I was talking to a student recently who showed a frustration with people who attend church. He said that they get dressed up all nice and act perfect, even looking down on those who do not attend church. They think they are better then the rest of us. But the thing is, they are just as messed up as anyone else.
I told the student that he is right. Unfortunately, this often is how church people are.
It would be easy to come back at this student and point out his own sinfulness. This is a common tact by Christians in such discussions – “oh, you’re complaining about people who go to church…well you’re a sinner too!” But this student, like many who make this complaint, was not thinking that he is perfect or flawless. His point was that he is messed up…just like church people. Only, from his perspective, church people try to hide it.
Much more could be said, but I want to return to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s classic book on Christian community, Life Together. When Bonhoeffer describes Christian community, he has no place for Christians putting up a facade and pretending to have it all figured out. I think the sort of community that Bonhoeffer describes would be the sort that this student, and many others, would want to be a part of.
“The community of faith does not need brilliant personalities but faithful servants of Jesus and of one another” (Bonhoeffer, Dietrich (2004-12-08). Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible: 5 (Kindle Locations 2298-2299). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition).
“You do not have to go on lying to yourself and to other Christians as if you were without sin. You are allowed to be a sinner. Thank God for that; God loves the sinner but hates the sin” (Bonhoeffer, Dietrich (2004-12-08). Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible: 5 (Kindle Locations 2354-2355). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition).
“In the presence of another Christian I no longer need to pretend. In another Christian’s presence I am permitted to be the sinner that I am” (Bonhoeffer, Dietrich (2004-12-08). Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible: 5 (Kindle Locations 2363-2364). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition).
“Confession before one another is given to us by God so that we may be assured of divine forgiveness” (Bonhoeffer, Dietrich (2004-12-08). Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible: 5 (Kindle Locations 2430-2431). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition).
The last quote strikes me. It reminds me that the ideal Christian community is not one where simply everyone is a mess and does not hide it. Christian community goes one step farther – as we are vulnerable, admitting our flaws and sins, other Christians speak the truth to us – in Jesus Christ we are forgiven.
We are broken, but we are not just broken.
We are a mess, but we are not just a mess.
We are put back together, cleansed, in Jesus our Lord and King. That truth is assured to us as other broken, yet healed, Christians speak it to us with the power of the Holy Spirit.
May we create more communities where people can be real and vulnerable and find the healing they need.