Last month I finished reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s little book, Life Together. It is truly a spiritual classic. There is so much depth and wisdom here about living the Christian life, particularly living in communion with fellow believers and living in light of the truth having been freely justified in Christ (the imprint of Luther is clear). I was encouraged as I saw much of the practice of my fellow church members reflected here.
In a day when (in Phil Ryken’s words) “church has become a place you go rather than the community to which you belong.” Bonhoeffer’s message is particularly needed.
Here are a couple of quotes about the value of community:
“The Physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer.” (p 19)
“The believer feels no shame, as though he were still living too much in the flesh, when he yearns for the physical presence of other Christians. Man was created a body, the Son of God appeared on earth in the body, he was raised in the body, in the sacrament the believer receives the Lord Christ in the body, and the resurrection of the dead will bring about the perfected fellowship of God’s spiritual-physcial creatures.” (pp. 19-20)
Bonhoeffer also deals with the false community we tend to establish where fake closeness by never really facing sin. He powerfully argues that there is no real intimacy until sin is faced and we can come out on the other side.
“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, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it. The sooner this shock of disillusionment comes to an individual and to a community the better for both. 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.” (p. 27)
Similarly, true love will not call us to indulge one another but to help one another toward Christ-likeness. And our own personal ideas of love will not do. We must look to the Scriptures to teach us what love really looks like.
“I do not know in advance what love for others means on the basis of the general idea of love that grows out of my human desires-all this may rather be hatred and an insidious kind of selfishness in the eyes of Christ. What love is, only Christ tells in his Word.” (p. 35)
“Where Christ bids me to maintain fellowship for the sake of love, I will maintain it. Where his truth enjoins me to dissolve a fellowship for love’s sake, there I will dissolve it, despite all the protests of my human love.” (p. 35)
What a wonderful book! I was humbled and encouraged by it. I also like the quote, "It is true, of course, that what is an unspeakable gift of God for the lonely individual is easily disregarded and trodden under foot by those who have the gift every day." I have found that our older and sick members get this while I myself easily miss it.