Community Disciplines: Bonhoeffer’s Life Together, Part 7

In other words, a life together under the Word will stay healthy only when it does not form itself into a movement, an order, a society, a collegium pietatis, but instead understands itself as being part of the one, holy, universal, Christian church, sharing through its deeds and suffering in the hardships and struggles and promise of the whole church. Every principle of selection, and every division connected with it that is not necessitated quite objectively by common work, local conditions, or family connections is of the greatest danger to a Christian community. Self-centeredness always insinuates itself in any process of intellectual or spiritual selectivity, destroying the spiritual power of the community and robbing the community of its effectiveness for the church, thus driving it into sectarianism.

(p. 45). Bonhoeffer connects sectarianism — the division of the church — with self-centered love. Rather than pretending that we’re dividing over doctrine and truth, Bonhoeffer gets to the heart of the matter: division is all about selfishness.

Now, of course, division is often driven by genuine disagreement about doctrine. But the decision that this doctrine makes us the true church and you not the true church — in a religion that rejects works salvation and insists repeatedly on salvation by faith in Jesus — is not driven by doctrine but by emotion, that is, the desire to prove our superior standing before God, that is, selfishness.

The Churches of Christ are a classic but not unique example. When we divide, our culture, our way, our tradition is to declare those we leave damned in their sins. This justifies the pain of the separation, but it reveals an unspeakable ignorance of God’s word and the heart of Jesus.

We may very honorably and very legitimately disagree about whether the Bible requires the Lord’s Supper be celebrated with one cup. It’s a legitimate point of contention. The Anglicans and Catholics are one cuppers, too, you know.

But to insist that those who disagree with me are damned, well, there is simply no basis for that at all other than a desire to justify separation. To win our arguments — and we’re all about the winning — we need to score as many rhetorical points as possible. And the best arguments, we think, all end with “and you’ll go to hell if you disagree.” To win the fight, we raise the stakes to the ultimate level, and this forces separation and justifies the vitriol and viciousness that fill our rhetoric. The doctrine of separation thus is created to fill the needs to win the argument at any cost.

But why win at any cost? Why is winning the most important thing? Why aren’t unity and love and grace and tolerance and acceptance more important? Why winning? Why must I insist on placing the souls of my brothers and sisters who dare disagree with me on the altar? Why is the sacrifice to be made theirs and not mine?

Well, because of the personalities of those who push the arguments. Rather than pay the hard, high price of finding common ground, of looking for ways to stay together, we’d rather prove our genius, and justify the price of subscribing to our periodicals and attending our lectureships. We need a party spirit to justify having parties so we can have party institutions — that we get to head and for which we get paid.

If partyism were to go away, so would the best seats and the profits and the honors. Separation creates hundreds of little-kingdoms rather than the Kingdom, and a host of little-kingdoms creates a host of little-kingdom chiefs who receive little-kingdom honors for creating and maintaining their little-kingdoms.

But our God is a God of just one Kingdom, and it’s a big one. It has but one Chief, who receives all the honor. But we’ll not see the Kingdom in its fullness so long as we have little-chiefs who insist on division to preserve the honors that come from separation.

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11 Responses to Community Disciplines: Bonhoeffer’s Life Together, Part 7

  1. eric says:

    This reminds me of an earlier post where Simon sought to buy the gift of the Holy Spirit. Birthed out of a desire for power not so much a desire to serve. When church becomes more about myself and less about worshiping God and serving and fellowship then division already exist even if it’s under the same roof. You have to wonder if everyone is worshiping the same God sometimes. You read about Jesus who sought out the Samaritans and Peter and Paul reaching out to the Gentiles then you read about our reasons for division. If anyone had a reason for division it was Samaritans, Jews and Gentiles. Jesus sought to do away with that and bring all of mankind into the new Kingdom. To do away with the days of Babel when the only reason we joined forces was to make ourselves God. Jesus gives us the opportunity to come together again but for the right reasons this time. To love God and one another.

  2. laymond says:

    “Bonhoeffer connects sectarianism — the division of the church — with self-centered love. Rather than pretending that we’re dividing over doctrine and truth, Bonhoeffer gets to the heart of the matter: division is all about selfishness”

    That is not breaking news, life in general is about selfishness. And yes even religion is about selfishness, unless of course you are seeking for others out of pure love as Jesus did, but as we have all discovered it is not easy to follow Jesus.
    Sad though it may be, most people seek God out of selfish reasons. Most Christians seek their own salvation, even to the point of declaring their selves “saved”. I don’t know that, that will be enough. God judges a heart, not a mind.
    Declaring one’s self “saved” is a mindset, not a heart matter. ( I was promised this, if I did this, and I did it, so I’m saved) I have said in the past we should do what is right to please God and obey his commands, well that is not exactly all I believe, yes we should obey God. But we should not just help others in order to be right with God, that would also be self centered. We should help others because our heart strings have been tugged. That is a matter of the heart. We should help, whether or not we think “our Father “ is watching.
    I remember what my youngest grandson replied to a question from his Grandmother once after he had an extra ordinary night on the basket ball court. “man you had a good game, did you play extra hard because your grandpa was here watching,” Christian’s reply was,(yes his name is Christian) “No Meme, I don’t slack of no matter who is or who is not watching” We should all live by that motto, “do the best you can no matter what”

  3. aBasnar says:

    But to insist that those who disagree with me are damned, well, there is simply no basis for that at all other than a desire to justify separation. To win our arguments — and we’re all about the winning — we need to score as many rhetorical points as possible. And the best arguments, we think, all end with “and you’ll go to hell if you disagree.”

    You don’t need to damn the “opponent”, and you can’t avoid schism or keep unity at any cost either. Selfish people press for their worship style, press for an egalitarian understanding of church leadership, for more flexibilty on the Divorce and Remarriage issue … what shall we do then?

    Why aren’t unity and love and grace and tolerance and acceptance more important? … Why is the sacrifice to be made theirs and not mine?

    What if it is simply and plainly about who is right and who is wrong. Or more to the point: About truth. Or: About Christ’s church – not ours that we can mould according to our wishes.

    Oh, were it just that simple! Oh were it only about me and my willingness to sacrifice my own selfishness! But who can dare to sacrifice the truth on the altar of tolerance?

    Alexander

  4. aBasnar says:

    Maybe this one, too:

    But the decision that this doctrine makes us the true church and you not the true church — in a religion that rejects works salvation and insists repeatedly on salvation by faith in Jesus — is not driven by doctrine but by emotion,

    It’s not about our salvation – this is selfih thinking, Jay! Really! One of the key problems in all of hese discussions is that we somehow tend to put our salvationto the fore, a salvation defined by a minimum of conditions: Faith. Once we got this for almost free, everything seems secondary to irreleveant. So let’s disagree respectfully and keep unity.

    What is forgotten: There is a King! And the center of our attention shall be the King, His Will and His Glory! His commands are not to be ignored and His word is not to be twisted. and here, Jay, here we have th situation when doctrine becomes very important for unity. Because the way we deal with his word reflects our loyalty to the King – is an expression of this saving faith. As soon as we grasp this, we will all become more and more ready to lay aside our preferences and accept wholeheartedly each and every word that proceeded from His mouth.

    Many doctrinal differences have their roots here. God’s word being put aside, and man’s will being enthroned. This is not always as obvious as I paint it here, because it is clothed in the “enlightening” words of “recent scholarship”, uttered by respected leaders of our churches. Here we deal with question on the inerrancy and authority of scripture – which means: With the inerrancy and authoritry of Christ, the King.

    let me reapeat, because this is quite provoicatibe and needs to sink in: It is not about our salvation, and even less about such a “cheap” salvation; but about the Lordship of Christ. He settled all matters by His word to which we have to submit. Who does not do that, divides His body (regardless of on which side on the controvery one stands – this applies to all).

    Alexander

  5. “Selfish people press for their worship style, press for an egalitarian understanding of church leadership, for more flexibilty on the Divorce and Remarriage issue … what shall we do then?”
    >>>
    Submit to them. After all, that is what you fully expect THEM to do– submit to you. Invoking the Golden Rule here…

    Submit to one another in love has somehow become, “Submit to me, or you are unloving. If I don’t submit to YOU, however, it’s because I love the truth.”

  6. I may be wrong, but it appears someone would have the royal guard go after the king’s family– because they accuse the king’s children of disloyalty.

    This is more Joab than Jesus, IMO.

  7. Jerry says:

    Alexander,

    In Romans 14, Paul discusses two issues to establish his principle that we are not to judge another man’s servant. Those on each “side” of each “issue” could (and no doubt did) argue that they were right and the other was wrong. Some observed days because they felt God demanded it; others refrained because they believed God had set them free from such observances. The same is (was) true of those who were vegetarian against those who ate meat – or the other way around.

    However, Paul did not “settle the arguments.” He rebuked both for the divisive spirit that caused them to break fellowship over such matters – when each “side” of the issues looked to Jesus as Messiah and King. His conclusion?

    We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. (Romans 15:1, ESV – emphasis added)

    In other words, “If you are “strong,” quit being selfish. Bear with your weaker brother.”

    I remember a story about someone who asked a couple with a long, successful marriage about their secret. They replied, “It’s those two bears in the Bible.” This surprised the one who asked, for he thought they might be thinking about Elisha and the youths who mocked him and were set upon by bears. But it wasn’t those “bears.” Rather it was “bear one another’s burdens” and “be forbearing with one another in love.” Those two “bears” will keep a lot of us much nearer our Lord and King – and united in Him. Jay’s (and Bonhoeffer’s) point is well-taken. To insist that my way is the right way is the height of selfishness – unless the other person is denying the Lordship of Jesus or committing gross immorality.

  8. Skip says:

    While pure doctrine is an ideal to be sought, no church on earth will ever possess perfect doctrine. Many churches will continue to disagree on doctrinal matters. Unity is enhanced by pure doctrine but unity transcends doctrine only and is forged by love, the Holy Spirit, forgiveness, patience, working together, good communication, and much grace.

    It is a mistake to assume that any one church group has doctrine all figured out. In my experience the churches that are most consumed with doctrinal issues (at the expense of love) are the most divisive. (Please don’t construe this to mean I don’t believe doctrine isn’t important. I am smart enough to understand that no one blogging on this website has a corner on doctrinal purity.)

  9. aBasnar says:

    Romans 14, Jerry, is a very important text for all situation where Romans 14 applies: Where scripture is silent and it may be a matter of conscience or stronger and weaker faith. But it does not apply to doctrine, which was my point. I affirm, that doctrine is – though not on the same level as faith – essential for unity. One reason: Leaders shall be able to teach and to rebuke with sound doctrine.

    I was a bit disturbed that differences in doctrine should be tolerated or even accepted. To say this is showing a certain degree of indifference concerning truth. This is fairly common in the world, but should not be the mindset of Christ’s church.

    @ Skip

    Do you know this saying?

    Doctrine divides
    Love unites.

    It’s true enough far too often. But this saying is equally often used in the sense: “Don’t bother us with doctrine, leave us the way we are.” Some prefer ignorance over responsibilty. They pretend there is no truth in a given matter, so they can claim unity in spite of differing opinions – even on matters where the scriptures are not silent.

    I do agree that the truth and our knowledge/application of this truth are two different things. But we must strive to become perfected in our knowledge of God, his Son, His Word. And this involves diligent study of the scriptures. Much of what divides churches today shows a dramatic lack of knowledge of and submission to God’s Word.

    Alexander

  10. Skip says:

    Alexander, I agreed with you. I never said otherwise. However, pure doctrine, while essential, is not the foundation of unity. Ephesians 2:14-17 describes the foundation of unity when it talks about how Jesus destroyed the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law with its commandments. We are made one positionally by the blood of Christ. Then we spend the rest of our Christian lives forging practical unity. One way we do this is to believe in others, to give them the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise, and to love. As the Bible teaches “Love covers over a multitude of sins” I Peter 4:8. I am not saying that doctrine isn’t important but that we have to have a foundation of love as we work out doctrinal differences. No one perfectly understands all Biblical doctrines and so this process never ends.

  11. aBasnar says:

    I’m with you on that, Skip.

    Alexander

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