Jesus And Community by Gerhard Lohfink

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Jesus And Community by Gerhard Lohfink, Paulist Press. 1984

This not so recent book has something to say to our post modern generation. First written in German in 1982, this English edition was published two years later. Gerhard Lohfink was a New Testament professor at the University of Tubingen for many years. In 1986, he resigned from the university to join the Catholic Integrated Community, founded to address the meaning of being a faith community. His involvement with this group gives credence to Jesus and Community. Its subtext seeks the meaningful relationship between having faith in Jesus and being part of Christ’s church.

In the first winter of the 20th century, Adolf von Harnack, a theologian and historian, in his lectures on “The Essence of Christianity” attended to the notion of religious individualism. Harnack contented that the rule of God comes to individuals and not community. An individual hears the good news and makes a volitional choice “to stand on the side of God.”  Not that he overlooked the communal nature of the people of God, whether it was Israel or the church. Rather Harnack posits that the primary essence of faith is individual. This religious individualism has seeped into our popular theology and shaped the way we think about faith and practice. Not only is salvation personal, it is also private to many of us. On any Sunday, just listen to our responses to God in worship. The pervasive “I” in our songs and prayers exposes our religious privatization.

Lohfink contests that private faith has no space in the kingdom of God. When Jesus came preaching the kingdom of God (Mark 1.15), he envisioned a community under God’s reign. Like any earthen kingdom, the Kingdom of God must have a collective people. He explores that communal requirement in kingdom thinking in sequential and related subjects. First, Jesus’ communal intentionality for his disciples was imaged in the light of God’s creation and in the historic redemption of Israel. In the Exodus event, God liberated a nation, not merely individuals. Second, the calling and nurturing of the Twelve by Jesus was intended to create a faith community. The disciples represented a renewed people of God now and in eschatological reality. Third, Lohfink shows how the New Testament church saw its communal life as a fulfillment of Jesus’ teaching of God’s kingdom. The final chapter contours the church of earlier centuries as a counter-culture community who embraced its identity and sought to live God’s reign on earth.

Although the book is rich in theological language, it is a practical read for everyone. One example is Lohfink’s reading of the Lord’s prayer in Luke 11.  At first glance, the first person plural usage in the prayer at once sets the communal context of faith.  As intimate as prayer is, Jesus teaches us how to pray in communal language: our Father . . . , give us. . . , forgive us. . .  , lead us. . . .  This communal aspect of personal faith is further enhanced by the prayer’s first petitions:  hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. Lokfink insightfully shows that when we pray for the sanctity of God’s name, in effect we are seeking God’s preservation of his people for his name’s sake in eschatological anticipation (Ezekiel’s vision in 36.22-24). Where ever we are, we gather as a faith community that lives, moves and has its being under the rule of God and representing God on earth. That is the essence of being Christian.