I think Bonhoeffer nails one of the biggest barriers to community in America when he writes, “He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter.” We all have our high hopes and noble expectations of what community with other believers will look and feel like. This is to be expected, but these expectations become a serious problem when these ideal expectations become the basis for our decision to stay in community or flee from community. Our dreams of the perfect church community destroy the actual community that sits before us in all of it’s amazing, tattered, special, and broken mixture of reality. And to make matters worse, the philosophy of American consumerism which teaches us “it’s all about you gaining the best possible value for yourself at the lowest possible cost to yourself” is like pouring gasoline on a campfire. It destructively bars us from the very community we so desperately need.
You know what humors me and stumps me? Believers who once railed (and I mean vehemently railed) against the Mega-Walmart-Church who then end up, years later, quietly hiding out on the fringes of a Mega-Walmart-Church attending as infrequently as the people they once criticized, participating as little as everyone else, barely giving, and barely sharing their faith. This phenomena used to stump me. Why were these people who were once so astutely critical of the Americanized version of church now living as free-range Christians on the margins of the very same churches they once so disliked. It stumped me until I read Bonhoeffer’s quote I cited earlier. In the end, when believers hold on to their dream of what church community should be, they inevitably find themselves unable to find the perfection they seek. So instead of re-examining what Christ meant by community, they just quietly give up on community, and live out on the fringes of a free-range Christian existence. I hope that’s not your story.