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The gift of life together

I was rereading Bonhoeffer’s Life Together the other night. Definitely a book to consistently return to. On thing that struck me afresh was Bonhoeffer’s insistence in the early pages of the book on the nature of life together as gift. Thus “The Christian cannot simply take for granted the privilege of living among other Christians” (p. 27). Communal life with other Christians is not something that is guaranteed or assured in the course of Christian life. Rather it is a gift which we must never take for granted. As Bonhoeffer drives home:

Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. In the end all his disciples abandoned him. On the cross he was all alone, surrounded by criminals and the jeering crowds. He had come for the express purpose of bringing peace to the enemies of God. So Christians, too, belong not to the seclusion of the cloistered life but in the midst of enemies. They find their mission, their work. . . . According to God’s will, the Christian church is a scattered people, scattered like seed “to all the kingdom of the earth” (Deut. 28:25). That is the curse and its promise. God’s people must live in distant lands among the unbelievers, but they will be the seed of the kingdom of God in all the world. (pp. 27-28)

Thus, as Bonhoeffer drives home, “when Christians are allowed to live here in visible community with other Christians, we have merely a gracious anticipation of the end time. It is by God’s grace that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly around God’s word and sacrament in this world. Not all Christians partake of this grace. The imprisoned, the sick, the lonely who live in the diaspora, the proclaimers of the gospel in heathen lands stand alone. They know that visible community is grace” (p. 28).

Life together, the actual experience of getting to go through life with Christian partners who mutually support one another in responding to the call of the gospel is not a given, but a gift. Not an ontologically given datum, but a dynamic gift that comes to us from the future, a foretaste of the kingdom of God, given as Bonhoeffer drives home, only in Christ (p. 31). And all of this should drive us to praise:

Therefore, let those who until now have had the privilege of living a Christian life together with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of their hearts. Let them thank God on their knees and realize: it is grace, nothing but grace, that we are still permitted to live in the community of Christians today. (p. 30)


  1. Theophilus wrote:

    As someone who has grappled with questions of loneliness and God’s provision for our needs, this really resonates with me. As I’ve looked through the Bible, I can certainly see that we have genuine social needs, and that we are told to address the social needs of others, but among all the promises of God I have not found one that says that God guarantees that our social needs will be met. And as Bonhoeffer says, even Jesus was left alone in his hour of greatest distress, and why should we think ourselves entitled to anything better?

    Tuesday, June 15, 2010 at 1:20 pm | Permalink
  2. Rod wrote:

    I have found myself quoting Bonhoeffer lately this week.

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 6:31 am | Permalink
  3. Chris Donato wrote:

    Here is a theology of friendship worth chewing on for a while.

    Thursday, June 17, 2010 at 12:01 pm | Permalink
  4. I love some bonhoeffer, but I think it’s worth making a distinction here between the types of intentional communities that he was involved with and normal discipleship within the community of the church. I don’t think that an individual, isolated disciple is really the model of scripture either. Even the missionary disciples experienced some significant level of community as they spread the word in the midst of pagan empires!

    That said, I think that we receive even that more normal version of community with great gratitude as a gift from God. Just because something is abundant, doesn’t mean it is not a gift!

    Thursday, June 17, 2010 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

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