He who loves his dream of community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.
This quote, from Bonhoeffer’s classic Life Together, is also part of a chapter from a new book of essays entitled Called To Community (ed. Charles E. Moore). You can check out the current Patheos Book Club happening around this book here.
Bonhoeffer’s essay centers on the subject of idealism, and particularly idealism regarding Christian community. His words are a gift and just as relevant for the 21st century American church as they were in Bonhoeffer’s own time. In fact, these words cut particularly close to the bone for me, having experienced the effects of what Bonhoeffer calls the “wish dream” of community firsthand. And this description of the results couldn’t be more accurate (and devastating):
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 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.
Bonhoeffer describes our disillusionment with Christian community – even if it has come from the breakdown of that community – as grace!