Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in Life Together about living in—and glorifying God through—the hard realities of Christian communities. If we’re to have real fellowship, we must first shatter our utopian expectations of life with our fellow Christians:
Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves…. Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it. The sooner this shock of disillusionment comes to an individual and to a community the better for both.
It’s difficult to love real people in real churches when you’re trying to attain an ideal that does not exist. Embracing the reality of our own sinfulness and the sinfulness of others is the only way to enter true fellowship—with all members completely dependent on Christ for forgiveness, hiding nothing from each other, experiencing conflict and forgiveness, and extending grace to others because we receive grace from Him. A church that is focused on building the perfect community will never have the patience to recognize and work on the community that already exists. Bonhoeffer continues:
Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.
God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself…When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.
Disillusionment is necessary if we’re to settle down to learn what God would have us learn, rejoicing in our weakness, thankful for His strength, humbled by our sin; but we have to move on through this, or we’ll end up wandering from church to church, spiritually alone and trapped in bitterness. We don’t need to chase after a vision when, in truth, our struggle with God through the difficulties of reality reveals His power and glory and shapes our character far more than would our participation in the (mythical) perfect community.