In the first chapter of his book, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer starts by reminding the reader how special it is to have Christian community, to be able to live in this life with other Christians. He reminds us how much it is a gift of God's grace.
He starts by explaining that God has orchestrated it so that the kingdom of God is a scattered people throughout the world, in the midst of the world. He writes,
"According to God's will Christendom is a scattered people's scattered like seed 'into all the kingdoms of the earth' (Deuteronomy 28:25). That is is curse and its promise. God's people must dwell in far countries among the unbelievers, but it will be the seed of the Kingdom of God in all the world." (18)
He means it is a 'curse' because Christians must live and fight for their faith among those who do not believe the gospel. But, as he says, it is the kingdom's 'promise' because this is how the gospel grows.
This then leads him to remind his reader that one should not take it for granted that one has Christian fellowship and community. He exhorts,
"It is easily forgotten that the fellowship of Christian brethren is a gift of grace, a gift of the Kingdom of God that any day may be taken from us, that the time that still separates us from utter loneliness may be brief indeed. Therefore, let him who until now has had the privilege of living a common Christian life with other Christians praise God's grace from the bottom of his heart. Let him thank God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren." (20)
This is almost a foreign concept in the Western world where we take the ability to meet as Christians for granted. But Bonhoeffer reminds us that it specifically is a grace of God. It is not easy for us, but he is right: we should 'praise God from the bottom of our hearts' for the fact that we have 'the privilege of living a common Christian life with other Christians.' This should not be taken for granted, and God is good to us to let us do so.
May we therefore be more thankful for the local church. With all its blemishes and shortcomings, it is a mighty gift of God given to us.
Quotes from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (New York: Harper Collins, 1954), 18-20.