Dietrich Bonhoeffer provides convicting but clarifying observations on the nature of true Christian community. Are you in a small group? Do you have a close circle of friends? Bonhoeffer helps us discern if we are experiencing genuine community. He writes:
“Genuine community is not established before confession takes place.” – Pastoral Care, p. 63.
At your next small group meeting, try starting your discussion time with 10 minutes of prayer, simply confessing our sins. Use just 1-2 sentence prayers that begin, “Father, I’m sorry for…. Please, forgive me.”
If genuine community begins with confession–i.e., the disclosure of our sin, it continues with forbearance–i.e., bearing the burden of the others’ sins (and weaknesses). Bonhoeffer writes:
“‘Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way fulfill the law of Christ’ (Gal. 6:2). Thus the law of Christ is a law of forbearance…. It is the community of the cross in which one must experience the burden of the other. If one were not to experience this, it would not be a Christian community.” – Life Together, section 85
That is, if others are not in some sense burdensome, if our relationships with others in our small groups and church are not in some way difficult, if their sin and weakness haven’t caused hardship and required sacrifice, then our ongoing interaction with them is some form of counterfeit Christian community. We are not fulfilling the law of Christ.
In short, in genuine Christian community, confession of our sin and forbearance of others’ sin are signs not that things have gone wrong but that things are going right–just as our Father intended. Confession. Forbearance. They are not only to be normal. They are essential, the sine qua non of Christian community.