Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Book: "Life Together" (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

TITLE: Life Together
AUTHOR: Dietrich Bonhoeffer
PUBLISHER: London: SCM Press, 1954.

Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works) (v. 5)This spiritual classic is a must read for those keen on community living. Martyred in 1945, this German war hero, Protestant Pastor, and theologian has been widely quoted and stands among one of the most widely recognized theologians in the evangelical world.

1) Community
Bonhoeffer asserts that being in community is an immense privilege to have. He writes:

"It is by the grace of God that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly in this world to share God's Word and Sacrament." (8)

Chief reason for being in community is that we are one in Christ. A Community is a divine reality and and an ideal that can never be established. Even if humans cannot form an ideal human community, it is spiritually possible. When one encounters spiritual love, humans will be transformed from hate to love.

2) The Day With Others

Bonhoeffer spends quite sometime in dealing with how one can celebrate community together. With rich references to the Bible, he deals with prayer, the psalter, scripture reading, worship in song and singing, fellowship and the communion table. All of these activities are desired components of a spiritual community. He highlights 3 types of table fellowship, which reflects his present and forward looking spirituality.

"daily fellowship at table, the table fellowship of the Lord's Supper, and the final table fellowship of the Kingdom of God." (49)

3) The Day Alone

Here, Bonhoeffer reminds us that a healthy community requires healthy individuals. Silence and solitude are important spiritual practices that need to be regularly practiced. He warns:

"Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. He will only do harm to himself and to the community. Alone you stood before God when he called you; alone you had to answer that call; alone you had to struggle and pray; and alone you will die and give an account to God. You cannot escape from yourself; for God has singled you out." (57)

In solitude, one can practice silence, meditation, reading, prayer, and intercession. He teaches us to begin the day with God, and through the fullness of fellow-shipping in God, to enrich the community with one's spiritual vitality that God has given.

4) Ministry

In a section marked out for Christians desiring to serve, Bonhoeffer leaves the reader with wise tips. One can only serve well if one is conscious of a looming spiritual warfare. All in all, Bonhoeffer's concern centers around how one's ministry benefits the community. Firstly, ministry in community need to be mindful of one's tongue.

"Often we combat our evil thoughts most effectively if we absolutely refuse to allow them to be expressed in words. It is certain that the spirit of self-justification can be overcome only by the Spirit of grace;" (70)

Secondly, service needs to be done in meekness, to think little of ourselves, and to serve others self-sacrificially.

"Finally, one extreme thing must be said. To forgo self-conceit and to associate with the lowly means, in all soberness and without mincing the matter, to consider oneself the greatest of sinners. This arouses all the resistance of the natural man, but also that of the self-confident Christian." (74)

Thirdly, one serves best in cultivating better listening skills.

Fourth, one can participate in helpfulness, and fifthly, to bear one another's burdens. The last two aspects of ministry centers around proclaiming and ministering the authority of Christ for the sake of the Kingdom.

5) Confession and Communion

This final chapter strings together all that Bonhoeffer has said. He calls this the 'final breakthrough.' In confession and communion, one breaks through to the community, toward the cross, to new life, and to absolute certainty. The act of confession cannot fall upon any one person. The community is needed. He ends with this remarkable vision.

"The day of the Lord's Supper is an occasion of joy for the Christian community. Reconciled in their hearts with God and the brethren, the congregation receives the gift of the body and blood of Jesus Christ, and, receiving that, it receives forgiveness, new life, and salvation. It is given new fellowship with God and men. The fellowship of the Lord's Supper is the superlative fulfillment of Christian Fellowship. As the members of the congregation are united in body and blood at the table of the Lord so will they be together in eternity. Here the community is complete. The life of Christians together under the Word has reached its perfection in the sacrament." (96)

Every Church, especially leaders ought to read this book.


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