It is easily forgotten that the community of Christians is a gift of grace from the kingdom of God, a gift that can be taken from us any day – that the time still separating us from the most profound loneliness may be brief indeed. Therefore, let those who until now have had the privilege of living a Christian life together with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of their hearts. Let them thank God on their knees and realize: is grace, nothing but grace, that we are still permitted to live in the community of Christians today. (30)
We need each other. The local church and the communal life of the believers is the divine design of God Almighty and it is through the life together that Christ Jesus embodies himself to others. Through the confession of sin to another and the forgiveness offered, we see the glorious forgiveness of Christ. Through the reading of Scripture and the teaching of the Bible, we hear God’s voice flowing through the voice of another. Through the songs sang, the accountability shared, and the prayers prayed by others we are drawn all the closer to the Father. For Dietrich Bonhoeffer, life together with other believers was a gift of God’s grace to his beloved people – a gift that all Christians desperately need.
Christians need other Christians who speak God’s Word to them. They need them again and again when they become uncertain and disheartened because, living by their own resources, they cannot help themselves without cheating themselves out of the truth. They need other Christians as bearers and proclaimers of the divine word of salvation. (32)
Sometimes we must get out of our context so that we might see more clearly. Modern American perceptions of church life can become so skewed by our individualistic, consumeristic, and privileged worldview. Life Together confronts our ideology of the Christian church and challenges us to think more deeply about the gift of the church to God’s people. This book takes that which we have thought to be common and refocuses our attention to see the glory of God’s plan for the life together.
Like any writing of literature, Life Together is best read against the backdrop of the author’s context. Bonhoeffer watched the deterioration of Christian community across his nation as Nazi Germany rose to power. He longed to see Christians live in communities of people bound together by faith in Christ alone. In the mid-1930’s Bonhoeffer had the opportunity to see such community put into action with a group of students in the small country town of Finkenwalde. In an illegal seminary, Bonhoeffer would later describe life together with these young men as the fullest time of his life. (13) They prayed together daily, read scriptures allowed, and gave themselves in devotion to Christ and to one another. It is here where Bonhoeffer experienced God’s design as outlined in the Scriptures. Life Together is book birthed out of Bonhoeffer’s experience of communal living with these undercover seminary students.
The book is not a well-organized argument for community life nor is it a full theological framework for the local church. It reads more like a small collection of essays on different aspects of communal living. Bonhoeffer was, however, able to present seemingly simple subjects with new depths of profundity. I suppose I will never view the discipline of Christian confession the same again having read his final chapter about the confession of sin being that which breaks people through into true community. I recommend this book to church leaders and church members alike. It will renew your sense of appreciation for the local church and rekindle your zeal and labor for deeper relationships within your church family. Life Together might especially be helpful to anyone who is leading or partaking in small group Bible studies at your church as it will stir you to long for more than just superficial and shallow community.
By His Grace & For His Glory,
Pastor Brandon Langley
St. Rose Community Church