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Dietrich Bonhoeffer - Reflections on Life Together

Dietrich Bonhoeffer - Reflections on Life Together

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Published by: Carlos Rodriguez on Apr 14, 2011
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01/31/2014

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Maria GraceDietrich Bonhoeffer:
Life Together: The Church’s Life in Christ 
1
A. Introduction
 This paper presents an overview of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s
Life Together 
, in which hedescribes his experience with the candidates of the Finkenwalde Seminary and those wholived in the Brother’s House from 1935 to 1937. The treatise answers questions aboutChristian life in community, especially under the fire of illegality.In 1935, Bonhoeffer was in London when he was presented with a much-soughtopportunity to study non-violent resistance under Gandhi in India. But he decided to returnto Germany in order to head an underground seminary for training Confessing Churchpastors in Finkenwalde. By August 1937, Himmler decreed the education and examinationof Confessing ministry candidates illegal. In September 1937, the Gestapo closed theseminary at Finkenwalde and by November arrested 27 pastors and former students.Bonhoeffer spent the next two years secretly traveling from one eastern German village toanother to conduct "seminary on the run" supervising his students, most of whom wereworking illegally in small parishes. His monastic communal life and teaching at Finkenwaldeseminary formed the basis of his books
The Cost of Discipleship
and
Life Together 
.
Life Together 
was published in 1938 and enjoyed a tremendously wide recognition. Itis a record of the most satisfying days in Bonhoeffer’s life—as a supervisor of youngpastors-in-training—and the only book that he liked reading with his fiancée, Maria, whenhe was in prison. An overview of the five chapters of 
Life Together 
and a conclusion follow.
B. Overview1.
 
Life Together: The Christian Community
 The Christian community is centered in Christ. Whether it is a brief encounter or anongoing living community, the members of the Christian community belong to one anotheronly
through
and
in
Jesus Christ. This means that: a) a Christian relates to others becauseof Jesus Christ; b) the path to others is only through Jesus Christ, and c) Christians havebeen chosen in Jesus Christ from eternity, accepted in time, and united for eternity.
1
 
1
 
Life Together,
31.18
 
Maria GraceDietrich Bonhoeffer:
Life Together: The Church’s Life in Christ 
2
The first point of being in community relates to one’s need of others, in sharingGod’s word and mutually strengthening one another’s faith, thus bringing the message of salvation to all. Christians need one another to speak God’s Word in fellowship, when theybecome uncertain and disheartened. The Word is external and must be heard from themouth of fellow Christians. In this regard, Bonhoeffer refers to Luther’s Smalcald ArticleVIII, reiterating that Christians will be deprived from the truth if they rely on their innerresources to hear the Word of God himself.
2
The second point—also in accordance to Paul’swritings—stresses Christ as the means and center of all relationships with one another.
3
Thethird point relates to the Incarnation, according to which Christians are incorporated intoChrist and, as the body of Christ, they will be with Christ and one another in an eternalfellowship.Bonhoeffer emphasizes the difference between the community as a human idealversus a divine reality. The church is not the outcome of desire or visionary hopes, nor canhuman beings claim themselves responsible for its successes of failures. Rather, God inJesus Christ has created the church, and Christians must receive and be in the church withan open attitude of thankfulness for forgiveness for daily provisions and for fellowship.Thankfulness is the key to greater spiritual resources. Without thankfulness Christians willnot experience God’s greatest gifts. Bonhoeffer stresses the importance of thankfulness forpastors, who must never complain about their congregations to other pastors or to God butmust receive their congregations with thankfulness and intercede for them with prayer.The Christian fellowship is not a mere human association brought together for acommon purpose, but a community in which human love and actions come from Christ andgo out to the other not from human to human directly, but through Christ. Christ opened upthe way to God and one another that was formerly blocked by one’s own ego. In Christalone can now Christians love and serve one another. He is the only and only mediator
2
Luther, Martin,1537: Smalcald Articles, Article VIII, On Confession
3
Ephesians, 2: 14 “He is our peace”, also Galatians,
6:16:
Our peace is based on our walk inHim”
 
 
Maria GraceDietrich Bonhoeffer:
Life Together: The Church’s Life in Christ 
3
throughout eternity.
4
This means that disciplining of other people is through Christ, and notdirectly from one person to another. Direct personal influence may result to coercion.Rather, a relationship centered in prayer to Christ may result to greater influence given byChrist himself.In order for the Christian community to stay healthy, everyone in it must learn todistinguish spiritual love from human love, and God’s reality from the human ideal. In thislight, a Christian community remains faithful in the life under the Word when “it does notform itself into a movement, an order, a society,
a collegium pietatis
,
5
but insteadunderstands itself as being part of the one, holy, universal, Christian Church…” 
6
 A healthy Christian community knows where the self-centered (i.e., human) elementends and the spiritual element begins. Bonhoeffer warns against a “purely spiritual life incommunity” as not only dangerous but also not normal, since it fosters the development of self-centeredness once the members retreat to themselves. The experience of a genuineChristian community is a rare, God-given gift that a Christian may have once in lifetime. Buta Christian must not live in community in search of such an experience; rather, living incommunity is a practice of faith, faith in Christ. This faith--
not the experience
--is what bindsChristians together. The unity of the community is in Christ, in whom alone Christians “haveaccess to one another, joy in one another, community in one another…” 
7
 
2.
 
The Day Together: The Community at Worship
 Life in the community begins at dawn with worship, which includes thanksgiving,reading of Scripture, and prayer. Even though Bonhoeffer does not propose a strict liturgical
ordo
, he treats worship with an intense interest in the pastoral side of life by insisting that
4
 
Life Together,
33.20
5
Bonhoeffer refers here to the “associations of piety”, examples of which are the private circlesfor mutual edification established by the prominent theologian of Lutheran Pietism Philipp JakobSpener (1635-1705), when he was senior clergyman in Frankfurt. Bonhoeffer’s disdain for Pietism is well documented. (See his letter to Bethge, July 31, 1936)
6
 
Life Together,
45.33
7
 
Life Together,
47.34

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