Saturday, February 5, 2011

Bonhoeffer on Community & the Church

In his book Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes:
“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.”
“He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial. God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it must be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly. He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren. He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God and finally the despairing accuser of himself.” Life Together pp.26-28

One of the ways he specifically applies this is that pastors are not to grumble to other or to God about their churches.

I cannot help but wonder if Bonhoeffer had been writing to the 21st century American church he might have added-- "and then the visionary packs his bags, looks for another church and every 3-5 years repeats the process." We never think: what if I crucified my dreams instead of packing up my toys and going somewhere else. Most people today choose churches like they choose fast food restaurants. We are always looking for something. It is the next attraction, the next attention getter, the next 'loving community.' Few people stay long enough in the church to do the hard work of loving and sowing the seeds that will bear the fruit of true community.

--This is true not just of church attenders but pastors: we can be so captivated by our vision casting and our dreams and our building the church into what it should be that we fail to realize that Christ builds His Church. That the church is Christ's bride whom he sanctifies.

Bonhoeffer has this to say:
“Christian community is like the Christian’s sanctification. It is a gift of God which we cannot claim. Only God knows the real state of our fellowship, of our sanctification. What may appear weak and trifling to us may be great and glorious to God. Just as the Christian should not be constantly feeling his spiritual pulse, so, too, the Christian community has not been given to us by God for us to be constantly taking its temperature. The more thankfully we daily receive what is given to us, the more surely and steadily will fellowship increase and grow from day to day as God pleases.
Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate. The more clearly we learn to recognize that the ground and strength and promise of all our fellowship is in Jesus Christ alone, the more serenely shall we think of our fellowship and pray and hope for it.” Life Together, p.30
May God give us the grace to love his bride in the same manner he loved her.

1 comment:

confessingchurch said...


the main aim of Bonhoeffer was not the resistance against Hitler, but the renewal of the German Evangelical Church (former DEK, today EKD). In Germany there are evil powers trying to turn and to fix publics gaze on Bonhoeffers resistance activity. Everybody must admit that the Third Reich is over and the EKD sill exists with her problems. It is high time to turn the gaze away from Bonhoeffers resistance activity to his activity as reformer of the Church. Assumed Bonhoeffer would be recognized as very gifted theologian and assumed his theology would be applyed the EKD had to change totally. The EKD ordains homosexuals to pastors. I would like to know Bonhoeffers opinion about that.

I have just started a website concerning this issue:

Kind regards,
Rainer Braendlein (Munich, Germany)

The best book of Bonhoeffer: "The Cost of Discipleship" Buy it now!

"The Voyages..." Forays into Biblical studies, Biblical exegesis, theology, exposition, life, and occasionally some Star Trek...