July 8, 2013

The Church's Life in Christ

A few years ago, I did a series of posts on Dietrich Bonhoeffer's theology - as an overview from a book I was reading on his works, at the time.  Since I am deleting my other blog, I thought I would re-run them on here, so to speak, for your benefit, and so I would have a copy of my work.  Enjoy!


I have been reading a wonderful little book critiquing the theological writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  I have been fascinated with Bonhoeffer since 2007 when he was first brought to my notice through an audio book on his life and work.
Recently I was reading chapter 5, which is a closer look at his book Life Together (Gemeinsames Leben).  The themes examined in this chapter are  about the Church’s Life in Christ. I want to share with you some of the points I took away from my study.

The Community at Worship (corporate/formal)
Common worship should include, “the word of Scripture, the hymns of the Church, and the prayer of fellowship.”

He shares some thoughts on the book of Psalms and the 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,” writes Mr. Roark, but as part of the total history of redemption.  My redemption cannot be isolated from Israel’s passing through the Red Sea, and other experiences.”

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 prayers means that we pray for on 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.

Work as worship:
The first hour of the day belongs to God in worship, the other hours belong to God in work.  Worship without work is as one-sided, as work without worship.

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 talk with God about.
Bonhoeffer’s beatitude is poignant: “Blessed is he who is alone in the strength of fellowship and blessed is he who keeps the fellowship in the strength of aloneness.”

Types of ministry:
  • Ministry of self-control - The Christian must learn to hold his tongue.  Criticism is generally a technique used to gain advantage over the other person.  We should recognize the other person as free in the image of God.
  • Ministry of meekness - Learning to think of others as deserving and having more honor is meekness.   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?”
  • Ministry of listening - 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!
  • Ministry of helpfulness - “This means, initially, simple assistance in trifling, external matters.”  God sends people our way to interrupt us.  We are God’s to serve others.  When one is too busy to help in the lowliest of services, one is guilty of taking a career too seriously.
  • Ministry of forebearing (and sustaining) - Bonhoeffer asks “If the Christian does not bear the burden of his brother, how is he different from a pagan?”  The entire Christ life is that of Cross-bearing.  We must continue in prayer for our fellow brothers and not be gleeful when they sin.  Conversely, it means that whoever needs to be lifted up will receive help.  Christ bore our burdens, and we in turn are to bear one another’s burdens.  If we refuse to bear the burdens of others, we are not bearing the cross.
  • Ministry of proclaiming - 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.  Rebuke is simply to call back to the common fellowship.  The ministry of rebuking is always in relation to God.  Only God can reclaim a person, but he chooses to work through us.  His Word must be spoken by us, and through it God works to bring he erring brother to repentance.
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.”
We are to confess and be confessed to.  “Sin demands to have a man by himself.”  It isolates him, 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 we confess?
“He who himself lives beneath the Cross.”  Jesus Christ.
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.
These are just a few of the important lessons I have learned through this wonderful study of theology and Christian living.  I hope to share more with you soon!
Source: http://www.religion-online.org/showbook.asp?title=2737 – Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Dallas M. Roark)

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