Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Christian pastor and theologian during World War II. He lead a clandestine seminary in Germany for the Confessing Church, in defiance of the Nazis. His experience living in close quarters with those pastors at Finkenwalde led to his book Life Together. Later, Bonhoeffer chose to join a plot to rid the world of Hitler. Tragically, he was captured and hanged by the Gestapo in April 1945, shortly before his concentration camp was liberated by the Allies.
He begins this book with, “How good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity” (Ps 133:1). Then he develops his thesis that Christian community “is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.”
Humans are created for community, which you might define as people with common interests networked by relationships. We experience that through associations, civic clubs, and charities. Our kids’ schools, sports, and hobbies are other ways we connect. Maybe the ‘Cheers’ sitcom was right. We just want to be “where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came.”
Christian community is profound and unique because it is founded on Jesus Christ. Believers share the life of Christ, and so belong to one another. Together, we are the “body of Christ,” an expression of Christ in the flesh. Frank Viola (Reimagining Church) challenges us “not only to proclaim the gospel, but to embody it by its communitarian life.”
How does the church embody the life of Christ? Consider how many times the Bible uses “one another” in addressing the church. We are not only members of one another, but are to pray for, be devoted to, submit to, and be of the same mind with one another. Christians honor, accept, admonish, greet, and serve one another. Perhaps the most difficult is to ‘bear with’ one another.
Bonhoeffer famously warns of loving the dream of community more than community itself. Life can be messy when lived in close quarters. The antidote is agape or sacrificial love within the church (1 Cor 13). Show me a church that has loved its way through a crisis, and I’ll show you authentic community. Living in community is a privilege that we too easily forego. Bonhoeffer urges us to be thankful for what it is, since complaints only “hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.”
So now I ask you, Christian, who are you living your life with? You might be missing out on something.
Endnote: I believe you will be inspired by one of the recent movies made about Bonhoeffer.