Reading in community is a practice that has been done by people for ages and continues today. For some this looks like a weekly shared scripture reading in Church, and for others it means gathering weekly at a friend’s house as a branch of Oprah’s book club. And the majority of us will never forget dreaded summer reading.
I never liked mandatory summer reading, and I always waited until the final week to complete it. But this summer, before my friends and I departed for Central America, we decided on two books that we would read together — Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together and Oscar Romero’s The Violence of Love.
Reading with others is a powerful way to get to know people and books better. As people publicly ask questions and discuss what they’ve been thinking privately, personalities are revealed and relationships grow deeper. Passages, topics, and themes that some caught and others missed are also brought to the table.
This was my first time reading a book by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and while I felt like I could’ve tweeted the whole book, I wanted to spare my followers. As a group we learned a great deal, and reading this together revealed weaknesses, strengths, and much new wisdom in our lives together here in Central America. This book certainly deserves the place it has on lists of “Christian Classics.”
Below I’ve included some quotes from each chapter of the book that were memorable to the group and I. All quotes were taken from Bonhoeffer, Dietrich (2010). Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible (Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works) (v. 5). Augsburg Fortress Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Christian community means community through and in Jesus Christ.
Christians need other Christians who speak God’s Word to them. They need them again and again when they become uncertain and disheartened because, living by their own resources, they cannot help themselves without cheating themselves out of the truth. They need other Christians as bearers and proclaimers of the divine word of salvation. They need them solely for the sake of Jesus Christ.
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. That also applies in a special way to the complaints often heard from pastors and zealous parishioners about their congregations.
The Day Together
Prayer offered in early morning is decisive for the day. The wasted time we are ashamed of, the temptations we succumb to, the weakness and discouragement in our work, the disorder and lack of discipline in our thinking and in our dealings with other people—all these very frequently have their cause in our neglect of morning prayer. The ordering and scheduling of our time will become more secure when it comes from prayer.
How often do we hear innumerable arguments “from life” and “from experience” to justify the most crucial decisions? Yet the evidence of Scripture is excluded even though it would perhaps point in exactly the opposite direction. It is not surprising, of course, that those who attempt to discredit the evidence of Scripture are the people who themselves do not seriously read, know, or make a thorough study of the Scriptures. But those who are not willing to learn how to deal with the Scriptures for themselves are not Protestant Christians
It is a decisive rule of every Christian community that every division that the day has caused must be healed in the evening.
The Day Alone
There are three things for which the Christian needs a regular time alone during the day: meditation on the Scripture, prayer, and intercession. All three should find a place in the daily period of meditation.
I can no longer condemn or hate other Christians for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble they cause me. In intercessory prayer the face that may have been strange and intolerable to me is transformed into the face of one for whom Christ died, the face of a pardoned sinner… As far as we are concerned, there is no dislike, no personal tension, no disunity or strife, that cannot be overcome by intercessory prayer.
Every act of self-discipline by a Christian is also a service to the community. Conversely, 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. This is the appropriate metaphor for the Christian community.
Where this discipline of the tongue is practiced right from the start, individuals will make an amazing discovery. They will be able to stop constantly keeping an eye on others, judging them, condemning them, and putting them in their places and thus doing violence to them.
The desire for one’s own honor hinders faith. Those who seek their own honor are no longer seeking God and their neighbor. What does it matter if I suffer injustice? Would I not have deserved even more severe punishment from God if God had not treated me with mercy? Is not justice done to me a thousand times over even in injustice?
Those who think their time is too precious to spend listening will never really have time for God and others, but only for themselves and for their own words and plans.
It is a strange fact that, of all people, Christians and theologians often consider their work so important and urgent that they do not want to let anything interrupt it. They think they are doing God a favor, but actually they are despising God’s “crooked yet straight path”
When another Christian falls into obvious sin, an admonition is imperative, because God’s Word demands it. The practice of discipline in the community of faith begins with friends who are close to one another. Words of admonition and reproach must be risked when a lapse from God’s Word in doctrine or life endangers a community that lives together, and with it the whole community of faith. Nothing can be more cruel than that leniency which abandons others to their sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than that severe reprimand which calls another Christian in one’s community back from the path of sin.
The community of faith does not need brilliant personalities but faithful servants of Jesus and of one another. It does not lack the former, but the latter.
Confession and the Lord’s Supper
You do not have to go on lying to yourself and to other Christians as if you were without sin. You are allowed to be a sinner. Thank God for that; God loves the sinner but hates the sin.
Christ became our brother in order to help us; through Christ other Christians have become Christ for us in the power and authority of Christ’s commandment. Other Christians stand before us as the sign of God’s truth and grace. They have been given to us to help us. Another Christian hears our confession of sin in Christ’s place, forgives our sins in Christ’s name. Another Christian keeps the secret of our confession as God keeps it. When I go to another believer to confess, I am going to God.