Bonhoeffer 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).