If there's one thing I've been learning the value of lately, it has been the corporate nature of our faith (or, what a Calvinist might call "the covenant community").
From a recent read of mine:
I once heard a Catholic priest, a native of New Jersey, give a homily in which he told about visiting the southern part of the United States for the first time. At the hotel restaurant on his first morning, he studied the breakfast menu. Several combination meals featured grits, so when the waitress came for his order, he asked her, "Miss, what is a grit?" She replied, "Honey, they don't come by themselves!"Now, this is true. Worship and fellowship and all these things must be done corporately to be done right. The saints of the New Testament are perhaps clearest about this assumption in the fact that they rarely speak to it. Instead, their addresses are almost never to one person, but always fashioned for the digestion of the church body at large. We need each other to live out our faith.
The priest used this story to emphasize the importance of the body of Christ. Christians don't come by themselves, he said. Like grits, "Christian" is a plural thing. To follow Jesus means to be part of a community.
But there is a problem with Christianity. Allow Deitrich Bonhoeffer to elaborate:
He who is alone in his sin is utterly alone. It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness. The final breakthrough to fellowship does not occur because, though they have fellowship with one another as devout people, they do not have fellowship as sinners. The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship...What is the solution to this? Bonhoeffer went on to speak of the grace of the Gospel, and how we can dare to be sinners before a God with whom masks do no good. And he's right. But what about the solution as it (the Gospel) is applied to our "pious fellowship"?
I don't believe the answer is an easy one. I believe it is quite simply the tough, truth-bearing work of real, honest, and complete accountability that can make this happen in the covenant community. It starts with true communication between only two people, and perhaps never stretches much further beyond those twos, but the more that are paired up, the more the community as a whole will grow in this very necessary change to our typical easy-does-it approach to honesty in the church community. This also requires a good deal of wisdom from the individuals approaching true accountability, and the Proverbs have great guidance for us, much of which must be balanced delicately:
He who covers an offense promotes love,To quote a very few.
but whoever repeats a matter separates close friends.
Better is open rebuke
than hidden love.
Wounds from a friend can be trusted,
but an enemy multiplies kisses.
And we must, we all must, remember to live out that grace of the Gospel of which Bonhoeffer spoke. We must see ourselves as equal sinners before God, all justly deserving of his wrath no matter what our individual struggles may be, all clothed in the work of the cross. With this humility, we can come to our Christian brother or sister, bear who we really are, and accept their confession as well. More from Dietrich:
...only the brother under the Cross can hear a confession. It is not experience of life but experience of the Cross that makes one a worthy hearer of confessions. The most experienced psychologist or observer of human nature knows infinitely less of the human heart than the simplest Christian who lives beneath the Cross of Jesus.... In the presence of a psychiatrist I can only be a sick man; in the presence of a Christian brother I can dare to be a sinner.I am thankful for the blessing of friends in my life that can help me be more real. I can only hope to do the same in return.