August 3, 2010

The Church's Life in Christ

A few months ago, I posted a lengthy review of Dallas M. Roark's book  Makers of the Modern Theological Mind - Dietrich Bonhoeffer, specifically chapter 5 - The Church's Life in Christ.  I am going to re-post it here, and then also post my notes on following chapters, some of which I am still working through.

The community at worship (corporate/formal):

Common worship should include, "the word of Scripture, the hymns of the church, and the prayer of the fellowship."

Book of Psalms / Old Testament:

"The Psalter is the vicarious prayer of Christ for His Church.  Now that Christ is with the Father, the new humanity of Christ, the Body of Christ on earth continues to pray His prayers to the end of time.  This prayer belongs, not to the individual member, but to the whole Body of Christ."

The Old Testament is stressed, not as dull, irrelevant history, but as part of the total story of redemption.  My redemption cannot be isolated from Israel's passing through the Red Sea, and other experiences.  "And only in so far as we are there, is God with us today."

Singing in worship:
Singing, according to Bonhoeffer, gives the opportunity "to speak and pray the same word at the same time."

He believed strongly in the merits of "unison singing" as opposed to harmony ("show") singing.

Prayer in worship:
The fellowship of prayer means that we pray for one another's needs, give thanks for others' progress, and intercede for others' concerns.

Fellowship in worship:
Fellowship around the table means common fellowship with those of the family, or those of the community, fellowship around the Lord's table, and finally, the ultimate fellowship in God's kingdom.

Personal worship:
Bonhoeffer warns of two extremes: "Let him who cannot be alone beware of community," and "let him who is not in community beware of being alone."

  • Aloneness is necessary - but should not become monastic
  • Solitude and silence have therapeutic values
  • After a time of quietness, one is refreshed
  • Silence is important, but it is silent obedience to the Word of God.
A time of personal reflection, reflecting on what was studied in God's Word; a time to ask the question: what does God say to me in / through this text?

In meditation, and through Scripture one seeks God.

Out of meditation on scripture comes guidance for prayer.  It enables us to speak to God about matters too personal  for corporate prayer.

To bring one's brother into the presence of God in concern for his needs is to intercede for him.  Intercession is the means of transforming one's personal attitudes about other people.  It is hard to hate one you take with God about. 

Bonhoeffer's beatitude is poignant: "Blessed is he who is alone in the strength of the fellowship and blessed is he who keeps the fellowship in the strength of aloneness."

Types of Ministry:
  • Ministry of Self-control (learn to hold our tongues)
  • Ministry of Meekness (freedom of each person, necessary)
  • Ministry of Listening (reaching out to others)
  • Ministry of Helpfulness (assistance with external matters)
  • Ministry of Bearing (forebearing and sustaining)
  • Ministry of Proclaiming (the communication of the gospel)

Seeking honor is detrimental to faith, for honor-seeking is self-centered where as faith is Christ-centered.  Resentment in the community is the product of honor-seeking.


The meek person associates with lowly persons and says by this that he is a great sinner.

Bonhoeffer's question with this in mind? "How can I possibly serve another person in unfeigned humility if I seriously regard his sinfulness as worse than my own?"


Learning to listen is a vital ministry for Christians and especially clergymen.  The Christian must recapture the art of listening.  Impatient listening is a form of despising other people!


God sends people our way to interrupt us.  We are God's to serve others.  [The ministry of helpfulness means] "initially, simple assistance in trifling, external matters."

Foerbearing / Sustaining:

Bonhoeffer asks "If the Christan does not bear the burden of his brother, how is he different from a pagan?"

The entire Christian life is that of Cross-bearing.  We must continue in prayer for our fellow brothers and not be gleeful when they sin.


This refers to the communication of the Gospel from person to person.  This is the free encounter born out of a relationship where one has truly listened, served, and borne the needs of others.

If we are to be obedient to God's word, we cannot stand idle while our brother falls into sin.  Nothing can be more cruel than the tenderness that consigns another to his sin.


We are to confess and be confessed to.  Bonhoeffer writes: "the pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner.  So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship.  We dare not be sinners.  Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous."

"Sin demands to have a man by himself."  It [sin] isolates him, by desiring to remain unknown.  If there is confession, the sinner is never alone again.  In confession there is born the joy of forgiveness in Christ.

To whom shall I confess?  "He who himself lives beneath the Cross."

2 Dangers in Confession:

  1. "Confession as a pious work is an invention of the devil."  But confession rightly used and understood involves God's offer of grace. 
  2. Before the Lord's Supper is received, there should be general confession on the part of the fellowship.

Next time... Chapter VI - The Church's Brand of Discipleship

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