstacle to genuine community.
My first reaction was disappointment. Idealism is hard to surrender. I like my idealism. Its a great companion and justifier of my impatience, and irritation with the “weaknesses” of others. As I continued to read, however, I came across another of Bonhoffer’s statements that put everything in perspective:
Thus 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 that one Word and Deed which really binds us together- the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ.
After I read this, it occurred to me that Bonhoeffer is not eschewing all vision but only that which emanates out of a sinful heart. If my vision is for the gospel, if my desire is for what God’s word teaches, if I am humbly living according to it then I have every right to expect it of myself and my brother in Christ. To do any less would be to dishonor Christ and what He has called us to do. Thus Bonhoeffer goes on to summarize his point and give me punctuation for this post when he states:
Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we must participate.
Participation, and all the excitement, frustration, heartache, and inexhaustible grace that goes along with it is the key to Christian community. How is your level of participation?