Below are quotes and some preliminary thoughts on Bonhoeffer’s “Life Together“. My hope is that it encourages you to read the book and be inspired by the mystical Body of Christ.
“It is by the grace of God that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly in this world to share God’s Word and sacrament.” p.18
There are some believers who are imprisoned, sick, or in some form of exile. I think of countries like China or others who do not permit public gatherings. They seem to value the gathering much more than maybe those of us who can gather publicly. It seems that when something so precious like this is taken from us, we learn to appreciate its beauty and worth. I haven’t thought about it with this mindset. It brings tears to my eyes to think of the possibility of not gathering publicly. It makes me think of how good and pleasant it is to see brothers and sisters gathering in unity.
“Communal life is again being recognized by Christians today as the grace that it is, as the extraordinary, the ‘roses and lilies’ of the Christian life.” p.21
My immediate “reaction” is to call up people in my life who are longing to follow Jesus and how I experience a certain grace when we interact. I also experience this grace with people who don’t attend a church but the prevenient grace of God is definitely at work in their lives. In both cases, there is a nourishment of the heart/mind/spirit that feels mystical and transcendent. It feels otherworldly. Words of benediction are spoken, one to another. Gestures of humility and hospitality are shown, one to another. The common thread is the work of grace.
“Christian means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. It means…
- a Christian needs others because of Jesus Christ
- a Christian comes to others only through Jesus Christ
- in Jesus Christ we have been chosen from eternity, accepted in time, and united for eternity.” p.21
For Bonhoeffer, “help must come from the outside [and]…God has willed that we should seek and find His living Word in the witness of a [brother and sister] , in the mouth of [humankind].” p.22-23
Lately, I’ve been thinking about how much we need a power that is beyond us to sustain, transform, and resource us. We confess an emptiness, weakness, and human limitation that is met by the Presence of Christ, who redeems, fills, and makes us whole. Using Bonhoeffer’s framework of the Community of Christ, this only happens when we seek Christ and others that comprise the Body. In this sense, I say it’s mystical because it is a grace that is beyond us. The 12 step tradition starts with a confession that we are powerless and need a higher power. And it is confessed to another, as a means of receiving grace and support.
“the goal of all Christian community: they meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation.” p.23
“Christian community means community through and in Jesus Christ. On this presupposition rest everything that the Scriptures provide in the way of directions and precepts for the communal life of Christians.” p.24
Jesus becomes the peacemaker between the Triune God and humanity, and humanity with one another. But without Christ there is “discord” (p.23). What are the realities of those who have not professed Christ and made baptismal vows? What is a helpful framework to commune with the mechanic, accountant, and sales manager that may not adhere to the teachings of Christ? The mystery of the Body of Christ is one because Christ makes us one. But we are made one with all of humanity because Christ became human. We relate to one another in terms of a constant tension between having our Christian faith but also being called to mission to serve the world.
Reflection Question: Bonhoeffer makes such a strong argument towards brotherly love. What was happening in his context that made him lean so strongly that way?
“One is a brother to another only through Jesus Christ” p.25
I agree with that AND also believe I am a brother to another through our shared common humanity. It’s both/and.
“The more genuine and the deeper our community becomes, the more will everything else between us recede…” p.26
So far, Bonhoeffer is making a point of the depth of Christian community we have in and through Christ Jesus. Christ relates to us as Brothers and we are found in Him. Because of that reality, we are now one with another as well. I think this view has deep implications for us, especially in our Americanized, fragmented culture. We pick and choose where to go to church, forgetting that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. And when we choose to be part of a community, is there depth and a genuineness? There ought to be signs and fruit of this depth.
In many ways, sometimes church doesn’t feel like this. It feels more like a weekly task to mark off. The liturgy may make room for a friendly greeting and we may have small groups to attend. But it feels more like a rotary club meeting to accomplish a task. When I think of Christian community, I picture vulnerability, transparency, encouragement, facing the pain together, helping each other flourish, listening as a radical act of love and communion, and deep friendships made real through Christ.
I had to change my focus while reading Bonhoeffer from thinking he’s excluding non-christians to seeing that he is trying to capture the mystery of Christian community and the gift it is.
“Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and if we are fortunate, with ourselves…only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight…the sooner this shock of disillusionment comes to an individual and to a community the better for both.” p.27
Bonhoeffer’s view of Christian community is not based on a wishful dream and fantasy. He is against idealizing the community. If we love the idea of community more than the Christian community itself, we are being “pretentious” (p.27). This is such a hard word for someone like me that is a visionary and idealist. A Christian visionary has the choice to paint an idealized fantasy of Christian community or to lean into a reality that simply is–a Christian community brought together by Christ, and held up together by Christ. I wish I would have read his book 20 years ago. So good!! We don’t enter in Christian community demanding that our vision and needs be met. We enter as “thankful recipients” (p.28)
“Christian [community] is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.” p.30