review: dietrich bonhoeffer's life together: the classic exploration of christian community

One of my biggest convictions since becoming a believer is that I need Christian community in my life.

Because of my community, I've grown so much in my faith, and I've enjoyed countless opportunities to serve God and serve each other. And I'm grateful for the friends and mentors God has placed around me who have provided godly counsel and friendship, especially during times of confusion and distress.

But if I am to be completely honest, there are some parts of me that dislike Christian community, that shy away from fully participating and being a part of it.

There were times where I was hurt - and caused hurt - to others in the church community I belonged to. There were months where I was stewing in my anger at how things were done and what people were doing in my community that I felt was wrong or misguided. There was deep disappointment and disillusionment at the actions, as well as the inaction, of leaders in my community.

In the end, I resolved not to be too involved (for fear of getting hurt or angry), and decided to contribute the "bare minimum".

(Note: I want to share all this negativity I felt because I believe it is important to do so - not because I want to point out the flaws or failings of my Christian community, but because I recognise that I need healing in this aspect, and that I need God to cleanse the mud from my eyes and help me to see again.)

Now that I've moved to another country and found a new Christian community in Vancouver, I've gained fresh perspectives on our innate desires to be seen and recognised. I've also felt led to volunteer for my church here, almost like God was leading me to re-learn what it means to serve one another in community.

One book that has also offered me immense nuggets of wisdom on this topic is Dietrich Bonhoeffer's "Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community".

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Written in 1939, "Life Together" is a record of the German theologian's experiences in the seminary at Finkenwalde after the Gestapo closed it in 1937. In it, Bonhoeffer shares his reflections and thoughts on community, and described this time as the fullest period of his life.

Bonhoeffer's book has enlightened me and convicted me on so many levels. For one, I acknowledge that I am not an entity existing unto myself and living for my own purposes within the community; rather, I am there to serve, to give, and to bless others.

For two, I recognise the importance of solitude in my own walk with Jesus - that only when I cultivate a deeper relationship with God can I approach being in community in a less selfish, and more selfless, fashion.

For three, I see more clearly the dangers in imposing my own "ideal" version of Christian community on the community I belong to, as well as the damages it will inflict. Bonhoeffer's words challenge me to accept and love my current community, as imperfect as it may be

Continue scrolling to read some of my favourite excerpts from the book - including pinnable quotes you can share on Pinterest - that spoke to me about the importance of Christian community, what characterises it, and how to celebrate and contribute to it.

The importance of community

God has willed that we should seek and find God’s living Word in the testimony of other Christians, in the mouth of human beings. Therefore, Christians need other Christians who speak God’s Word to them.
Without Christ we would not know other Christians around us; nor could we approach them. The way to them is blocked by one’s own ego.
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What Christian community looks like

Because God already has laid the only foundation of our community, because God has united us in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ long before we entered into common life with them, we enter into that life together with other Christians, not as those who make demands, but as those who thankfully receive.
If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian community in which we have been placed, even when there are no great experiences, no noticeable riches, but much weakness, difficulty, and little faith - and if, on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so miserable and so insignificant and does not at all live up to our expectations - then we hinder God from letting our community grow according to the measure and riches that are there for us all in Jesus Christ.
A community that cannot bear and cannot survive such disillusionment, clinging instead to its idealised image, when that should be done away with, loses at the same time the promise of a durable Christian community.
Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest and sacrificial.
Christian community is not an ideal we have to realise, but rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.
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Living with one another in community

Why do Christians sing when they are together? The reason is, quite simply, that in singing together it is possible for them to speak and pray the same Word at the same time - in other words, for the sake of uniting the Word. [...] It is the voice of the church that is heard in singing together.
The Christian community is not a spiritual sanatorium. Those who take refuge in community while fleeing from themselves are misusing it to indulge in empty talk and distraction, no matter how spiritual this idle talk and distraction may appear. In reality they are not seeking community at all, but only a thrill that will allow them to forget their isolation for a short time.
Those who want community without solitude plunge into the void of words and feelings, and those who seek solitude without community perish in the bottomless pit of vanity, self-infatuation, and despair.
Every day brings the Christian many hours of being alone in an unchristian environment. These are times of testing. This is the proving ground of a genuine time of meditation and genuine Christian community. Has the community served to make individuals free, strong and mature, or has it made them insecure and dependent? [...] Has it made them anxious and unsure?
There is no sin in thought, word, or deed, no matter how personal or secret, that does not harm the whole community. When the cause of an illness gets into one’s body, whether or not anyone knows where it comes from, or in what member it has lodged, the body is made ill. [...] Every member serves the whole body, contributing either to its health or its ruin, for we are members of one body not only when we want to be, but in our whole existence.
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What are your thoughts or reflections on Christian community and on Bonhoeffer's perspective? Leave a comment below, I'd love to hear from you!