Friday, April 29, 2016

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 26

“There is probably no Christian to whom God has not given the uplifting and blissful experience of genuine Christian community at least once in her or his life. But in this world such experiences remain nothing but a gracious extra beyond the daily bread of Christian community life…It is not the experience of Christian community, but firm and certain faith within Christian community that holds us together…We are bound together by faith, not by experience.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 21.

There are congregations that need more firm and certain faith, and then there are congregations that need more experience.

Is Bonhoeffer using the word “experience” in the same sense he has used the word “emotional” in this chapter? Is he using the word “faith” the way he has used the word “spiritual” in this chapter?

I don’t see a dichotomy of faith and experience in the Bible, that seems to be something we’ve constructed. There is false faith and there is false experience; there is true faith in Christ and there is true experience in Christ. I need to ask myself, and ask my brother about myself, “Is my experience an experience in Christ? Is Christ the mediator of my experience?” I ought to also ask myself and my brother the same about my faith, both its content and its object.

There are professing Christians who worry about experience, about emotion, who are afraid of it – it is as if they said wedding vows and then never consummated the marriage. And then there are professing Christians to whom experience is the litmus test of legitimacy – it is as if they bypassed the wedding vows.

Everyone has experience, life is experience, we experience life. So the question isn’t whether we have an experience, the question is what is the nature of our experience? The nature of koinonia, of life together, takes many forms, just as life takes many forms. There is deep sorrow, there is euphoric joy, there is peaceful communion, there is challenging discussion, there is relational heartbreak, and there is healing of relationships. A rock doesn’t experience life, people do. What is the nature of our experience?

When Bonhoeffer uses the word “experience” he likely means an emphasis on feeling and the emotional. Again, there is feeling in life and there is emotion in life – and if we can’t feel and experience emotion when we have eternal life, the life of heaven, then maybe we ought to ask ourselves why we can’t. However, when feeling and emotion is not informed, educated, and transformed by “firm and certain faith” then the nature of our emotion is rightly called into question – as is its durability.

An “experience of genuine Christian community” is a foretaste of heaven, a foretaste of eternity, and a call to make the foretaste a manifested reality on earth. Our problem is when we don’t understand the context of this experience, it is when the experience in and of itself becomes the recurring goal rather than the reality of life together in Christ. If I desire to gather with brothers and sisters in order to experience an experience then I may be a child; but that may not be always the case – for there is joy and peace and transcendent worship when sisters and brothers touch Christ together, through each other, and in each other – and so the experience of experience is transposed upward into the heavens in Christ and flows from God to us and from us back to God; heaven and earth kiss each other.

The experience of koinonia, of life together, contains within it a desire for heaven and the face of God, a desire for the Holy of Holies, and the desire is metamorphosed into the reality and the reality is a holistic experience for the experience is Christ and Christ is most certainly alive – He is not an idea, nor an ideal, but the Person. Our souls yearn and thirst for Christ, and then for more of Christ, and then for more of Christ. We find and experience Christ individually and in our life together. I think a time comes when perhaps there is no time when I experience Christ apart from my brother, for my brother lives in me, the church lives in me and I live in the church. Can my thumb experience life apart from the rest of my body? Can my eye?

Where is the transformation of my mind? Where is the transformation of my emotions? Where is the transformation of my experience from Adam to Christ? Does my faith see the unseen and seeing the unseen is it firm and certain in its knowledge of eternal reality in Jesus Christ? I am a person (Psalm 139) and I find my personhood in the Person, in Christ. We are a people, and we find our identity as we collectively grow up into “the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ,” (Ephesians 4:13). We are “growing into a holy temple in the Lord,” (Ephesians 2:21) - certainly this is something to be experienced!  

Experience in Christ rooted in firm and certain faith in Christ; firm and certain faith in Christ experientially manifested in Christ. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 25

“The exclusion of the weak and insignificant, the seemingly useless people, from everyday Christian life in community may actually mean the exclusion of Christ; for in the poor sister or brother, Christ is knocking at the door. We must, therefore, be very careful on this point.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 19 – 20.

How can there be room for useless people in a utilitarian church? How can there be room for the weak and insignificant in a church, which in mirroring society, values significance and strength? How can there be a place for the poor, whether materially or otherwise, in a church that places success and achievement on a pedestal?

When Paul writes, “On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary…” (1 Corinthians 12:22) do we believe him? What would life together look like if the weak and insignificant and poor were given places of honor in our community?

While we may say that we do not exclude people, what do we mean when we say that we are not exclusionary? We may open our physical doors on Sunday mornings – or we may not, for certainly if a stranger to a socioeconomic strata or ethnic or racial group ventures into a congregation it is seldom as if a brother or sister has come home, it is more like an alien has landed and we can’t wait for him to return to his planet.  We think, “He would be happier with his own kind,” when we really mean, “We would be happier if he went back to his own kind.” We miss the point that in Christ there is only one “kind” – and that “kind” is Christ.

But then within our own “kinds” or groups there are those whom we allow in our midst on the condition that they say little, behave correctly, and allow the strong and useful and wealthy (whether materially or in other ways) to take and maintain the lead. We can be exclusionary in our fellowship, overlooking those who seemingly have nothing to offer. We worship success and therefore make room for the successful, we are ashamed at failure (as the world regards failure) and therefore are embarrassed by brothers and sisters who are not successes. While we are happy to introduce the useful and accomplished brothers and sisters to others, we would rather not be identified with those whom the world does not value. We would rather be seen in a restaurant with a successful member of the congregation, than with a brother who earns his bread by performing menial tasks and who may also be slow to comprehend certain levels of conversation.

How would we treat Jesus were He to come into our midst? Paul writes (2 Corinthians 8:9), “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He become poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.” When we read this we naturally associate the riches of Jesus with heaven, The context of the text is of brothers and sisters caring for each other with material goods, with money – so that no one should lack, so that no one would be hungry; “He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little had no lack” (2Cor. 8:15). Is Paul making two points in this passage? Is the obvious point that Jesus left His wealth for our sakes? Is the secondary and unspoken point that because Jesus was poor that we will also find Jesus in the poor? Do we hear the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:40, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me”?

This is the Jesus who said of Himself, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” This is the Jesus who received material help from others during His ministry, who was poor – not just in the sense that He left heaven, but in the sense that He lacked economic resources. If we believe what Jesus said, “To the extent you did it to the least of these brothers…you did it to Me” then asking whether we would recognize Jesus in our midst is not a theoretical question, it is eminently practical and it should be challenging and it is one that we face every week…more importantly…it is one that we answer every week – dare we look at our answers?

When Bonhoeffer wrote the above Nazi Germany was purging itself of “useless people”. People who were physically and mentally defective were being killed. While abortion and euthanasia are practiced in the West so that we can eliminate life that does not suit us, society is also possessed of the demon of utilitarianism – if someone is of no use then that person is of no value – is the church any different? If we claim to be different then can we given consistent examples of treating the poor (whether materially or otherwise) the same as we treat the wealthy (materially or otherwise), of treating the influential the same as those with no influence? Do we demonstrate that Christ is our pervading and penetrating influence rather than the standards of the world? Are we as deferential to the poor as to others? (Shouldn’t we be more so!)

As I write this I sense that I have touched something deeper than I realize, I sense that there are treasures deep beneath the surface. I think of Henri Nouwen living within a community of disabled people and of the riches of grace he received in that community. I think of a wealthy brother I knew who shared with me the joy he experienced when having dinner with a struggling family at McDonald’s. This brother recognized that he touched something when he touched the poor and struggling.

When we model the church after the world we cannot have Biblical life together; when we wash the feet of all of the disciples, of all of our brothers and sisters…well…we can only imagine what might happen. But why imagine it? Why not endeavor to live it out in Christ?

Friday, April 22, 2016

A Temple or a House of Cards?

Do we submit to the Scriptures or do we force the Scriptures to submit to us? Do the Scriptures mold our experience, or do we force our experience on our understanding of the Scriptures? If our experience dictates our understanding of the Bible then we create the Bible in our own image. If we submit our experience, including our understanding, to the Bible then we are recreated in the image of God by the Word of God.

Perhaps never before has the issue of identity, of who we are, been as important as it is now. Our society has decided to kill mankind, to strip it of permanence, and to attack vehemently those who seek to maintain a common sense and common grace view of men and women, male and female. In the midst of this, unless Christians are firm in their identity in Jesus Christ, I question whether they will have the courage and moral strength to stand against the sewer gates that have been opened. I also question whether they will have the grace to peacefully witness in the onslaught of vitriol directed against those who say “no” to insanity and “yes” to the innate truth that God has placed in mankind.

The issue of identity in Christ is more than an individual question, it is a question for the church – and here is where much of Protestantism falls flat – for many Protestants view themselves primarily as individuals –from baptism to the Lord’s Table to accountability in daily life and in doctrine – they are individuals first, and if they are also members of a spiritual community, and I mean “if” strongly, being members of a community is voluntary and often does not significantly affect their view of life and of the world. This thinking has invaded the traditional sacramental churches which once emphasized community, and while it has invaded Roman Catholicism it remains the most pronounced in Protestantism.  

If a collective witness is unimportant, if Christians do not have a vision of the Temple of God on the earth today, if they do not see themselves joined to one another as that Temple, then they are but individual stones scattered about the earth and they will see little need to stand against the desecration of the image of God – and for certain they will have little inclination to suffer for Christ and little inclination to help those who are suffering. Our individualism, our appeal to individualism, our catering to individualism and our offering of a boutique religious experience centered on the “self” has left us without holy reference points and close to defenseless –and we continue to arrange furniture as the Titanic sinks. We lack the courage necessary for obedience, and I cannot help but see that obedience will have to manifest itself in disobedience to the insanity surrounding us. But who is likely to go against the grain knowing that economic and social retribution awaits? Very few. Having cultivated a church of individualistic individuals, we have become a house of cards.

A Temple made of living stones (Ephesians 2:19 – 22; 1 Peter 2:1 – 12) – or a house of cards? Which will it be? Is it too late? What will you do? (Haggai 1:1 – 11).  

Thursday, April 21, 2016

A Visit to Panera - Saint or Sinner?

Last Friday morning I met my friend Bill at Panera Bread. As I was about to sit down in the booth I’d selected to wait for him I overhead two men in an adjacent booth talking about Ephesians 4:24. I said, “Sorry to interrupt, but I was just reading that verse this morning.”

One of the two men, who was upper middle aged said, “Let me ask you something. Have you ever lied?” I said, “Yes.”

He said, “That makes you a liar. But if you learn to lie less that makes you less of a liar.”

I replied, “I love you brother, but if I lie that does not mean I am a liar, it means I am a saint who has lied. The structure of Ephesians teaches us that we live rooted in our identity in Christ in the heavens, chapters 1 – 3; then we walk out our lives on earth based on that identity, chapters 4 – 6:9; then we stand against the enemy in 6:10. We are not sinners in Christ but saints in Christ. Our identity is that of saints in Christ.”

Our interchange continued amicably for a couple of minutes while the younger man, in his twenties or early thirties, listened. Then, not wanting to further intrude upon their time, I sat down and shortly afterward Bill arrived.

How will we ever be faithful witnesses to a dying world if we are obsessed with sin and blind to who Jesus Christ is in our lives? How can we preach and teach the Gospel if we only teach one half of the Gospel? Forgiveness of sins without deliverance from sin is cruel and perpetuates a consciousness of sin. Forgiveness of sins without a knowledge that we are now “in Christ” and that we have died to the Law and are now married to a new Husband is heartbreaking. The Old Covenant perpetuated consciousness of sins with its continual sacrifices, the Gospel focuses on our one and totally complete Sacrifice, Jesus Christ, and we are to rejoice in Him and to be transformed into His image as we become who we already are in Him – putting on the new man of Ephesians 4:24.

We learn to put on the new and take off the old as we realize that the old is no longer who we are but that we now abide in the Vine; Paul wrote Ephesians to saints (1:1) and not to sinners. The goal of life is not to “manage sin” but to live in Christ – frankly to be without sin is no big deal, but to be in Christ and bear His image is everything. Scandalous? I suppose – but the Cross is scandalous, the Cross insists that we stop looking at ourselves in never-ending sin management and rather that we behold our Lord Jesus and live in Him and unto Him.  

If Justification means that God looks at me as if I’ve never sinned and as if I’ve always been righteous – and if Christians are taught to live in perpetual awareness and analysis of sin, if Christians are taught that the best they can be are “less of a liar today than I was yesterday” – then we are not really teaching Biblical Justification – because we are not living in the light of the glorious and scandalous Good News that we are free, free, free and forgiven, forgiven, forgiven and that we have died in Christ, been buried in Christ, and that in Christ we have been raised to newness of life. God’s people are wearing the clothes and minds of Egypt, eating the food of Egypt – we may have been led through the Red Sea but we are still building with earth and straw – making monuments to men, thinking as men, and not as the sons and daughters of the living God who has wrought an inexpressible deliverance for His children.

No wonder fear and anxiety permeate the church as it does the surrounding culture. No wonder God’s people are shackled in their witness. No wonder there is so little sense of holiness. No wonder transformation has been reduced to therapy. The veil of the temple was rent when Jesus died, but we insist on sewing it up each day…what is worse, what is so much worse…is that we teach others how to use a needle and thread to sew it up too. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 24

“The existence of any Christian communal life essentially depends on whether or not it succeeds at the right time in promoting the ability to distinguish between a human ideal and God’s reality, between spiritual and emotional community. The life and death of a Christian community is decided by its ability to reach sober clarity on these points as soon as possible. In other words, a life together under the Word will stay healthy only when it does not form itself into a movement, an order, a society, a collegium pietas, but instead understands itself as being part of the one, holy, universal, Christian church, sharing through its deeds and suffering in the hardships and struggles and promise of the whole church.” [Underline mine]. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 19.

Continuing reflecting on this quote from the previous post…

What are the dangers of “a movement, an order, a society, a collegium pietas [holy school]”? Just as individuals struggle against self-centeredness, so do local congregations, as well as congregations linked together as parts of a movement, an order, a denomination. Any self-centeredness moves us away from the centeredness of Christ and the Cross and in so doing also moves us away from the rest of the body of Christ. If love for one another and unity in the Trinity are key elements in our witness to the world (John 13:34 – 35; 17:20-23), then movements and orders and societies and denominations by their nature militate against a united and loving witness because they engender self-focus, self-reference, and self-interest, and self-preservation. We manage to ignore Paul’s concern about “movements” within the Corinthian church, often working to strengthen walls of distinction rather than seeking to attain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Often our identity rests in “doctrinal distinctives” rather than in Christ.  

Those who seek to justify the preservation of a movement would do well to work exceptionally hard to preserve the unity “of the one, holy, universal, Christian church” and to inculcate in the “movement” or “tradition” an intentional awareness and engagement with the universal Christian church. Is this attainable? Can it be practiced? The instinct for self-preservation is so strong within us, especially when we have built an organization and bureaucracy that must feed itself, that I don’t know the answer to those questions. At the very least it requires a strong hand on the tiller for the current of fallen humanity drives us away, again and again, from unity in Christ.

One of many dangers of movements, traditions, denominations, societies, and holy schools is that they become their own frameworks of reference, and those within those environments who seek engagement and fellowship with the universal church must work against our natural propensity for self-reference – they must teach themselves and their fellow travelers within their movement to fear self-reference, to fear using their “doctrinal distinctives” or their particular practices as lenses through which to view and accept other Christians – for then we become the “emotional church” that Bonhoeffer’s warns us against, then we superimpose our ideals and desires on others and depart from God’s reality.

Is Bonhoeffer’s vision attainable? The only reason we can answer “yes” is the promise of the Bible, for in the Bible we see us all coming into the unity of the faith, into the knowledge of the Son of God (Ephesians Chapter 4). Can we believe that the Father will answer the prayer of Jesus in John 17? Do we believe? Let us hope that we can believe that the Father will answer the prayer of the Son. And so Bonhoeffer’s vision of life together is not just Bonhoeffer’s vision, but it is the vision of the unseen that is unveiled in the Scriptures. The New Jerusalem is working itself out in and through the body of Christ, no matter how fractured we may appear, no matter how much we may engage in self-destruction.

But not all who return from Babylon rebuild the temple, and I think this is a tragedy. As with the released captives in Haggai – our propensity is to build our own houses and to allow the house of God to lie in ruins. We must fight against our instinct to build our own houses, our own movements, our own reference points, and build the house of God with all of our brothers and sisters who comprise the universal church. We must build even for those who do not care to participate with us, who insist on building their own houses, for (God willing) a time will come when they will run to God’s house, God’s temple, seeking the unity of the body of Christ, the life of the body of Christ, the love of the body of Christ…and then we want to have a home prepared for them just as our Lord Jesus has prepared a home for us.

There are many currents within Christendom opposed to the unity of the church, from ego to economic, the perpetuation of old movements and the birth of new movements imprison and distract from Christ, from one another, and from credible witness. This is why it isn’t unusual to see more dynamic and credible witness and unity when Christians work outside the bounds of societies and movements and traditions than when Christians limit their activities and thinking to within movements and societies.

When we consider that Bonhoeffer wrote within the context of Nazi Germany, with all of the horror associated with that time, perhaps we can appreciate why he wrote what he wrote. Movements within the church within Germany were often more concerned with their own self-preservation than they were with credible witness, obedience to Christ, and the welfare of other Christians. The church outside Germany was also often more concerned with its own interests than with the plight of its brothers and sisters in the darkness of Germany. The church was shackled by its human ideals, by its emotional community (which perpetuated fragmentation) and therefore could not see or live in God’s reality – Bonhoeffer was desperate to communicate God’s reality to God’s people, but for the most part God’s people were not interested in being God’s people, they would rather be the people of a movement, a society, a holy school, or a denomination.

In the dark times in which we live, are we any different? 

Monday, April 18, 2016

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 23

“The existence of any Christian communal life essentially depends on whether or not it succeeds at the right time in promoting the ability to distinguish between a human ideal and God’s reality, between spiritual and emotional community. The life and death of a Christian community is decided by its ability to reach sober clarity on these points as soon as possible. In other words, a life together under the Word will stay healthy only when it does not form itself into a movement, an order, a society, a collegium pietas, but instead understands itself as being part of the one, holy, universal, Christian church, sharing through its deeds and suffering in the hardships and struggles and promise of the whole church.” [Underline mine]. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 19.

This passage is like a painting by a great master, the longer I gaze upon it the deeper my exploration and experience. I don’t know that purity of “sober clarity” is possible, and I wonder what Bonhoeffer would say had he lived longer. This may be a worthy ideal, but if it is an ideal then we have the previous warnings in Life Together about the danger of ideals. But it need not be an ideal, it can be a desire (recall his warnings about desire too!) to know God’s reality as opposed to a human ideal. But then can this desire be considered a “movement”?

I don’t know that clarity can be reached “as soon as possible” because what requires clarification today may not be what requires clarification tomorrow. In other words, we may wrestle with an ideal or desire or a doctrinal emphasis or a practice today – and we may seek clarification today and even find the clarification of God’s reality; but tomorrow will likely bring a new challenge that requires its own clarification. “Sober clarity” is a process of sanctification and the renewing of our minds and hearts – it is a process, individually and communally – it involves sailing via the North Star of God’s reality in Jesus Christ – but sometimes our way is cloudy, sometimes we encounter cross currents, sometimes we are knocked off our equilibrium; sometimes we are even looking at the wrong star.

Perhaps what can be experienced “as soon as possible” is a challenge to the unity of the community that the community works through by seeking to discern God’s reality as opposed to emotional reality. Then, hopefully, the community will be better able to respond when the next challenge comes, and the next, and the next. However, no community should become relaxed in thinking that it can negotiate future challenges, because outside of Christ it will shatter – even if it preserves its organizational structure. The day a community ceases to cultivate the soil of God’s reality in Christ and through Christ in others is the day weeds will grow – and weeds left unattended will undermine a community.

Earlier Bonhoeffer wrote about the opportunity that is presented when we have disappointment in the community, opportunity to discern the spiritual from the emotional. I think “the right time” is when we have these opportunities – for there are many such opportunities in the course of life together. We cannot have a challenging experience, discern the reality of God in the experience (as opposed to the emotional) and conclude, “Since we’ve gone through this once we have settled the fact that we are a spiritual community rooted in God’s reality and we are no longer an emotional community.” This is not the way life is, it is not the nature of relationships – we will have opportunity after opportunity after opportunity. We are called to live by the standard to which we’ve grown (Philippians 3:16) as we are changed from glory to glory (2 Cor. 3:18) growing up into Christ (Ephesians 4:15).

So while this passage from Bonhoeffer seems to argue for a “one and done” crisis in life together, I don’t know that that is what he meant, and if he did mean it then I think he may have reconsidered his words later in life…had he lived.

When Bonhoeffer speaks of “the life and death of a Christian community” he is not speaking the way we tend to speak, for when we speak like this we are thinking of organizational success or failure – Bonhoeffer knew that there are dead organizations, organizations that function, that may be growing numerically, but which are dead. Bonhoeffer’s “life” is the life of Christ, and his “death” is that which is outside of Christ. The emotional community is dead – only community rooted in God’s reality of Jesus Christ lives.

We will return to this passage in the next post. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Image of God

“God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them,” (Genesis 1:27).

“…be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of truth,” (Ephesians 4:23 – 24).

The Gospel message is that we were created in the image of God and that through sin that image in us has been desecrated; we have fallen from the glory of God, from the image of God. In Jesus Christ we can be reconciled to God and in that reconciliation the image of God is restored in us.

When we repudiate that image we repudiate the Gospel, and when we repudiate that image we no longer have the glory of God as our trajectory, but rather a swirling vortex of confusion tossing us every which way, destroying everything within it.  

Since Jesus Christ is the express image of God (Hebrews 1:1-4; Colossians 1:15; John 1:14 – 18), humanity’s assault on the image of God is an assault on Jesus Christ and it not only leads to confusion about humanity’s own identity (as desecrated as it may be) but it also leads to confusion about Jesus Christ.

Mankind has sought to redefine itself throughout history, exchanging the glory of God for image after image, external images and internal images – whatever those images have been is what humanity has been transformed into. Thankfully, in the ebb and flow of history God’s mercy and grace has preserved us from the full measure of self-destruction and self-repudiation, from collective suicide.

When we thought it improper to worship actual images of animals we adopted the myth that we come from animals, which in turn allowed us to behave worse than animals and to worship no longer images of animals but ourselves. Apparently we think that because we are gods we can do what we want, including changing ourselves into myriad forms and insisting that all of those around us bow down before our new self-images – worship what we worship or there will be trouble.

The professing church has acquiesced in the foregoing by abandoning the field of morals and ethics and righteous behavior – in ceasing to teach its own people to live in holiness and righteousness and truth, and in no longer teaching its own people to obey all that Jesus has commanded us. We seek to please those within congregations rather than please God, and have thereby brought idols into the temple just as those in ancient Judah brought idols into Solomon’s temple. The professing church, including some of its academic institutions, would also rather please the world rather than God – the approval of the world means more to us than the approval of God.

If the professing church will not clearly articulate the Word of God, and if we will not live righteously, then we can hardly expect the world around us to understand what we mean when we speak of the image of God – because the image we portray is confusing and without definition.

We must cling to Jesus, proclaim Jesus, and seek to bring others to Jesus – but if we are ashamed of the image of God in Jesus Christ, if we are ashamed of Jesus – of His holiness and righteousness and truth…of His Cross…if we are ashamed to be identified with Him by living in obedience to Him…then what? Is the church participating in the collective suicide of humanity? 

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Pondering Proverbs – 6

“My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent…My son, do not walk in the way with them. Keep your feet from their path...” Proverbs 1:10 & 15

The structure of Proverbs Chapter One, after the introduction of 1:1 – 7, sets the tone of the rest of the book: there are two ways, two paths; one path leads downward and the other upward; one way is that of sinners, fools, and the unfaithful, the other way is that of the righteous, the wise, and those who are faithful to Yahweh, to His law, and to others.

Just as Psalm One begins, “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers!” Proverbs begins with (after the introduction) do not consent…do not walk…keep your feet from their path.

Every day we have a baseline choice, either to renew our commitment to the instruction of our Father and to our mother’s teaching (1:8 – 9) or to venture into the way of sinners (those whose way of life is opposed to the righteousness of God). Every day we choose whether to live in the fear of God or in the fear of man. Every day we decide whether we will submit ourselves to the Word of God, the wisdom of God, and the discipline of God; or whether we will surrender ourselves to a world system which is passing away, disappearing into the night.

There is many a son and daughter living with pigs (Luke 15:16) and eating swine’s food, children raised in the house of their Father, children who have forgotten their Father’s teaching and their mother’s instruction. Then there are many who have never known a way of life outside the pig pen. It is important that we know which road we are travelling on – for not all humanity is traveling on the same road, we are not all going the same way – and while there may be common experiences that we all share to one degree or another – there are experiences which we do not share – for one group of humanity is alive and the other is dead.

To ignore the distinction is to ignore Biblical warnings – it is not to make one group look better than another, for the way of the righteous represents those fleeing from the City of Destruction, from the way of death, into a relationship with the God who not only loves them, but who loves all mankind. To ignore the distinction is also to abrogate a witness to the Living God, for if we ignore the distinction we will not live and speak distinctively – and to live and speak distinctively in Christ is to offer hope to others, for we live and speak as those who also know the food of the pigpen and who have found a banqueting table.

There is a temptation to read the description of sinners in Proverbs Chapter One and to think, “That’s not me and it’s never been me.” Not many of us have “laid in wait for blood” or have “ambushed the innocent without cause” or have thought about “swallowing others alive,” or at least that’s what we think. But do we ask, “How have we treated others? Have we treated others as men and women and children created in the image of God? Have we treated others with dignity and respect? Have we used others, and consumed others, and manipulated others?”

“So are the ways of everyone who gains by violence; it takes away the life of its possessors,” (Proverbs 1:19). Violence need not be isolated to the body, it can also be perpetrated on the heart and mind and soul. The wounds of the soul are often more lasting than the wounds of the body, the scar tissue of the soul can be more deadening and painful than the scar tissue of the body.

The picture of sinners in Proverbs 1:11 – 19 is the picture of people using people, including the ambushing of others. We have become masters of the ambush in our society for the ambush is when things are not as they appear – an ambush is when the unsuspecting are lured into their own destruction.

The way of business has become the way of the ambush, the way of politics and government the way of the ambush, the way of relationships, all too often, the way of the ambush. We do not say what we mean, we do not act with integrity, we are not truthful, we applaud the “spin” as we applaud an actor or athlete, and in the church our preaching and teaching is often designed not to be clear and precise but rather to make sure people come back, to ensure that they have a great experience. Marketing has gone far beyond any semblance of a focus on products, it now seeks to ambush the consumer by selling images of pleasure, lifestyle, sex, power, and money. A house of mirrors is an ambush – a society of mirrors is bizarre…the bizarre is now normal. When we manipulate we ambush. Are we sure we cannot see ourselves in Proverbs 1:11 – 19?

All of the above is violence, and violence takes away the life of those who practice it, who nurture it, who make it a way of life. The hearts and minds and souls of men, women, and children are assaulted by violence every day in myriad ways in our Western society – and we seek to deaden its pain, it is as if we are a people in hospice, a people in palliative care.
The cure is the fear of the True and Living God – recognizing His holiness and our depravity outside of Him; the cure is Jesus Christ and His righteousness. The way from death to life, from hospice to health, is Jesus Christ. Those who know Him are called to live distinctively in word and deed.

“Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you,” 1 Timothy 4:16.

This is not just about us – it is about others. How are we living?

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Peace or Anger? (Letter to a Brother) Page 19

I concluded the previous post in this series with:

"We must beware the red horse. We must fear lest we invite the red horse into our souls, our families, our churches, our friendships. We must also be prepared to suffer, for I think that it is only through suffering that we can know peace – I will pick this up on the next post in this series."

Peter writes (1 Peter 5:6 – 11), “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

One of the many dimensions of suffering is that in suffering we have to decide whether or not to surrender our will to God; when we surrender to God in the midst of suffering we enter into His peace. A temptation when the red horse is running rampant in society (Revelation 6:4) is to respond in kind. We return anger for anger, hatred for hatred, vengeance for vengeance – we enter into the downward spiral of the abyss – for that which rises from the abyss will eventually descend into the abyss.

In a red horse culture we are called to “humble” ourselves “under the mighty hand of God” casting all our anxiety on Him because He cares for us. Peter also writes (4:19), “Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.” Peter (4:13) reminds his readers that to the degree that they share in the sufferings of Christ that they are to “keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.” This is a mirror of Paul's words to the Romans, “For I consider that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us,” (Romans 8:18).

Jesus speaks of a time when men’s hearts will fail them for fear – we live in such times. Stress, anxiety, and fear are agents of the red horse removing peace from the earth. Men and women no longer sleep – for sleep only comes to those at rest, only those who dwell in safety – sleep deprivation is a major health concern in the West. Due to stress and anxiety we have become a nation that consumes drugs, alcohol and counseling sessions. We do not just consume material things to gratify our cravings for “more” – we consume products, including entertainment, to deaden our anxieties and fears. Peace has departed our land, peace (what little there ever was of it) is departing our world. The most materially prosperous culture in history is devoid of peace – we lock our doors and we medicate ourselves. Even food has become medication – we have lost religious ritual in sacred places and have replaced it with food ritual – the loaf of bread along with wine or beer is no longer enough for us to simply enjoy and give thanks for, for simplicity leads to contemplation and contemplation to eternal questions and the red horse would have us avoid eternal questions at all cost.

Those who surrender their will to God in the midst of a society in which the roaring lion and red horse rant and rage and lie in wait are those who in surrender will know the peace of Christ. We resist the enemy as we submit to Christ, we resist the enemy as we commit our souls to our loving gracious heavenly Father in the midst of suffering – in the Cross is the ironic victory of resurrection. In dying in Christ we live in Christ.

As Peter’s first letter makes clear, we are called to suffer, but in suffering we find the peace and glory of God (1 Peter 1:6 – 9). In suffering we learn to resist the enemy while at the same time we learn to submit to God, our heavenly Potter. In suffering we learn that resistance includes turning the other cheek, and that turning the other cheek means submitting to our Lord Jesus Christ. Submission to Christ means resisting the enemy. The temptation is to take matters into our own hands, the call of God is to surrender our will to our Lord Jesus. The red horse and the roaring lion want us to respond in kind, they want us to play their game, they want us to view things as the “earth dwellers” of Revelation – but the cry of Revelation is “woe to the earth dwellers!” We must not be deceived by appearances – this deception will lead us into anger and fear and anxiety and will rob us of the peace that is ours in Christ – this deception will leave us destitute and afflicted and unable to help others, this deception will debilitate us in evangelism, in worship, and in building up the body of Christ.

We cannot “achieve” peace through suffering – that is not the Gospel message. The Gospel message is that in Christ, through suffering, we can know the peace of God as Jesus Christ and His Word live within us by the Holy Spirit; and that in our union with the Trinity we can experience the peace of the Trinity and be conduits of that peace to others. We cannot “achieve” anything, but our Lord Jesus Christ will work His good will within us as we surrender our will to Him – a surrender that is only possible through the enabling and the work of the Holy Spirit.

  “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.” 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 22

Bonhoeffer writes concerning spiritual love, “…it will encounter the other [person] with the clear word of God and be prepared to leave the other alone with this word for a long time. It will be willing to release others again so that Christ may deal with them. It will respect the boundary of the other, which is placed between us by Christ, and it will find full community with the other in the Christ who alone binds us together.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 18.

Bonhoeffer’s words not only challenge us as to our belief in Christ as Lord, but they also challenge us regarding our belief in the Word of God – do we believe the Word of God needs our help and our control in order to accomplish what God desires? Can we leave others alone without meddling and trust the Word of God and Christ to work within them? Do we preach the Word and then insist on manipulating a response to the Word? Do we teach in a fashion that releases others to a place of freedom in which the Word does its work, or is our teaching designed to elicit a particular response in a particular way that is in keeping with our particular image of who people ought to be and how they ought to be who we want them to be?

Our call is to proclaim and teach the Word and to teach people to obey – to be sure the teaching to obey, the making of disciples, has intentionality – and so we aren’t suggesting that we simply speak the Word and then do nothing, but too often we speak the Word and then do not give others room to allow the Word to be engrafted into their souls – the seed isn’t given opportunity to germinate and take root before we wonder why we don’t see what we expect to see. As Paul writes, one plants, another waters, but it is God who gives the increase; we’ve convinced ourselves that we must do it all and we often can’t stand to wait and allow God to send the rain on the Word and we can’t take our hands off others so that God can give the increase. We insist on an increase after our image and agenda.

There is a tension here, as in most eternal things; we proclaim the Word and trust His Word to not return void. We also trust God to give us wisdom to teach others to obey – but in teaching others to obey we must tread carefully lest we become the prime mediators of the Word, for when we become the prime mediators we then cease to subject ourselves to the Word and we force the Word and others to submit to us. There is no teaching quite like modeling, like being an example – we teach others to submit to the Word as they see us submitting to the Word – and then in koinonia we submit to the Word as brothers and sisters and we learn to mutually submit to one another.

It is hard not to “make things happen”, but the things we can make happen are not things that will last – only the growth that God in Christ gives is growth that is rooted in the eternals. 

Monday, April 11, 2016

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 21

“Because Christ has long since acted decisively for other Christians, before I could begin to act, I must allow them the freedom to be Christ’s. They should encounter me only as the persons that they already are for Christ. This is the meaning of the claim that we can encounter others only through the mediation of Christ. Emotional love constructs its own image of other persons, about what they are and what they should become. It takes the life of the other person into its own hands. Spiritual love recognizes the true image of the other person as seen from the perspective of Jesus Christ. It is the image Jesus Christ has formed and wants to form in all people.” (Italics mine). Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 18.

“Emotional love constructs its own image of other persons, about what they are and what they should become,” these words should serve as a reminder to all of us, but especially to those in teaching, preaching, pastoral care, and in leadership, that it is not our image that should guide us in ministry, but the image of Christ; and that the people we serve are not our people who belong to us but rather Christ’s people who belong to Him.

Too often we strive to superimpose our image, including the image or imprint of a movement or tradition, on others, rather than seek to honor and recognize the image of Jesus Christ in others, rather than discerning how the image of Christ is manifesting itself within the body of Christ and its particular members. We can be more like a cattle round up in which one of our goals is to ensure that everyone is caught and branded – not with the image of Christ but with our own image. We have the propensity not to rest in our relationships, or in our teaching and preaching, until we see the image that we want to see rather than the image of Jesus Christ which He has placed in everyone who calls upon His name. Rather than preach and model submission to Jesus Christ we (overtly or covertly) want others to submit to us – including our movement or our tradition or our latest and greatest and popular Christian idea.

Yet, along with the above warning, we are called to know the image of Christ, to see the image of Christ, and to gravitate toward the image of Christ. We are to engage others not only where they are in Christ in the temporal, but also seek to help their temporal experience mirror eternal reality and to see eternal reality inform temporal experience. Paul writes, “We proclaim Him [Christ], admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me,” (Colossians 1:28-29). In Ephesians 4:13 Paul writes, “…until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” In the Colossians passage we see a focus on the individual member of the body of Christ, in the Ephesians passage Paul focuses on the collective body of Christ – we seek the image and fullness of Christ in each other individually and in all of us collectively.

We need Bonhoeffer’s warning about “emotional love” but we also need to know and seek the image of Christ; just as with paper currency – we recognize the counterfeit by first knowing the legitimate. Questions we can ask ourselves include: “Is it the image of Christ I am seeking to develop in others, or is it my own image or the image of my group, or movement, or particular way of thinking? Do I recognize the work of Christ in others and do I respect that work, even if (especially if!) it is markedly different from my own experience? Am I submitting to Christ in this relationship or seeking to have others submit to me? Am I submitting to others or seeking to have others submit to me? Is it important to me that Jesus Christ is Lord of this relationship?”

The Great Commission includes the commandment to make disciples and teach them to obey all that Jesus Christ has commanded us. The disciples we are to make are to be disciples of Jesus Christ, and the commandments we teach others to obey are His commandments and not ours. On the one hand we must ensure that we are not teaching our own commandments and traditions and movements, and that we are not making our own disciples. But on the other hand we must passionately strive and patiently live to make disciples for Jesus Christ and to clearly teach them to obey all that Jesus has commanded us. 

Saturday, April 9, 2016

April 9, 1945

On April 9, 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, age 39, went to be with his Lord Jesus Christ - executed by evil, victorious in Christ. Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die it abides alone.

Hebrews 12:18 - 24.

2 Corinthians 4:16 - 5:10

Hebrews 13:20 - 21

Image result for bonhoeffer

Friday, April 8, 2016

Clipped Wings

Imagine that someone was trapping eagles and clipping their wings so that they would never fly again. Imagine eagles with clipped wings pecking the ground for feed along with chickens. Imagine eagles no longer building impressive nests in which to hatch their young, and never again knowing the joy of soaring on thermals.

This is a picture of saints who think they are sinners, of the sons and daughters of God who are preoccupied day after day, week after week, with whether or not they are justified and accepted in Christ Jesus. This is a picture of the Law and not of Grace, of condemnation and the not Gospel; of slavery and not the liberty we have in Christ.

“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery,” Galatians 5:1.

Imagine an eagle who raised its young to think they were chickens. Just exactly what are we doing?

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Called to Suffer

On Tuesday mornings I’m blessed to meet with a group of men for Bible study, prayer, and fellowship. On Wednesdays at lunch I’m blessed to meet with another group of men for fellowship, prayer, and Bible study. This week both gatherings focused on suffering. This past Monday I met with a dear friend and part of our time together also touched on suffering.

This morning I was reminded of something I wrote on April 7, 2015 as I was pondering Daniel Chapter Three:

Called to suffer, called to die
Called to lift your name on high
Through the fire we walk with thee
Use the fire to set us free

To be counted worthy to bear His name
To be counted worthy to share His shame
To be counted worthy to suffer loss
To be counted worthy to carry His Cross

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The Mystery of Order

The other night a group of us were studying Ephesians 6:1-9; when we came to the words in verse 5, “Slaves, be obedient to those who are you masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ,” some of the group indicated that they didn’t like the words “fear and trembling” and indeed their translation (a NIV version) used the following: “Respect them and honor them with a heart that is true.” There is a stark difference between “fear and trembling” and “respect and honor”.

A quick check of the Greek New Testament showed that “fear and trembling” are the words Paul used, meaning that once again the NIV group of translations was dumbing down the Biblical text – this is like going to a gym and all the weights are made of light plastic – no one will ever build muscle in such a gym. One of the group made the comment, “In most translations I have one issue per page, with the NIV I have an issue with every verse.”

But why “fear and trembling”? I never gave much thought to those words, or perhaps I should say that they never struck me the way they did this particular night.

I think that there is an ever-present temptation in slavery for the slave to despise his master, in bitterness for the heart to be poisoned, and for a rebellious nature to take root and grow and the fruit of the tree become toxic. This does not mean that the slave should not desire freedom and it does not mean that the slave should not differentiate between righteous and unrighteous treatment, nor does it mean that the slave should not desire equity in treatment – there are likely many other such things that this does not mean – but “fear and trembling” are there for a purpose, as a stark warning against the possibility of bitterness and a rebellious nature. The result that Paul desires is that the slave be obedient (another word that some of the group did not like) in sincerity of heart, as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. “With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men.”

Paul also warned masters to “do the same things to them”…”knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven…”

The Gospel brought unimaginable freedom to those who accepted it; the recipients were “heirs of God and coheirs with Christ”, they were free from guilt and condemnation, there was a dimension in which there was no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, but all were one in Christ Jesus. The Gospel brought not only an unshackling of the heart and conscience, but it opened up the mind to possibilities and realities seldom, if ever, conceived – certainly not conceived of by most people.

But liberty in Christ did not mean an opportunity for the flesh (Galatians 5:13ff), including an opportunity for rebellion, for liberty in Christ was meant to free us from the rebellion of sin – and all sin has its Satanic roots in rebellion, slander, destruction, and murder. The enemy comes to steal, to kill, and to destroy. To drink the cup of rebellion is to drink the cup of Satan and it was not for the Christian slave to partake of the communion cup at one moment and then to drink the cup of rebellion the next; rebellion would perpetuate slavery – the slavery of the soul.

And so slaves were warned, masters were warned; the entire church was warned beginning with 5:21, “ subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” And guess what the word translated “fear” means in the Greek New Testament? Why it means “fear”, isn’t that something?

Why did Paul use the word “fear” in this extended passage? And why are we so uncomfortable with this word?

To be continued…

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 20

“Only Christ in His Word tells me what love is. Contrary to all my own opinions and convictions, Jesus Christ will tell me what love for my brothers and sisters really looks like. Therefore, spiritual love is bound to the word of Jesus Christ alone.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 17.

The preeminence of Jesus Christ and His Word resonates throughout Life Together; we must find reality in Jesus Christ for Jesus Christ alone is reality. In Jesus Christ we have the Word of Jesus Christ, and our understanding of the reality of Christ is informed and molded by His Word. Saying that Christ is reality is not advocating a nebulous reality without definition, on the contrary, it is advocating the image and reality of Christ Jesus as communicated to us in the Scriptures. And so to be people living in the reality of Christ we must be people of His Word, and to truly be people of His Word we must be people living in relationship with Christ. It is possible to know the information contained in the Bible without knowing Christ; and it is possible to claim “spiritual” experience outside of a relationship with Jesus Christ; God has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ (Ephesians 1:3), without the in Christ we have a counterfeit.     

Bonhoeffer writes, “I do not know in advance what love of others means on the basis of the general idea of love that grows out of my emotional desires,” (page 17). God has placed a desire and need for love in our hearts for we are created in His image and He is love (1 John Chapter 4). However, our desire for love and our knowledge of love is fractured and marred through sin and as a result our “general idea of love” cannot be trusted. God’s Word and the Holy Spirit inform our hearts and minds, teaching us what love is. Paul writes that our love should “abound still more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent,” (Philippians 1:9 – 10).

There is pressure not to love in Christian community, pressure to sacrifice love on the altar of harmony, to sacrifice truth in order that we all might get along; when truth is sacrificed, love is sacrificed. Society pressures the church not to love it, not to speak and live the truth. If the church’s notion of love is derived from the world then it will acquiesce to the world, submitting its will and understanding of love to the world – it is then subsumed in the world. Within the church, love without Biblical definition results in a chameleon culture, ever changing according to emotional whims and desires. Only the Word of God can nurture, direct, and teach us what love is within life together; only the Word of God in Christ can mold the church into the love that we are called to communicate to the world.

For the Word of God to inform and mold our love our relation to the Word must be one of submission and not one of utilitarian lordship. The Word is not something for us to use to augment our lives, it is for us to submit to in order that it might permeate all of life and that we might obey the Word of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Word is otherworldly, it is supernatural, and it calls us upward into the image of Jesus Christ; this is contrasted with our self-centered propensity to pull the Word down to this world and to our natural thinking. We can allow the Word to capture us and teach us obedience to Jesus, or we can attempt to capture the Word and pollute its holiness as we attempt to subjugate it to our emotions and desires.

When we submit to the Word of Christ we trust the Word of Christ – even when things do not appear to be going well. This is critical because the temptation is to fix things, to smooth them over, to mitigate the truth, to take the edge off the Gospel, to water down obedience to the Word of holiness, and to preserve ourselves (individually and as a community). This is why success can be lethal to the church – when we make success the arbiter of our decisions, rather than the Word and the Cross, we will avoid the Cross and the truth of the Word; in so doing we also substitute our notions of love for the well-formed love of Christ as revealed in His Word.

We have the notion that love’s goal is to mitigate pain; therefore we do not teach obedience lest there be pain in obedience, we do not teach the Cross for we know there is pain in the Cross, we do not teach honesty for we know there is pain in honesty, we do not teach witnessing because we know there is pain and rejection in witnessing. We do not trust the Scriptures to teach us the Way of Life in Jesus Christ and to preserve us in obedience (through the Holy Spirit) regardless of appearances – and so we make our notions of emotional love our guiding force.

On the other side of pain there is healing, joy unspeakable, peace that passes understanding, and love. On the other side of the Cross is resurrection. When we substitute emotional love for the Word of Christ we may avoid pain, but we also turn away from the love of God waiting for us in the midst of the pain and on the other side of the pain. Those in life together can trust their heavenly Father and Lord Jesus to guide them by the Word, through good times and bad, through times of mutual understanding and times of misunderstanding, through clarity and perplexity – knowing that as they mutually submit to the Word and to one another in Jesus Christ that Christ is well able to shepherd them in the Way of Life, in Himself…in life together

Monday, April 4, 2016

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 19

“Two factors, which are really one and the same thing, reveal the difference between spiritual and emotional love. Emotional love cannot tolerate the dissolution of a community that has become false, even for the sake of genuine community. And such emotional love cannot love an enemy, that is to say, one who seriously and stubbornly resists it, Both spring from the same source: emotional love is by its very nature desire, desire for emotional community.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), pages 16 - 17.

Life Together is a short book with short chapters and one wishes that Bonhoeffer had been able to expand on his thoughts. I have read and reread his comments on “emotional love” and there is much to discuss and explore in them, more than can be touched on in the present format. Our inner selves are a mystery, and we must trust the Holy Spirit and the Word of God to “pierce as far the division of the soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). We are incapable of fully discerning that which occurs within us, and we are assuredly incapable of fully discerning what occurs within others. Yes, on a good day we have glimpses, and perhaps on unusual days we have penetrating insights into ourselves in the face of Christ – but all insights and all glimpses are through the Holy Spirit and the Word.

When Bonhoeffer writes the above does he have examples in mind? Is he thinking of others whom he has observed? Is he thinking of himself? Jesus affirms that the Great Commandment is to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength; and to love others as ourselves. There is a simplicity in loving with heart, soul, mind, and strength. The simplicity is that we engage in simple love with all that we are – with all of our being we are to love God. Our prayer can be, “Oh God, teach me to love you with all that I am.” When we attempt to make complex by analysis what God has made simple we tend to fall into analytical traps that substitute our analysis in place of the Word of God and the Holy Spirit.

Yes, there is that which is spiritual and that which is carnal, that is a clear teaching of the New Testament (perhaps Bonhoeffer links emotional love with carnal life?). My concern with Bonhoeffer’s emotional love contrasted with spiritual love (as it stands without much discussion in Life Together), is that we have a tendency to take definitions and turn them into measuring rods by which we measure everything around us. When Paul writes about living in the flesh (carnal) versus living in the spirit we have context to help us understand what he means, we have examples of what the two modes of living look like; in Life Together we lack that context, even though Bonhoeffer attempts to explain what he means. But what exactly does it mean when he writes, “Emotional love cannot tolerate the dissolution of a community that has become false, even for the sake of genuine community”? What does “cannot tolerate” mean? If it means that one should not grieve, or that one should not strive to maintain unity within Biblical truth, or that one should not react strongly when one sees the dissolution of a Christian fellowship – then I think that doesn’t take into account the holistic nature of men and women, a holistic nature which in Christ is also a holy nature recreated in the image of God. In the above quote Bonhoeffer links emotional love to desire (I’ve touched on this in a previous post), but here again we should recognize that God puts desires in us that are His desires, and that are natural desires in two senses; the first sense is that we have basic (simple) desires because we are made in the image of God – desires for love, for relationship, for fulfillment. The second sense is that in Christ these desires are heightened and expanded to include our union with Christ and with others as we learn to look not at the seen but the unseen.

There is much in Bonhoeffer’s discussion of emotional love that I agree with, and in future posts I will again touch on points of agreement; but I am concerned about our propensity (I don’t say this was Bonhoeffer’s propensity) to apply litmus tests when we are given test strips. Paul fought for unity in churches, he fought for purity in churches, he fought for the continuance of churches. Paul loved Christian communities enough to fight and worry and pray and grieve and warn and encourage – he was fully engaged in desiring Christian communities to know Jesus Christ. Paul’s letters (consider 1 Corinthians!) often focused on the preservation and maturation of the church, often in the midst of carnal thinking and behavior. Of course, this was also the purpose of Bonhoeffer writing Life Together, and so it is profitable for us to ask, “What did Bonhoeffer mean? How does it apply to us?” Our answers may not always be clear, but a dialogue with Bonhoeffer is a dialogue worth having and we can be assured that he wrote out of a love and passion for Christ and His church that we would do well to emulate.