Our Faith by Emil Brunner
Emil Brunner is one of the great systematic theologians of the early twentieth century. Our Faith was translated by John W. Rilling, and published by Charles Scribner’s Sons, NY, 1954. This book prepared for Religion Online by Paul Mobley.
Chapter 27: Fellowship
Many do not know either their own loneliness or the loneliness of others. I do not mean simply that some people are alone. One can be alone and still not be lonely. One can be in a teeming crowd of people and yet be quite lonely. Loneliness is solitude of soul. There are even quite garrulous people who -- as it is said -- have their hearts on their tongues, and who nevertheless live quite alone. Every person whose life is self-centered has an isolated soul. Such a person is like a castle. There is a gate through which one sallies forth to take booty. There are embrasures through which one shoots poisoned arrows; there are battlements, to be sure, from which one looks down upon those below. But the whole castle is isolated, and over the gate stands "mine" in large letters. The possessor of this castle is called "I." And everything is operated according to the will of this "I," and the laws are my laws. There is a kind of social life between this feudal lord, the self, and others; there is intercourse, but the spirit of the castle regulates everything. Things must go as I want them to, and as they suit me. Such a life is isolated, lonesome, even in the midst of the greatest activity. For all people who go in and out are present simply for my sake. No one ever enters who is called thou.
The castles of mediaeval times were sometimes captured by another lord, so -- perhaps it may happen to your castle. There is only one who is strong enough to capture it, banish this tyrant named I, and revoke my law. This one, the only conqueror, conquers not by power or might, blow for blow, by the opposition of his will to the will of the individual. He would accomplish nothing in that way. The Ego has made sufficient pro- vision for assault of this sort. The sole conqueror breaks into the citadel by quite different means. He vanquishes the self through love, by blasting the great gate with forgiveness, by overthrowing the self from the throne by sacrificing, yes even by giving his life for it. This conqueror is called Jesus Christ. And this con- quest comes about when the self surrenders like a conquered fort-commander and says, "Enter, thou art now the Lord of my life." This abdication is called faith. Through this event -- or rather through Jesus Christ, man is "opened"; the law "for me" is abrogated, and another law introduced -- "for you." Solitude ceases the moment the law "for you" takes the place of the other law. Solitude is replaced by fellowship. Fellowship means that the self really discloses itself to another, so that "I" and "thou" really come together. Fellowship is the same as love. And this love comes by faith alone, or, what is the same, from Christ alone.
Love thy neighbor as thyself! It is that which Christ fulfilled, he alone. But by fulfilling it for us, we can now be overcome by him, we too can begin its fulfillment. "Faith working by love."
Only in this way can solitude be overcome. Such a new life begins in every man whom Jesus has overcome. Fellowship now displaces loneliness, life is directed toward a thou and not toward the self.
It is not, however, only faith that produces fellowship. The reverse is also true. Faith grows out of fellowship. We need others to be able to believe. One cannot be a Christian by himself. All sorts of things can be done alone; but one cannot be a Christian alone. My own weak faith must constantly be awakened, renewed, strengthened, purified by the faith of others. We must come together really to believe. "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." We must learn that again. Everything today has become a matter of private property and private affairs, even faith. But faith must perish when it is alone. It can thrive only in fellowship.
Our Church is only a remnant of such fellowship. What the Church offers today in the way of fellowship cannot satisfy. It is not enough that the Word of God is proclaimed to you on Sunday, if you are left alone for the remainder of the week. We all need that our faith and prayer should grow strong with the faith of others; and that our own faith and love be increased by and with the faith and love of others. The first Christians remained daily with one another in prayer and breaking of bread. Something of that must come again into our Church. For otherwise all preaching is in vain. If what has been sown on Sunday is not tended in fellowship it is soon lost. The individual is too negligent and weak. "One may fall, but two can stand together." We must open ourselves mutually, otherwise self re- mains lord, and "for me" the law of life. When we do not share our faith with one another we remain isolated, selfish people. Let us seek the fellowship of faith, according as Christ has opened our hearts.