Communal Conversion

Matthew H. Russell, HT: JS

If Dietrich Bonhoeffer is correct and “Christ exists as community,” then the process of belonging to the community is indissolvably bound to the process of coming to believe that Jesus is Lord. At Mercy Street, this movement became critically linked to the essential question of Christianity: “Who are you, Jesus?” As members given to each other, these men and women work this question out together from the posture of intimacy, and belonging.

What I discovered as the pastor of a church of recovering addicts is that Christ was pursuing these folks long before they reached the bottom of a bottle, and the track marks on their arms healed. Christ pursued these addicts long before they knew his name or acknowledged his presence. The same Jesus who “descended into hell” (1 Pet 3:19), also descended into the depth and darkness of their addiction and was bound to them in redemption. As they entered recovery, it was the presence of Christ who stood behind the words “God of your own understanding,” beckoning them to take the next step. What these addicts were desperate for was a community that would meet them at the same depth and humanity that the Program had. What they needed was a community in which to belong, in order for the “God of their own understanding” to emerge as the same Christ who exists as community. For the church to stand in solidarity with the world that God loves and gave himself to, it must be willing to commit itself to those who walk through its doors as treasured companions, teachers, friends, and guides. It must be willing to descend to the same depths that Jesus has. To elicit fixed and final affirmations of faith as the only door by which people can belong creates an exclusive space that Christ himself did not and will not inhabit.

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