Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Why Is There a Church?

Anna Fleming at Asbury Theological Seminary has been reading Bonhoeffer's Life Together. So has the writer of Downshore Drift. Bohoeffer has a very powerful message about the meaning the foundation of Christian community; it's worth an exerpt here:

By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world. He does not abandon us to those rapturous experiences and lofty moods that come over us like a dream. God is not a God of the emotions but the God of truth. 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 disillusonment comes to an individual and to a community the better for both. A community which 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.

Your author has been pondering the purpose of a Church, of the Christian "community". It seems that it could be a hinderance to spriritual growth rather than a vital ingredient. This concern goes beyond the bickering and discord caused by the well-known political and doctrinal disputes that plague the main Christian churches (homosexuality, charismatics, ordination of women, "liberation theology", "social justice", or "Christian values", creationism and Bibical literalism, the presence of Christ in bread and wine, the frequency of communion, stewardship and tithing, and so on) . Is one's spiritual growth stunted when lulled into the belief that being in a church and attending worship services is the principal component of God's presence in our lives, with little contact or experience of God outside of this context? Is our experience of God only through Word, Prayer, and Sacraments? Is this belief necessary for a Christian? Is there yet another way to feel God's presence (but not charismatics), or is asking for such a betrayal of faith? Is such a desire just another wish dream? Your author, with his feeble powers, has finally stumbled upon these ancient questions, and hopes to rediscover a few answers as supplied by the better brains of time.

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