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Can we be a Christian and not be devoted to fellowship with other Christians? According to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, it was impossible to be a follower of Jesus Christ apart from life in the fellowship of local believers: “Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ.[1] This was more than mere theory for Bonhoeffer because he had the opportunity to develop a community of believers while he was the director of the Preachers’ Seminary.

The Seminary was located at Zingsthof by the Baltic Sea when it opened on April 26, 1935. It relocated in Finkenwalde, near Stettin in Pomerania on June 24 of the same year. The Gestapo eventually closed the Seminary in September of 1937. During the period of its existence, Bonhoeffer desired a “genuine experiment in communal living.2] It was Bonhoeffer’s desire that the experiment in the Seminary would provide a foundation for the German church after the war. Bonhoeffer realized that biblical community would provide the fresh life the church would need.

This realization led to a burning desire to put the findings of this “experiment” into writing. This led to his classic book, Life Together which was written a year after the Seminary was shut down. Bonheoffer wrote the book in only four weeks, while he stayed in the home of his twin sister, Sabine in Gottingen. The book was first published in 1939.

In Life Together, Bonhoeffer appealed to a variety of Biblical references that point to the fact that community with fellow followers of Jesus is a crucial element of Christianity. For example, chapter one begins with Psalm 133.1: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity.” Psalm 133 is a song of ascents. That is, it spoke of pilgrims coming to Jerusalem to worship together. An important component was that people of different backgrounds were to be united in fellowship.

This was key to Bonhoeffer’s understanding of the Church because Jesus died on the cross to secure such fellowship. The whole purpose of redemption in Jesus Christ was to save the enemies of God throughout the world, and in anticipation of eternal life, believers “are privileged to live in visible fellowship with other Christians.”[3]

It is a privilege because “the physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer.”[4] The early Christians understood this truth. Even before the Holy Spirit was poured out on the followers of Jesus on the day of Pentecost in the city of Jerusalem there was community for “they all joined together constantly in prayer” (Acts 1.14). This group included the eleven disciples (verse 13) “along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus and with his brothers.”

It is significant that both genders were represented here because the cultural barrier between male and female was abolished through mutual participation in the church.[5] Verse 15 indicates that the total number of disciples was around one hundred and twenty. Thus, within weeks of the resurrection of Jesus, his people, made up of varied backgrounds, gathered waiting for the power of the Holy Spirit.

Then on the day of Pentecost, the brothers and sisters “were all together in one place” (Acts 2.1). The Holy Spirit came upon them with power. Peter, empowered with the Holy Spirit, stood before thousands and proclaimed the Good News about Jesus. The result was that about three thousand people turned to Jesus for salvation (Acts 2.41).

Among the early disciplines of the early church was a devotion to the “fellowship” (Acts 2.42). The Greek word for “fellowship” is “koinonia”. It means “fellowship”, “communion”, “participation”, “sharing in” and “close relationship”.[6] This “communion” is possible only because believers are united through their salvation in Jesus.

Christian fellowship is a crucial and joyful element for the follower of Jesus.


[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1954), 21.

[2] Kelly and Nelson, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Testament to Freedom, 27.

[3] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, 18.

[4] Ibid., 19.

[5] William J. Larkin Jr., IVP New Testament Commentary Series: Acts (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1995), 44.

[6] Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1979), 438-439.

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