“Christian community is not an ideal we have to realize, but rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 13.
Here is Bonhoeffer’s recurring theme in Life Together: recognize the reality created by God and live grounded in that reality. Paul writes, “…we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal,” (2 Cor. 5:18). The writer of Hebrews tells us that, “…faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen,” (Heb. 11:1). Our natural eyes will deceive us, but the eye of faith, through God’s Word, will ground us in a reality transcending time and space and present circumstances. Christian community, the church, is not an ideal we must attain, but a reality from which we are to live. When we enter the Sabbath of Jesus Christ, ceasing from our own works (Heb. 4:10), we learn to rest in the reality of Christ and His work, and in resting we trust Him for our sanctification and our community. We recognize and affirm what is, and in our affirmation we learn to abide in the Vine, and in abiding in the Vine we bear much fruit.
Bonhoeffer writes (page 13), “The more clearly we learn to recognize that the ground and strength and promise of all our community is in Jesus Christ alone, the more calmly we will learn to think about our community and pray and hope for it.”
It is difficult to think calmly when we think we must attain to a collective ideal – for we have to convince others that our ideal is the right ideal, the right vision, the necessary course of action. There isn’t much calmness in the professing church, for the professing church is addicted to action, to production, to making things happen, to numerical growth whether or not the lives represented by the numbers are disciples or not – whether they really know Jesus Christ or not. Those churches that don’t thrive on action will lose their people to those churches that offer something for everyone – for Jesus Christ is no longer enough.
Bonhoeffer writes that the ground of “all our community is Jesus Christ alone.” We say it, we agree with it – but functionally that does not appear to be the case in much of the professing church. We insist that it be Jesus plus a political orientation; Jesus plus a national orientation; Jesus plus an extra-Biblical religious tradition; Jesus plus personal peace and affluence; Jesus plus an economic agenda; Jesus plus certain religious experiences. We have all things in Christ but that is not enough. Paul writes, “So then let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you…all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God,” (1 Cor. 3:21-23).
In the midst of nationalism, not just Nazism but plain nationalism, Bonhoeffer wanted his readers to know that Jesus Christ alone is the ground of reality for the Christian, and for Christian life together. We recognize “what is” and then we ask “what should this look like?” We discover what it should look like in the Scriptures and as we live life together in and through the Scriptures. In one sense the life together lives in us and through us, and as we allow the life together to live through us (which is Jesus Christ) then we learn what life together looks like. We experience Christ collectively as His body – we affirm who we are, and in affirming we rest in that reality – and can therefore think and hope and pray calmly – we can live in peace.
“Christian community is not an ideal we have to realize, but rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.”