“The Christian cannot simply take for granted the privilege of living among other Christians. Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. In the end all his disciples abandoned him. On the cross he was all alone, surrounded by criminals and the jeering crowds. He had come for the express purpose of bringing peace to the enemies of God. So Christians, too, belong not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the midst of enemies. There they find their mission, their work. ‘To rule is to be in the midst of your enemies. And whoever will not suffer this does not want to be part of the rule of Christ; such a person wants to be among friends and sit among the roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the religious people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing, who would ever have been saved?’” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer Life Together
With this paragraph, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, begins Life Together, his now classic treatise on Christian community. Based off of his experiences of the Christian community at Finkenwalde in 1930’s Germany, Bonhoeffer describes the advantages of practicing real community with other believers in God. Bonhoeffer argues for a life lived together that goes much deeper than the casual Sunday morning relationship many church goers experience today. He instead describes a life of honesty, support, love, and edification. Bonhoeffer speaks of how the nearness of a fellow Christian in times of loneliness or pain can become the gracious presence of the triune God. He will speak of how Christians belong to each other in and through Jesus Christ. It is only because of Christ that community is available at all. He will even proclaim that the goal of Christian community is to encounter one another as bringers of the message of salvation. Meaning that God has specifically willed that his Word would be spoken and passed on through “the testimony of other Christians, in the mouths of human beings.” Bonhoeffer repeatedly argues that Christians can not and will not remain faithful in isolation from other believers, Christians need each other to survive.
Even his opening paragraph is predicated on reminding believers not to take for granted the communities that they do experience. Many Christians throughout the world do not benefit from living in community with other Christians. Many Christians still suffer persecution for their faith and remain in isolation because of the danger of death or imprisonment. Even Jesus was eventually left alone and abandoned, surrounded only by criminals and opposing crowds. Christian community should not be taken for granted. It is needed now just as much as ever. It is in community that believers are emboldened to live more faithfully into the mission of God. Building community with other Christians is essential and must become a priority.
And yet, as Bonhoeffer so quickly reminds us, the cloistered life, though essential for building faith and encouraging righteous living, is not the final resting place for believers. Christians must be in the midst of enemies, or more kindly said, unbelievers. If Christians only remain with other Christians how will the Good News ever be spread to those who are not in relationship with Christ.? If believers only surround themselves with other believers, who can they ever witness to? If Church Gatherings are only designed to build up and encourage the faithful, who would ever be saved? If we as Christians want to participate in the mission of God we must be engaged with the greater culture, beyond just Christian circles.
Thus individuals and Communities have a great balancing act to manage. On one side, Christian Community is vital to believers survival. It must be maintained and strengthened. Christians must find opportunities to commune together to encourage and provoke one another to love and good deeds. At the same time, Christians must be engaged with the world. We, as Christians, are surrounded by a culture that is ever increasingly opposed to God. As Jesus said, the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. One of the primary tasks of the church is to be a light to the nations, to witness to the coming reign and rule of God, and to invite others into relationship with God. Somehow, these seemingly opposing emphasis must be combined if believers and communities are going to be faithful to God and the world at the same time.
As Bonhoeffer argued, community is vital to a strong, faith-filled life, but that life must be lived through engagement with the world.