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A minor


Thursday, September 18, 2003

"Receiving Community"

- via Daniel Silliman

This article by Eric Jacobsen, associate pastor of First Prebyterian Church, Missoula, Montana, begins with somewhat of a travelogue from his visit to the New Urbanist town of Seaside, Florida (incidentally, where The Truman Show was filmed), which he compares to his home in paleo-urbanist Missoula. He then proceeds to offer a fascinating series of "observations about faith, relationships, and how urbanism looks from a Christian perspective." Here is a lengthy but great quote:

Since the Christian Church has retained a vocabulary adequate to handle this particular aspect of our human existence [sin], it has the capability to track more precisely the impact that sin can have on our communities. A popular caricature of the church is that of a community of people who see themselves as righteous while viewing everyone on the outside as sinners. However, a more accurate portrayal of the Christian Church is, first of all, a community of sinners. The church is not a hall of fame for the most holy people in our society, nor is it a museum celebrating greatness in our past, but it is a hospital where broken people gather to be healed by grace. People who encounter the church on this basis—as sinners in need of grace—tend to find what they are looking for. People unwilling to acknowledge their own sin invariably miss the very thing that the church has to offer.

In Life Together, the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer has poignantly described the process by which people cheat themselves out of a true experience of community. He uses the term, serious Christian, ironically to describe persons who are more serious than truly Christian because they come to the church, trying to realize some kind of idealized vision of human community rather than trying first of all to find grace for themselves.

“The serious Christian,” Bonhoeffer declares “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 to try to realize it.” However, in the actual experience of Christian community, that ideal is quickly shattered. The Christian community never lives up to the expectations that people bring to it.

This presents the person seeking Christian community with a crisis. Will she choose to love this actual human community into which she has found herself or will she choose to love her ideal vision? The difference depends upon whether she can see in this imperfect community sinners like herself in need of grace. If she does so, she will find, first of all the reality of grace as the foundation of this community, and this foundation will hold her up as she encounters her own sinfulness in the particularities of her day-to-day life.

On the other hand, if the Christian decides to love her ideal of Christian community more than the actual Christian community in which he or she has been placed, a predictable cycle of rejection ensues. First, the Christian becomes “the despising accuser of his brethren, then of God and finally of himself.” In my experience, this does happen in the lives of many people. Often they will reject not one but a number of Christian communities before they start accusing God and then self, but in time, the result is the same. In fact, when people come to join our church because of perceived shortcomings of their former church, I have come to expect that such people will be rejecting us in the near future as well.

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