Bonhoeffer calls the time between our gatherings as believers “times of testing” (italics his). He writes that our time away from the Christian community is “the proving ground” of our personal time of meditation as well as of our community. He then asks what he terms “serious questions”:
“Has the community served to make individuals free, strong, and mature, or has it made them insecure and dependent? Has it taken them by the hand for a while so that they would learn again to walk by themselves, or has it made them anxious and unsure?” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), pages 65 - 66.
Bonhoeffer is asking whether our Christian gatherings and meditations are more flights of fancy than substance, and whether or not they prepare us for the world around us, the world in which most people live and the world in which most of us practice our vocations.
“Has it transported them for a few moments into a spiritual ecstasy that vanishes when everyday life returns, or has it planted the Word of God so soberly and so deeply in their heart that it holds and sustains them all day long, leading them to active love, to obedience, to good works? (page 66).”
If the measure of our gatherings, of our Sunday worship services, of our Bible studies, of our small groups – if the measure of these things is the way we live in the world then what does the yardstick tell us? Is the invisible presence of the Christian community with us? Are we with the community? Do we live with an awareness of the Body of Christ? Does the Word of God pulsate in our hearts and minds and souls throughout the day? Are our decisions and actions and ponderings animated by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God?
Do we live in insecurity when we are physically away from the Body of Christ? Are we displaying a “free, strong, and secure” witness to the world?
Bonhoeffer is not interested in us gathering together so that we can all feel good and then go out into the world incognito; he insists that we encounter the Word of God in our gatherings and in our personal meditations, and that we then take that Word into the world in the form of our lives. If the Word is not forming our lives in the world then we must ask whether it is forming our lives when we gather – and the answer must be a frank “no” – the Word does not form us one minute and then dissipate within us the next. To “taste” the powers of the age to come (Hebrews 6:5) is not the same as living in the powers of the age to come. Just as there can be a cheap confession that does not lead to salvation because it is devoid of repentance and the Cross of Christ, so can there be a cheap religious experience that does not entail the Cross of Christ and submission to the Word of God.
Perhaps we have come to the place where the church is either an amusement park or a group therapy session.
Bonhoeffer writes to a church in the midst of political, social, and military upheaval. He writes to a church which is selling its soul to the enemy amid pragmatic justifications. Today we live in political, social, and military upheaval – but we think we are different. Such thinking is a mistake.