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.
Lessons Learned in Prison — Part 2
Yesterday, we looked at the first requirement for community: Jesus as mediator. Today, we’ll continue our tour through Bonhoeffer‘s writings about community.
2) Individual commitment (discipleship)
When Bonhoeffer writes, “The call to discipleship here has no other content than Jesus Christ himself, being bound to him, in community with him,” he means that discipleship is entering into community with Jesus Christ, participating in the cost of his grace through the incarnation.
As we looked at yesterday, Bonhoeffer builds his understanding of discipleship and the call of each individual Christian to live according to Christ around the sub-theme of Jesus as the mediator. Jesus enters incarnationally into our lives and calls us to follow the example by entering incarnationally into the lives of our fellow Christians, with Christ as the mediator. Every assertion Bonhoeffer makes stems from this central belief in the position of Christ in our lives.
Whether we are communicating with God—“Always there must be a second person, another, a member of the fellowship, the Body of Christ, indeed, Jesus Christ himself, praying with him, in order that the prayer of the individual may be true prayer”—or whether we are worshiping among fellow Christians—“It is not you that sings, it is the Church that is singing, and you, as a member of the Church, may share in its song”—everything we do is filtered through the incarnation of Christ.
Bonhoeffer returns again and again to this theme: “The image of Jesus Christ shapes the image of the disciples in daily community.”
As Bonhoeffer develops, in The Cost of Discipleship, his discussion of what it means to be a disciple of Christ–to answer the call to participate in the incarnation by obedience to that call–he stresses the need to come to Christ alone: “Each is called alone. Each must follow alone.” Discipleship is first and foremost individual.
Bonhoeffer warns, “If you refuse to be alone (i.e. to worship, pray, meditate, and generally seek God on an individual basis) you are rejecting Christ’s call to you, and you can have no part in the community of those who are called.” Community life is designed to enhance and bolster the lives of Christians but not to serve as a substitute for finding all of our needs met in God alone.
However, most of us are not called into seclusion, either. Bonhoeffer believed strongly in intentional Christian community and warns in Life Together, “If you scorn the fellowship of the brethren, you reject all of Jesus Christ, and thus your solitude can only be hurtful to you.” We must deal only with Christ and through Christ, but Christ has entered incarnationally into our lives in order that we might live in right relationship to each other as well as to God. As Bonhoeffer puts it, “Man is an indivisible whole, not only as an individual in his person and work but also as a member of the community of men and creatures in which he stands.”
In fact, community and individual discipleship are closely related in Bonhoeffer’s famous argument against cheap grace: “Cheap grace is…baptism [i.e. the symbol of individual commitment] without the discipline of community….Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without the living, incarnate Jesus Christ.”
Bonhoeffer does not neglect to add that while it is the individual’s responsibility to live in community, it is also the responsibility of the community to impact positively the individual’s life. “The right of the individual,” Bonhoeffer writes in Ethics, “is the power which upholds the right of the community, just as, conversely, it is the community that upholds and defends the right of the individual.”
Bonhoeffer warns that Christians must be aware of the health of the surrounding community, for when “a community hinders us from coming before Christ as a single individual, anytime a community lays claim to immediacy, it must be hated for Christ’s sake.” Community is important and even essential to the Christian life, but it does not have the right to supersede the position of Christ as center and mediator for all disciples.
(Current heated debates surrounding certain celebrity pastors come to mind.)
Bonhoeffer repeats so that his readers cannot forget, “Discipleship is bound to the mediator, and wherever discipleship is rightly spoken of, there the mediator, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is intended. Only the mediator, the God-human, can call to discipleship.”
Jesus calls individually; we answer individually and respond communally. Tomorrow, we’ll look at the third requirement of community: participation in the incarnation.
The Christian world is full of controversy over what is right and wrong, what is healthy and not healthy, and even what is biblical and not biblical when it comes to sex, relationships, and how we both behave with and view our bodies.
Last week we looked at a sample of what’s being said about sexuality and relationships. Here are a few more to keep the conversation going.
How do you define healthy sexuality, inside or outside of healthy Christian marriage? Share your thoughts in the comment section. Discuss. Discern. Discover.
1) CNN-Is God Going to Hook Me Up Online? So does that mean the cliché is true, that some matches really are “made in heaven?” Does God, if you believe there is one, pre-select us to pair up as life partners, as “soul mates?”
2) CNN-It’s time to talk about sex at church–and marriage for clergy Are we not all sexual beings with the same capacity to love and be loved? Why can’t a man of God, be also a family man?…Even the bible says that the bishop should be “the husband of one wife” – see 1 Timothy 3:2.
3) Esther and Vashti: The Real Story Technically speaking, it is biblical for a woman to be sold by her father to pay off debt (Exodus 21:7), biblical for her to be forced to marry her rapist (Exodus 22:16-17), biblical for her to remain silent in church (1 Corinthians 14:34-35), biblical for her to cover her head (1 Corinthians 11:6), and biblical for her to be one of many wives (Deuteronomy 21:15-17). With this in mind, I don’t know anyone who is actually advocating a return to biblical womanhood.
4) Lingering in That Aisle Like it or not, our sexuality connects us to other people and to God. Even if that other person is our pharmacist, local Target employee, or gynecologist who asks if we need to be screened for STD’s. No matter what time period, there’s gonna be blood and semen and breath.
5) Getting to the Root of Female Masturbation Whether or not masturbation is a categorical sin, it is certainly something that produces shame in Angela and Jasmine—shame from which they seek deliverance. And if masturbation is often about more than pleasure—if it’s at root about intimacy and healthy attachment—I believe the Christian community can help women like Angela and Jasmine break free.
6) Truth, Authority and Roles I suspect that many people, including many Christians, prefer hierarchy to truth because hierarchy makes things more orderly, controlled and predictable. Authority-as-truth can be messy. But anything else is a form of idolatry (or at least an opening to idolatry) because God and truth are inseparable. To prefer power to truth is always wrong.
7) But He (or She) Isn’t a Virgin As Christians, one area that our narrow perspective has negatively affected has been the topic of sexual purity. Inarguably, sexual purity is a very important thing. God would not have mentioned it time and time again throughout Scriptures if that were not so. He knows the pain and devastation that “sex done wrong” can cause in both short-term and long-term relationships. Yet we as Christians must remember that though it is an important piece to the puzzle of a flourishing marriage, it is by no means the most important factor.
8) The Trouble with Ed Young’s Rooftop Sexperiment In short, if there were more talk about sex elsewhere in the church, perhaps in the privacy of our communities and classrooms, we might get away with a good deal less of it from our pulpits and our publishing houses. Until then, the message will continue to get drowned out amidst the bombardment of infotainment that our evangelical world suffers from. In other words, if the message is not getting through, we might think about changing the messenger and method. Otherwise, the sensationalistic path of least resistance inevitably comes to the fore.
Response to: Is Premarital Sex Okay for Millennials?
Blogger Mike Friesen wrote a recent post entitled “Is Premarital Sex Okay For Millenials?”
I was taught growing up that premarital sex is bad. In fact, the environment that I was in would shame me if I was involved in any form of sexual idolatry. However, because of my love for the Bible and the beauty that God created in sexual oneness, I agree that it is absolutely best to wait for marriage. Read the rest here.
As a proponent of healthy body theology (and by extension healthy sexuality), I wrestle with issues like this all the time. I think one issue that clouds the discussion is the tendency for Christians to approach issues with very black-and-white theology, which I just don’t think is helpful anymore.
Rather than asking the question “Is premarital sex okay,” might not a better question be “How do single Christians express their sexuality in a healthy way?” Secondly, how does the Church guide and advise on such issues? I think it’s much more helpful overall to teach people to make responsible, adult decisions about how to experience life, whether it’s going to a bar or club to unwind with friends and meet new ones, participating in Christian communities, engaging in social justice issues, pursuing higher schooling, taking parenting classes, having sex as a single person, discerning a vocation, making wise money investments, etc.
Life is full of choices, not just about sex but about everything. There are so many things we 18- to 35-year-olds need guidance about, and without the church helping to shape youth into wise and discerning young adults, we are going to keep circling around, asking the wrong questions, and drawing unhelpful boundaries that do not allow for the “new thing springing up” and the very active movement of the Holy Spirit in people’s lives.
I’m curious, for all the “waiters” out there, how do you/did you experience “waiting” for sex? Do you see more sexual repression or healthy waiting? For those of you who waited/are waiting, how did you/do you express your sexuality in a healthy way in the meantime? For those of you who didn’t wait, do you regret your choices now? Why or why not? Leave your thoughts in the comment box below, or join Mike Friesen’s discussion.