This is not a book review. This is a book reflection. While I don’t normally re-read books, I’ve recently re-read Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and want to make a few points about the book. It is my belief that if the Christian church picked up this book — you know, bought it (or borrowed it, preferably), read it, and applied many of its principles, our churches would be stronger.
I use the word “many” above when speaking of the book’s principles as some of the content of the book is archaic and frankly disagreeable. But most of it is gold, and here now, I’ll mention some of the treasures that caught my attention.
The Book’s Main Themes
As the subtitle of the book suggests, Life Together is a book on Christian community. Since you as a Christian are called to live in community, it’s applicable to you. Some of the major themes include: the blessing of Christian fellowship through Jesus Christ, the actual Christian community verses an unrealistic, “wish-dream” (as Bonhoeffer says) community, one’s private devotional life, and some of the practical things the community should do when gathered.
Christians, according to Bonhoeffer, should be devoted to Bible reading, prayer (specifically, the Psalter), and the singing of songs. Additionally, he adds more practical things to do when together, which include listening well, bearing one’s burdens, proclaiming the Word, receiving the sacraments, and the confession of sin. It truly is a concise, yet applicable book on the togetherness of Christian fellowship.
Interesting and Noteworthy Points
One aspect of Bonhoeffer’s points that I found to be interesting was his point on the Christian’s presence. Perhaps my favorite quote from the book is when Bonhoeffer says “The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer.”
I lead a community group, along with my wife, and I shared this quote with them. I told them that that discussions at group aren’t always going to be great (especially when I lead them), the prayer time probably won’t be life-changing, and you probably won’t always feel like coming. But I encouraged them to do so, and one reason is that the mere act of just showing up will be an encouragement to them. There is power in the presence.
Another point I found to be noteworthy is the grace of God which allows us to be in community. Bonhoeffer, speaking of the Christian, writes, “Let him thank God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren.”
How often do I take for granted that I can gather with my Christian brothers and sisters – both during the Sunday service and in community group – and not worry about physical persecution, as do some of our Christian family overseas? I don’t want to take community for granted, no matter how hard it gets. One thing that will help with this is to remember that it is all of grace. When I reflect on God’s grace in saving me and placing me in community, I feel a deep sense of joy. Bonhoeffer is right: we should thank God for the grace of community.
I also think this quote is worth mentioning: “Let him who cannot be alone beware of community.” Bonhoeffer then goes on to write about how personal devotions are essential, and those that only want to be in community, but never want to spend time with the Lord alone, may be a hindrance to community.
I love this point. Myself, I have found my personal devotions of Bible reading, reading theology, and prayer is instrumental in my Christian faith. While Christian community is essential, I don’t understand how some Christians live their life without spending time with the Lord in private. We shouldn’t come off as legalistic when discussing this, but we should emphasize it nonetheless. Grace and holiness go together, which is accompanied by public community and private devotions.
Fighting Against the Wish-Dream Church
Bonhoeffer’s understanding of the Christian community is providing encouragement for my local Christian church today. Do you think your church is perfect? It’s not. Mine isn’t either. There’s no such thing as a perfect church. And if you find one and then join, it will cease in its perfection. We all have wishes of what we want in a church. Often, we need to put these wishes to death and just be thankful and serve the church God has placed us in.
The “wish” for a different sort of church is exactly what Bonhoeffer warns against. He writes, “He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.” This has forced me in my private devotions to pray against the wish dream church in my heart and just seek to be a faithful church member. I believe this prayer is paying off.
This is a helpful book that has been around for ages. The truths are both timeless and timely as it’s the sort of book that needs to be taken seriously all over again.
Other Notable Bonhoeffer Quotes from the Book
Along with the quotes mentioned above, here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:
“It is easily forgotten that the fellowship of Christian brethren is a gift of grace . . .”
“One who wants more than what Christ has established does not want Christian brotherhood.”
“Only he who gives thanks for little things receives the big things. We prevent God from giving us the great spiritual gifts He has in store for us because we do not give thanks for daily gifts.”
“A pastor should not complain about his congregation, certainly never to other people, but also not to God.”
“I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me.”