Friday, November 16, 2012
Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Part One)
I thought I could sail through this 100 page book in a couple of days, but I was overestimating my powers of assimilation and underestimating Bonhoeffer’s profundity. Like some books by Chesterton and C.S. Lewis, I understood only half of this one. The little I “got”, however, was well worth the effort.
Bonhoeffer wrote the book in 1938 after having lived in an underground seminary with twenty-five pastors. It addressed the issues of Christian brothers living in close proximity.
It is clear why I was so enamored with this book during my seminary days. After all, I was living in community with hundreds of other men and women whose sole purpose was preparation for the ministry. We ate together, prayed together, studied together. Now, almost 30 years later, I’m reading it in a completely different context. My husband and I are working with church planters whom we hardly know. We meet briefly during the week and then scatter back to the privacy of our own homes. Life Together helped me see how loosely we use the word “community” and made me more determined to put up with the necessary “inconvenience” of spending more time together.
The book opens with Psalm 133:1 and then goes on to explain the steps that make possible a unity that is “good and pleasant.” Right from the start Bonhoeffer nixes the idea that we have fellowship because of common interests or backgrounds or because we like each other. Comfortable feelings toward one another have nothing to do with it. True fellowship is based solely on the fact that we are sinners saved by grace.
The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. 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. . . .
A community which cannot bear and cannot survive such a crisis, which insists upon keeping its illusion when it should be shattered, permanently loses in that moment the promise of Christian community. Sooner or later it will collapse. . . . 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. . . . The more clearly we learn to recognize that the ground and strength and promise of all our fellowship is in Jesus Christ alone, the more serenely shall we think of our fellowship and pray and hope for it. (pp. 26, 27 30)
I have many other thoughts, but will save them for my next post. A worthwhile and thought-provoking read.