The Fragile Kingdom
"When we look at this list," one of our most outspoken brothers declared, "if we do not confess our participation in their leaving … if I don't confess my responsibility in causing them to leave, then I am lost."
As we told the stories of exit, several common themes surfaced. The most undeniable commonality was risk; these men had attempted deeper reconciling risk. Time and again, the men listed had chosen to risk with another member(s) of the group. Sometimes it was a business venture. Other times it was a deeper form of shared life. Whatever the reason, the members took what felt like deep personal risks to take the reconciling (shared life) message of the circle to a deeper level … often deeper than they ever had before.
The result? They discovered that deeper work was just too hard. It was simply too difficult to fight through to the redemptive ending, so each deeper partnership ended prematurely. The friendship was severed. And in time, both men's place in the circle was lost.
How is this possible? How is it possible that when a person, striving to be righteous, risks the deeper reconciling work of the gospel, their faith ends up being undermined and profound fellowship is lost?
How is it possible? It is possible because the actual gospel of Jesus is just too hard.
What is the greatest trick the devil ever pulled? It is not in an elaborate game of demonic hide and seek. The greatest trick is accomplished anytime he uses the gospel of Jesus to split God's people apart. It happens anytime he snickers that the gospel is wielded as a tool of spiritual destruction. When he celebrates that people of Jesus-faith would even attempt to actually practice the gospel in anything but a self-serving, periodic, casual, and consumptive way.
Maybe this is why Uncle Screwtape hardly flinches when his nephew's "patient" converts to Christianity (Chapter II). Screwtape also knows that the gospel is just too hard.
And that may be exactly the way it is supposed to be. The work of the kingdom of God is fragile, as fragile as a snow crystal. It is as fragile as it is powerful, necessary, and eternal.
It is fragile because no human can do it, no matter how sincere. It requires the actual work and presence of Christ to survive. It is finitely fragile because it relies upon God's eternal power to hold course. Isn't that exactly the way it is supposed to be?
"He (Christ) is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is the head of the body, the church … " Colossians 1:17-18a
Maybe we shouldn't be asking ourselves, "How is it possible that faith communities fall apart?" Maybe would should be asking, "What hope is there that these communities could ever hold together?" The hope is as simple as it is elusive. Our hope is in the abiding presence of Jesus.
Jesus plus nothing.
Tony Kriz is a writer and church leader from Portland, Oregon, and Author in Residence at Warner Pacific College.