Lessons Learned in Prison — Part 3

This week, we’ve been honoring Bonhoeffer‘s birthday by taking a tour of some of his writings to discover what he teaches about community.  In addition to Jesus as mediator and discipleship, let’s look at the third requirement for community.

3) Responsibility and deputyship (participation in the incarnation)

Bonhoeffer says that we as Christians should be in community because Christ exemplified it for us every day he walked on earth, especially in the way he interacted with his disciples: “In bearing with men God maintained fellowship with them.”  We are God’s deputies here on earth, participating in the incarnation of Christ.  If Christ is our example of community life, how much more are sacrifice and service to be the themes of our interaction with community members on a daily basis?  “If you reject God’s commanding word,” Bonhoeffer warns, “you will not receive God’s gracious word.  How would you expect to find community while you intentionally withdraw from it at some point?”

Repeatedly, Bonhoeffer stresses the fact that community is about dying to self.  In agreeing to participate in the incarnation by becoming a disciple and taking on the responsibility of entering into the lives of others, we are freed to suffer—“The cross is not the terrible end of a pious, happy life.  Instead, it stands at the beginning of community with Jesus Christ.  Whenever Christ calls us, his call leads us to death”—and freed to forgive—“Jesus’ call to bear the cross places all who follow him in the community of forgiveness of sins.  Forgiving sins is the Christ-suffering required of his disciples…of all Christians.”

When we give up the claim to our own rights, we are freed to turn our attention and concern to the rights of others.  This freedom is the deputyship Bonhoeffer charges to each Christian; it is an ethic of relationship and community, the requirement of incarnational service for others.  In one of his prison letters, Bonhoeffer writes, “It’s remarkable how we think at such times about the people that we should not like to live without, and almost or entirely forget about ourselves.” 

Our human nature has been designed for community life.  It is a sacrifice to be in a position to love others rightly, but it is a sacrifice only because of our sinful nature, not because of our true natural inclination.  Dying to the self makes us able to live the life we have been designed for, which is why Bonhoeffer can create an ethic that requires our participation in the lives of those around us.

Regardless of the environment in which we live, community living is still a responsibility and expectation of every disciple. Bonhoeffer asserts, “This principle [of deputyship] is not affected by the extent of the responsibility assumed, whether it be for a single human being, for a community or for whole groups of communities….[E]ven the solitary lives as a deputy, and indeed quite especially so, for his life is lived in deputyship for man as man, for mankind as a whole.”

Whether we’re in a position to live intentionally among other Christians, or whether we find ourselves in a position of being a solitary light to the world, we are all called to participate in the incarnation of Jesus as the body of Christ in the world.

Tomorrow we’ll take a look at the challenges and benefits of being in community and what it means to be the body of Christ.

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About Laura K. Cavanaugh

I'm a writer, spiritual director, and advocate of holistic body theology.

Posted on February 8, 2012, in BODY of Christ, Identity, Incarnation of Christ, Service and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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