Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Notes on Being the Church, Part I: The Church as Friendship

The church does not exist in a perpetual state of frenzied evangelism; that is, within the life of the church there are enormous differences between what is appropriate for particular times, places, and persons. Though some would argue to the contrary, we shouldn’t simply walk up to people with a sign or prepared statement telling them that Jesus died for their sins. That sort of habit is both cheap and unkind, and its character (whatever the message) does not speak to the sort of “news” that is supposed to be “good” for all people.

Furthermore, the very idea of always having in the back of our minds “get ’em in the water, get ’em in the water!” is insulting. What could it mean to love another person, unconditionally and self-sacrificially, and yet always have unspoken “plans” for them? Of course, this does not deny that in a true friendship between a believer and nonbeliever, the subject of Christian faith would never come up; on the contrary, it is difficult to imagine a legitimate friendship in which it would not. But because we believe that God loves this person, has died for his person, is already at work in this person’s life by his Spirit—and because friendship in itself is a good gift from God—we needn’t make it our life’s purpose to “make” them a Christian. Witness does not work like that, and nor does true friendship.

Regarding friendship more generally, in many ways the love between two friends is the height of what it means to be human. God created human beings to flourish in common life together in this world, and friendship—built on truthfulness, sacrifice, intimacy, accountability, celebration, and presence—is a testament to the sort of ordinary gifts that constitute our lives as given and beloved by God.

In other words, a church without friends is no church at all.

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Therefore, our working thesis will be:

As the tradition states, the end of life is friendship with God. Within the church’s own life and in its engagement with the surrounding world, friendship is an essential ingredient to the sort of flourishing communal life God gives and promises us in the gospel. Therefore friendship—grounded in love and devoid of ulterior motives—is the healthy and proper fruit of faithful witness in the world.


  1. In Donovan's book, Christianity Rediscovered, his story seems to suggest that he did not exactly develop true friendship with the people, but instead was there explicitly and solely to tell them the gospel. That is, even if we developed friendships with people, they were always means to an end. Do you have the same read on that? If so, in light of your post, do you think his work could be labeled as "frenzied evangelism?" Would you describe his work as non-ideal?

  2. That's an interesting question. One has to do with the fact that Donovan did not see himself as "being" or "belonging" in/with the Masai's "church" community, which would explain why he may not have been "friends" with them. But on the other hand, I would say in many ways that he developed extraordinary friendships/relationships with the people there. To be sure, they were within his mission to tell them the gospel, but they were still there.


  3. From Spencer
    Hey guys, I thought I would check out the blog since it has been forever since I have read it. This topic interested me quite a bit so I thought I would throw in my 2 cents here. I think one of the more constructive arguments concerning friendship and Christianity is in a comparison between an Aristotelian view of Friendship in his "Ethics" and Bonhoeffer's expression of the church in Community of the saints. The former being defined more through a like is to like relationship and the other identifying true community as those working through conflict. One leads down a more utilitarian path while the other seeks to truly consider the other in all difference and particularity. What are your thoughts on this? I think that this is what is needed at the heart of mission- a true seeking out of the "thou" in the other, and the realization that everyone in any relationship is both an "I" and a "Thou."