“How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity.” This is the Scripture’s praise of life together under the Word. But now we can correctly interpret the words “in unity” and say “when kindred live together through Christ.” For Jesus Christ alone is our unity. “He is our peace.” We have access to one another, joy in one another, community with one another through Jesus Christ alone.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 21.
“…life together under the Word.” In Christ we are called to “life together under the Word.” Only in Christ can we have life together and only as we live under the Word can our life together be formed into the image of the Firstborn Son. The Word is in Christ for the Word is Christ, and Christ is in the Word for Christ is the Word; we are to live under the lordship of Jesus Christ and we are to live under the Word – the two are inseparable.
Living under the Word means more than submitting to an authority in the way we normally think about submission to authority; while it includes submitting to the authority of our Lord Jesus and His Word in the normal sense of the words, it is more than we normally think of, for we normally think of submitting to an external authority – but submission to Christ, for the believer, is greater than submitting to something external, it is bowing our hearts and minds and souls to the Presence of Christ within us as we are joined to Him – the same is true of living under the Word. James writes of us receiving the engrafted word; Peter writes of us being born again through the living and imperishable word of God – the Word of God is alive within us, and living under that Word includes allowing that Word to form our souls and recreate us in the image of God in His Son Jesus Christ. The hope of the New Covenant, as seen in the Prophets, is that of the Law of God being written in the heart and mind, no longer would it be external, something only for the mind to perceive externally, but it would be woven into the fabric of our innermost being.
The community of Christ is called to grow up into the image of Christ as the community lives under the Word of Christ and that Word produces transformation into the image of Christ. We must allow His Word to produce transformation; we cannot do this if we insist on forcing the Word to submit to us, superimposing our images and desires on the Word and molding the Word into our own image.
Regarding our unity in Christ, not only did Paul plea more than once for unity among believers, but Jesus prayed that we would have the unity of the Trinity (John 17). What does it say about us that we, as a rule, do not strive for unity? We live in our own little denominational and doctrinal houses while the house of Yahweh lies waste (see Haggai). Yes, there are probably a thousand hurdles to unity, but there is no hurdle that is a reason we should not strive for unity and prefer one another above ourselves. How can we read John 17 and not strive for unity? How can we read John 17 and think that we can engage in evangelism without also striving for unity? Better to be rejected again and again by the professing church while seeking to obtain unity than never trying; better to fail in obedience to Christ than seek self-preservation and protection behind a thousand excuses. Too often churches are like shop keepers vying for customers, keeping to themselves, not engaging in the big picture. Those shopkeepers will continue their parochial ways until the big box store of the present age devours their community. Other shop keepers have merchants’ associations designed to promote the economic health of their communities, these people have learned that in putting the welfare of the group first that they are benefiting their individual economic health. Will the church ever learn that its parochial and proprietary ways are an impediment to its witness, a barrier to growth into the image of Christ, and disobedience to the Word of God? God is not in the franchise business, our churches are not our own – if they are our own then they are not His.
““He is our peace.” We have access to one another, joy in one another, community with one another through Jesus Christ alone.” In concluding our reflections on the first chapter of Life Together, we can be challenged and encouraged by Bonhoeffer’s Biblically-based vision of Christians living in peace with one another. Do we primarily focus on our common life in Christ or do we focus on our differences? A recognition of the peace we are called to have in Christ ought to challenge us to “preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). Let us look to build bridges so that we may use the bridges to fill up the chasms that separate us – how can the Body of Christ be divided?
Having “access to one another” can be a frightening idea. This means that I let down my guard and allow others into my life, into my heart, into my soul. But again, if we are to live in the unity of the Trinity then this is that to which we are called. In this life together we can know the joy of Jesus Christ just as Jesus knows joy in the Father and the Spirit, so we can know joy in one another. Having “access to one another” means that we encounter one another not merely in the world of ideas and actions, but in the world of the heart – “deep calls unto deep” in our life together.
Let us pray for the Church without ceasing.