BY NATHAN LOWE
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a prominent German pastor during WWII, was once described as "a witness who saw the way of discipleship and walked it to the end.” This immense description is substantiated by his work Life Together, which uniquely nuances the Christian life by discussing topics such as community, days with others, days alone, ministry, confession, and communion. Below, you'll find some healthy questions from Bonhoeffer regarding the Christian life as it pertains to being in community with others.
“He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.” -Dietrich Bonhoeffer
1. "Has the fellowship served to make the individual free, strong, and mature, or has it made him weak and dependent?"
Bonhoeffer knew the Christian life didn't belong “in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes.” He affirms the body’s unity as a gathered church and scattered community being uniquely founded upon the work of Christ in each believer: “Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ.” This informs not only how one approaches the gathering of the body, but one’s individual faith journey, both of which carry equal spiritual weight. It is unique to the church body that “in the fellowship do we learn to be rightly alone and only in aloneness do we learn to live rightly in the fellowship.” Growth in both areas is rooted in devotion to God. As he forms and shapes the church in both contexts, the Christian learns the value of both God-ordained spaces of life for the sake of loving him and loving others.
2. "How, then, is true brotherly service performed in the Christian community?"
Because believers are together rooted in Christ holistically, so too are their lives bound to one another in such a way that transcends cultural norms: “Human love is directed to the other person for his own sake, spiritual love loves him for Christ’s sake.” As spiritual love grows, so too does service abound in the Christian life, and Bonhoeffer writes that the first service owed to others within the body is simply listening. In the midst of life’s business, Bonhoeffer encourages his readers to “listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God.” As genuine listening occurs, people within the body become real burdens because they are actually being cared for selflessly. This is where Bonhoeffer would say the church finds the beauty of the Gospel: “It is the fellowship of the Cross to experience the burden of the other.”
3. "Why should we be afraid of one another, since both of us have only God to fear?"
The body acts as a communal witness of the Gospel not only to the outside world but to each part of the body, for Bonhoeffer wrote that “God Himself taught us to meet one another as God has met us in Christ.” It’s not up to the Christian. It’s not even about the believer. In fact, Christian brotherhood is “a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.” Bonhoeffer views confession as a primary means of building authenticity within the fellowship. Confession draws believers closer together and to the cross, further bounding the body up together as the coming of Christ is anticipated.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together is filled with fantastic content and thought-provoking questions, and reading his short book will add weight to this article in addition to one’s perspective on the body of believers and one’s individual faith. As Fellowship Greenville strives to grow as a community of grace, this incredible resource will help equip you toward healthy spiritual formation.
*All quotations within this article are cited from Life Together.
*We are a church located in Greenville, South Carolina. Our vision is to see God transform us into a community of grace passionately pursuing life and mission with Jesus.*
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Written by Nathan Lowe