Seventy years ago this month, on April 9th, 1945, Dietrich Bonhoeffer faced the gallows. As an anti-Nazi dissident, the Gestapo had arrested him the prior year for his outspoken criticism of Hitler, and penultimately for his complicity in a plot to assassinate the Fuhrer. Bonhoeffer died a martyr, one put to death for his Christian testimony.
Seventy years later, Bonhoeffer’s most lasting work is The Cost of Discipleship. But his lesser known, Life Together, remains a classic on Christian community. Whether it is a family, church, seminary, or other Christian entity, Life Together instructs us how to fashion and live together as Christians in community.
Bonhoeffer extolls God’s gift of community, arguing: “It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren” (20). Further, he adds: “Christian community is like the Christian’s sanctification. It is a gift of God, which we cannot claim. Only God knows the real state of our fellowship, of our sanctification” (30).
Life Together is both theological and practical, explaining both God’s goodness in community and how to optimize it for Christian growth. Bonhoeffer unpacks how communities should read the Word together, sing together, pray together, share meals together, and how they should work together.
These community practices are juxtaposed with the disciplines of solitude, and how the two are meant to complement the other. As Bonhoeffer cautions, “Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. … But the reverse is also true: Let him who is not in community beware of being alone” (77).
Christian community is to be more than a monthly church potluck dinner. To limit Christian community to planned, periodic events, is to hollow out the biblical notion of Christian community and to deprive one’s own heart of its joyful and life-giving benefits.
Moreover, Bonhoeffer contrasts Christian community with mere social interaction. He observes: “There is probably no Christian to whom God has not given the uplifting experience of genuine Christian community at least once in his life. But in this world such experiences can be no more than a gracious extra beyond the daily bread of Christian community” (39).
Six years before the Gestapo imprisoned Bonhoeffer he penned his most famous The Cost of Discipleship, in which he left the church those immortal words, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” At the hands of the Nazis, Bonhoeffer did just that. But until we die in Christ, we should first live in him and with his people. Life Together is a timeless primer on how to do that.topicsDietrich Bonhoeffer