Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Life Together 2

Bonhoeffer.jpgBonhoeffer wrote Life Together in one month in 1938. It puts into written form the principles and practices that guided his time at Zingst and Finkenwalde, the underground seminaries of pious Lutherans who opposed Hitler’s ever-encroaching power in the Church and Germany.

It is one of the seeds expressing what led to his arrest, imprisonment at Tegel (the picture to the right is from Tegel), constant interrogations and eventually, sadly, to his hanging at Flossenburg, not long before the concentration camp was freed.

Bonhoeffer’s idea of seminary was that it was both the formation of mind and spirit/soul or spiritual life. So, he taught about discipleship and he taught about living in community, which he practiced in a more intense form with some of the students. That more intense form is found in Life Together.

What constitutes our fellowship and our unity?

This is no light question. Many are tempted today to think we are united by mission or by program or by goal or by vision; others think our common ideas or practices unify; yet others think of unity created by the spiritual gifts. Bonhoeffer digs deeper.

For Bonhoeffer our unity is “in” and “through” Jesus Christ — and that’s it. It’s the whole unity and there is nothing else that can genuinely unify us. He makes three major points:

1. Christians need others for the sake of Jesus Christ.
2. Christians come to each other only through Jesus Christ.
3. Christians have been chosen in eternity, accepted in time, and united in eternity in Jesus Christ.

“The Christ in their own hearts is weaker than the Christ in the word of other Christians” (32).

Christian community is only Christian to the degree that it is Jesus Christ creating and sustaining that unity. Any other form of unity will be shattered by time.

It’s all in and through Jesus Christ. “There is no Christian community that is more than this, and none that is less than this” (31).

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posted September 1, 2009 at 4:04 am

“The Christ in their own hearts is weaker than the Christ in the word of other Christians.”
That to me is a powerful quote.
This is a good review of this book, for me. Definitely one of my all time favorite books.

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Ted M. Gossard

posted September 1, 2009 at 4:06 am

Your Name is me.

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jeff borden

posted September 1, 2009 at 6:14 am

The foundation of the Christian community, as Bonhoeffer describes it, comes out of a transformed heart. This transformed heart learns the way of agape (the way of God-love) and enters into the selfless service to the community of Christ. According to the descriptions by Bonhoeffer (pp. 21-39 in my older copy), without this working ?in and through Christ? the way of community and agape is impossible (he refers to the differences as Spiritual Love and Human Love). I agree with his depictions and think that his description of the Christian community is the way God has planned for us to live; in and through Christ.
Personally, I believe this is what God has planned for his people. I believe that it is for now and for everyone. I also believe the ministering agency of the Holy Spirit empowers the believer to rise above ?self? and love with the spiritual (agape) love Bonhoeffer describes. Although I have not experienced community described in Life Together, nor have I perfected the way of agape, I believe it is something God has planned for us even this side of eternity. I can count on one hand the number of persons I have personally encountered that truly believe this same way; at least to the point that it is what they strive for. I am curious what the consensus is here?
My question is this; is this life together, joined in and through Christ with agape love, a universal portrait of the Christian community? Is what Bonhoeffer describes relegated to a small subsection of believers or is it inclusive for all believers? Also, does this description and explanation of community cross the lines of age, culture, and time here?in the present and fallen state of the earth and humanity?

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posted September 1, 2009 at 8:06 am

It’s been some time since I read Life Together and I do intend to look up the quotes above (particularly, “The Christ in their own hearts is weaker than the Christ in the word of other Christians;” I’m still not sure that I get that and want to re-read it in context), but my thoughts are influenced by listening to Organic Church on CD on my way to work this morning. This chapter focuses on “two or three gathered together” and offers different OT and NT references. My experience tells me that Bonhoeffer’s description of community is not so unrealistic/idealistic when considered for smaller groups like that, but starts to be much more difficult to realize as the group grows larger. Am I just “punting” on DB’s ideals?

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Travis Greene

posted September 1, 2009 at 9:07 am

It is more difficult to realize as the group grows larger. There are at least two ways to address this:
-groups within groups (small groups/Sunday school/whatever within a larger church)
-replicating when a church reaches a certain size (when 125 or so is reached, sending 30 of those off to start a new church)
I like organic stuff too, but even the “two or three together” verse is in the context of a larger community.

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posted September 1, 2009 at 9:33 am
I think that it is important to note that Life Together is not about community in church or in Christian small groups. It is about Christians living together. Living in the same house or apartment. Eating their meals together. Waking up daily together.
Some of his principles apply to other community settings, but he is primarily talking about a setting that is different than weekly home fellowship groups.

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robert gelinas (jazztheologian)

posted September 1, 2009 at 9:36 am

Remember that Bonhoeffer spent time in Harlem during the jazz age. As I write about him in my book, I’m convinced that Harlem in general and jazz in particular had a formative impact on his view of community.
robert gelinas

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posted September 1, 2009 at 9:38 am

Its been a while since I read the book – but doesn’t Bonhoeffer also extend his principles to family life and to the way families interact in churches?

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craig cottongim

posted September 1, 2009 at 10:21 am

this is a topic fresh on my mind. We’ve been studying Romans 14 & 15 as a group on Sunday nights. We in the Churches of Christ began in the early 19th century as a “Unity movement,” but we’ve allowed the non-essentials to fragment us. It just kills me… Thanks for reminding us about Bonhoeffer’s wisdom & insight!

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Ellen Haroutunian

posted September 1, 2009 at 10:27 am

Bonhoeffer said that he who loves the dream of community more than community itself destroys the latter. I wonder if we don’t often view our “unity” in Christ as our bond over a shared statement of faith or commitment to a form of ministry more than working out what it means to love God and love one another – the nitty gritty loving of imperfect, sinful, differently-thinking others beyond those “sure” things. It makes the model of the “jazz community” (mentioned by Robert, above) make sense to me! :-)

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posted September 1, 2009 at 10:35 am

While it may be useful to recognize that Bonhoeffer was living in a radical sort of Christian community (with no intent to comment on whether it should or should not be radical… it’s not the norm for the people reading this blog, I would imagine), I don’t think we should be too quick to dismiss the ontological, teleological, and eschatological elements to being In Christ (if I may be so presumptuous as to add those fancy titles to what Bonhoeffer says so well).
What he says that is highlighted here, is central and consistent with the teachings of Jesus about His disciples.

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posted September 1, 2009 at 10:44 am

I just wish I could find some Christian “community” somewhere. I’m thinking of starting my own “home church” just to find some people who are interested in actually knowing one another on more than the shallow, passive level that the people in church seem so satisfied with. Maybe I should read this.

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posted September 1, 2009 at 11:03 am

Ooh yes! I highly recommend it!
In the mean time, express your concerns constructively to your church leadership (assuming you’re a member of the church). Such a desire to foster real Christian community should be well recieved. Be prepared to be part of the solution! Division is not a good first step towards Christian community.
If you’re not a member of a local church body, join one. “Home church” or other church planting should not be taken on lightly, and should be a dire calling, like any other difficult calling. If you do feel called, then be on your knees about it, and prepare yourself to put in a lot of hard and careful work to take on such a thing.

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posted September 1, 2009 at 11:20 am

RJS (#8)
It definitely applies to family life, since families are living together. Not families interacting in churches, as I recall and I just finished reading it. But some of the principles could certainly be applied.
I found it most directly applicable to my daily life at home with my family. He gets into the daily rhythm of living. Waking and morning prayer and Scripture reading together each day, meals together each day, etc. He made me realize that the family unit is an “ekklesia” gathering community, that gathers on a daily basis.
He reminded me that we are called to have a Deut. 6:4-9 family life.

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John W Frye

posted September 1, 2009 at 12:13 pm

I think our initial impulse after reading Bonhoeffer is to use his descriptions as a template. How can we have “community” like that? Ironically, this attempt flies in the face of what Bonhoeffer has written. If community is from Christ, in Christ and through Christ, then Christ must be our focus and we must be in submission to His work of building his church. We end up idealizing Bonhoeffer and our very idealization of community as Bonhoeffer warns, will destroy for us (and others) what Christ is compelled to do.

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John W Frye

posted September 1, 2009 at 12:28 pm

To continue comment #15, I would suggest that we can no more create Christian community than we could create light by saying, “Let there be light!” There is a blazingly supernatural origin to Christian community and we will flounder trying house church, emerging church, small group church, Bonhoeffer template, simple church, organic church models. The Spirit of Jesus alone creates Christian community. Salvation is a hands off experience. God does it. Since community is a spend out of salvation, it, too, is a God-creation ex nihilo.

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jeff borden

posted September 1, 2009 at 3:45 pm

@JohnWFrye #15-16 (First, I enjoy your blog) I think I agree with your point (if I understand correctly) of destroying community if we attempt to model it from any idealistic tenet. I understand Bonhoeffer?s point and principle to purpose spiritual love (agape) as it is enacted ?in and through? Christ as the fuel for community; and more specifically for any group (small or large, cloistered or corporate, local or global) doing Life Together. I do have trouble reconciling ?Salvation is a hands off experience? though. Without God, salvation is impossible; this I believe is true. Without humanity salvation is not needed; I also believe this is true. Isn?t there something to humans being willing partners in the God-man relationship? Maybe it is over my head from a philosophical understanding, but I do not fully grasp the concept of salvation and community created out of nothing. No sarcasm or wise guy intent here?I?m trying to work through all the implications.
I think @RobertGelinas (#7) (Loved your contribution at Renovare? SA BTW) is on to something with the jazz reference. If I understand the parallel, community can be, and often is, chaotic, eclectic, seemingly disorganized, and still exist in beautiful harmony?all at the same time. I like that imagery; it seems to work from my own experiential perspective.

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Jim Martin

posted September 1, 2009 at 5:25 pm

Scot- I love this book. You are right in that so often we seek unity in many of other places besides where D. Bonhoeffer began (and ended). Unity is found in Christ. So often, Christ receives a polite nod of the head while endeavor to find unity in numerous other areas. Yet, no matter how hard we try to find unity based upon our agreement of an issue, we will never experience the dynamic of unity which is present only in Christ.

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posted September 1, 2009 at 5:42 pm

The section on pp. 29-30 (I think) was super formative for me. Bonhoeffer, in true Lutheran fashion, insists that Christians are people who live or die by God’s Word, not theirs. Whether they feel it or not, they accept God’s verdict of “guilty” and “not righteous” (Law). And yet in confessing their sin, Christians accept the Word that they are righteous and justified in Christ (Gospel). But since that is a revealed truth about a righteousness that belongs to Christ and not our own, we need that word from others–the Word of Law and Gospel. It is categorically impossible to forgive ourselves; we need to hear that Word from a brother, especially when our own hearts are wracked with doubt. Hence the quote mentioned above, that the Christ in our brother’s words is stronger than the Christ in our own.
If you’ve never read this book, go out and buy it. I’ve read it four times, and every time it is super challenging for me and really focuses a laser beam on my desire to live by the truth of God’s Word in the real church, not by my emotions or feelings or desires. Bonhoeffer is masterful, though I think you need to understand Lutheran theology to really get what he is saying and understand where he’s coming from.

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