“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.
Bonhoeffer begins this chapter with Psalm 133:1 and he ends it with Psalm 133:1. Bonhoeffer begins with Christ and he ends with Christ; Christ is the foundation and Christ is the roof – Christ is the author and completer of our life together. There are five sections in Life Together: Community, The Day Together, The Day Alone, Service, and Confession and the Lord’s Supper; each of these sections is challenging, each deserves reflection, and each has to do with life together. In the West we generally do not think in terms of life together, and sadly when we think of church we often think of it as we do any other organization. When I listen to the language professing Christians use when talking about church it is typically the language of organization or business or even entertainment – it is anything but Christocentric, missional, or supernatural – this is true of vocational ministers as well as everyone else. I write the foregoing to say that we need what Bonhoeffer has written; not that we should agree with him on every point, but that we should be challenged to think about what he has written and to work through it as people desiring to recapture the Biblical understanding and experience of koinonia in Jesus Christ. I know many a pastor who can easily talk about his or her denomination, movement, or doctrinal “distinctives”, but who is unaccustomed to thinking about the Biblical call to community in Jesus Christ – that is not only unfamiliar territory to many pastors, it is frightening to many pastors – frightening because it has the potential to affect their ministries, their paradigms, and the life of their congregations.
Bonhoeffer faced opposition from pastors for “practical” reasons: What will the government say? What will the denomination say? What will congregational leadership say? What will colleagues say? Will this affect my employment? Will this affect church attendance and offerings? Bonhoeffer was first too radical for the state church, then he was too radical for much of the confessing church that broke away from the state church. At first Bonhoeffer thought he had allies in the ecumenical movement outside Germany, then he found that he was too radical for many of them. Sounds a bit like Paul the Apostle.
The Biblically theological almost always gives way to the practical and expedient. The Christocentric almost always gives way to the anthropocentric. That which serves Christ almost always gives way to that which serves man. The Cross almost always gives way to self-preservation. Who has the courage to say, “Christ and Christ alone”?
There are apparent inconsistencies in Bonhoeffer, but this can be said for us all. The great point with Bonhoeffer in writing Life Together is that he was passionately seeking to work through Biblical community in Jesus Christ for the sake of the people of Jesus Christ in a time when society and the church were collapsing around him. Who would be around to pick up the pieces when the military, the dictator, civil government, and the organizational church were all in ruins? Hopefully a remnant of Christians living life together, with faithful shepherds who were willing to walk with God’s people in an environment of apostasy and spiritual prostitution. In writing Life Together Bonhoeffer is on mission to both the church and the world.