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Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian in Community Paperback – May 26, 2009
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"When I think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, some words Gorky used of Tolstoy come into my mind--'Look what a wonderful man is living on the earth.'" -- Malcolm Muggeridge, author of Jesus
From the Back Cover
After his martyrdom at the hands of the Gestapo in 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer continued his witness in the hearts of Christians around the world. His Letters and Papers from Prison became a prized testimony to Christian faith and courage, read by thousands. Now in Life Together we have Pastor Bonhoeffer's experience of Christian community. This story of a unique fellowship in an underground seminary during the Nazi years reads like one of Paul's letters. It gives practical advice on how life together in Christ can be sustained in families and groups. The role of personal prayer, worship in common, everyday work, and Christian service is treated in simple, almost biblical, words. Life Together is bread for all who are hungry for the real life of Christian fellowship.
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In the most basic of language, free from extremely technical theology, Bonhoeffer calls the believer back to a humility which Jesus modeled and proclaimed but which has, sadly, been lost in our Greek-based culture of self-actualization. Indeed, taking Bonhoeffer to heart can prove to be.a formidable challenge to the believer who desires to truly take this book to heart, as it runs counter to the pervasive message of self-love and self-glorification.
I would recommend this book to any believer who desires to know God, but who has experienced difficulty in coming into His presence, whether alone or in the presence of other believers.
Bonhoeffer’s perspective begins with the idea that not only are humans helpless and hopeless without the love of Christ, but humans really have nothing (or at least, little) to offer each other without Christ as Mediator (Location 123—all references to my Kindle Edition of the book). “The more we received, the more we were able to give; and the more meagre our brotherly love, the less were we living by God’s mercy and love. Thus God himself taught us to meet one another as God has met us in Christ.” (Loc 139)”The more genuine and deeper our community becomes, the more will everything else between us recede, the more clearly and purely will Jesus Christ and his work become the one and only thing that is vital between us.” (Loc 151)
I particularly resonated with Bonhoeffer’s assertion, “God is not a God of the emotions but the God of truth. Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it.” (Loc 167) Further, in seeking that truth, Bonhoeffer urges believers not to neglect the scripture. “The Scripture is a whole and every word, every sentence, possesses such multiple relationships with the whole that it is impossible always to keep the whole in view when listening to details. It becomes apparent, therefore, that the whole of the Scripture and hence every passage in it as well far surpasses our understanding. It is good for us to be daily reminded of this fact, which again points to Jesus Christ himself, ‘in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ (Col. 2.3). (Loc 528) He goes on to ask, “How, for example, shall we ever attain certainty and confidence in our personal and church activity if we do not stand on solid biblical ground? It is not our heart that determines our course, but God’s Word.” (Loc 559). He goes on, “How often we hear innumerable arguments ‘from life’ and ‘from experience’ put forward as the basis for most crucial decisions, but the argument of Scripture is missing.” (Loc 561)
Of course, I wasn’t too wild about his non-musical assumptions with regard to singing. He seems to suggest that harmonization and improvisation in congregational singing is a matter of vanity and insincerity. Even though I disagree with this, check out his discussion: “There is no place in the service of worship where vanity and bad taste can so intrude as in the singing. There is, first, the improvised second part which one hears almost everywhere. It attempts to give the necessary background, the missing fullness to the soaring unison tone, and thus kills both the words and the tone.” (Loc 633)
The description of table fellowship was interesting, however. “The table fellowship of Christians implies obligation. It is our daily bread that we eat, not my own. We share our bread. Thus we are firmly bound to one another not only in the Spirit but in our whole physical being. The one bread that is given to our fellowship links us together in a firm covenant.” (Loc 746) I really believe this would bring many believers closer together if they understood it appropriately.
Perhaps, the most valuable part of the book was Bonhoeffer’s summary of ministry. He calls for the ministries of: holding one’s tongue, meekness (as opposed to ambition), listening (actively, not passively), helpfulness, bearing (as in being both forbearing and supportive), proclaiming, and authority. This is different than most lists, but quite needed in churches during and since Bonhoeffer’s time. One thought seems expressly valuable: “The Church does not need brilliant personalities but faithful servants of Jesus Christ and the brethren.” (Loc 1297)