Andrei Rublev’s “Holy Trinity”
“Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate…the ground and strength and promise of all our fellowship is in Jesus Christ alone.”
– Dietrich Bonhoeffer | Life Together
Soon before his trial and crucifixion, Jesus prayed, “…that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us…that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one” [Jn. 17:21a;22b-23a]. It would appear that this prayer of Jesus is at the very heart of Bonhoeffer’s explanation of community, or as he beautifully refers to it: brotherhood. And as we look past the seemingly gender exclusive language, I am confident that in writing brotherhood, Bonhoeffer intends to encompass the entire family, male and female included—let’s go ahead and just call it familyhood. This familyhood (which, believe it or not according to oxforddictionaries.com is actually a word) is what I aim to progressively give testimony to as it comes to reality. My prayer would be that this post continues in the professing of God’s faithfulness in the developing reality of the community He is leading us in.
As I prepare to tell more of the story unfolding here in our context, there is one specific detail I am earnestly hoping I have been clear about thus far. I cannot emphasize enough the continually intensifying conviction that just as each individual human being has been uniquely created, I must believe that each community (one’s local Christian community, body or church that contributes to the greater Christian Community, Body of Christ, Church Universal) is uniquely created, and therefore must contain characteristics, features, and functionality unique to its context [1 Cor. 12:12-27]. BUT surely a uniqueness in alignment with the early Christian community’s foundational ethics found in Acts 2:42 (as reflected upon in the previous post) and surely in alignment with the Holy Scriptures in their entirety by way of the Spirit’s continual revelation of Jesus Christ, the Living Word made flesh. Yet in each of our individual and local community’s uniqueness, it would seem that something is not quite right if we do not resemble one another in at least some aspect. Being from “one Spirit” and “one body” [1 Cor. 12:13], perhaps the key aspect of resemblance would be the capability of others to recognize us as disciples of Christ by way of our love for others [Jn. 13:35]. It is likely that some or much of what makes sense in our context may not be identically related or directly applicable to yours and vice versa. What I desperately pray is that the heart behind all of our undertakings in life—both yours and ours—would be towards the single cause of loving others in the name of Jesus that they might personally come to know and embrace the relentless transforming love of Christ [Jn 15:12; Mt. 28:18-20].
If you are familiar with or looked up the scripture verses I referenced to begin this post, drawn from chapter 17 in the gospel account of John, you may have noticed that a few portions of the passage were left out. The portion of the passage I did include, could be considered or identified as the “what” of the prayer—this being the significance of Christ’s echoing plead for “oneness” in Christian community by way of Christ’s oneness with the Father. Until now, I left out a few portions of the scripture that encompass the “why” of the prayer. In Christ’s supplication found in John 17:20-23, we not only see what Jesus is asking for in the Father’s name but we also see, and by God’s grace are guided in understanding, why this would be meaningful. As Jesus twice repeats the prayer, “that they may be one, just as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us,” He also twice repeats why this should be: “so that the world may believe you have sent me…and loved them even as you loved me” [Jn. 21b;23b].
Without the why, the community and its (distorted) ambition for oneness loses its entire meaning and purpose. In other words, community without mission is a community that now exists only for the sake of self. And if we base the meaning of community solely off the principles set forth by our Creator, it may be accurate to say that a community functioning as just mentioned—with no mission…with no why—is really no community at all. God continually sets forth the perfect example of living and functioning in community, the community of the Holy Trinity: God the Father, Christ the Son and the Holy Spirit. A community that since creation has been and relentlessly will be on the mission of redeeming His creation; a mission of redemption that He not only invites us into, but as professing Christ followers, He unmistakably expects of us [Lk. 9:23; Jn. 15:12-14; Mt. 28:18-20]. Oswald Chambers writes:
“…the Holy Spirit unites us with God so that His love is manifested in us. When the soul is united with God, that is not the end the end is that we may be one with the Father as Jesus was. What kind of oneness had Jesus Christ with the Father? Such a oneness that the Father sent Him down here to be spent for us, and He says—’As the Father hath sent Me, even so I send you.”
God has never been the type that hides Himself or advocates the hiding of ourselves in the counterfeit safety of a community purely fixated on self preservation, concerned only in protecting (or perhaps dominated by the fear of losing) the false security of what it already has. God actually went as far as to deny Himself the direct and perfect community of the Holy Trinity for the purpose of entirely spending Himself for us in His son, Jesus Christ, that we might then spend ourselves for others [Php. 2:1-11; ]. He is a God who is always going, always seeking, always loving, and ultimately always on a mission and He calls us to the same. The growing fear I have (and am firsthand experiencing and battling) is that each and every one of us, as individuals and communities, are far more susceptible to the perils of a lukewarm and lifeless community than we often like to admit. It seems to me that what we are often most afraid of is what we so often need the most. The apostles and early followers of Christ feared more than anything the losing of Jesus Christ to death on the cross, yet in this very death is where the resurrection of life in God was put on greatest display. Whether admitted or not, we often fear more than anything the death of ourself. Dietrich Bonhoeffer states in The Cost of Discipleship, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Life in Christ is indeed the very death of self, not just according to Bonhoeffer but to Jesus [Lk. 9:23]. I think we also often fear, perhaps with good but generally adrift intentions, the diminishing and dying of our Christian communities; a diminishing and dying that doesn’t line up with our desires or ideals. It could be possible that it will take the manifestation of what we are most afraid of to welcome the resurrection of new and authentic life in Christ.
Would you continually pray for and with us that any human desires, ideals, or false motives for Christian community would continually be put to death so that living, breathing, God-created human beings would find, receive and choose to live in the love of Christ? Would you pray for and with us that God would grant us desire and grace to continually be seeking where He is at work and join with Him on mission there? We would sincerely like to pray the same for and with you in your setting also, so please let us know how we can do so.
I had intended to dig into more of the specifics of the community God has been putting in our hearts for the city of Lawrence but feel like this may be enough for now. It’s been a far more personally convicting writing process than I initially envisioned when starting, and the more I have written the more (for better or for worse) it evolved into something I hadn’t quite set out to write. So maybe it is in God’s providence that I pause here for now. Maybe there is a bit of dying and refining to be done before I share more of the specifics…or perhaps I just know a good rabbit trail when I see one. And to be honest, I do not know that I have ever seen a bad one—writes the A.D.D. guy currently tapping his foot rapidly and vigorously enough to cause those around me to notice the earthquake like tremors in their cups of coffee, only now to assume there is a Tyrannosaurus Rex in the near distance (1993 Jurassic Park movie reference).
There is more to come very soon. Until then,
May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you wherever He may send you. May He guide you through the wilderness and protect you through the storm. May He bring you home rejoicing at the wonders He has shown you…
(Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals)