Josh Hopping's Reviews > Life Together: A Discussion of Christian Fellowship

Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
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Apr 04, 13

Read from January 16, 2012 to April 04, 2013

Born in 1906, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor and theologian who opposed the rise of Hitler and his Nazi government when the majority of church leaders voted to support the new regime. At age 27 Bonhoeffer fled Germany and became the pastor of two German speaking churches in London, England. Two years later in 1935 he returned to Nazi controlled Germany to help established an underground, illegal seminary for pastors. Bonhoeffer also got caught up in the shifting political winds of the country and ongoing war, becoming a spy for the Allied forces against Hitler and the Nazi. In the spring of 1943, eight years after returning to Germany, Bonhoeffer was arrested and placed in prison where he was died at 39-years of age on April 9, 1945.

His book “Life Together” was originally published in 1938 and was rooted in the experience of living with his students and running the underground seminary. The book focuses on five key elements of the life together following Jesus: being in community with others, daily worship and devotions with others, personal spiritually, walking our calling with God, and confessing sins and living in forgiveness. Each one of these elements takes up an entire chapter wherein Bonhoeffer unpacks them in a matter that reflects someone who has lived the words on the page and not merely thought about them. In this way, the pages of “Life Together”, while not long, are incredible valuable to the greater Christian world, calling the followers of Jesus to live life together rather than as independent rafts adrift at sea.

The first element of life together that Bonhoeffer tackles is quite simply community; that is, walking out life together as a people of Jesus. All too often people, especially in the United States of America or any other country with a long heritage of Christianity, take for granted the “privilege of living among other Christians” (pg 17). Bonhoeffer rightly points out that Jesus himself lived among his enemies and called his followers to do the same. Christians do not belong to the “seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes” (pg 17) so that the message of Gospel of the Kingdom of God may shine forth and souls may be deviled from the bonds of evil.

From there, Bonhoeffer then moves on to describe what it means to start off the day within a community. Each day, Bonhoeffer suggests, should start with a common devotion shared by all members of the community during which the word of Scripture is read, the hymns of the Church are sung and the prayer of the fellowship prayed (pg 44). Each item in this list is of the upmost importance as they feed off each other and prepare the community for living life together amid their enemies.

The third element of life together that Bonhoeffer expounds upon is personal spiritually. As valuable as the community can be for the individual, it can also be damaging as the individual ceases to find time to be alone with God. To counteract this, Bonhoeffer encourages each member of the community to set aside a portion of their day to sit in silence with Jesus in meditate on the Scriptures, prayer and intercession (pg 81). Afterwards, the individual is to come back into the greater community, bringing with them the “blessing of his aloneness” while, at the same time, receiving “anew the blessing of the fellowship” (pg 89).

Walking out our calling with God through ministry is the fourth element that Bonhoeffer tackles. Only instead of talking about ministry in the typical manner of reaching outside of the community, Bonhoeffer talks about ministry to each other. It is the ministries of holding one’s tongue, meekness, listening, helpfulness, bearing, proclaiming, and authority that hold Bonhoeffer’s attention. The focus behind each of these ministries is to tackle the primary threat to the Christian community, which is the discord caused by community members trying to determine who is the greatest among them (pg 90).

The fifth and final element of life together deals with confessing sins and living in forgiveness. A pious fellowship will, as Bonhoeffer noted, “permit no one to be a sinner” (pg 110). Therefore, seeing how each believer came to relationship with God through grace, it is of upmost importance that each follower of Jesus breaks the power of sin through confession. This confession does not have to be in front of the entire community; rather it can be done in fellowship with a trust brother or sister. It is enough that the sin is brought out “into the light” (pg 112).

Bonhoeffer ends the books with some brief but powerful comments on the sacrament of communion. Specifically he calls out the need for each brother or sister to seek out “forgiveness of the others for the wrongs committed” (pg 121) before partaking the Lord’s Supper. “All anger, strife, envy, evil gossip, and unbrotherly conduct” (pg 121) is to be settled and removed from the community before receiving the grace of God through the sacrament. When this happens, all the members of the congregation become “united in body and blood at the table of the Lord” (pg 122).

In conclusion, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book “Life Together” is a siren call to all Jesus followers to move beyond surface relationships and really live together under the grace of God. Believers are to embrace the community of other believers, worshiping daily with each other while respecting the need for individual communion with God as well as corporate worship. Furthermore, Bonhoeffer calls people forward to the ministry of serving others while living a life of forgiveness and confession. It is a tough call made all the more sharp by the knowledge that if Bonhoeffer and his students could live this way in the middle of Nazi Germany, then those in more peaceful times should be able to rise to the challenge.
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