Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote two books in which he discussed the call of Christ both to the individual and to the congregation (The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together). He said that Christ calls the individual alone, but that individual does not remain alone. Bonhoeffer gave us a helpful understanding of what it means to follow Christ alone and together.
Christ comes to the individual person. That person stands alone before God. Alone, he hears Christ’s call and responds by denying self, taking up the cross, and following him. In that moment there is no one else who can follow Christ for the individual. It is the moment of aloneness. Christ has called the individual and alone he must follow.
The moment of aloneness is also the moment of community. Though the individual does not immediately recognize it, Christ is calling him into the Body, the community, the congregation. When the alone person enters into discipleship with Christ, his denial of everything for Christ’s sake is rewarded a hundredfold with the fellowship of the church and with eternal life. The individual is forever together with all the others who have become individuals for Christ’s sake and are now together in the fellowship of Christ.
I find Bonhoeffer’s words to be helpful in understanding our place at any given moment. We are both alone and together. In Christ, we are at the same time individuals hearing him call us to faith and obedience, and in community bearing up each other and sharing the call together.
This was my personal experience. Looking back, I can see that in my mind no one else existed. Jesus was my only thought. The Lordship of Jesus over my life was my only consideration. Responding to Jesus felt like the one and only decision to be made. As one who firmly believes in the sovereign grace of God, I now know what awakened and enlivened me to respond in faith. But, at that moment I felt the weight of my aloneness before Christ. I knew I was being called to profess him as my Lord.
What I was not considering at that time was that I would be entering into a fellowship and be given a community. It was necessary for me to stand alone before I would enter in. But, entering into community was happening as I was stepping out to follow Jesus. The gift of brothers and sisters came with following Christ. What started as a journey alone became a life with others.
Life together is not always easy. Sometimes it is actually disappointing and hurtful. Most of the time it is average and unspectacular. But, the congregation is a gift. It belongs to Christ. We belong to it. The call to discipleship includes the call into the community. Aloneness before Christ and togetherness with his church cannot be separated from each other. We embrace them both for the sake of the call and the One who calls.
We will share more on our life together Sunday. Let’s be much in prayer this weekend.