Bonhoeffer’s Book “Life Together”

“Though I have much to write to you, I would rather not use paper and ink. Instead I hope to come to you and talk face to face, so that our joy may be complete.”

2 John 12 ESV

In the November Voter’s Meeting I read a section of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book Life Together as we prepared for the meeting. This book was written in 1938 as he was living and teaching in an illegal (since orthodox Christianity was deemed “illegal” since it didn’t tow the Nazi line.) seminary training pastors. This seminary was very much residential and in person because of the nature of the political climate and the nature of the subject, Christians in community with one another.

Life Together explores from the scriptures what it means to be a Christian in relationship with other Christians. Bonhoeffer begins his book speaking about how Jesus Christ came to be among his enemies. Following Christ means the same thing for us. Not that we make enemies in the church but that it is in the nature of being a Christian that we are a scattered people among the world, which is the enemy of God. We are not meant to live in a cloistered life where we avoid all sinners. A few quotes worth your time and prayers for you to consider.

On Page 17 and 18, Bonhoeffer quotes from Luther concerning those who don’t want to put up with other sinners…

The Kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. 0 you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared? (Luther).

This sentiment of wanting to “sit among roses and lilies” is similar to what I have heard people say about the church. “They are just a bunch of hypocrites.” Or, “I thought they were a Christian!” We are very quick to judge people instead of doing what the 8th Commandment teaches and put the best construction on all things. We are not among one another to point out our faults and use these sins to one up each other but to bring Jesus to one another.

“Help must come from the outside, and it has come and comes daily and anew in the Word of Jesus Christ, bringing redemption, righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. But God has put this Word into the mouth of men in order that it may be communicated to other men.”

“And that also clarifies the goal of all Christian community: they meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation. As such, God permits them to meet together and gives them community. Their fellowship is founded solely upon Jesus Christ and this “alien righteousness.” All we can say, therefore, is: the community of Christians springs solely from the Biblical and Reformation message of the justification of man through grace alone; this alone is the basis of the longing of Christians for one another.”

He continues…

“The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer. Longingly, the imprisoned apostle Paul calls his “dearly beloved son in the faith,” Timothy, to come to him in prison in the last days of his life; he would see him again and have him near.
Remembering the congregation in Thessalonica, Paul prays “night and day . . . exceedingly that we might see your face” (I Thess. 3:10) . The aged John knows that his joy will not be full until he can come to his own people and speak face to face instead of writing with ink
(2 John 12) .”

Christian brotherhood is not an ideal, but a divine reality…
Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream. 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. By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world. He does not abandon us to those rapturous experiences and lofty moods that come over us like a dream. God is not a God of the emotions but the God of truth. 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.

All of this is to say, we gather together for the express purpose to repent of our sins and receive the Gospel. We receive through our ears and our mouths in the Lord’s Supper. The devil will do all he can to lead us to despair or fear. Seeing as how quickly certain governments have been able to even make church gathering illegal, be sure this Thanksgiving to give thanks to God that Jesus Christ always forgives us our sins. He will never leave the repentant nor will he crush the faintly burning wick of faith.

Let your Thanksgiving prayers include thanks to God for your church and fellow church members. Give thanks to God for “shattering our dreams” so that we find our contentment in Christ alone, through faith alone.

See you Sunday! In Christ,
Pastor Ottmers