Dietrich Bonhoeffer – Life Together – Part 3

Travis Rogers, Jr.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer – Life Together – Part 3

4 mins
March 1, 2021

Chapter 1 – Community (cont’d)

As Bonhoeffer continues his discussion on Christian community, he goes on to say that when people bring their own vision of what the community should look like, they become unhappy in their desire for something more. Those who do not want more than what Christ has established between us do not really want Christian community. Rather, they are looking for something more extraordinary in their experience of community, perhaps something that was denied them elsewhere. Such people bring confused and warped desires into the Christian community. 

Danger to Community

It is precisely at this point that Christian community is most often threaten from the very outset by the greatest danger, the danger of internal poisoning, the danger of confusing Christian community with some wishful image of Pius community, the danger of blending the devout hearts natural desire for community with the spiritual reality of Christian community. 

Two Important Realizations

It is essential for Christian community that two things become clearer right from the outset. First, Christian community is not an ideal but a divine reality and, second, Christian community is a spiritual and not a psychic reality. On so many occasions Christian community has been shattered because it has lived on the basis of a wishful image. Certainly, Christians who are serious to be put in a community for the first time will often bring with them a very definite image of what Christian communal life should be what it should look like and they will be anxious to make that happen. But God‘s grace quickly thwarts all such illusions and dreams and goals. It is only the community which enters into the experience of this great disillusionment, with all its unpleasant and evil appearances, that begins to be what it should be in God’s sight and begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it.

Second, every human idealized image that is brought into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be broken up so that genuine community can survive. Those who love their dreams of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community, even though their prayer for personal intentions may be ever so honest, Earnest, and sacrificial. They enter the community of Christians with their demands, set up their own laws, and judge one another, and even God, accordingly. Whatever does not go their way, they call it a failure, when their idealized image is shattered, they see the community breaking into pieces. So, they first become accusers of other Christians in their community and then accusers of God and finally the desperate accusers of themselves.

It is here, where human ideals and wishful thinking take precedence over God’s designs, that Community begins to disintegrate. The first call of Christian community must be the sacrifice of our own designs and images.

God’s Foundation of Community

It is God, however, who has laid the only foundation for our community, because God has united us in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ long before we entered into common life with them, we enter into that life together with other Christians, not as those who make demands but as those who thankfully receive. We thank God for what God has done for us. We thank God for giving us other Christians who also live by God's call, God's forgiveness, and God's promise. We do not complain about what God does not give us. Rather, we were thankful for what God does give us daily. 

And that gift Of God is present in sure even when sin and misunderstanding burdened the common life. The one who sins is still a person with whom I am privileged to stand under the word of Christ. If we look at it rightly, another Christian’s sin can be an occasion for me to give thanks all over again that both of us may live in the forgiving love of God in Jesus Christ. The bright day of Christian community dawns wherever the early morning mists of dreamy visions are lifted. 

And pastors may lose faith in a Christian community in which they have been placed and began to make accusations against that community. In those cases, they must first examine themselves to see whether the underlying problem is not their own idealized image, an image which should be shattered by God. 

Community as an Ideal Beyond Ourselves

Like all Christian sanctification, The Christian community is a gift of God to which we have no claim ourselves. Only God knows the real condition of either our community or of our sanctification. What may appear weak and insignificant to us may be great and glorious to God. And Christians should not be constantly feeling the pulse of their spiritual life, so to the Christian community has not been given to us by God for us to be continually taking its temperature as though we were some sort of spiritual hypochondriacs. 

Christian community is not an ideal that we must realize but rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we are allowed to participate. The more clearly we understand that's the ground and strength and promise of all our community is in Jesus Christ alone, the more calmly we will learn to think about our community enter pray and hope for it. And because Christian community is established solely on Jesus Christ, we also recognize that it is a spiritual, and not a psychic, reality. In this way, it is different than all other communities. The scriptures call spiritual what is created only by the Holy Spirit, who puts Jesus Christ into our hearts as Lord and savior. The scriptures call psychic or emotional that which comes from the natural urges, strengths, and abilities of the human soul. The basis of all spiritual reality is the clear and manifest word of God in Jesus Christ. At the foundation of all psychic or emotional reality are the dark, impenetrable urges and desires of the human soul. 

Bonhoeffer will then go on to discuss the love that drives each of those communities. It is the difference between Agape and Eros. 

[Next week: Chapter One – Community continued] 

This article was orginally reported by
Travis Rogers, Jr.

Travis is a contributor in religion and entertainment.