Since we are in the final week of the love month of February it might be appropriate to close this out with a little bit of love.
As you may or may not recall, I wrote previously on the importance of loving people, even those who might annoy us. Yes, loving even those people who might send you in the opposite direction if you spot them walking into the room. That’s a tough thought, isn’t it?
Reading through an old book on my shelf, I noticed a couple of statements by the Early Church Fathers on this topic. In the Second Century, Clement of Alexandria wrote a portion on love that caught my eye. Actually, he might have been one of the first writers to use a variance of the much-maligned phrase “hate the sin, love the sinner.” Clement reminded the church at that time to love the thief or “ungodly person.” He wanted them to love that individual, but hate the sin that ensnared them. The inclination to sin that I know all too well. But before you hit the close button on your browser, let me say something quickly about what Clement said.
Clement did not want the person to be tolerated in the presence of Church. He did not want them to passively accept the individual. He did not want the people to put a scarlet letter on the shirt of the individual. Instead, he wanted the followers of Jesus to look at the person through a different set of eyes. Loving that person does not mean to condone or condemn them, but to see them as a man or woman that God has made, and that they are the work of God. They are the very work of God, someone who is precious in the eyes of their Creator.
Tertullian, another ancient Christian from the Third Century, would also comment that Christians were different in that age because they did not only love people who liked them. They loved their enemies, they loved people who might turn them over to the persecuting Roman authorities. For Tertullian, the Christian faith is focused on loving others and praying for those who might persecute you. Whether it’s that relative who calls you names because of your faith or the oppressive government militaries that break up church services by force, loving an enemy is something alien to our broken human nature and yet found in the heart of God.
For those who are in Christ, we too know that we have a dirty past. That while we were in the enemy camp, Christ died for our sins and was raised for our justification. This is a basis of love. This is where a person can learn to not tolerate others, instead embracing them for who they are– a man or woman with the image of God on them.
(Part 4 of 4 on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s classic Life Together)
The last things that Bonhoeffer wanted to communicate to the community of faith were ministry and confession/communion.
The Ministries for All
Before we move forward, it is important to clarify that all people are part of the ministry, there is not a professional group and then the people in the church pews. If one is a part of the community of faith, then they are able to take part in these ministries.
For the sake of harmony in the church, we all have a “ministry” of holding our tongues. We shouldn’t speak about much that occurs in our thoughts because most of the time it is not helpful. This prohibition includes speaking to other people under the guise of helping them. Going to another person and telling them to pray for So and So because they are struggling with This and That is not a wise idea. That really is just gossip cloaked in a false coat of spirituality. Unfortunately, I have been a part of this gossip.
Leave Others Alone
Just as we should pray for others when we are alone, we should also let them be under God’s control instead of ours. For God did not give us a brother or sister to control, but instead they were given so we could find above him God the Creator.
Sit with that just for a little bit. Different people will model God’s image differently, because God in “his very freedom from me [He] made this person in his image,” not my own preconceived notion.
Listening and Speaking
We in the community have a ministry of humility and listening as well. In a world that doesn’t stop talking, I believe we need these ministries more than ever. Just as we listen to God’s Word, “the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them.” These concepts then roll into helping others, allowing God to interrupt our lives so that we can be there for other people. We can also bear others troubles and cares by the freedom we have in Christ.
Community also requires that we proclaim and speak God’s Word to others. When a brother or sister falls into sin, there is an imperative in God’s Word for others to call them back. “Nothing is more cruel than the tenderness that consigns another to his sin.” We are all sinners- great ones. Now God calls us as sinners to Himself, there isn’t a need to pretend that we are any different. The grace of Christ confronts us with the truth that we need to come to him as a sinner.
Confessing our sins leads us to being closer to others, being closer to the heart of deep rooted communion. “Sin wants to remain unknown…In the darkness of the unexpressed it poisons the whole being of a person.” Openness in the form of confession to others removes our pride. Certainly we need to confess to God, but confessing to another allows the sinner to not be isolated anymore, freeing them to enjoy God’s grace. “In the presence of a psychiatrist I can only be a sick man; in the presence of a Christian brother I can dare to be a sinner.”
It is through confession and repentance (turning from sin) that the community of faith can now enjoy the reminder of what God has done in Jesus. Joy in Christ and in the community of the redeemed can be found in the sacrament of communion, where we remember what he did for us. “The life of Christians together under the Word has reached its perfection in the sacrament.” For it is in this act that we come together and are shaped as a person of the cross and resurrection of Jesus.
I hope you enjoyed this this look into Bonhoeffer’s work “Life Together” and hope you pick up a copy of it. Let me know in the comments what you thought of this series and if there is anyone in particular you would like me to look into.
(Part 3 of 4 on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s classic Life Together)
If we are honest, most people have had a bad experience with church. While some might have been burnt by Christians in some capacity and don’t want to be a part of it (which is understandable), others might fall into the category of Christians, according to Bonhoeffer, “who cannot endure being alone.”
Community and Solitude
Let me unpack the connection between community and solitude. For a lack of a better name, those “who cannot be left alone” group have a problem. They need to have others meet their needs. Even though these individuals require others to meet their needs, they are often disappointed when other do not (stay with me!). The reason for this is because they cannot be alone. Sit with that thought for a moment.
This group is looking for a “spiritual sanatorium” in church when they really need an encounter with God alone. They’re looking for others to solve their problems when they really need God to root it out. Sounds intense, doesn’t it? Bonhoeffer, quit meddling!!
The Furnace of Personal Transformation
Being alone is something we all must face. Alone we stood before God called, alone we had to answer his call, alone we must pray, and alone we will slip into death and give an account to God. “Let him who cannot be alone beware of community,” as Bonhoeffer wrote.
Before you despair, listen to this good news! “Let him who is not in community beware of being alone.” Into community we were called, and in this community of the called you (and I!) will struggle and pray. In death, life, and on the Last Day both of us will be a “member of the great congregation of Jesus Christ.” As Luther would encourage us, “If I die, then I am not alone in death; if I suffer they [the fellowship] suffer with me.”
Thus the tension: in fellowship we learn to be “rightly alone” and only in “aloneness do we learn to live rightly in fellowship.” Silence and speech are both marks of solitude and community, respectively. Silence does not have to be frightening. It is the stillness of the individual under God’s Word. Silence is knowing deeply that we are waiting for God’s Word and coming from that same word with a blessing.
Henri Nouwen would call this the furnace of personal transformation, since we would be alone before God. It forges the individual not only in right hearing, but right speaking as well.
Being alone offers the opportunity to intercede for others. Intercession is a lynchpin for Christian fellowship, the fellowship lives and exists by the intercession for one another, or else it collapses inward.
You might be asking yourself what about those really annoying people. Even for those who might repel us, bringing him or her to God’s presence will shift our focus and the reality that they are a poor human in need of grace will come into clearer focus. The repelling nature will fall away and we will see that person in their need.
Setting aside time to be alone will transform us. It is through those times that we will receive strength and blessing. The blessing of aloneness will then lead into blessing of fellowship. The strength of fellowship and strength of aloneness is done solely through the strength of God’s Word. As you can see, both being alone and together are so essential to life in the community of faith.
Now that we’ve walked through the intensity of being alone, now we get to the good stuff next time. Until then!
Have you tried a time of solitude?
(Part 2 of 4 on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s classic Life Together)
Bonhoeffer viewed life differently. He saw that the core of ones faith was found in being steeped in God’s Word. Being rooted in the word shaped the day for the family and individual. He advocated in “Life Together” to have a dedicated time of song, Scripture, and prayer for the community. Since, in his mind, the family was the core, they should as a whole be formed together.
One of the points that I found interesting is Bonhoeffer’s emphasis on the Psalter. The Book of Psalms acted as a prayer book for the people, expressing emotions across a wide space of time. Through the praying and chewing of these psalms he has found that it is Jesus himself praying through them. “The Psalter is the prayer book of Jesus Christ in the truest sense of the word. He prayed the Psalter and now it has become his prayer for all time.”
Through these ancient prayers, we learn what prayer means (standing on his Word and promises), what we should pray (moving in the emotions of the Psalter), and it teaches us to pray as a fellowship (praying together the same words, across space and time). Bonhoeffer is very encouraging in this. Praying the psalms teaches us how to pray, and the more we grow in this aspect, “the more simple and rich will our prayer become.”
Reading the Biblical books from front to back will confront the reader. It will put themselves into where God has “acted once and for all for the salvation of men.” Why should we do this? Because Scripture teaches us about ourselves. It will help steer us through the chaotic waters of life and will help correct our hearts when they stray. “It is not our heart that determines our course, but God’s word.”
Prayers, songs, and readings must abound to form our lives in a world that is so influencing. We are so shaped by constant advertisement that the community of faith needs another influencing factor in their lives. Bonhoeffer’s response is that we need to be shaped by a whole host of things, highlighting church service, work, eating, and more into play.
For Bonhoeffer, it seemed like all of life was under the rule and reign of Jesus. “Thus every word, every work, every labor of the Christian becomes a prayer.” Everything, even sleep, can be done with our focus on God in Christ. Life Together is found by being united in Jesus and enjoying him through fellowship with others.
How have you been encouraged in community?
“This is the end, but for me it is the beginning of life.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer at his death
How would I live if I knew that the government hated what I was doing? How would I act if I knew that living in the Kingdom of God and walking in that manner could very well mean my painful demise? These are tough questions to think about, yet a simple pastor went through a time like that. He exited this world with the conviction that he needed to do what was right, even if the consequences proved fatal. That man was the modern day martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor who lived under one of the most evil regimes in modern history. Even though he lived under the Third Reich, he chose to not be complacent in those dark times and keep his head down. Bonhoeffer chose to remain faithful to God even when others in the church compromised their message. He was convinced that he could not remain silent about the evils that the state was performing. In fact, to be silent in his mind meant that you were complicit in those heinous acts.
With the church either hiding or condoning the acts of the Nazis, Bonhoeffer sensed the need to train young men to be faithful proclaimers of the Word of God. As a result of this, he formed an underground seminary to accomplish his goal. Out of this experience, the marvelous little book “Life Together” was born, encapsulating his view on life in Christ and community.
Living in fellowship with other Christians is a non-negotiable. For Bonhoeffer, it was a good thing when people who belonged to Jesus lived in unity. For people who lived between the “death of Christ and the Last Day,” it was and is a privilege to be in fellowship with others. Those who might not have the opportunity (the sick, imprisoned, solo missionary) miss the connection with others (yet those who are alone still have Christ). If it was at all possible, physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy.
Christian community is more than a place. As he wrote in Life Together, “Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ.” A Christian needs others because of Jesus. They come to others only through Jesus, and they (in Jesus) have been “chosen from eternity, accepted in time, and united for eternity.”
To understand this train of thought, one must know that those who are in Christ are not good in themselves. They have been justified (declared righteous) and had their filth wiped clean in God’s eyes. Any good, or righteousness, they do comes from God. It is an alien (other) righteousness. If they were asked where his/her salvation was, they would point not to themselves but to the Messiah. They would point to Jesus, who would assure them of their salvation.
If you’re still with me, you may ask, “Jeremy, why the journey into theology and theologizing?” And that’s a great question! The reason I raise this is because from Bonhoeffer’s perspective, people needed to be rooted in Jesus before they could be rooted in a community.
Fellowship is founded in the “alien righteousness” of Jesus. Community springs from the message of justification of humanity through grace alone. In this context, Christians will long for community. Without the intermediary Jesus, we would neither know God nor peace. And we would never be able to connect with others in community without Jesus. For Jesus is our brother and through union to him we develop brotherly love for others. When we received forgiveness, we could provide forgiveness towards others. In other words, the more we received, the more we could give.
Community and the love of the other allows for the freedom to meet the person as Christ’s own. They are not made in my image, so I am free to enjoy being with that person. If that person is in Christ, then I am able to respect who they are as a person and let God work on them as he is so inclined.
Lastly, the body of Christ must be understood as catholic, it is global and universal in scope. One community has not arrived at perfection, instead it is just one part of a broader world, of a broader church. Though the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church” might not meet all at once, it is connected by something more. The community of Christ is bound together by faith, not by experience. It is through him and by faith in him that unity can be found among the diverse church.
Next: Life in Community