This has been a very strange day. I’m writing from Colorado and we went for a walk this morning in the snow. Before we went for our walk we heard from friends and family that our home town of Santa Rosa was being destroyed by fire. At this moment I have no idea whether we have a house to return to or not. I have been pleased with the number of churches that have opened as evacuation centers. While thinking about all this I have been processing a very long chapter on the church. I hope these thoughts are helpful at this time.
A truth, a doctrine, or a religion needs no space of its own. Such entities are bodyless. They do not go beyond being heard, learned, and understood. But the incarnate Son of God needs not only ears or even hearts; he needs actual, living human beings who follow him. That is why he called his disciples into following him bodily. His community with them was something everyone could see. – The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
The gathering of disciples that we typically label “the church” is more than an idea. It is a real, physical thing, and it must be visible. We are the body of Christ in the world today. There are several implications to being the body of Christ. The early church was so visible that people were being added to it daily.
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47 ESV)
We understand and practice in our weekly gatherings the apostles’ teaching (preaching), breaking of bread (communion), and prayers. What is harder for us to practice and what seems to have broken down quickly is the concept of fellowship that was experienced by the early church in Jerusalem. They were very much one body. They were visible whether they gathered in the temple courts and in their homes. The oneness that they experienced was tangible. They were so grateful for their salvation and so focused on eternity that earthly possessions were of no significance.
This early church was made up of people from all over the known world. We think that they were all Jewish, so they would share basic dietary practices, but the way they prepared their food within those practices had to be different. They spoke different languages and came from diverse cultures. Still, they thought of themselves as one body, so they were visible as one body.
All who belong to the body of Christ have been freed from and called out of the world. They must become visible to the world not only through the communal bond evident in the church-community’s order and worship, but also through the new communal life among brothers and sisters in Christ. – The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
At our last church we had a slogan: Love God, Love Others, Do Life Together. I admit that when I thought of the “do life together” part I was thinking of small groups of our church members hanging out together on occasion outside of formal small groups. This may be our greatest challenge. If the only time the world sees us gathered is for some form of religious activity they get a very distorted view of the body of Christ, of Jesus. This is especially true since they see us separate by our preferences for our gatherings.
I don’t want to take catastrophe lightly. Our next-door neighbors have lost their house. I can’t imagine what they are experiencing. The amazing thing is that at times like this the community of believers puts aside its differences and becomes a unified body focused on helping. This is a good thing.
If it engages the world properly, the visible church-community will always be more closely assume the form of its suffering Lord. – The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4 ESV)
We have an identify and it is in Christ. We have purpose and it is in Christ. We have hope and it is in Christ.