Quotes from “Life Together” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer – Part 3

On the divine reality of Christian Unity, from Chapter 1, Community:

In Christian brotherhood everything depends upon its being clear right from the beginning, first, that Christian brotherhood is not an ideal, but a divine reality.  Second, that Christian brotherhood is a spiritual and not a psychic reality.

Innumerable times a whole 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.  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.  Sooner or later it will collapse.  Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive.  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 be realized by God, by others, 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.

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Quotes from “Life Together” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer – Part 2

On the meaning of Christian Community, from Chapter 1, Community:

Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ.  No Christian community is more or less than this…

What does this mean?  It means, first, that a Christian needs others because of Jesus Christ.  It means, second, that a Christian comes to others only through Jesus Christ.  It means, third, that in Jesus Christ we have been chosen from eternity, accepted in time, and united for eternity.

First, the Christian is the man who no longer seeks his salvation, his deliverance, his justification in himself, but in Jesus Christ alone.  He knows that God’s Word in Jesus Christ pronounces his guilty, even when he does not feel his guilt, and God’s Word in Jesus Christ pronounces him not guilty and righteous, even when he does not feel that he is righteous at all.  The Christian no longer lives of himself, by his own claims and his own justification, but by God’s claims and God’s justification.  He lives wholly by God’s Word pronounced upon him, whether that Word declares him guilty or innocent.

The death and the life of the Christian is not determined by his own resources; rather he finds both only in the Word that comes to him from outside, in God’s Word to him.  The Reformers expressed it this way: Our righteousness is an “alien righteousness,” a righteousness that comes from outside of us (extra nos).  They were saying that the Christian is dependent on the Word of God spoken to him.  He is pointed outward, to the Word that comes to him…

But God has put his Word into the mouth of men in order that it may be communicated to other men.  When one person is struck by the Word, he speaks it to others.  God has willed that we should seek and find His living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of a man.  Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him.  He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth.  He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation.  He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ.  The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain, his brother’s is sure.

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…”

Second, a Christian comes to others only through Jesus Christ.  Among men there is strife.  “He is our peace,” says Paul of Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:14).  Without Christ there is discord between God and man and between man and man.  Christ became the Mediator and made peace with God and among men.  Without Christ we should not know God, we could not call upon Him, nor come to Him.  But, without Christ we also would not know our brother, nor could we come to him.  The way is blocked by our own ego.  Christ opened up the way to God and to our brother…

Third, when God’s Son took on flesh, he truly and bodily took on, out of pure grace, our being, our nature, ourselves.  This was the eternal counsel of the triune God.  Now we are in him.  Where he is, there we are too, in the incarnation, on the Cross, and in his resurrection.  We belong to him because we are in him.  That is why the Scriptures call us the Body of Christ.  But if, before we could know and wish it, we have been chosen and accepted with the whole Church in Jesus Christ, then we also belong to him in eternity with one another.  We who live here in fellowship with him will one day be with him in eternal fellowship.  He who looks upon his brother should know that he will be eternally united with him in Jesus Christ.  Christian community beams community through and in Jesus Christ…

…One is brother to another person only through Jesus Christ.  I am a brother to another person through what Jesus Christ did for me and to me; the other person has become a brother to me through what Jesus Christ did for him.  This fact that we are brethren only through Jesus Christ is of immeasurable significance.  Not only the other person who is earnest and devout, who comes to me seeking brotherhood, must I deal in fellowship.  My brother is rather that other person who has been redeemed by Christ, delivered from his sin, and called to faith and eternal life.  Not what a man is in himself as a Christian, his spirituality and piety, constitutes the basis of our community.  What determines our brotherhood is what that man is by reason of Christ.  Our community with one another consists solely in what Christ has done to both of us…

That dismisses once and for all every clamorous desire for something more.  One who wants more than what Christ has established does not want Christian brotherhood…Just at this point of Christian brotherhood is threatened most often at the very start by the greatest danger of all, the danger of being poisoned at the root, the danger of confusing Christian brotherhood with some wishful idea of religious fellowship, of confounding the natural desire of the devout heart for community with the spiritual reality of Christian brotherhood.  In Christian brotherhood everything depends upon its being clear right from the beginning, first, that Christian brotherhood is not an ideal, but a divine reality.  Second, that Christian brotherhood is a spiritual and not a psychic reality.

Quotes from “Life Together” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

On the great gift of corporate worship, from Chapter 1, Community:

So between the death of Christ and the Last Day it is only by a gracious anticipation of the last things that Christians are privileged to live in visible fellowship with other Christians.  It is by the grace of God that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly in this world to share God’s Word and sacrament.  Not all Christians receive this blessing.  The imprisoned, the sick, the scattered lonely, the proclaimers of the Gospel in heathen lands stand alone.  They know that visible fellowship is a blessing.  They remember, as the Psalmist did, how they went “with the multitude…to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holyday” (Ps.42:4).  But they remain alone in far countries, a scattered seed according to God’s will.  Yet what is denied them as an actual experience they seize upon more fervently in faith.  Thus the exiled disciple of the Lord, John the Apocalyptist, celebrates in the loneliness of Patmos the heavenly worship with his congregations “in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” (Rev. 1:10).  He sees the seven candlesticks, his congregations, the seven stars, the angels of the congregations, and in the midst and above it all the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, in all the splendor of the resurrection.  He strengthens and fortifies him by His Word.  This is the heavenly fellowship, shared by the exile on the day of his Lord’s ressurection.

The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparably 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…

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-physical creatures.  The believer therefore lauds the Creator, the Redeemer, God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for the bodily presence of a brother.  The prisoner, the sick person, the Christian in exile sees in the companionship of a fellow Christian a physical sign of the gracious presence of the triune God.  Visitor and visited in loneliness recognize in each other the Christ who is present in the body; they receive and meet each other as one meets the Lord, in reverence, humility, and joy.  They receive each other’s benedictions as the benediction of the Lord Jesus Christ.  But if there is so much blessing and joy even in a single encounter of brother with brother, how inexhaustible are the riches that open up for those who by God’s will are privileged to live in the daily fellowship of life with other Christians!

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.  It is easily forgotten that the fellowship of Christian brethren is a gift of grace, a gift of the Kingdom of God that any day may be taken from us, that the time that still separates us from utter loneliness may be brief indeed.  Therefore, let him who until now has had the privilege of living in common Christian life with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of his heart.  Let him thank God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren.