Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Chapter Five: Confession & Communion
This chapter was painful in potentiality and conviction. How rare it is to hear of this being lived out well. Sin separates. Not only the sinner from God, but the sinner from the community. Sin drives us to isolation, and “the more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him, and the more deeply he becomes involved in it, the more disastrous is his isolation.” We desperately need the light to shine on our sin, yet we work so hard to ensure that never happens. I’ve often wrestled with the so-called “office of the keys” but Bonhoeffer explains well its value and meaning in this chapter. “Confession is conversion…Confession is discipleship.” This is a hard teaching, but one that rings true. On page 118 and following Bonhoeffer brings up the excellent question – “To whom confess?” Aye, there’s the rub. To find a brother or sister who lives a lifestyle of confession and repentance in the way Bonhoeffer addresses here is difficult. I’m left with the question of how can we create this atmosphere within our churches?
Bonhoeffer’s closing thoughts are on the Lord’s Supper, and its reality as an occasion of joy, looking ahead to the time when the church will truly be united. “As the members of the congregation are united in body and blood at the table of the Lord, so will they be together in eternity. Here the community has reached its goal. Here joy in Christ and his community is complete. The life of Christians together under the Word has reached its perfection in the sacrament.” And so, we come full circle. For Bonhoeffer, the church invisible will never be fully understood until we are gathered together in the eschaton. But until that time, the visible expression of the church gathers around these two essentials—Word and sacrament.