For Christmas Vickie gave me a four-volume set of Bonhoeffer, a reader’s edition newly published by Fortress Press: Discipleship, Ethics, Life Together, and Letter’s and Papers from Prison. I first read Discipleship as a teenager and it has been part of the fabric of my life ever since then (to varying degrees!). I also read Letters and Papers from Prison as a teenager, but it was a much smaller volume than the current one. When I read Life Together at Christmastime my soul was filled with joy.
Bonhoeffer begins with: “The Christian cannot simply take for granted the privilege of living among other Christians. Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies…He had come for the express purpose of bringing peace to the enemies of God. So Christians, too, belong not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the midst of enemies.”
He then quotes Luther, “And whoever will not suffer this [being in the midst of enemies] does not want to be part of the rule of Christ.” (Page 1, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works – Reader’s Edition; Fortress Press, 2015)
Bonhoeffer begins with mission. In this sense life together (the church) is not about us, it is about others; and it is not about others that we get along with, it is about others who are hostile to us. If Jesus came to bring peace to the enemies of God, then we are called to bring peace to the enemies of God – how easy it is for me to forget this in the midst of daily life. Jesus says to us in John, “As the Father has sent me I send you.” We forget this – we live as if we think we were never God’s enemies, and if we do think that we were once God’s enemies then we live as if God has brought peace to all the enemies he desires to, we live as if once we entered the ark of salvation that God closed the door on everyone else. We live as if we think that God desires to destroy his enemies rather than save them through us.
Church life should not be considered apart from mission, for Jesus says to us, “Go into all the world.” When a church exists without mission it becomes introverted and obsessed with its own existence – the irony is that this obsession ensures its own death – whether numerically or spiritually or both. It is little wonder that such congregations cannot “go” to others, for their legs have atrophied and they can no longer walk.
We experience koinonia with Jesus Christ when we seek the peace of our enemies; yes, when we lay our lives down for them. The Gospel irony is that as we lay our lives down for others that we experience what it is to be “more than conquerors” in Jesus Christ, as we fall into the ground and die we learn what it is to be united Him in His resurrection.