Monday, October 16, 2017

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 109

On page 96 as Bonhoeffer moves into his concluding focus in Life Together, the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, he writes about the special place confession one to another has in preparation for the Supper.

“It is the command of Jesus that no one should come to the altar with a heart unreconciled to another Christian…The day before the Lord’s Supper together will find the members of a Christian community with one another, each asking of the other forgiveness for wrongs committed. Anyone who avoids this path to another believer cannot go to the table of the Lord well prepared.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 96.

Here Bonhoeffer is not only talking about confession of our sins one to another, but going to brothers and sisters against whom we have sinned and asking their forgiveness – Bonhoeffer points out that this is more than an apology, this is confession of sin.

In my own life I have stood before the communion table and asked forgiveness of someone in the congregation more than once before I could administer the bread and wine. Why? Why could I not have done this privately? I could have done it privately before our worship gathering if I had been convicted of it before then, or if I had been both convicted and had had time to do so before our worship gathering. In each instance I believed that if I proceeded in serving the Lord’s Supper without asking for forgiveness that I would be profaning the Table and serving the elements as a hypocrite.

So we have both the practice of confession of our sins one to another, a confession in which we hear the Word of Forgiveness in Christ; and we have the practice of going to a brother or sister against whom we have sinned and asking their forgiveness for the wrong, the sin, we have done against them. The is the path to the communion Table, and while we may struggle with the former practice and not be prepared to embrace it, we must not evade the latter practice, otherwise the roots of bitterness and sin will work their way deep into our souls. Tender and new weeds are easy to pull, deep-rooted weeds are difficult and can be dangerous to the good plants of the garden.

“What brought the accusation of blasphemy against Jesus was that he forgave sinners; this is what now takes place in the Christian community in the power of the present Jesus Christ” (page 97).

While I realize that some of us may resonant with the above, and others may reject it out-of-hand, I hope we will ponder Bonhoeffer’s words for they could not have been lightly penned, not in the context of the book Life Together; whether we agree with him or not I think it proper to give Bonhoeffer the courtesy of thinking about what he has written. Confession to one another is important to Bonhoeffer and we should ask “Why?” Bonhoeffer concludes his book with a focus on confession and the Lord’s Supper – why does he do this? Why is this so important?

If we are indeed the Body of Christ, if this is a present reality, if the Trinity lives within His Body, then as He is so are we in this world – whether we believe it or not, whether we consciously experience it or not. The Tree of Life in Revelation Chapter 22 is a picture of a tree, like the Aspen, which grows through its root system; one tree has become many trees yet the many trees are the one tree and they are genetically identical. The Aspen tree is considered by some to be the largest living thing, with the Pando “clone” over 100 acres in size and weighing around 14 million pounds – surely the Body of Christ dwarfs the Aspen tree.

Too often we recoil at a thought because we have seen it misunderstood and misused, we ought to know better – what riches in Christ have we forfeited because of this thinking? And just because my lack of faith may cause me to pragmatically think, “I’ll never see that in this life,” does not mean that I should not hope for a fuller expression of the glory of God in Christ in His people – just maybe God will surprise me as He has surprised others.

If we are a “royal priesthood” and a “holy nation” then we ought to discover what that means. (Peter does not write in 1 Peter 2:9 that we are a nation of sinners). John writes that Jesus Christ “has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father” (Revelation 1:6 – see also 5:10; 20:6). Surely the New Testament writers understood what the image of a priest would convey, surely when the writer of Hebrews calls Jesus our High Priest, rather than simply “our Priest”, he understands that a High Priest is surrounded by other priests. The NT teaching of the “priesthood of the believer” takes the OT priesthood and transposes it upward in Christ – yet this is not an individualistic priesthood, this is not a priesthood where people serve in isolation from one another, this is a priesthood, it is a communion, a fellowship, with our High Priest as our Head. Little wonder that Peter writes that we ought to be “good stewards of the manifold grace of God” and that when we speak we ought to speak as the “oracles of God” – for we have been made a holy nation and a royal priesthood.

Our world needs the Body of Christ functioning as a priesthood, the Body needs its members functioning one to another as a priesthood. Sadly we fear and we do not function. We are afraid to be who we are in Christ – we prefer the safety of Egypt. Slaves need not take risks, they are secure in their bondage.

“For you have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you have received the spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are the children of God,” (Romans 8:14 – 15). Better to live a moment in the freedom of Jesus Christ than a lifetime in chains.

Let us not fear to be who God has made us in Jesus Christ. Let us not fear to be the kingdom of priests, let us not fear to be Christ’s royal priesthood.

There is a sad irony that as we approach the 500th anniversary of what is commonly thought to be the beginning of the Reformation that we give but lip service to the priesthood of the believer which Luther sought to restore. Are we any better than the children of those who killed the prophets (Matthew 23:29 – 31)?

Bonhoeffer left confession and the Lord’s Supper for the end of his book because he considered that in this “the community has reached its goal,” a thought that we will explore in the next post. 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Reflections on Romans 4:1 – 5:11: (8)

“For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:6 – 8.

“Helpless” (being without strength), “ungodly,” “sinners,” and then in verse 10 “enemies.” Christ died for these people; who are these people? We are these people. We all once “were,” many still are, many are no longer – but we all once were. Christ died for us all, for God so loves the world that He gave His only begotten Son and He does not desire that any should perish but that we all might come to repentance – but not all receive the justification and reconciliation that God has proffered in and through Christ Jesus. This is a deep mystery to me and I do not purport to understand it, I only see glimpses – it is as the Grand Canyon, each overlook presents a particular vista and perspective. It is as Yellowstone, microsystems within a mysterious park. It is as Grand Teton National Park, there is no doubt as to where the mountains are – so do the love of God and the Christ of the Cross tower above all else - their majesty is unmistakable.

We were helpless, we were without strength; if we thought ourselves to be something, in truth we were nothing – in one sense we were as babies, unable to care for ourselves. In another starker sense we were enemies of God – let there be no mistake about that, God did not reconcile friends to Himself, He reconciled enemies. In the earlier chapters Paul has demonstrated that there is no one righteous, not even one.

When parties are at war the goal of each party is to destroy the other, to win the war by military action. Yet God’s goal was not the destruction of His enemy mankind, but rather its salvation and reconciliation. While we were rebelling against God, God was loving us. When Jesus teaches us to love our enemies He is calling us to live and love as God, He is calling us to live as the Trinity (as the Trinity lives in us). He is calling us to manifest the Divine Nature in our relationships to those who continue to be God’s enemies. God reconciles us by and through His love manifested in Jesus Christ and His Cross.

Can we see ourselves helpless and God loving us? Can we see ourselves as ungodly and God in Christ dying for us? Can we visualize ourselves as sinners and enemies of God and God reconciling us to Himself – to be in intimate relationship with Himself?

God’s love is passionate, it is pursuing, it is longsuffering – consider that Jesus took the sins of the world on Himself on the Cross – all of the evil deeds ever done, all of the evil ever thought, all of the filth which hearts have ever pondered – the Holy Lamb of God bore all of our sins, took them on Himself. Consider that Jesus, the Lamb, not only took our sins upon Himself, but He took us – and all that “us” means – upon Himself, into Himself – the core of our individual and collective beings, evil enemies that we were – He enfolded us within as He died and was buried so that we all might die in Him and be raised in Him (Romans Chapter 6).

God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him – 2 Corinthians 5:21; it is on this basis that Paul in 2 Corinthians pleads for his readers to be reconciled to God – the basis of God’s love in Christ on the Cross; “For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died, and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.” (2 Cor. 5:14 – 15).

To lose sight of who we were is to lose sight of the love of God which bridges the chasm of sin and death, which defeats our rebellion and hatred, which bore the hideousness of our deeds and ourselves on the Cross. For those who have yet to come into a relationship with Jesus Christ – let this encourage you to see how great God’s love for you is, how greatly He desires you to know Him and the depths of His love – He desires that you begin a new life in Him and that you learn to allow Him to live in you and through you – He desires that you experience the peace and joy of knowing that your sins are forgiven and that you have an eternal future in Jesus Christ.

Helpless we were when Jesus died for us, when He called us; helpless we are outside of Him; “…much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Romans 5:10).

Are we living in the “much more”? In the “much more” of His love, His grace, His reconciliation, His Holy Spirit, His empowering new life?

Let us live in more of the “much more” today.