“When pastors lose faith in a Christian community in which they have been placed and begin to make accusations against it, they had better examine themselves first to see whether the underlying problem is not their own idealized image, which should be shattered by God.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 12.
This passage is one of many in Life Together that makes me wish we had read and discussed Life Together in seminary. My seminary experience was wonderful; it was not perfect, and it raised questions about just what a seminary is and what a seminary should do – which I think is healthy – but it was wonderful. However, as I have looked back at the three years I was in seminary, I have often wished that we had studied and explored and discussed the church – just what it is objectively in Christ, what it should look like experientially on earth, and what the challenges of ministry are in shepherding a people from where we find them to where our Lord wants them to be. I wish we had been challenged to explore a Biblical theology of ekklesia and to develop a theology of ekklesia and life together that would form an element of our foundation for service to Christ and the people of Christ.
Our look at congregational life in seminary was confined to conflict resolution, and functions such as weddings and funerals and pastoral ethics and counseling; we did not explore a Biblical theology of church – unless it was part of Systematic theology, which I don’t recall it being. Even if we had touched on the church in Systematic Theology, a “touch” would have fallen short of the need.
A fellow alumnus might say to me, “Since our faculty and student body comprised people from many Christian traditions and views of the church, what you are suggesting would have been impractical.”
My response is, “We explored different theologies and traditions in Systematic Theology, we did the same in Spiritual Formation, we did the same in Church History – and when we did so we were the better for it.” Biblical thinking and theology sustains us in Christ, and Christ sustains us in our thinking about God and the Bible.
How can we differentiate between Bonhoeffer’s reality in Christ and our ideals of what life together should be? If we aren’t cultivating a Biblical understanding of the church, if we aren’t consistently looking into the Word as in a mirror, if we aren’t engaged in koinonia as a way of life in Christ Jesus, if we aren’t submitting to the Word as opposed to forcing the Word to submit to us – then I don’t see how we can differentiate between what we think and see and what God sees.
Perhaps some questions we should have on our lips are: What do I see? What does God see? What Biblical lenses should I look through? What do I see through the lens of the experiential? What do I see through the lens of the “already and not yet in Christ”? How does the tension between the “already and the not yet” inform our life together?
We’ll continue our reflection on the above Life Together quote in the next post in this series…