“Not only immature Christians, but also mature Christians will complain that the Scripture reading is often too long for them and that there is much they do not grasp. In response to this complaint it must be said that indeed for the mature Christian every Scripture reading will be “too long,” even the shortest one. What does that mean? The Scripture is a complex unity, and every word, every sentence, contains such a diversity of relationships to the whole that it is often impossible always to keep track of the whole when listening to an individual portion of it. Therefore, it appears that the whole of Scripture as well as every passage in it far surpasses our understanding. It can only be a good thing when we are daily reminded of this fact, which again refers us to Jesus Christ himself…So one may perhaps say that every Scripture reading always has to be somewhat “too long” if it is not to be aphoristic worldly wisdom, but God’s Word of revelation in Jesus Christ. ” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 34. [Italics mine].
The world and the church are falling down around Bonhoeffer, and instead of looking for quick fixes he seeks long engagement in the Word of God. There is no sustainability in a quick fix, and perhaps he sees that the disintegration of the church is due to leaving its first love, Jesus Christ (the Person of Jesus Christ, not the idea of Jesus Christ), and concomitantly descending into Biblical ignorance. The German church, in most of its forms, is compromising with the culture – it has lost Jesus Christ as its foundation, it has lost the Bible as its structural system. When Bonhoeffer looks to the ecumenical movement for help from abroad, what he thinks is a staff of Christian brotherhood is transformed into a weak and broken reed for it is not founded on Biblical absolutes – it has placed compromise and sociological harmony above all else. Bonhoeffer in many respects is isolated not only geographically from others, he is isolated theologically from others – for he is insisting on Biblical obedience to the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Bonhoeffer is asking for what is impractical, but he is also asking for what is true – better to have a small house standing than no house at all. Better to have a cutting of the true vine which can be propagated than have the entire vine destroyed. Better to nurture that which is small and can be preserved and grow than to be awed by that which is huge but rotten and which will collapse.
What about us today? Only those who are engaged in the Bible as a whole can know the truth and beauty of Bonhoeffer’s statement, “The Scripture is a complex unity, and every word, every sentence, contains such a diversity of relationships to the whole that it is often impossible always to keep track of the whole when listening to an individual portion of it.” Will we patiently, and perhaps not so patiently, lead others into the Bible, asking them to trust us as mountaineers trust Sherpas? Will we go before others so that we may safely lead others up the mountains and valleys of Scripture? Are we willing to suffer hardship and deprivation in order to accomplish this calling, this act of love and service to our Lord Jesus and to others?
Are we willing to protest when we see the Bible reduced to “aphoristic worldly wisdom”? This is akin to the Temple of Solomon being reduced to rubble – the individual elements of the Temple remain, but they are no longer built one upon another, they are no longer in right relationship with one another. The stones can be picked up one by one and used for isolated individual purposes apart from their original relationship to each other – but the stones have lost their context, the stones have lost their meaning – the stones now serve the purposes of man and not God.
A quick review of Christian preaching, teaching, music, and writing show us that we have reduced the Bible to utilitarian sayings, self-help paradigms, self-focused maxims, and short-attention-span studies that are more like children’s picture books with limited vocabulary than material meant for adult followers of Jesus Christ. And no wonder, for we cannot know the Bible unless we read the Bible and we refuse to read the Bible. We insist that something or someone must always stand between us and the Bible and break the Bible down into small digestible bits and pieces – to borrow from Paul, we cannot eat solid food. Not to borrow from Paul, we only eat that which is regurgitated by others.
A local congregation is called to experience and know the Bible just as is an individual disciple, a marriage, a family. Are we preparing the way for others? Are we helping others begin the trek up the Biblical mountain? Are we refusing the seduction of the quick fix, of the appeal to the short term, of doing that which is popular? Is faithfulness to Jesus Christ more important to us than anything else in life? Is Jesus Christ our life?