Blogging through Bonhoeffer 1

14 Jun

First of all, I want you to know that by blogging I am falling into the trap of what my college friends called the progression to “pastor bro.” They all have a running bet to see how long it will take for me to turn into a skinny-jean wearing, soul-patch sporting, “intentionally connecting,” avid blogging “pastor bro.” Well one of those is now crossed off the list now and I pray that this doesn’t mark the beginning of the end.

This summer Center City is reading through Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “Life Together.” I will be blogging about each chapter from the book each week to correspond with the weekly small group that Lauren Mowrer is heading up.

Here we go…

When we divorce the message from the messenger we reduce the message to pithy ideals and lose the true meaning of the text. This is true of Jesus. To divorce his message from his life is to miss the point. This is certainly true of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was many things. He was, first and foremost, a theologian and thinker. He was a pastor for periods of time. He was an activist. He was a professor. He was a prophet. He was part of an assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler. And he was ultimately a martyr. His life was and is his message.

Bonhoeffer found himself in dichotomy in the academic world concerning the identity of the church. On one side, there was Karl Barth who argued that church was a spiritual reality. On the other side, liberal theologians argued the identity of the church was mainly sociological. It was Bonhoeffer’s goal to bridge those two worlds. He would not argue for or against either position. He would build a bridge to synthesize the two. Bonhoeffer would argue that the church is “Christ existing as community.” It is then both a spiritual and sociological reality.

That was his academic work on the issue. In “Life Together” we get a more popular level read on the practical nature of this issue. There are philosophical elements to the writing but all of them point to a lived reality that the church must be attuned to. “Life Together” came out of a time where many of his former students experienced life together at Finkenwalde in an illegal seminary run by Bonhoeffer. With Hitler in charge, seminaries were not welcomed. They studied, worshipped, prayed, played soccer, and ate meals together and lived out the message of this book. It is not a lofty ideal that Bonhoeffer is after. His entire life points to a reality that must be lived on earth–here and now.

In the first chapter titled “Community” several themes quickly emerge. One thing that is obvious is that Bonhoeffer isn’t into sappy ideals. He is not one to be caught up in the pleasantries associated with the idea of community.

He says “…the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes.” He then quotes Luther: “The kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends…”

He clearly is speaking of something far beyond simply being with church people consistently. He does not downplay the benefits of the church being together though. He says, “The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer.” He is not diminishing that. He is reframing the issue. His task in the first chapter is to dispel whatever lofty ideal we have of community. He demolishes the idea. He says that “God hates visionary dreaming.” Whenever we bring an idea of what community is we take the drivers seat. God wants no part of that. He says, “When the morning mists of dreams vanish then comes the bright day of Christian fellowship.” We have to take away whatever ideals we have of what community means.

How do we accomplish this? Bonhoeffer argues that God will not bless us with lofty things until we are sufficiently thankful for the (seemingly) small things. He says, “How can God entrust great things to one who will not thankfully receive from him the little things?” He says that we are to daily find ourselves thankful for whatever God has brought our way. We must be content with where we are. There is no perfect community and every attempt at one is futile. Bonhoeffer says that imperfect people in a community of faith are living reminders of a community’s need for Christ.

Bonhoeffer goes on in the chapter to set up a comparison between Christian community and human community. He says, “The basis of the community of the Spirit is truth; the basis of human community of spirit is desire.” No matter how seemingly pure our intentions, human community will always be flawed. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13, “If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” Even if we give everything and sacrifice greatly, without Christ it is misguided. Human love without a centrality on Christ is always self serving, despite our fervent attempts.

Bonhoeffer says that we are first and foremost Christ followers. When we follow Christ and are brought together by the cross, the natural outflow is a community of believers that accept joyfully all of life’s complexities and beauty. That community loves the unloveable. They accept and love their enemies. They do not seek community as their highest ideal. They seek conformity to the image of Christ as their aim and out of that comes a beautiful community.

-Joseph Phillips

What have you ever heard about Bonhoeffer?
What ideals of community have you seen people (or yourself) try to manufacture?
How can you combat that?
How can a community show that it is not merely an exclusive club of friends?
Are there any boundaries to radical inclusivity?
Are you sufficiently thankful for where we are as a community of believers?
What does purity of heart in community look like? How do we stay away from idealistic human community (where selfish desire is king)?


One Response to “Blogging through Bonhoeffer 1”

  1. Mr WordPress June 14, 2012 at 5:49 pm #

    Hi, this is a comment.
    To delete a comment, just log in, and view the posts’ comments, there you will have the option to edit or delete them.

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