The importance of Christian friendship
Both my parents are vicars… So in my mind this was a real obstacle to being considered “cool” whilst growing up. Spare a thought, for just a moment, as you picture me, having mustered up the courage to answer the first question of ‘What does your Dad do?” with “He’s a vicar,” to then be immediately faced with the follow-up; “Right… And your Mum?”….
This perhaps explains why growing-up I was quite keen to distance myself from the typical view of how the son of two vicars might be perceived. This led to me avoiding all-things-“Christian” as far as possible, from the school Christian Union to making little, or no, effort at developing any close Christian friendships.
Now, this isn’t an article about whether or not it’spossible to be both a Christian and cool, and, even if it were, I probably wouldn’t be the best person to ask (jokes… I am actually pretty cool). However, there is at least one guy I can think of whose radical faith made following Jesus look more James Bond-esq. His name is Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Bonhoeffer was a pastor in Nazi Germany, who spoke out against the injustices of the Nazis, ran an underground resistance Christian community called the Confessing Church and eventually became involved in a failed assassination attempt on Hitler’s life. All of this resulted in his arrest and execution in 1945. That’s pretty much as action-packed as a vicars life can get, right?
Anyway, the reason I mention Bonhoeffer here is because he knew the value of Christian friendship and the importance of being rooted in Christian community. He said this: “Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ.”
For Bonhoeffer, being a disciple of Jesus Christ can only be achieved within Christian community. It is simply not possible to be a follower of Jesus on our own. To love God is to love those whom He created. So just as God calls us into relationship with Himself, He also calls us into relationship with one another.
I had been missing this, which was clear in my failed attempts at doing Christianity alone, and it wasn’t until my final years at university that I made some really close Christian friends. These people have since become some of my closest and most dependable friends. In fact, this summer I did a cycle-ride from Lyon to Rome (#guilty) with two of them and we continue to meet-up regularly to pray for one another, offer accountability, and generally support each other in our walks of faith.
This has been incredibly important in growing my faith, because not only can we talk for hours about Chelsea’s title domination, but we also have something so much greater in common - our captivation by the person of Jesus Christ.
The church is exactly this, a group of people who are captivated and drawn in by the person of Jesus Christ. Therefore, being a Christian means walking, striving, falling, being restored and pushing-on together, as brothers and sisters in Christ. This is the Church.
In doing this, we reflect the relational nature of the God we follow. As 1 John 1:3-4 suggests:
"We repeat, we really saw and heard what we are now writing to you about. We want you to be with us in this-in this fellowship with the Father, and Jesus Christ his Son. We write and tell you about it, so that your joy may be complete."
So just as God is in perfect relationship as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, so we too are called to be a part of that relationship with Him and one another.
Now, this isn’t an appeal to abandon all of our non-Christian friends and to form exclusive Christian circles. It’s quite the opposite in fact. Being a follower of a deeply relational, Trinitarian God, is a call to seek deeper relationship with everyone, whether they’re a Christian or not.
The challenge for us, however, is this; we should treasure, value and be intentional about rooting ourselves in Christian friendships, because to meet with and build these relationships is to meet with and build our relationship with Jesus (see Matthew 18.20). It is a call to draw closer and deeper in friendship with other Christians as we begin to recognise the secure and joyful foundation on which these friendships are built- that of Jesus Christ.
It is through developing these deeply-rooted Christian friendships within the church that we might become more selfless, more generous and more able to offer better friendships to our other friends, outside the church too.