“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.