Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 41

“…How are we supposed to help rightly other Christians who are experiencing troubles and temptation if not with God’s own Word? All our own words quickly fail. However, those who “like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Matt. 13:52) – who can speak out of the abundance of God’s Word the wealth of instructions, admonitions, and comforting words from the Scriptures…We will stop here. “From childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation” (2 Tim. 3:15).” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), pages 36-37.

“We will stop here.” Bonhoeffer isn’t finished with discussing the role of God’s Word in Life Together, but it is as if in his admonition to: read the Word, know the Word, live the Word, speak the Word to one another; that he feels he must stop when he could go on forever with exhortation after exhortation – for he sees the healthy survival of the church contingent on the church knowing the Word of God. He wants Christians to know the Law and Prophets and Psalms and the Gospel and Epistles so that they may range from one to the other to the other as in a great palace with interconnecting stairways and hallways – bringing forth what is “new and what is old”.

Bonhoeffer writes, “All our own words quickly fail.” I’m not sure that’s true today, so accustomed have we become to our own words, our own viewpoints, our psychology, our self-focused therapeutic ministry, our franchised way of thinking and practice. If one practice or line of thought fails we develop another, then another, then another. We do not cling to the Word expecting to encounter Jesus Christ, we do not run to the Word as if it were a great shelter in a land of destruction, we do not drink from the Word as if it is the one spring of pure water in which we find healing and wholeness and reconciliation. We do not insist that all thinking and practice find its foundation and trajectory and goal in the Word of God. We do not see the bankruptcy and futility of our own words.

If we speak our own words to others in need then it becomes our responsibility to produce results for the words are ours and not God’s. However, if we speak the Word of God to others then we can trust that God’s Word will accomplish that which God desires – and while it may not accomplish what we desire, we can trust that God’s Word will not return to God void (Isaiah 55:11). Is the work our work or God’s work?

There is an error in Christian thinking today about God’s Word; we think that because people do not know the Word that we should not speak the Word – whether to believer or unbeliever. We think that because people do not view the Bible as God’s authority that we should not speak it. This is an example of what occurs when we depart from the Bible into the world of sociology and psychology and marketing. We have convinced ourselves not to share the very thing which gives life and light, the very thing which can break through the barriers of darkness and blindness and ignorance, the very thing which can enliven a seared conscience and heal a broken heart. We have bought into the lie of the Garden that God’s Word is irrelevant – “Has God really said?”

We like this thinking because it absolves us of knowing the Word; why know something that is irrelevant? We can mask our ignorance because we are not expected to know the Bible.  We have the Word of all Authority, the Word of all healing, the Word of deliverance and salvation – the very Word of Jesus Christ…and we think it is irrelevant and that we need to provide replacements for it in order to help others. We are really evading responsibility for speaking the Word of God as disciples – we are no longer disciples, we are now all sociologists and therapists. Pastors no longer care for souls, they care for feelings. Perhaps we should call pastors and elders hospice workers, for many are simply providing palliative care to their congregations. Thank God for those faithful pastors and elders and seminary professors who remain faithful to the Word of God, who are building an ark in Christ for their people – shall we count ourselves among them?

Well, as Bonhoeffer wrote, “We will stop here.”

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