On January 15, 1984, Pastor John Piper preached a sermon at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, MN called: “Helping Each Other Endure to the End” based on Hebrews 3.12-14. The sermon’s introduction takes us into the world of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“Fifty years ago evangelicals in Germany formed what became known as the Confessing Church. They opposed the German Christian Church Movement sponsored by the Nazis between 1933 and 1945. As Nazi dominance increased, the Confessing Church was forced underground. In 1935 the Confessing Church formed a preachers’ seminary near Zingst on the Baltic Sea, which soon moved to Finkenwalde. The principal and main teacher of the 25 students was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a 29-year-old pastor and university professor from Berlin.

Bonhoeffer led the students in a disciplined life together that included daily prayers, meditation, worship, study, recreation, and work. All the seminarians knew they lived on the edge of eternity in those frightening days. In September 1937 the seminary was closed by the Nazi police, and in November the seminarians were put under arrest. That same year Bonhoeffer published a book entitled, The Cost of Discipleship, and in September of 1938 put in book form the lessons of Finkenwalde entitled, Life Together. Here we have insights into how to be Christians in a community when life is being lived on the brink. In March 1943 Bonhoeffer participated in an attempt to assassinate Adolf Hitler. He was arrested April 5, and two years later, April 9, 1945, Bonhoeffer was hanged by the Gestapo in the Flossenberg concentration camp at the age of 39.

One of his students in the Finkenwalde days recollected,

Bonhoeffer wanted a genuine, natural community in the Preacher’s Seminary, and this community was practiced in play, in walks through the richly wooded and beautiful district of Pomerania, during evenings spent in listening to someone reading, . . . in making music and singing, and last not least in worship together and holy communion. He kept entreating us to live together naturally and not to make worship an exception. He rejected all false and hollow sentiment. (I Knew Dietrich Bonhoeffer, p. 155)

The Testimony of Bonhoeffer’s Life Together

Bonhoeffer’s little book, Life Together, is a word for our times because we are plagued in America by a kind of laissez faire Christianity that lacks the vigorous camaraderie and discipline that unites a kingdom in wartime. We don’t have a wartime mentality and therefore our young men and women do not gather late at night in basement rooms and plot their strategies to detonate Satan’s bridgehead and liberate some of his captives. We don’t see ourselves as insurgents in the alien territory of sin planting explosives of righteousness and truth at every fortified wall; and so our eyes don’t meet with a flame of eternal friendship on Nicollet Mall and say without a word amid a thousand aliens: “You and I will die for this cause and join hands in the resurrection.” We don’t feel like a fifth column devoted with all our strength to sabotage the rule of Satan in this world; and therefore our life together is not intense but petty. There are no coded handshakes of joy, or secret passwords. And there are few tearful embraces and songs of thanks because a squad of witnesses has returned safely even bringing some liberated captives home.

Bonhoeffer’s words about “life together” have the ring of authenticity for us because they were written not at the nerve center of comfort but on the brink. They have the taste of radical commitment that all of us dream about, many of us crave, and only a few pursue.

He wrote,

The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer . . . It is true, of course, that what is an unspeakable gift for the lonely individual is easily disregarded and trodden underfoot by those who have the gift every day . . . Among earnest Christians in the Church today there is a growing desire to meet together with other Christians in the rest periods of their work for common life under the Word. Communal life is again being recognized by Christians today as the grace that it is, as the extraordinary, the “roses and lilies” of the Christian life. (Life Together, pp. 8–10)

Then Bonhoeffer comes to a very solemn point that I want to emphasize this morning. He writes,

If somebody asks [a Christian], Where is your salvation, your righteousness? he can never point to himself. He points to the Word of God in Jesus Christ, which assures him of salvation and righteousness. He is as alert as possible to this Word. Because he daily hungers and thirsts for righteousness, he daily desires the redeeming Word . . .

But God has put this Word into the mouth of men in order that it may be communicated to other men. When one person is struck by the Word, he speaks it to others. God has willed that we should seek and find His living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of a man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ. The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain; his brother’s is sure. (Life Together, pp. 11–12)”

(Read the rest of Piper’s sermon)

The physical presence of our brothers and sisters in Jesus should bring incomparable joy and strength to us. That subject of Christian fellowship was dear to the heart of Bonhoeffer. He knew that if Christians experienced genuine fellowship, that would impact both lives and ministry. It can impact us as well in the twenty-first century.

Next week, I will post more about this impact. Thank you for taking the time to read this blog. Please send any questions, suggestions or comments to me at bryan@harveyoaksbaptist.org or click the comment link or “Evaluation Form” link.