Dietrich Bonhoeffer: On Community

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Excerpts from Dietrich Bonhoeffer‘s Life Together The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community

Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream.  The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try and to realize it.  But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams.  Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves.

By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world.  He does not abandon us to those rapturous experiences and lofty moods that come over us like a dream.  God is not a God of the emotions but the God of truth.  Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it.  The sooner this shock of disillusionment comes to an individual and to a community the better for both.  A community cannot bear and cannot survive such a crisis, which insists upon keeping its illusion when it should be shattered, permanently loses in that moment the promise of Christian community.  Sooner or later it will collapse, Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive.  He who loves his dream of a community more than Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his person intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial. (ala my post, How to Destroy a Fellowship).

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.

Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.  The more clearly we learn to recognize that the ground and strength and promise of all our fellowship is in Jesus Christ alone, the more serenely shall we think of our fellowship and pray and hope for it.

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By Cliff

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