On innumerable occasions a whole Christian community has been shattered because it has lived on the basis of a wishful image. Certainly serious Christians who are put in a community for the first time will often bring with them a very definite image of what Christian communal life should be, and they will be anxious to realize it. But God’s grace quickly frustrates all such dreams. … Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial.
(p. 35-36). Wiser words have never been penned. We imagine that our churches will be previews of heaven itself, and so when people start acting like, you know, people, we get frustrated. We get angry. Life in God’s household should be much more pleasant! God should make things easy!
But the easy path is inevitably the wrong path. The beauty of life in the Kingdom is not that life together is easy but that (a) life together is wonderful and (b) we have the tools we need to live together. It’s like marriage — hard work but hard work that will be richly and gloriously rewarded.
Those who romanticize marriage as the easy life of “soul mates” find themselves quickly and painfully divorced as they realize that their spouse is actually hard to live with, prone to disagreement, and just as stubborn as they are. Rather than do the hard work of sorting through their differences and learning how to build a marriage, they give up.
Just so, in church, rather than pay the price necessary to get along, we leave. We divorce our congregations and friends we’ve had for decades, the parents of children we’ve helped raise, because getting along is hard.
Little do we realize that the process of learning to get along, to work it out, to submit and sacrifice for those we love is the process that transforms us into the image of Jesus. To leave in frustration is to give up on becoming like our Savior! It’s to frustrate the work of the Spirit, who is using our brothers and sisters to remove our rough edges and round us into the image of God Almighty.
But we’d rather leave, be “pure,” and not suffer the price of being re-molded by the hand of God.
God hates this wishful dreaming because it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. Those who dream of this idealized community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others, and by themselves. They enter the community of Christians with their demands, set up their own law, and judge one another and even God accordingly. They stand adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of the community. They act as if they have to create the Christian community, as if their visionary ideal binds the people together. Whatever does not go their way, they call a failure. When their idealized image is shattered, they see the community breaking into pieces. So they first become accusers of other Christians in the community, then accusers of God, and finally the desperate accusers of themselves.
(p. 36). Sound familiar? This is story of countless failed marriages and failed congregations. An ideal community doesn’t come easily. Even when it’s achieved, it’s destroyed as new members are added and the difficult re-shaping process has to be begun anew.
We’d rather cleave our congregations into compartments of self-contained agreement, refusing all who don’t agree on every point, making life so easy — and so very different from true Christianity.
Jesus chose 12 apostles — and he picked men who were hard to work with. He chose a publican — a hated collaborator with the Romans, a zealot — sworn to vengeance against Roman collaborators, and even disciples who, after spending years with Jesus, begged for permission to call down fire from heaven on the Samaritans. He chose Thomas, who doubted the resurrection. He chose Peter, who denied him three times. He even chose Judas, who betrayed him.
Why? Of the thousands of Jews in Galilee, why not pick some disciples who were better students, quicker studies, and easier to get along with? He was GOD! Why not form better disciples from the rocks on the ground? Why pick men so broken, so flawed, so obtuse, even idiotic, so … like us?
No one promised that discipleship would be an easy process. Jesus spent three years and was surely beside himself with frustration at times! But rather than running off those who didn’t get it on the first, second, and third try, he patiently stuck with them — because he could see what they could become. He saw their potential. He realized that those who are easily brought into compliance are sometimes easily brought out of compliance. He needed stubborn men. He needed men who’d obtusely wade into great dangers purely on faith, oblivious to the risks. He needed to take their most frustrating characteristics and turn them into virtues.
But when we discuss disciple-making at church, we want the members who easily go to their closets and pray by themselves just because we ask. Good. But we fail to realize that the stubborn, headstrong members may well be the ones who, when re-shaped by the Spirit, will take the gospel to dangerous lands. The passion that resists our efforts may well one day be the passion that converts a nation.