Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Reflections on Bonhoeffer’s Life Together – 98

“Genuine authority knows that it is bound in the strictest sense by the words of Jesus, “you have one teacher, and you are all brothers” (Matt. 23:8). The community of faith does not need brilliant personalities but faithful servants of Jesus and of one another…The question of spiritual trust, which is so closely connected with the question of authority, is decided by the faithfulness with which people serve Jesus Christ, never by the extraordinary gifts they possess.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), pages 85 - 86.

How unlike our models of leadership today, whether from the top down or from the bottom up. Leadership gurus within the church often look outside the church for models, which they then import into the church. Congregations clamor for successful leaders who will grow the church numerically, no matter if it be a mile wide and an inch deep. Just a week ago I read the multi-page profile of a pastor of a local church, detailing his numerical success in the places he has been prior to coming to our area. I recall nothing about Jesus, nothing about discipleship, nothing about mentoring others, nothing about the spiritual maturation of congregations. Charisma and numbers are the measure – but is this Biblical?

A growing leader ought to have growing people around him or her, and they should have people growing around them. They should be different and not the same, why not a fisherman and a tax collector and a zealot and a member of the establishment? Why all the same? Why all the same education and social and economic and racial background? Why all the same temperaments? Why all blue collar or white collar?

Bonhoeffer lived at the center of political, economic, and theological power – he was accustomed to circles of power in his well-connected upbringing and in his academic and professional life. Bonhoeffer knew and engaged with world-famous theologians based in Berlin and elsewhere in Europe. Bonhoeffer did not write as person outside circles of authority and power, but as an insider – and as an insider he wanted to save the church, to strengthen it, he desired that the church discover life together and this entailed a Biblical view of leadership and authority.

Why do we not desire to hear what a janitor has seen in the Word of God? Why do we not want to hear what a shy person has to say? Why do we functionally dismiss those who have nothing apparent to offer us? Do we not see the glory of God in those people? As C.S. Lewis wrote in what is surely his greatest message, The Weight of Glory, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal…Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”

Biblical leadership not only sees the glory of God in others, it draws that glory out, it encourages it to fly from the nest, to soar, to catch the thermals of the Holy Spirit. There is a sense in which Biblical leadership looks to Jesus and says, “He must increase but I must decrease.” And then it looks to others and also says, “They must increase but I must decrease.” Biblical leadership takes joy in seeing the Bride and Bridegroom united, in seeing them take joy in each other – when the Bride takes her eyes off Biblical human leadership and beholds Jesus…then Biblical leadership has fulfilled its calling.

Biblical leaders want to hear Christians talk about Jesus, about the Word of God in their lives; not the Word of God as it has been filtered down to them. Yes, of course there is a vital place for hearing and reading the Word as it has been given to others for the church; but if that is the main diet, if that constitutes the life of the believer – then we have a life mediated by others, lived by others, experienced by others. We ought not to speak or write to make others dependent on us, but to encourage others to engage the Word of God so that they can contribute to the conversation and to life together. We have all been given grace, we have all been given glory – is it not a tragedy that so many live life without ever knowing the glory of their Lord within them, without ever sharing the Word, without ever venturing out of the nest?

As Lewis wrote, “There are no ordinary people.” Biblical leaders know that, how do we know that they know? Not by what they say, but by how they live what they say.

“Authority in pastoral care can be found only in the servants of Jesus who seek no authority of their own, but who are Christians one to another, obedient to the authority of the word,” (page 86). These words conclude the chapter titled Service. The chapter envisions a fully functioning community in which all members matter, all are valuable, all are accountable, all speak the Word, all submit to one another, and leadership within the community washes the feet of all.

Is such life messy? Of course it is. Are there problems in such a life? Of course there are. Bonhoeffer tells us that challenges will come, he doesn’t teach that they may come, they will come. He wants us to prepare for them by Biblically thinking ahead as to how we will respond.

I have a friend who is about to assume the role of interim pastor for 18 – 24 months. The pastor who had been at the church had been there many years, at least 20 as I recall. The church leadership expects there to be a significant drop-off in attendance as a result of the pastor’s retirement. I have another friend whose church is between pastors, during the tenure of a recent interim pastor attendance and offerings took a nose dive, now they are seeking another interim pastor. These scenarios are not atypical; if we are experiencing life together then how can these things be?

As I have written before, I seldom see a book exploring just what the Biblical church is. There are books about church growth, there are books about programs (including small group programs), there are books about denominational polity, or polity related to certain theological traditions – but the fact is that the heart and soul of the church is something that we seldom think about, talk about, teach about. The Bride for whom Christ died is shut in a closet. We think and live organizationally, pragmatically, and according to our various religious traditions – but the Wedding Supper of the Lamb will not be about Pentecostals, or Presbyterians, or Methodists, or Anglicans, or Roman Catholics, or Eastern Orthodox, or any other group that, more often than not, claims our allegiance (including non-traditional groups such as house churches) – it is about the Bride, the Church, that wonderful Woman whose heart beats for her Bridegroom, and whose Bridegroom yearns for her.

One day Jesus will set her free and she will dance and sing and smile and weep and look at herself and say, “Oh my, is this who I have been all this time…and I didn’t know, I didn’t realize it. I had no idea how much, how very deeply, He loves me.” Perhaps she will be in holy shock and it may take a while for her to gain her composure.

Can we hear her heartbeat? Can we sense it? Are we listening for it above all the religious noise surrounding us?

What beautiful music surrounds her! See the angelic attendants escorting her.

“Listen, O daughter, consider and incline your ear; forget your own people also, and your father’s house; so the King will greatly desire your beauty, because He is your Lord, worship Him.” Psalm 45:10 – 1.

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