Dietrich Bonhoeffer had a life that in some respects seemed straight out of a New York Times Bestseller novel. His writings and sermons have had a lasting impact on the church with such depth that belies the fact that he was taken from this world at the young age of 39. The book at hand was written in 1939 while Bonhoeffer was teaching at an underground seminary, just six years before his death. Due to the brevity of this book, I will offer some observations and comments from each chapter as four different blog posts.
Chapter One: Community
In the first chapter Bonhoeffer provides two sides of how one should properly understand Christian community. First, we are to understand Christian community as being in and through Christ. Second, Christian community is a Divine reality and sustained by the love of God in Christ. Like Zizioulas, Bonhoeffer sees ecclesiology as inextricably intertwined with eschatology. The fullness of the church cannot be fully understood until God’s people are gathered up. Until that time, the visible purpose of the church is to gather together to share God’s Word and sacrament.
This purpose becomes all the more significant as we follow Bonhoeffer’s argument through this first chapter. It is only through the Word of God spoken that salvation comes. When one is asked, “‘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 salvation and righteousness.” (22) In Bonhoeffer’s view, the preaching of the word is essential. We need brothers to speak living Word in witness to us. “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.” (23)
Bonhoeffer also speaks about church leadership and methodology. I wonder what many of our Western evangelical churches would do with what is said about the strategies employed by men on page 32: “It is true, in so far as these are devout men, that they do this with the intention of serving the highest and the best, but in actuality the result is to dethrone the Holy Spirit, to relegate Him to remote unreality.” This serves as a sobering admonishment to all of us as we meet to come up with a “vision” and a “plan” for the church.