Praise awaits you, our God, in Zion;
to you our vows will be fulfilled.
You who answer prayer,
to you all people will come.
When we were overwhelmed by sins,
you forgave our transgressions.
Blessed are those you choose
and bring near to live in your courts!
We are filled with the good things of your house,
of your holy temple.
- Psalm 65:1-4
“’The praise of silence befits you, O God, in Zion’ (Ps. 65:2) Many persons seek community because they are afraid of loneliness [der Einsamkeit]. Because they can no longer endure being alone, such people are driven to seek the company of others. Christians, too, who cannot cope on their own, and who in their own lives have had some bad experiences, hope to experience help with this in the company of other people. More often than not, they are disappointed. They then blame the community for what is really their own fault. The Christian community is not a spiritual sanatorium. Those who take refuge in community while fleeing from themselves are misusing it to indulge in empty talk and distraction, no matter how spiritual this idle talk and distraction may appear. In reality they are not seeking community at all, but only a thrill that will allow them to forget their isolation [Vereinsamung] for a short time. It is precisely such misuse of community that creates the deadly isolation of human beings. Such attempts to find healing result in the undermining of speech and all genuine experience and, finally, resignation and spiritual death.”
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together
Bonhoeffer goes on in the following paragraphs after the quote above to state the two opposites: the person who cannot stand alone should beware of community and the person who cannot be in community should beware of standing alone.
We need to stand alone at times. When we stand before the judgment seat, we will stand there. There will not be a cardboard cutout of us pinned up there by our community. When you accept Jesus into your heart, you do so as an individual. A community may obtain a “thrill” as the quote above suggests. I have been at evangelism conferences when a large crowd started going forward during the “call”, altar call or going down front or whatever you call it. Then suddenly someone suggests going to the nearby river and before you know it, over one hundred people get baptized and you are thinking that the conference did not have one hundred attendees – as the Ray Stevens song, Mississippi Squirrel Revival said, “And we all get rebaptized whether we needed it or not!” But in spite of such group activities, it is the individual that comes to God.
But of those emotional events, and why Bonhoeffer is wary of them, you can have an emotional experience and be in the presence of wonderful works of the Holy Spirit, but you never really meet the true Jesus and when the emotions subside, you are back where you started with one fatal difference – you think you are saved and you met Jesus, but it was only an emotional experience. This is a fatal mistake, in that when that person goes before the judgment seat, God does not find their name in the Book of Life and God says, “Depart from Me; I never knew you.” We must make that total commitment so we truly trust and believe in Jesus, to the point that nothing else matters. As such, it changes our lives. We never go back to normal as it was before. Borrowing the phrase from all this COVID 19 mess, we are at a “new normal.” And unlike the COVID 19 mess, that new normal is a lot better than the old. God resides within us.
Thus someone who cannot stand alone, should beware of community. Why? If we cannot stand alone, we are relying upon other humans, who have flaws and may not be able to stand on their own either. Without them propping us up, we fail to stand at all. There are many in the Christian community that think they are doing a wonderful service by encouraging others. They talk about putting away doubts and fears and wondering why the fruits of the Spirit seem to be absent. But in actuality, they are the ones with the cardboard cutout and the pins. You must stand on your own, and always having someone pin the fake you up for others to see is doing you no favors.
But let’s look at the opposite. Someone who cannot stand with community should beware of being alone. Jesus calls us to community. We are called to support one another. And let’s get beyond the Christian cliché about not being a part of a community of believers, and all the fancy ways of expressing that. If we are in a group of believers and we have nothing to add to that community, at what stage of our faith walk are we, or are we even on the path at all? If we simply cannot stomach being around that kind of people, a big red flag should appear in that that type of people could be the type you spend eternity with. Yes, there are good Christian communities and there are those that are Christian in name only. In this case, I am talking about true believers.
Yet, the warning here is simple. If we cannot stand with the community, then when we do not have that community for mutual support, how could we ever defend ourselves when evil attacks us? When we are alone, we do not have the Sunday school teacher and the learned friends in the class to provide Scriptural interpretation. We do not have the quiet little ladies in the corner of the room that are praying that Satan simply “BACKS OFF!!!!” I used all caps because those quiet little ladies in the corner are powerful. No, when you are alone, you are ALONE.
In the ideal Christian fellowship, the community supports each individual and each individual supports the community of true believers.
Thus, to be a strong Christian we must be a person of community that can stand alone when need be and be alone to go to God in prayer to support the community.
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.