Prayer is Answering Speech

Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles
We want life on our conditions, not on God’s conditions. Praying puts us at risk of getting involved in God’s conditions. Be slow to pray. Praying most often doesn’t get us what we want but what God wants, something quite at variance with what we conceive to be in our best interests. And when we realize what is going on, it is often too late to go back. Be slow to pray (44).

. . . prayer is never the first word; it is always the second word. God has the primary word. Prayer is answering speech; it is not primarily “address” but “response.” . . . Prayer is answering speech. The first word is God’s word. Prayer is a human word and is never the first word, never the primary word, never the initiating and shaping word simply because we are never first, never primary (45-47).

Pastoral Pelagianism

Andrew Purves, Reconstructing Pastoral Theology

Apart from union with Christ, ministry is cast back upon us to achieve. This is a recipe for failure, for we all fall short of the glory of God. The understanding and practice of pastoral work in this case is a burden too heavy to bear and follows a path that denies the gospel. We do not heal the sick, comfort the bereaved, accompany the lonely, forgive sins, raise up hope of eternal life, or bring people to God on the strength of our piety and pastoral skill. To think that these tasks are ours to perform is not only hubris, but also a recipe for exhaustion and depression in ministry (45).

The effect [of developing “an imitative rather than a participatory approach to ministry”] is to cast the pastor back upon his or her own resources – thus it can be defined as pastoral Pelagianism, a ministry by works rather than a ministry through grace (xxx).

The professional pressures on ministers today are immense. At the level of practical theological argument, the case can be made that to understand the burnout rate among ministers and the lack of vocational fulfillment that many experience we must also recognize the decision we may have made to turn away from this theological and practical foundation for ministry in general, and preaching in particular. [That foundation being, as Barth wrote, that the sum and substance of all pastoral work is the declaration of Him who proclaims Himself.] We must consider this turn because it signifies…the introduction of a countergospel basis for ministry and means here that preaching becomes something we do, something that we must make effective. Preaching becomes the minster’s burden, a new law, the consequence of which is a kind of ministerial Pelagianism in which there is now a strictly human, albeit religious or churchly, criterion of success. Bluntly put: this turn means that it is up to the preacher to make preaching effective (158-60).

Union with Christ & the Christian Life

Andrew Purves, Reconstruction Pastoral Theology (pg. 84)

To be clear: union with Christ does not lead to an imitation of Christ, a life spent following Jesus’ example in the hope that we will become better people. The Christian life is not to be understood as obedience to either an ethical imperative or a spiritual ideal. Rather, the Christian life is the radical and converting participation in Jesus Christ’s own being and life, and thus a sharing in his righteousness, holiness, and mission through the bond of the Holy Spirit.

Note, too, the emphasis I place on the work of the Holy Spirit. Union with Christ is entirely a work of God. Our human acts, beliefs, and decisions are powerless to effect a relationship with God. John Calvin understood that our deepest self had to become reconfigured and reconstituted or, to use his words, “regenerated” or “vivified,” through related to Jesus Christ. … God must reorder us be turning us in a new direction be uniting us to Jesus. So our being and becoming Christian is a divine initiative and not something that can be worked out through heightened religiosity, morality, activity, will, or spirituality. We are conjoined to Christ by the unilateral work of God though the Holy Spirit – to effect what Calvin called a “mystical union.”

The “Self-Effacing” Spirit

J.I. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit

In [the Holy Spirit’s] new covenant ministry (for this is what Jesus was talking about [in the Upper Room Discourse from John 14-16]) the Spirit would be self-effacing, directing all attention away from himself to Christ and drawing folk into the faith, hope, love, obedience, adoration, and dedication, which constitute communion with Christ. … Thus the Spirit would glorify the glorified Savior (16:14), acting both as interpreter to make clear the truth about him and as illuminator to ensure the benighted minds receive it. Jesus, the Lord Christ, would be the focal point of the Spirit’s ministry, first to last (56-57).

Andrew Purves, Reconstructing Pastoral Theology

In the context of the ministry of God [that is, God’s ministry toward us, not our ministry toward each other], the Holy Spirit is the personal presence of God by whom God bring us into communion with himself through relationship with Jesus Christ. According to Karl Barth, the Holy Spirit “is the power in which Jesus Christ is alive among [people] and makes them His witnesses.” Christian doctrine teaches that the work of the Holy Spirit is a Christ-related event; as such it is a God-glorifying, person-empowering, and church/mission creating event. … There is no dissociating of the Holy Spirit from Jesus Christ; rather…the Holy Spirit has a diaphanous self-effacing nature, showing us the Son and joining us to him, so that in and through the Son we have communion with and serve the Father (39).

According to Karl Barth, the Holy Spirit is the power in which Jesus Christ is alive among people and makes them his witnesses. That is, Christian doctrine teaches that the work of the Holy Spirit is a Christ-related event, and as such, it becomes a God-glorifying, person-empowering, and church/mission creating event. … The Spirit calls the church into existence to be a community of worship and ministry through union with Christ. Thus when we speak of the communion of the Holy Spirit we mean the communion-creating work of the Holy Spirit – communion with the Father through our Spirit-led union with Christ and, consequently, communion with one another as we are formed into the missionary body of Christ, the church. For this reason we do not speak of communion in the Holy Spirit, but the communion of the Holy Spirit, meaning by this, communion in Christ (124).

Participatio Christi, not Imatatio Christi

Richard F. Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Renewal (pg. 73-74)

Redemption is participatory, not imitative. It is grounded on grace appropriated through faith, not merely on obedience. Spiritual life flows out of union with Christ, not merely imitation of Christ. … The individual Christian and the church as a whole are alive in Christ, and when any essential dimensions of what it means to be in Christ are obscured in the church’s understanding, there is no guarantee that the people of God will strive toward and experience fullness of life.

Andrew Purves, Reconstructing Pastoral Theology (pg. 40)

Through the communion of the Holy Spirit the Christian life is participatio Christi, not imatatio Christi.

The Gospel & Pastoral Ministry

Romans 6:17

But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were entrusted…

Andrew Purves, Reconstructing Pastoral Theology (pg. xvi)

Paul does not have it backward. One might think that doctrines are to be entrusted to believers, but believers are entrusted to doctrines, meaning by this the reality of God in Christ for us. It is the gospel that possesses ministry, not ministry that possesses the gospel. ...[T]he actuality of the gospel is the basis for the possibility of our ministry. It is not Jesus Christ who needs pastoral work, it is pastoral work that needs Jesus Christ. Just as faith lives not by human effort, but solely by the grace of God in, through, and as Jesus Christ, and through our incorporation into his life, so also ministry must be understood to be built not upon human striving for growth, well-being, and health but upon the grace of God which is understood now as a participation in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, on earth, in heaven, and as the one who will come again. The focus of pastoral theology, then, is on God’s extrinsic grace in Jesus Christ, on the gospel that is verbum alienum, a Word from beyond us, and to which gracious Word and to that Word alone pastoral theology and pastoral practice must submit in order to be faithful to the gospel.

Community and Sectarianism

Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places

Getting saved is easy; becoming a community is difficult – damnably difficult (250).

We are a community. We are not ourselves by ourselves. We are born into communities, we live in communities, we die in communities. Human beings are not solitary, self-sufficient creatures. As we realize both the necessity and the nature of our lives in community, we also become aware of the difficulty, the complexity, and as Christians who are following Jesus, the seductions all around us to find an easier way, a modified community, a reduced community customized to my preferences, a “gated community.”

Sectarianism involves deliberately and willfully leaving the large community, the “great congregation” that is features so often in the Psalms, the whole company of heaven and earth, and embarking on a path of special interest with some others, whether few or many, who share similar tastes and concerns.

Sectarianism is to the community what heresy is to theology, a willful removal of a part from the whole. The part is, of course, good – a work of God. But apart from the whole it is out of context and therefore diminished, disengaged from what is needs from the whole and from what what’s left of the whole needs from it (239-40).

A. Orendorff

The most accurate measure of how authentically we are “doing” Christian community is simple: How many of the people close to you don’t you like? Such an assessment may sound harsh, and is of course easily misinterpreted, but what it means is this: Look at the people to whom you devote your time and relational energy. Who are they? Are they easy people, clean people, respectable, stable and necessary people? Are they efficient and productive people, people who make you feel better about who you are? The degree to which we devote ourselves to people who (from all worldly estimations) add nothing to us is the degree to which we have internalized much of the gospel. Grace in relationships – the essence of a gospel-shaped community – takes concrete shape only as we begin to say yes to relationships that can offer us nothing of economic, relational, and promotional value. The degree to which the people we invite obtrusively into our lives are people who we (in our more selfish and fleshly moments) could easily and happily do without is the degree to which we are doing more than “sinners do.”

Luke 6:32-36

If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

The Spirituality of Me

Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places (pg. 243)
It is an odd phenomenon to observe followers of Jesus, suddenly obsessed with their wonderfully saved souls, setting about busily cultivating their own spiritualities. Self-spirituality has become the hallmark of our age. The spirituality of Me. A Spirituality of self-centering, self-sufficiency and self-development. All over the world at the present time we have people who have found themselves redefined by the revelation of God in Jesus’ birth, death and resurrection, going off and cultivating the divine within and abandoning spouses, children, friends and congregations.
Paul Zahl, Grace in Practice (pg. 143)
Grace demolishes the idea of need-fulfillment. Need-fulfillment is a law that has no possible final satisfaction. Human need is limitless on its own terms. It is a bottomless well, a pail with a hole in the bottom. Grace nullifies this. The need for personal fulfillment is not met in Christianity. It is destroyed.
J.I. Packer and Carolyn Nystom, Praying (pg. 126-27)
A life of repentance is, in reality, a life of self-denial. When Jesus talked about self-denial he was…telling us that we have to say no to “carnal self,” that is, to our inner selfhood that has been shaped by sin into the mold of an ugly, self-serving egocentricity. This carnal self seeks to lead us along its own path…Sin in our system enslaves our natural self-love to unnatural pride, so as to keep us from loving God and others. So God exposes to our consciences, our self-absorption and self-centeredness, our tendency to focus entirely on ourselves and our own concerns.
Aaron Orendorff
Any vision of the Christian life that focuses directly upon the self – that speaks constantly my spirituality, my ­sanctification, my growth in grace – is doomed from the start. This is not to say that self-examination is itself a bad or corrupting practice, far from it. One of our greatest needs as deceived and deceptive people is to see ourselves as we are, not as we would like to be nor as others might see us, but as we truly are – unadorned, unpretensed and naked. Our trouble arises when the quest for self-knowledge – or worse “self-improvement” – becomes an end in itself rather than a means. All our spiritual striving must culminate not in us being better people, abstracted from the concrete realities of relationship and location, but better community members – better husbands and wives, better sons and daughters, better employers and employees, better friends, better neighbors, better listeners, better encouragers, better critics and ultimately better worshipers.

Amillennialism and The “Future” Kingdom of God

A common misunderstanding about amillennialism—the belief that the millennial period from Revelation 20 spans from the time of Christ’s first advent to his second—is that covenant theologians regard the kingdom of God as a wholly invisible and wholly present reality with no future, earthly fulfillment. It is argued that because amillennialists have no place in their eschatological scheme for Jesus reigning upon an earthly throne in Jerusalem, they therefore by necessity have no place for an earthly, consummated kingdom. Far to the contrary, the amillennial position on the nature of God’s kingdom is that it is both a present and future reality – i.e., that it is both already-and-not-yet, inaugurated but not consummated – and that both these present and future elements of the kingdom include spiritual as well as earthly dimensions. This fulfillment, however, will not take place during a future millennial period but rather at the end of the age when Christ returns and heaven and earth are renewed. To say that because amillennialists do not affirm Christ’s earthly reign “from a throne in Jerusalem” then they cannot affirm an earthly future for God’s kingdom is to confuse a particular (premillennial) understanding of what Christ’s reign will look like with the broader category of God’s kingdom. Such an assertion would be similar to an amillennialist saying that because premillennialists do not affirm that Satan is currently bound so they cannot affirm the current, spiritual presence of God’s kingdom.

The follow excepts (follow the link below) are meant not necessarily as arguments in favor of the amillennial position but rather as a clarification of what is the amillennial position concerning the kingdom is.

Amillennialism and The “Future” Kingdom of God

The Gift of Place

Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places

These [Genesis 1-2] are grounding texts for forming us and leading us into living well, playing well, to the glory of God in the great gift of creation. Genesis 1 is formational for receiving and living in to the creation gift of time; Genesis 2 for the creation gift of place (65).

The place is defined as a garden. It is not a limitless “everywhere” or “anywhere”; it is local: “The Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east” (Gen. 2:8).

Everything that the Creator God does in forming us humans is done in place. It follows from this that since we are his creatures and can hardly escape the conditions of our making, for us everything that has to do with God is also in place. All living is local: this land, this neighborhood, these trees and streets and houses, this work, this people.

This may seem so obvious that it doesn’t need saying. But I have spent an adult lifetime with the assigned task of guiding men and women in living out the Christian faith in the place where they raise their children and work for a living, go fishing and play gold, go to bed and eat their meals, and I know that cultivating a sense of place as the exclusive and irreplaceable setting for following Jesus is mighty difficult (72-73).

What we often consider to be concerns of the spiritual life – ideas, truths, prayers, promises, beliefs – are never in the Christian gospel permitted to have a life of their own apart from particular persons and actual places. Biblical spirituality/religion has a low tolerance for “great ideas” or “sublime truths” or “inspiration thoughts” apart from the people and places in which they occur. God’s great love and purposes for us are worked out in messes in our kitchens and backyards, in storms and sins, blue skies, the daily work and dreams of our common lives. God works with us as we are and not as we should be to think we should be. God deals with us where we are and not where we would like to be.

People who want God as an escape from reality and the often hard conditions of this life don’t find much to their liking in this aspect of our Scriptures, our text for living. But there it is. There is no getting around it.

But to the man and woman wanting more reality, not less, this insistence that all genuine life, life that is embraced in God’s work of salvation, is grounded, placed, is good news indeed.

“Eden, in the east” is the first place named in the Bible. It comes with the unqualified affirmation that place is good, essential, and foundational for providing the only possible creation conditions for living out our human existence truly.

A. Orendorff

What seems “so obvious” is in fact “mighty difficult.” Part of our difficulty with place – the mundane grounding our lives, loves and theology – arises from the grandiosity of Scripture itself. When Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17), we choke to think what this could possibly mean for our lives as commuters and stay at home moms. As participants in and agents of God’s coming future – the (re)creation and resurrection of all things – unspiritual normalities like mortgages, term papers, dirty diapers, wallpaper, pouring concrete and waiting in line seem out of place. What has resurrection to do with rental cars?

For Paul, however, the staggering reality that “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you” (1 Cor. 6:19) leads immediately to the ultra-mundane injunction, “Therefore, do not pay people for sex.” What have temples to do with prostitutes? Everything. The spiritual and the natural are not mutually exclusive, they are coterminous – parts one of another. All geography is sacred, from kitchens to brothels to waterfalls. As Gerald Manley Hopkins wrote in 1918:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Suffering, the Cross and the Resurrection

Timothy Keller, Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism

The Cross and Suffering (pg. 30-31)
If we again ask the question: “Why does God allow evil and suffering to continue?” and we look at the cross of Jesus, we still do not know what the answer is. However, we now know what the answer isn’t. It can’t be that he doesn’t love us. It can’t be that he is indifferent or detached from our condition. God takes our misery and suffering so seriously that he was willing to take it on himself. Albert Camus understood this when he wrote:

[Christ] the god-man suffers took, with patience. Evil and death can no longer be entirely imputed to him since he suffers and dies. The night on Golgotha is so important in the history of man only because, in its shadows, the divinity ostensibly abandoned its traditional privilege, and lived through to the end, despair included, the agony of death. Thus is explained the “lama sabachthani [why have you forsaken me?]” and the frightful doubt of Christ in agony.
The Resurrection and Suffering (pg. 32)
The Biblical view of things is resurrection – not a future that is just a consolation for the life we never had but a restoration of the life you always wanted. This means that every horrible thing that ever happened will not only be undone and repaired but will in some way make the eventual glory and joy even greater.

Dostoyevsky put it perfectly when he wrote:

I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the important and infinitely small Euclidean mind of man, that in the world’s finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood that they’ve shed,; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened.

Dynamics of Spiritual Life - Justification

Richard F. Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Renewal (pg. 101-2)

Only a fraction of the present body of professing Christians are solidly appropriating the justifying work of Christ in their lives. Many have so light an apprehension of God’s holiness and of the extent of the guilt of their sin that consciously they see little need for justification, although below the surface of their lives they are deeply guilt-ridden and insecure. Many others have a theoretical commitment to this doctrine, but in their day-to-day existence they rely on their sanctification for justification, in the Augustinian manner, drawing their assurance of acceptance with God from their sincerity, their past experience of conversion, their recent religious performance or the relative infrequency of their conscious, willful disobedience. Few know enough to start each day with a thoroughgoing stand upon Luther’s platform: you are accepted, looking outward in faith and claiming the wholly alien righteousness of Christ as the only ground for acceptance, relaxing in that quality of trust which will produce increasing sanctification as faith is active in love and gratitude.

In order for a pure and lasing work of spiritual renewal to take place within the church, multitudes within it must be led to build their lives on this foundation. This means that they must be conducted into the light of a full conscious awareness of God’s holiness, the depth of their sin and the sufficiency of the atoning work of Christ for their acceptance with God, not just at the outset of their Christian lives but in every succeeding day.


Robert N. Bellah, Habits of the Heart

Individualism – A word used in numerous, sometimes contradictory, senses. We use it mainly in two: (1) a belief in the inherent dignity and, indeed, sacredness of the human person…[and] (2) a belief that the individual has a primary reality whereas society is a second-order, derived or artificial construct (334).

We [as Americans] believe in the dignity, indeed the sacredness, of the individual. Anything that would violate our right to think for ourselves, judge for ourselves, make our own decision, live our lives as we see fit, is not only morally wrong, it is sacrilegious (142).

Julie A. Gorman, Community that is Christian

Self-fulfillment, autonomy, [personal] rights, freedom, self-centeredness – these are the facets of negative individualism and the factors that mitigate against community. Individualism puts self at the center of a person’s world – everything revolves around the nurturing, exalting, and gratifying of that self (46).

Randy Frazee, The Connecting Church

Individualism is a way of life that makes the individual supreme or sovereign over everything (42).

Steven Lukes, Individualism

Religious Individualism…is the view that the individual believer does not need intermediaries, that he has the primary responsibility for his own spiritual destiny, that he has the right and the duty to come to his own relationship with his God in his own way and by his own effort (94).

John Locke, The De-Voicing of Society

If small groups are thought of as a solution to desocialization, I’m afraid the news isn’t very good…Princeton’s Robert Wuthnow has found that small groups mainly “provide occasions for individuals to focus on themselves in the presence of others. The social contract binding members together assert only the weakest obligations. Come if you have time. Talk if you feel like it. Respect everyone’s opinions. Never criticize. Leave quietly if you become dissatisfied…Attending weekly meetings, dropping in and out as one pleases, shopping around for a more satisfactory or appealing group – all of these factors work against the growth of true community” [quoting Olds and Schwartz].

Randy Frazee, The Connecting Church

We have brought our mind-set of individualism into our small groups and therefore made them dysfunctions effective places of true community (47).

A. Orendorff

More than a belief, individualism operates at the cultural level sociologists and philosopher have termed worldview. What this means it that individualism is not so much something thought about as it is a way of thinking. Operating under the premise of individualism, the church and its various extensions are not communities in the trues sense of th word; they are collections of individuals. This is a profound and deep-seated assertion. The radically communal nature of the church as a fundamentally corporate entity is either wholly absent from the thought life of most parishioners or it is shrugged off as patently and hopelessly idealistic – something that looks good on inspired paper but, in the real world, simply can’t pay the bills.

Grace, One-Way Love

Paul F.M. Zahl, Grace in Practice: A Theology of Everyday Life (pg. 36-38)
What is grace? Grace is love that seeks you out when you have nothing to give in return. Grace is love coming at you that has nothing to do with you. Grace is being loved when you are unlovable. It is being loved when you are the opposite of loveable.

Grace is a love that has nothing to do with you, the beloved. It has everything and only to do with the lover. Grace is irrational in the sense that it has nothing to do with weights and measures. It has nothing to do with my intrinsic qualities or so-called “gifts” (whatever they may be). It reflects a decision on the part of the giver, the one who loves, in relation to the receiver, the one who is loved, that negates any qualification the receiver may personally hold.

Grace is one-way love.

The one-way love of grace is the essence of any lasting transformation that takes place in human experience. . . . One-way love lifts up. One-way love cures. One-way love transforms. It is the change agent of life.

Grace depends on the fact that its origin is wholly outside myself. This is the heart of love; it comes to me from outside myself. Moreover, while it almost always elicits a response, which is my love in return, it comes toward me without any reference to my response. One-way love does not deviate on the basis of its goal. It is determined solely by its source.

One-way love is the change agent in everyday life because it speaks in a voice completely different from the voice of the law. It has nothing to do with its receiver’s characteristics. Its logic is hidden within the intention of its source. Theologically speaking, we can say it is the prime directive of God to love the world in no relation to the world’s fitness to be loved.

One-way love is also irrational because it reaches out to the specifically undeserving person. This is the beating heart of it. Grace is directed toward what the Scripture calls “the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). Not just the lonely, not just the sick and disconsolate, but the “perpetrators,” the murders and abusers, the people who cross the line.
A. Orendorff
The more difficult it is to love someone – the less lovely and lovable they are in themselves – the more our love towards them reflects and images God’s love towards us. It is no credit to your faith to love those who are inherently lovely; it is when we love those who we would naturally and justly recoil from that we show the authenticity of our faith. To love in the name of Christ is to love those who Christ loved: not the well, but the sick, not the righteous, but sinners.

The Hub

Richard F. Lovelace, The Dynamics of Spiritual Life

The “ultimate concern” of most church members is not the worship and service of Christ in evangelistic mission and social compassion, but rather survival and success in their secular vocation. The church is a spoke on the wheel of life connected to the secular hub. It is a departmental subconcern, not the organizing center of all other concerns (205).

Randy Frazee, The Connecting Church

The Bible clearly teaches that God intends to accomplish his primary purposes through the church. The first Christians understood that a decision to follow Christ also included a decision to make the church the hub of their world, even when it required the abandonment of existing social structures. Yale University professor Wayne Meeks makes this point, based on his meticulous research of the early church: “To be ‘baptized into Jesus Christ’ signaled for Pauline converts an extraordinary thoroughgoing resocialization, in which the sect was intended to become virtually the primary group for its members, supplanting all other loyalties” (36).

The Final Apologetic

Francis A. Schaeffer, The Marks of the Christian

“Notice, however, that verse 21 [of John 17] says, ‘That they all may be one…’ The emphasis, interestingly enough, is exactly the same as in John 13 not on a part of true Christians, but on all Christians not that those in certain parties in the church should be one, but that all born-again Christians should be one.

“Now comes the sobering part. Jesus goes on in this 21st verse to say something that always causes me to cringe. If as Christians we do not cringe, it seems to me we are not very sensitive or very honest, because Jesus here gives us the final apologetic. What is the final apologetic? ‘That all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.’ This is the final apologetic” (15).

The Great Disillusionment

Dietrich Bonheoffer, in the book Life Together, speaks of what he calls the “great disillusionment” with which all Christian communities must come to grips with if they are to embody not just a human ideal but a divine reality:

Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves…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 (Bonheoffer 27).

Our task as a church is to come together embracing and rejoicing in the reality that we are, in the words of one contemporary, “painfully uncool,” that the church is fundamentally comprised of “dropouts, and losers, and sinners, and failures and fools.” In Jesus' parable of the Great Banquet, after the original guests refuse the invitation, the master of the house commands his servants, Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame” (Luke 14:21).

Luther said it like this,

“If you are a preacher of Grace, then preach a true, not a fictitious grace; if grace is true, then you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious [or imaginary] sinners. Be a sinner and let your sins be strong [sin boldly], but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly still. For he is the victor over sin, death, and the world.”

We are not imaginary or fictitious sinners, we are real sinners who rejoice and trust in a real Savior. The plain truth of the matter is that other people are going to fail you, other Christians are going to fail you and, as Bonheoffer says, we are going to fail as well. True community isn’t about hiding our failures, it isn’t about ignoring or sweeping them under the rug of superficial and shallow relationships, nor is it about God making us into super-Christians who are so spiritual and so mature that we never fail one another and therefore cannot tolerate failure in others. True community is about gospel re-enactment; it’s about coming together again and again and exposing and confessing our sins, exposing and confessing that we are sinners. Any vision of the church you have that isn’t big enough to deal with the truth that people are going to fail you, that people are going to hurt you, that you yourself are going to fail and hurt others, any vision of community that isn’t wide enough to incorporate this reality simply isn’t Christian and until that vision is shattered by the “great disillusionment” of what Christian community really is you will find yourself constantly complaining, constantly at odd, constantly without peace and friendship in the church.