Community Begins with Christ
Tuesday, April 5, 2016 at 2:47PM
Ben Simpson in Christology, Church, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Theology, community

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, "Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ." He further states, "It is by the grace of God that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly in this world to share God's Word and sacrament." If that isn't enough, Bonhoeffer reminds us, "The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer."

One of the greatest longings of our time, it seems to me, is for community. And one of our greatest fears, both expressed and unexpressed, is that of being alone. For many, our longing remains unfulfilled, even among those who claim to take part in Christian community, try as we might to connect with others either publicly or online.

Which leads me back to Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer identifies two ways community is realized for the Christian: in and through Jesus Christ.

While commentators quibble over the exact meaning of the phrase in Christ, all seem to agree that it is a reality entered into mystically by faith. I think of the words of Paul in Galatians 2:20, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." There has been a crossing over, a transformation, a change of status. Those trusting Jesus are no longer apart from him, but now stand in him.

What does this mean for community? It means, first, that Christian community is not first achieved by some action on one's own part, but rather is enacted by the person and work of Jesus Christ. We have been incorporated into the Christian fellowship. We do not create it.

But to enter into the community, we must come through Jesus Christ. And it is through him that we encounter our brothers and sisters. Jesus has made such a community possible through his body and blood. He is our mediator, and the one in whom we receive peace, not only between God and human beings, but between brother and sister. Bonhoeffer says it simply: "Christ opened up the way to God and to our brother."

Lastly, Bonhoeffer claims that the goal of all Christian community is this: "they meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation." It is within the fellowship that we are reminded of what Jesus has done not only for you and me, but for all of creation.

Bonhoeffer incisively reminds his readers that not every Christian experiences the visible fellowship of other believers. The sick, infirm, the scattered, the solitary missionary worker, they remain part of the fellowship in and through Christ, but lack the daily experience of a common fellowship. For most of my readers, face to face interaction with other Christians is not only possible, it is routine. And, dare I say for some, it is taken for granted.

So, the next time you interact with others in Christian community, remember how the fellowship has been made possible: in and through Christ. Remember that the presence of other Christians is a gift, graciously given because of God's recognition that it is not good for human beings to be alone (Gen. 2:18).

Recall that your interactions with other Christians are made possible through Christ, who has removed the barrier of our own egos and united us to one another (it is difficult to feel superior to anyone when one begins to realize the depth of one's own sin). It is difficult not to feel love for others whom Christ has redeemed.

Then, lastly, remember that you are present with your brothers and sisters as a herald, a bringer of the message of salvation. Spread the Word. Perhaps in doing so, Christians who experience aloneness and lack of community will begin to realize the richness of Christian fellowship, and the true joy of being united to one another, and to God, together.

Article originally appeared on Benjamin A. Simpson (http://benjaminasimpson.com/).
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