Gerhard Lohfink, German-born in 1934, was Professor of New Testament at the University of Tubinger. In 1986 he resigned to live and work as a theologian in the Catholic Integrierte Gemeinde—a community of priests. This move seems to be a direct outflow of his studies and increasing conviction around the communal aspects of Church from which this book was birthed in 1982. In his introduction Lohfink talks about the influence of Adolf von Harnack towards an individual experience of God. Jesus and Community is Lohfink’s response to the outfall of this teaching—the church’s falling away from church-as-community into supermarket individualism.
The thesis of the book centers on Lohfink’s repetitive question: How did Jesus will community? In contrast to Harnack’s individualistic approach, Lohfink maintains that God always intended to display His Kingdom-rule through a contrast-community that would reflect the King and His reign for the sake of the world. In part one of Jesus and Community Lohfink develops the notion of Israel being God’s intended display-community that Jesus came to gather and restore to their original mission.
He sees the choosing of The Twelve and their being sent to all of Israel as a “symbolic prophetic action” denoting Israel’s opportunity to become that community. In part two Lohfink notes a supposed shift in Jesus’ latter ministry from the unresponsive Israel, to the formation of a new community of brothers and sisters through his disciples, “representing symbolically what really should have taken place in Israel as a whole”. He expounds on the qualities of this new family with God as their only Father that gives up everything joyfully to be salt and light to the world.
Part three explores how the New Testament communities reflected the sharp contrast between pagan and Christian societies so that the church in praxis became a contrast-society. In part four Lohfink shows that this “foundational reception of Jesus' praxis of the reign of God continued beyond the New Testament communities into the age of the ancient church” Reading Lohfink was an experience in climbing an inviting ladder of which some of the rungs were missing when you got there. His description of how the community of believers lived their faith and the impact they had is truly inspiring.
It leaves me to reflect on the life of our own community: Have we indeed left everything to follow Jesus? Are we living toward each other with the kind of love that is uncommon in the world? Are we a people of peace, light to the world, flavorful salt in how we live? Reading the accounts of how the early church lived among the pagans and loved sacrificially, there is a call for me as a leader to teach, practice and exemplify that kind of love among our people, along with making opportunities for us to practice it together.
On the other hand, Lohfink’s polarizing reaction to “individualism” failed to recognize that a contrast-community consists of individuals who have been transformed by the cross of Jesus and the power of His Spirit. Lohfink argues that no missionary effort is needed because the church as contrast-society will gather people to itself by attraction. He quotes Bronx, saying: “…if it is possible at all to speak of the ancient church's missionary theory the most that can be said is this.
The twelve apostles preached the gospel in the whole world and established a sufficient number of local churches” If the latter is not the epitome of missions, I don’t know what is! Yes, we need to be communities of praxis, growing toward the fullness of God’s rule here on earth. We also need to remember: How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?