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“Consecutive reading of Biblical books forces everyone who wants to hear to put himself, or to allow himself to be found, where God has acted once and for the salvation of men. We become a part of what once took place for our salvation.”

Dietrich BonhoefferLife Together53.

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“The more deeply we grow into the psalms and the more often we pray them as our own, the more simple and rich will our prayer become.”  

Dietrich BonhoefferLife Together50.

“…the psalms teach us to pray as a fellowship. The Body of Christ is praying, and as an individual one acknowledges that his prayer is only a minute fragment of the whole prayer of the Church. He learns to pray the prayer of the Body of Christ. and that lifts him above his personal concerns and allows him to pray selflessly.”  

Dietrich BonhoefferLife Together48-49.

RICK BROWN: Walk out what you’ve just talked about

June 12, 2018

Rick Brown Photo: Courtesy / Copyright 2017 Taylor Brown. All rights reserved.

Photo: Courtesy

Rick Brown

Dietrich Bonhoeffer understood biblical fellowship. Bonhoeffer was a German theologian who lived from 1906-1945. When Hitler rose to power he could see no German-Christian compromise with him. His resistance and his part in a failed assassination attempt on Hitler landed him in prison. He was executed by hanging on April 9, 1945, just weeks before the end of World War II. While in prison he wrote two classics: The Cost of Discipleship and Life Together. Listen to what he has to say about koinonia in his book Life Together:

“Christian community is like the Christian’s sanctification. It is a gift of God which we cannot claim. Only God knows the real state of our fellowship, of our sanctification. What may appear weak and trifling to us may be great and glorious to God. Just as the Christian should not be constantly feeling his spiritual pulse, so, too, the Christian community has not been given to us by God for us to be constantly taking its temperature. The more thankfully we daily receive what is given to us, the more surely and steadily will fellowship increase and grow from day to day as God pleases.”

Bonhoeffer reminds us that fellowship is a gift. We need to receive it thankfully. Often we don’t. We worry about whether we studied enough. We worry about whether we talked enough. We worry about whether we prayed enough.

But God does not. When we gather together in the fellowship of the breaking of bread, God smiles. He smiles when we are devoted to each other. Faithfulness is our part. Fruit is God’s. We don’t have to be taking its temperature constantly.

Then Bonhoeffer writes: “He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.” No community is going to live up to your dream of it. And whether you or I realize it, we ourselves will ruin that dream.

Here’s one final quote from Life Together: “Our community with one another consists solely in what Christ has done to both of us. This is true not merely at the beginning, as though in the course of time something else were to be added to our community; it remains so for all the future and to all eternity. I have community with others and I shall continue to have it only through Jesus Christ. The more genuine and the deeper our community becomes, the more will everything else between us recede, the more clearly and purely will Jesus Christ and his work become the one and only thing that is vital between us. We have one another only through Christ, but through Christ we do have one another, wholly, for eternity.”

Bonhoeffer reminds us that in Christian community Christ is the center.

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“The Psalter is the great school of prayer…It means praying according to the Word of God, on the basis of promise. Christian prayer takes its stand on the solid ground of promises of the revealed Word and has nothing to do with vague, self-seeking vagaries.”  

Dietrich BonhoefferLife Together47.

“From ancient times in the Church a special significance has been attached to the common use of psalms. In many churches to this day the Psalter constitutes the beginning of every service of common worship. The custom has been largely lost and we must find our way back to its prayers. The Psalter occupies a unique place in the Holy Scriptures. It is God’s Word and, with a few exceptions, the prayer of men as well.”  

Dietrich BonhoefferLife Together44.

With remarkable frequency the Scriptures remind us that the men of God rose early to seek God and carry out His commands, as did Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and Joshua (cf. Gen.19.27, 22.3; Ex.9.13, 24.4; Josh.3.1, 6.12, etc.). The Gospel, which never speaks a superfluous word, says of Jesus himself: “And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed” (Mark 1.35). Some rise early because of restlessness and worry; the Scriptures call this unprofitable: “It is vain for you to rise early… to eat the bread of sorrows” (Ps. 127.2). But there is such a thing as rising early for the love of God. This was the practice of the men of the Bible. 

~ Dietrich BonhoefferLife Together43-44.

The Cost of His Discipleship

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–45)

On July 20, 1944, the Valkyrie plot to assassinate Hitler failed. The very next day, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a letter to Eberhard Bethge, his former student and future biographer. Bonhoeffer had been in prison since April 5, 1943. In the wake of the failure of the Valkyrie plot, Hitler led a crackdown on the resistance movement. Hundreds were immediately arrested; many in the movement already held in prison were moved to higher security prisons. Many were put on expedited paths to their execution. Bonhoeffer was one of them.

But on July 21, 1944, Bonhoeffer wrote about a conversation he had in America in 1930. He was in the United States to learn of theological developments. He was to spend the year at the patently theological liberal Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He found it wanting. “No theology here,” he reported back to Germany. But he did find dear friends, and he found adventure on a road trip from New York to Mexico City.

Somewhere along the way, as they camped in pup tents and sat around a fire, they asked each other what they wanted to do with their lives. One of them, a Frenchman named Lasserre, said he wanted to be a saint. Bonhoeffer picks up the story from there in his letter to Bethge the day after the failed plot:

At the time I was very impressed, but I disagreed with him, and said, in effect, that I should like to learn to have faith. . . . I discovered later, and I’m still discovering right up to this moment, that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. One must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, or a converted sinner or a churchman (a so-called priestly type!), a righteous or an unrighteous man, a sick man or a healthy man. By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities.

As we reflect on that list in that last sentence, there’s only one word we really like, “successes.” We tend to avoid the other things mentioned by Bonhoeffer, but those things are part of life, of “this-worldliness.” Bonhoeffer then adds that by living life in this way, “We throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of the God-man in the world — watching with Christ in Gethsemane. That, I think, is faith.”

Bonhoeffer learned this in a very short time in a very short life. He died in his thirty-ninth year. While most people are only beginning to make their mark and offer their mature thought as they turn forty, Bonhoeffer never made it to that milestone.

Young Professor in Berlin

He was born into an academic family. His father, Karl Bonhoeffer, was a renowned psychiatrist at the University of Berlin. One of his brothers, a chemist, would go on to discover the spin isomers of hydrogen. The family home had a large library, a conservatory, and walls lined with very impressive looking oil portraits of his predecessors. Dietrich excelled as a student. He took his first doctorate as he turned twenty-one and a second doctorate three years later. He served in the academy, initially. But he loved the church.

As a young professor at the University of Berlin, he noticed an appeal for a teacher of a confirmation class at a Lutheran church in Berlin, on the other side of the tracks from where the Bonhoeffer family home stood. These were rough kids, who had already chewed through a few prospective teachers. The pastor was hoping to get an idealistic seminary student who didn’t have the better sense to not do this. Instead, the pastor and this band of prepubescent ruffians got a theology professor in wire-rimmed glasses and tailored suits.

Within minutes, Bonhoeffer had won them over. When the day came for their confirmation — a day the pastor was almost sure would never come — Bonhoeffer took them all to his tailor and got them all suits. He was the kind of professor who would just as soon pull out a “football” and hit the soccer pitch with his students as he lectured to them. During the time he spent in America, he got an armload of 78s of blues and negro spirituals. After the soccer games, he would spin records with his students and talk theology. For Bonhoeffer, education was discipleship.

Life Together

When the German Lutheran Church endorsed the Nazi party and became the Reich Kirche, Bonhoeffer quickly became a leader among the Confessing Church, despite his very young age. He lost his license to teach at the University of Berlin, and his books were placed on the banned book list. He was appointed the director of one of the five seminaries for the Confessing Church. At this seminary in Finkenwalde, he taught his students the Bible and theology, and he also taught them how to pray. Bonhoeffer saw these three things — biblical studies, theology, and prayer — as the essential elements of the pastoral office.

Eberhard Bethge, one of his students at Finkenwalde, exemplifies what he was taught by Bonhoeffer. Bethge wrote, “Because I am a preacher of the word, I cannot expound Scripture unless I let it speak to me every day. I will misuse the word in my office if I do not keep meditating on it in prayer.”

The Gestapo found out about the seminary at Finkenwalde and shut it down. Bonheffer spent the next year in his parents’ home. He wrote Life Together, memorializing what he practiced and what he had learned at Finkenwaldeab, and he visited his students and kept them on task with their studies and ministry.

Letters from Prison

The next years of Bonhoeffer’s life, 1940–1943, are debated. He joined the Abwehr at the urging of his brother-in-law. But it does not appear that he is actually much of a spy at all. He used his position to travel freely around the country — a way to keep up with his students and keep up with the churches they were pastoring. Then comes the contested episode of his life as he became part of a group seeking to assassinate Hitler. Bonhoeffer’s role was not one of providing strategy — that was supplied by the other highly placed military and intelligence agency officials.

Bonhoeffer appears to be the pastor in the room, the one who gives the blessing on the undertaking they were about to embark on. Bonhoeffer wrestled with it, wondering if what they were doing was right and not at all presuming it was right and righteous. It was war, and these Germans were convinced that Hitler was an enemy to the German state and the German people, as well as to the other nations plunged into war. Whatever Bonhoeffer’s contribution was to this group, he did not make it presumptively or rashly.

The plots, like the Valkyrie plot, all failed. On April 5, 1943, Bonhoeffer was arrested and sent to Tegel Prison. For the next two years, he would live in a 6’ x 9’ prison cell. He spoke of missing listening to birds. He missed seeing colors. Early in his time at Tegel, he despaired for his life. It was also in Tegel that Bonhoeffer wrote about living a “this-worldly” life. It was at Tegel that he spoke of learning to have faith in life’s failures, difficulties, and perplexities. At Tegel, he wrote poetry. He wrote a novel. He wrote sermons for weddings and baptisms — they were smuggled out and read by others at these occasions. Bonhoeffer’s time at Tegel yielded his classic text Letters and Papers from Prison.

In one of those letters, on June 27, 1944, he wrote, “This world must not be prematurely written off.” He was in a Nazi prison cell while Hitler was unleashing madness upon the world, and Bonhoeffer wrote about being a Christian in the world, in the time and place in which God had put him.

Cost of Discipleship

In 1936, Bonhoeffer published Nachfolge. It would be later published in English as The Cost of Discipleship. In it he declares, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

In Christ, we are dead. The old self and the old way is dead. And, in Christ, we are alive. After the Valkyrie plot, Bonhoeffer could write simply, “Jesus is alive. I have hope.”

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April 9th marks 73 years since Dietrich Bonhoeffer was killed in a Nazi concentration camp. However, through various biographies and writings, his legacy has lived on in church history. Prolific on many subjects relating to Jesus and the church, Bonhoeffer not only wrote about total submission to the will of God, he lived it.

As the church continues to reap from the bounty of his writings, like The Cost of Discipleship and Ethics, there is one particular book that gets lesser attention but is equally important to the church and church leaders.

Life – Together – Volume – Length – Truth

Life Together is a slim volume, unimpressive in its length, yet deceptively packed full of truth about communal living in the church. In this book. Bonhoeffer not only explores what life together in the body looks like Scripturally, but practically. He shares how Christians can and should interact, the dangers of too much community and being too solitary. His writing on the subject is a must read for any Christian wanting to understand the beautiful tapestry God weaves together through His children, and how one matures in that community.

As we remember the life of Detrich Bonhoeffer and his contribution to the church, here are 10 things he taught us about community in Life Together.

Accountability – Necessity – Brothers – Sisters – Body

1. Accountability is an absolute necessity among brothers and sisters in the body.

“Nothing can be more cruel than the leniency which abandons others to their sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than the severe reprimand which calls another Christian in one’s community back from the path of sin.

Kingdom – God – Midst – Enemies – Children

2. The kingdom of God is to live in the midst of its enemies and His children must be ready for what that means for their lives.

“Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross he was utterly alone,…

“’Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity’–this is the Scripture’s praise of life together under the Word. But now we can rightly interpret the words ‘in unity’ and say, ‘for brethren together through Christ.’ For Jesus Christ alone is our unity. ‘He is our peace.’ Through him alone do we have access to one another, joy in one another, and fellowship with one another.

Dietrich BonhoefferLife Together39.

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