Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor during the Third Reich in Germany, who refused to swear allegiance to Hitler. The Nazis imprisoned him for 2 years, and eventually killed him, as the regime was crumbling. Though he wasn’t an evangelical, he’s got some great material in his book “Life Together”, based on training pastors underground. He thought hard about the nature of “community”, something God in his providence is forcing us all to do at the moment:
“Many persons seek community because they are afraid of loneliness. 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 sanitorium. 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 for a short time. It is precisely such misuse of community that creates the deadly isolation of human beings…Whoever cannot be alone should beware of community.”
“But the reverse is also true. Whoever cannot stand being in community should beware of being alone. You are called into the community of faith; the call was not meant for you alone… If you neglect the community of other Christians, you reject the call of Jesus Christ, and thus your being alone can only be harmful for you…
We recognize, then, that only as we stand within the community can we be alone, and only those who are alone can live in the community. Both belong together. Only in the community do we learn to be properly alone; and only in being alone do we learn to live properly in community. It is not as if the one preceded the other; rather both begin at the same time, namely with the call of Jesus Christ.
Each taken by itself has profound pitfalls and perils. Those who want community without solitude plunge into the void of words and feelings, and those who seek solitude without community perish in the bottomless pit of vanity, self-infatuation and despair.
Whoever cannot be alone should beware of community. Whoever cannot stand being in community should beware of being alone”.Life Together, pp.55-57. Fortress Press.
I think that’s very perceptive. We need Jesus Christ and his church to handle being on our own with God. But we can use Christ’s church to hide from ourselves and God.
It’s a scary question to ask ourselves: are we using “community” as a place to hide from God?
“When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matt 6:6).