Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Life Together 3

Bonhoeffer.jpgIt is too easy to be tempted to construct church unity on the basis of our personal, missional, or theological unity instead of the spiritual unity that we have only in and through Jesus Christ. After a considerable time of actually living out the challenges of life together, Bonhoeffer wrote Life Together to record a theology of community.

How do these words speak to you today? Do you find the temptation to construct your own unity? What breaks unity for you?

Which brings into immediate concern the failings of our brother or the failings of our sister and how those failings tax our ability to dwell in unity. Bonhoeffer’s words root us in grace, they point out our feeble attempts to construct our own ground rules for unity, and they reveal that genuine unity is something that we receive and something in which we live by faith:

“Even when sin and misunderstanding burden the common life, is not the one who sins still a person with whom I too stand under the word of Christ? Will not another Christian’s sin be an occasion for me ever anew to give thanks that both of us may live in the forgiving love of God in Jesus Christ? Therefore, will not the very moment of great disillusionment with my brother or sister be incomparably wholesome for me because it so thoroughly teaches me that both of us can never live by our own words and deeds, but only by that one Word and deed that really binds us together, the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ? The bright day of Christian community dawns wherever the early morning mists of dreamy visions are lifting” (36-37).

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  • Man, is that a great quote from a great book! As a pastor it is very humbling to think about the task of “maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4).
    Every time I stand before (or counsel, or serve alongside of, or worship with) the people of our local community of faith (Calvinists and Arminians, political conservatives and liberals, self-professed emergents and non-emergents, pre-millenarians and “who gives a crap-ers”, I am overwhelmed by the challenge to lead toward a unity that is not built around my own personal agendas. Without fear of expressing my own Scriptural convictions, I must daily do so with enough humility and grace as to cast my net as wide as possible without compromising “Christ and Him crucified” as the fulcrom of everything out of which life and ministry flows.
    Often when I’m tempted to break unity over some lesser issue than “Christ and Him crucified” – I must revert to the humbling reminder that not much else matters…

  • I really like this. An important reminder of the centrality of grace in our walk in Jesus.

  • Scot,
    Thanks for this quote. I think I shall post it on my blog as well. It does speak to the needs of the moment!!

  • Dru

    Now I’ve got to reread Life Together! We’re 15 years into a church plant. In response to American individualism, really emphasized community, relationships of trust, a culture of grace. But here’s the unintended consequence we are now addressing: many, too many, of our folks fell in love with us, the acceptance, the love. They didn’t fall in love with Christ. Life Together will be a good bracing tonic for us right now! We receive community, we don’t build it. . . . .

  • BeckyR

    But to know a person well enough so to be disillusioned by them. Is that possible in today’s established church? I have been in a house church for 32 yrs and one of the principles is that we commit to one another, being there for each other financially, physically, emotionally and spiritually, another is that we have opportunity to get close enough to each other to really love one another, that is, getting to know a person well enough to be bothered by their faults and learn to love them. That requires the same people meeting week after week after month after years. People have left over all those years but after being there long enough to get close to them. We are like family. There’s something indescribably after knowing someone for 30+ yrs.

  • Phil

    I’m in planning stages with our elders and denomination at present to begin a church plant in the upcoming year. Do I have a “ideal” for what I would like this church to be? Absolutely. Do I realize that I will be the primary person to keep that from happening? True to that too. However, the concept of knowing people, being dissappointed in and yet committed too is that of a community worthy of being a part of. The community in, of and from Christ. I’m just scared of failure before it even begins.

  • Gwen Meharg

    This just affirms what I already knew. Bonhoeffer was a MUCH better person than I will ever be. I am glad that God loves me anyway.

  • Pat

    As I read this post, I thought about the scripture that “love covers a multitude of sins”. That’s the love that is sometimes needed when we encounter things within a fellowship that threaten to destroy unity. Sometimes, offense can be so heartfelt that you question (at least I have) continued fellowship with a particular body. Is my worldview out of sync with the people with whom I worship? Is it time to move on elsewhere? These are not easy questions and it reminds me that only the love of God can conquer all these questions.

  • “What breaks unity for you?”
    I am part of a denomination that has been torn by division and, recently, schism. Pastors have left, often taking their congregations with them. Some of these pastors have been my friends. For us, questions about broken unity have been real ones on the ground.
    I have found that disagreement–even theological disagreement–does not break unity for me. What has broken unity is the demonization of persons with whom there is disagreement. I have been likened to a Nazi, for example, by someone with whom I disagreed–for no other reason than that we did disagree.
    I believe Darrell Guder has somewhere written of disagreeing Christianly as a form of witness. The world already knows how to demonize.

  • Hey Dru (#4),
    I really appreciated your candid words. One encouragement is not to beat yourself up for your flock falling in love with one another seemingly more than with Jesus. Brennan Manning and Henri Nouwen have both helped me to discover that the Great Commandments are essentially ONE command – the second being “like” (i.e. “equal to”) the first – that we should love our neighbor as ourselves.
    Jesus equated love for neighbor with love for God routinely…
    – “Whatever you did for the least of these…you did for me…”
    – “As I have loved you…so you must also love each other…”
    – The parable of the Good Samaritan, etc.
    And Jesus even said our direct worship of God should take second place to making things right with our brother or sister (“leave your gift at the altar and go and be reconciled…). I’m not lecturing here at all – just wanting to cheer you on and to say “Awesome Job” in the leadership of your flock. You may be more blessed and on track than you think… 🙂 Jesus’s people loving each other is a good problem to have…

  • Nitika

    @Jeremy #1
    I’m now adopting “who gives a crap” as my official eschatological position. Thanks.

  • Bonhoeffer reminds me that fellowships consist of real people that cannot be abstracted. That it is not lofty, dreamy and idealistic.
    Our small fellowship is going through the pain of a family divorcing. I’m reminded ,again, how frail and in need of grace all of us are. That our unity can survive “only by that one Word and deed that really binds us together, the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ”.