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Idealistic v. Realistic Community

Idealistic v. Realistic Community 

I’ve seen it often. A person visits a church. They like it. There is an initial honeymoon feeling. They can’t believe how warm and inviting everybody is. Then, subconsciously, they place unrealistic expectations on their new community and the people that make it up. They grow used to being served and never move from consumer to contributor. Inevitably, offense comes. Ever so slight disenchantment sets in. Slowly their sense of connection to the community weakens. At this point they are in a dangerous place spiritually. Their initial experience created an unrealistic dream. In is book Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes this scenario. He writes:

“Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But 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.

By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world. He does not abandon us to those rapturous experiences and lofty moods that come over us like a dream. God is not a God of emotions but the God of truth. 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, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it.”

-Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, p.26-27 

I think Bonhoeffer is right. The sooner we can settle down into reality and move past the unrealistic dream, the deeper our sanctification and the richer our community will be. Paul’s words sum it up best in Colossians 3:12-17:

12 Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.