“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Ps. 133:1, ESV)
The concept of the Christian community may seem an ironic topic in our current time of social distancing.
But we need Christian fellowship now more than ever!
Although we can’t attend our churches, it’s important to stay connected to our Christian family.
That’s where Life Together, a book about Christian fellowship, comes in.
German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote Life Together: A Discussion of Christian Fellowship out of several trying experiences.
Bonhoeffer led an underground Christian seminary during World War II, and was eventually imprisoned and martyred by the Nazi government for his religious work.
Because he spent such a large portion of his life in seclusion and loneliness, Bonhoeffer understood the blessing of Christian community in a special way.
“It is not simply to be taken for granted that the Christian has the privilege of living among other Christians,” Bonhoeffer begins in Life Together. “It is only by [grace] that Christians are privileged to live in visible fellowship with other Christians.”
Bonhoeffer’s words are a stern check on our modern practice of taking community for granted. The pastor observes that not all Christians are even given this blessing of in-person fellowship and encouragement.
“The imprisoned, the sick, the scattered lonely, the proclaimers of the Gospel in heathen lands stand alone,” Bonhoeffer writes. “They know that visible fellowship is a blessing.”
Although it is easy to take this “visible fellowship” for granted in modern America, we must remember that our relationships with other believers are an incredible gift from God and a thing to be preserved and enjoyed with utmost care.
“The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer,” Bonhoeffer continues, reflecting on his own experience of isolation.
But the fellowship of other believers is not only a source of joy, according to Bonhoeffer. Our Christian community is also a necessary part of our walk with Christ.
“The Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him,” Bonhoeffer reminds his readers. “He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth.”
In other words, all Christians need other believers to speak truth into their lives. When we’re unable to “lift [our] drooping hands and strength [our] weak knees” (Hebrews 12:12, ESV), others can help us stay strong.
With these concise and insightful statements, Bonhoeffer sets the stage for his deep discussion of practical community.
The first step is admitting that we need each other, but where do we go from there? The rest of Bonhoeffer’s brief book addresses this question.
The pastor dives into this topic by noting that many Christians may actually have an idealized vision of Christian fellowship.
The family of God isn’t perfect, Bonhoeffer assures his readers, and it’s never helpful to imagine it is.
“He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter,” cautions Bonhoeffer.
Humans are unavoidably flawed, and when we burden our brothers and sisters with expectations of perfection, we run the risk of destroying our community of faith.
Instead of relying on the believers around us to unite our Christian family, we must all look to Christ, Bonhoeffer writes.
“For Jesus Christ alone is our unity…through Him alone do we have access to one another, joy in one another, and fellowship with one another.”
When we turn our eyes from our imperfect selves and our imperfect brothers and sisters to Christ and His unity, our fellowship can be transformed from ordinary human gatherings into spiritually encouraging moments.
Bonhoeffer goes on to write about the practical elements of Christian gatherings, suggesting ways in which we can shift our focus from ourselves, to each other and to Christ Himself.
He also addresses the dangers of Christian life in isolation, urging believers to “beware of being alone” if they have the opportunity to gather with other believers, and writes about the need to minister to each other faithfully and selflessly.
Life Together is a short, practical book that will encourage, convict, and inspire believers of all ages, and it’s more relevant than ever in our uncertain times.
According to Bonhoeffer, we can’t ignore the call to partake in Christian community.
So, how can you gather with your Christian family right now? Make an effort to pray with others over the phone, write encouraging letters and cards, or use video chat technology to hold small group or Bible study meetings.
Even though most of us are unable to physically meet at this time, we must heed Bonhoeffer’s call to community and find ways to love and serve our family in Christ.
Be inspired to do just that and find your copy of Life Together today!