Book of the week (1): "Life Together"

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(Tim) Last week, three links were added at the top of the left column. The first is titled "Book of the week," and this is my first recommendation.

When Mary Lee and I were first married, we'd moved to Madison, Wisconsin and had no idea what church to become a part of. We had no friends in the city when we moved there so we spent quite a bit of time looking for a church home. Visiting church after church, nothing drew us in. We didn't like this church because every sermon was a Gospel appeal; that church because people weren't warm to us; the third church seemed snooty; and so on.

Then, somehow or other, we got a hold of Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and everything changed. One of the many parts still burning in my heart now thirty-two years later--the roundhouse punch that got us to find a church and stay throughout our years in Madison--was the section of the first chapter where Bonhoeffer says "God hates visionary dreaming." It's a knife in the heart of souls who judge the church rather than loving her (I've put an excerpt on the next page). As Mary Lee and I read it aloud, we saw our pride and lack of gratitude and started to repent...

Since then, I've recommended Life Together more than any other book save The Book, God's Holy Word. Bonhoeffer's writing isn't always dependable, but this little book is worth its weight in gold. It was written out of the Confessing Church's struggle to remain faithful to the Lord during the Third Reich (specifically, a small underground seminary Bonhoeffer led in Finkenwalde). The sanctification of suffering oozes from its pages. There are several things that will raise your hackles. For instance, his recommendation of the Moravian tradition's a capella singing to discipline pride may not convince those trying to restore four part harmony to the church's worship.

But trust me: This book is gold. It's about one hundred pages--short enough to read in a couple hours--and it will do for the soul what is absolutely necessary if we're ever to get past the entrepreneurial parachurch bondage that saturates American Protestantism today. It will lead the hearts and minds of the people of God back to Zion, our Mother (the Apostle Paul), without which we cannot abide in God our Father (Cyprian) and outside of which there is normally no possibility of salvation (Calvin). Pastors, elders, and Titus 2 women, buy an extra copy; you'll always be loaning one out...

and you'll want to keep your own copy close at hand.

Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because

it had sprung from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for

the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a

very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try

to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as

surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian

fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment

with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with

ourselves… God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and

pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community

demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He

enters the community of Christians which his demands, sets up his own

law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly. He stands

adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren. He

acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his

dream binds men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the

effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the

community going to smash. So he becomes, first the accuser of his

brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of

himself...

Because God has already laid the only foundation of our

fellowship, because God has bound us together in one body with other

Christians in Jesus Christ, long before we entered into common life

with them, we enter into that common life not as demanders but a

thankful recipients. We thank God for what He has done for us.

We thank God for giving us brethren who live by His call, by His

forgiveness, and His promise. We do not complain of what God does not

give us; we rather thank God for what He does give us daily. And is now

what has been given us enough: brothers

who will go on living with us through sin and need under the blessing

of His grace? Is the divine gift of Christian fellowship anything less

than this, any day, even the most difficult and distressing day?

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