“Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it has 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 be a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves” (Bonhoeffer, Life Together, pp. 26f).

The power of the truth of this statement is frightening, especially for anyone who has designs for a church. That would be me, as well as most other pastors and keen Christians. As I wrote yesterday, God graciously frustrates these designs. Bonhoeffer goes on to insist that God will not allow us to live even for a moment in a dream world. But it seems to be the fad of the day to live in a dream world when it comes to our Christianity and our churches. We honestly think we can change a group of people overnight into something we want them to be! If God does shatter these dreams, I think it is just as necessary that we be sensitive, somehow, to this shattering… open to it, invite it, embrace it. Because to live in the dream world prevents us from living in THIS world of reality with the people around us.

As a pastor, I constantly ask the question: “Is there a way we can just be a fellowship of believers, and put away our dreams and visions, which really are expectations, which quickly translates into coercion? Is there a way? Can all who will, gather in simple fellowship?”

Bonhoeffer continues: “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. The sooner this shock of disillusionment comes to an individual and to a community the better for both. A community that cannot bear and cannot survive such a crisis, which insists upon keeping its illusion when it should be shattered, permanently loses in that moment the promise of Christian community. Sooner or later it will collapse. Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. he who loves his dream of a 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” (ibid, p. 27).

My church went through a split 9 years ago. I KNOW what it means to be shattered. We still live. We are survivors. I often wonder how much of the split was caused by illusions and dreams applied to the fellowship that it just couldn’t live up to or bear. Since then, we have tried so hard to live humbly and simply as a church, without complication, without illusion, without manipulation or coercion. I want to tell you, it is nearly impossible. In fact, I would say it is virtually humanly impossible as a Christian fellowship to live up to Bonhoeffer’s challenge. But we try, firmly believing that this is right and the best, even perfect, way, of being a Christian fellowship. It is the most humane and liberating to people. It is beautiful when it is given and experienced.

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  • Jake


    I am not sure I follow your first quote. What do you, or rather does the author, mean by “But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams”? What does God do?

  • I believe what the author is trying to convey is that often we have an “idea” of what the church should be, then try to make that happen, or impose our idea upon the community and feel deep disappointment if our dream isn’t fulfilled. What happens is that we love the idea of what the community should be rather than just love the community as it is. Like in marriage, if we love our idea of what our spouse should be and they don’t comply to our idea, there is frustration and disappointment. True love values what actually is first.

  • dave kindred

    True love values what actually is first. John 3:16. Eph. 2:4-5,sounds like God to me.

  • Jake

    OK I got that, but I still don’t get how “God’s grace” has anything to do with it.

  • We often equate “grace” as a sweet, syrupy, sentimental feeling. But my mind immediately jumps to the film, The Matrix: which pill would I rather take? The blue pill permits Neo to continue on as he always has in the same comfortable, known world that brings some level of security, familiarity, and comfort, even though it is an illusion. Or he can take the red pill that will plunge him into finding out what the matrix is, that is, the truth about what really is. The blue pill, in the case of the church, would be to continue on the status quo of our dreams and expectations about what a community of people should be. The red pill is God’s shattering of our illusions to know what is real, the truth. It is a gracious act of God, I would contend (as would Bonhoeffer), to offer us the red pill. In spite of the pain, discomfort, and constant struggle, the dis-illusionment is gracious because it is truth.

  • Jake

    Tell me how God offers us the red pill. I don’t see it. We have no concrete proof of God. For all we know, he is an illusion. The only red pill I know of is death, and no one has come back to tell us whether that pill stands up to its advertised effect. So all we have is the blue pill. I don’t see any “grace” in it.

  • deb

    Okay, wow again!
    This really makes me feel like the stuff i’ve been going through with my family is good. ““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”. i want that for me, to be what i should be in God’s sight, and for my family. Thanks Dave.