Community Disciplines: Bonhoeffer’s Life Together, Part 5

If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian community in which we have been placed, even when there are no great experiences, no noticeable riches, but much weakness, difficulty, and little faith—and if, on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so miserable and so insignificant and does not at all live up to our expectations—then we hinder God from letting our community grow according to the measure and riches that are there for us all in Jesus Christ.

(p. 37). What?! We can’t complain? But complaining is our favorite past time! It’s our right as Americans!

(1Co 10:9-10 ESV) 9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents,  10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.

(Phi 2:14-16 ESV)  14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing,  15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,  16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.

(Jam 5:9 ESV)  9 Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.

“Grumble” is borrowed from Exodus, the same word used of the Israelites in their constant complaining about Moses, the desert, and even God. Several times, God threatened to kill the entire nation for their constant complaining, eventually resulting in those who left Egypt — other than Joshua and Caleb — dying in the desert and never seeing the Promised Land. Complaining is a far deeper sin than we like to imagine.

Bonhoeffer warns us that if we can’t be happy with small blessings, God may not give us large ones. If we can’t appreciate the joy of community — even with the imperfect, if we can’t enjoy the blessings God gives us in our congregation, the friends, the children, the babies, the singing, the worship, the giving — if we can only see the problems and see none of the glories, then God just might take away even those blessings and show us what real problems look like.

And how often has that happened? How often have we spurned the blessings we have only to find ourselves in a much unhappier, much less blessed place? Why, oh why, do we have to learn to appreciate what we have only when we lose it?

Grumbling undermines the leadership of the church, keeps them from being effective and can destroy the church. There are ways to bring about needed change, but grumbling does not make the list. (This is not middle school. Acting like an adult would be far more effective than whining. Indeed, there is no surer way to make yourself irrelevant than to become known as a grumbler.)

I need to say, however, that not every departure and not every complaint is illegitimate. Sometimes we really do have to leave. Here are some thoughts —

* A congregation that defines salvation by boundaries other than faith in Jesus is a dangerous place to be. We cannot stay long in a congregation that teaches a different gospel. After all, even if we know better, our children will learn what they are taught, and we cannot let them be taught idolatry.

* A congregation that doesn’t teach the gospel is not a church of Jesus. When human philosophy drives the agenda rather than the atoning work of Jesus for those with faith in him, it’s time to leave.

* A congregation that doesn’t insist on penitent living is not a church of Jesus. Of course, we might disagree about what God commands, and that’s a different matter. But when the principle of submission to Jesus in all that he commands is lost, then the faithfulness element of faith is destroyed, and the church is no longer truly Christian.

* Then again, some people are called by God to reform a congregation. They will often know who they are because they’ll feel the calling. They should stay and fearlessly teach the true gospel and call for change, in patience, in love, in gentleness. After all, you can’t teach the gospel of love by being rude and hateful! Just don’t sacrifice the souls of your children on that altar.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
This entry was posted in Bonhoeffer's Life Together, Christian Disciplines, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

33 Responses to Community Disciplines: Bonhoeffer’s Life Together, Part 5

  1. laymond says:

    (Jam 5:9 ESV) 9 Do not grumble against one another, brothers, so that you may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing at the door.

    “Complaining is a far deeper sin than we like to imagine.”

    Jay, is it a sin to write a blog complaining that over half of the brotherhood is to legalistic, with not enough grace. your call, not mine I try not to judge.

    Oh, I’m sorry, I see you already have that covered. “Then again, some people are called by God to reform a congregation. They will often know who they are because they’ll feel the calling.”

    But I missed where you referenced this with scripture, could you point that out, as you did with the complaining.?

  2. Jerry says:

    Laymond, How about this?

    “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. “‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. (Revelation 3:1-5)

  3. Todd Collier says:

    Again consider context. Bonhoeffer left the entire German Church and denounced it as heretical because it abandoned the genuine Christian witness to follow the Nazi’s. He did not do this in a corner but loudly, publicly, in writing and on the radio, from the safety of England and America and from within the lion’s den of Germany itself. The difference between a “reformer” and a “complainer” is very clear.

    A “complainer” complains about everything and all of the time. He prefers to water fountain or the “cry room” to the pulpit. He suddenly goes silent when the leadership walks by. He works through gossip and innuendo and he does absolutely nothing to make things better. Usually his complaints stem from personal preferences or the perceived failings of others.

    A reformer is not afraid to stand in the public forum and be known as such. He seeks out the leadership with his problems instead of making them his secret target. He involves himself deeply in the work he is trying to reform and thereby sets the example of the change he is seeking. A good reformer always seeks to “heart” or “core” of the matter and will usually be willing to sacrifice his personal comfort for the good of the Body at large.

    Complainers are condemned by the Scriptures and destined for hell fire.

    Reformers are what the Scriptures are all about and they are the true servants of a living God who are constantly working with Him to turn back the effects of entropy and sin in the hearts and minds of man and in the Body and Doctrine of the Church.

  4. laymond says:

    Sorry Jerry, I must have one of those dense moments, I don’t understand how that fills my request to show me in scripture where it says “Then again, some people are called by God to reform a congregation.”
    I have never seen any angels in my church, at least not any that I recognized.
    I have seen those who claimed to be called by god to lead the church, but never gave any proof of it , in actions, or scripture. how is the common member supposed to know?

  5. Todd Collier says:

    “the” water fountain… “the” “heart”… My fingers are outrunning my brain this morning.

  6. Todd Collier says:

    Laymond, with all due respect, Who needs a specific Scriptural command to do so when everything between Acts and the Concordance/Maps in our Bibles displays the “reform” ideal?

    Every scrap of text written by Paul is written to “reform” the Churches – even the brand new ones needed reform. Hebrews is written to reform our theology on the old Law. James reforms our daily lives. Peter and John and Jude are doing the same.

    If we follow Biblical example we don’t need a specific command that says “Thou shalt reform the Church when it begins to get off track” The entire back half of the NT proclaims that purpose. If I live faithful to that witness I must be a “reformer” myself.

  7. laymond says:

    Jerry, First of all, I am not accusing anyone of being a false teacher, nor a devil spirit.
    I am only explaining why when one tells me something God does, I ask for scripture to back what they say, period.

    1Th 5:21 Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.
    NLT – 1Th 5:21 – but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good.

    The only way I know to test what someone said is by using scripture.

    1Jo 4:1 Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world.
    1Jo 4:2 Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:

    Well that is not really proven to be fact when we read these verses from Matthew.

    Mat 8:28 And when he was come to the other side into the country of the Gergesenes, there met him two possessed with devils, coming out of the tombs, exceeding fierce, so that no man might pass by that way.
    Mat 8:29 And, behold, they cried out, saying, What have we to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God? art thou come hither to torment us before the time?

    Or from James.
    Jam 2:19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.

    So in my opinion that puts the burden of proof back on the scriptures. Not accusing anyone of lying, just asking for scripture, the only way I know to “prove all things”
    I don’t know Todd, maybe you can tell me, Why did Paul say “prove all things”?

  8. laymond says:

    Todd, in other words, you are using scripture to say we don’t need to refer to scripture. Hummm .

  9. Doug says:

    Laymond, doesn’t much of the New Testatment lend itself to teaching us about what the Church is, what the Church should teach, what the difference is between a strong Church and a weak church? So, if we discern that our local congregation is running counter to any of these teachings or even is weak on any of these teachings, are you saying we should just do nothing? Is a specific thou shalt really required for a person to try reform the church to what God has told us He wants it to be?

  10. I have never seen any angels in my church, at least not any that I recognized.
    Hence the idea that some have entertained angels “unawares”, amigo. That you do not recognize an angel is no evidence at all that one has not sat right behind you singing alto.

  11. Todd Collier says:

    No Laymond I am saying that I don’t require an “express” command to do what I see done on every page of Scripture.

    But if you insist:
    I urge you, then, be imitators of me. 1 Corinthians 4:16 (ESV)
    Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. 1 Corinthians 11:1 (ESV)
    And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 1 Thessalonians 1:6-7 (ESV)

    So I am to imitate Paul in his love and concern for the Church and to be constantly at work reforming Her back into the image of Christ for the glory of God.

  12. laymond says:

    I am not going to participate in another long drawn out argument here. I am just going to say my piece and quit.

    “Then again, some people are called by God to reform a congregation.”
    The word “some” is the only thing in this statement with which I disagree.
    This one word implys that not everyone is called to do right by God. To me anyway, it implys that the preacher, and the elders, have become leaders of a church instead of servants. If the elders, and preacher are the only people called by God, then God called them through the general membership, and pays them the same way. just like politics, they forget where they came from and who put them where they are. servant no longer, masters.
    And in my opinion it completly nulifies this verse.
    Jer 31:34 And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

  13. Skip says:

    Grumbling against one another is entirely different than citing legitimate systemic Church problems and proactively dealing with them. One can love the brethren and hate the sin. One can love the brethren and speak out against legalism.

  14. Todd, in other words, you are using scripture to say we don’t need to refer to scripture.
    I can’t speak for Todd, Laymond, but you have it about right. You exaggerate to cloud the issue, but I’ll take the premise and we can discuss your obfuscation separately. Did you find in scripture the identity of the woman you were to marry? Or did it tell you specifically where you should live? Or whether or not you should gamble? Did the scripture tell you to attend your current congregation rather than another one in the area? Did the scripture tell you to attend the congregation where you felt the most comfortable?

    Too many people see the Bible as a comprehensive Owner’s Manual– even though the NT itself never makes any such claim– and they use Strong’s or Nave’s to replace the necessary Index and Table of Contents which God apparently neglected to put in. They start searching for truth not by seeking the Holy Spirit, but by pulling down a concordance from the shelf. Sadly for my manual-scanning friends, Jesus rather inconveniently promised that it would be the Holy Spirit who would lead us into all truth– not Strong or Nave or Vine.

    We still need to hear the Holy Spirit, if we are to hear Jesus. Even in scripture. But the fact that Dr. James Strong does not point out a particular word in scripture does not mean the idea does not exist. “Pornography” is a word not found in Strong’s, nor is “promiscuity”. Nor is “democracy” or “theology”. This does not mean that God has nothing to say to us about such things. I also note the absence of “song-leader”, “pitchpipe” “invitation song”, “Wednesday”, “baptistry”, “Sunday School”, “church service” and “Holy Bible”. Perhaps it is time to leave off calling on James Strong and to learn of Jesus from the Holy Spirit.

  15. Doug says:

    Different Gifts, Laymond.

  16. laymond says:

    The indwelled Holy Ghost? No! I said I wouldn’t and I’m not. 🙂 Have a good time.

  17. Todd Collier says:

    But Jesus doesn’t say that the Church won’t have leaders. He says that those leaders
    will not be like the leaders of the world.

    But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:25-28 (ESV)

    And Paul wrote:
    Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 1 Corinthians 12:27-29 (ESV)

    Does this not tell us that God arranges the parts to do their job within the Body and would a person who performs this or that role be called to that role in some way so he knows what he is supposed to do?

    For folks who go to enormous lengths to make great commands out of tiny inferences it is strange that such small leaps of logic are so difficult.

  18. Jay Guin says:

    Laymond asked,

    “Then again, some people are called by God to reform a congregation. They will often know who they are because they’ll feel the calling.”

    But I missed where you referenced this with scripture, could you point that out, as you did with the complaining.?

    From your later comments, I take it that your complaint is not with the possible need to reform a congregation but with the notion that only some are called to this task.

    In context, I was making the point that often a member will need to leave a church for his spiritual health — not because the church is imperfect (they all are) but because that particular church is teaching a false gospel that threatens the salvation of its members. “False gospel” is much narrower than “false doctrine.” A false gospel partakes of an error such as the Galatians heresy (faith is not enough to save), a lack of penitence (Heb 10:26-27), a lack of faith in Jesus (1 John 4:2-3) — that is, error that strikes at the heart of the gospel.

    When that happens, a member must choose either to stay and fight for reform or leave. It’s often an agonizing choice. How does a member decide which way to go? (And many readers here have faced exactly this choice.)

    I use “call” loosely, as the NT usually uses “call” and “calling” to refer to the call that all Christians have. But my usage is consistent with conventional, conversational English. And it’s certainly true that we Christians have different callings in the sense that we have different gifts and different opportunities.

    We are expected by God to use the gifts we have in his service, and this is a true calling (as the word is use in contemporary, conversational English).

    (Luk 12:48b ESV) Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more.

    Maybe you’d prefer “requirement” to “calling.”

    So how do I know if I’ve been given what it takes to reform a congregation? I don’t think many people have that gift — and not every congregation that needs reform has members with that gift.

    Well, although I wouldn’t say this is always true of all giftings/callings, in this casethe tell-tale signs is the desire to be a reformer. It takes a certain level of chutzpah to be a reformer. Study the lives of Luther and Thomas Campbell. You have to be willing to speak truth to power — in a Christian way.

    The fact that you are willing to stand up and speak truth may be enough to rally others. Hence, the fact that you feel called is a pretty good indicator that you are called, that is, that you have the gift to produce reform beause that gift is the desire to speak truth about the need for reform.

  19. R. Keith Boler says:

    Re: Laymond’s reasoning–

    Gentlemen, it is apparent that Laymond views the Bible (esp. the NT) as a RULEBOOK and must have everything AUTHORIZED by seeing any and everything in scripture (though, as Charles McLean pointed out, such brethren don’t always follow that). That the Bible is a rulebook, has been taught, preached, and promoted for decades in the coc as the only TRUSTWORTHY and TRUE hermeneutic. You know, “the way that is right and cannot be wrong” which has been preached for so long.

    With that mindset one is locked-in to a position where one has no obligation to consider any other context, logic or interpretation of scripture. Thus such a one falls back on “let me see a ‘thus sayeth the Lord’ on that.”

    This position is the greatest obstacle to freedom in Christ faced by far too many.

    Thanks be to God and His Holy Spirit for freeing many from this position.


  20. laymond says:

    Jay said, Maybe you’d prefer “requirement” to “calling.”. Not really Jay you can be called to do a thing, but not required to do it. My concern was with the word “some” that is a word of division, some are called, others are not.

    As you know, and I recall, when “some get the calling” to reform a congregation, if they presist loudly enough they do reforn the congregation right into splitting, they will inevitably get some to follow their lead (after all Jesus did call us sheep) and some will resist as they are want to do.Usually as you say the “chutzpah” of the reformer is dynamic enough to control the majority of the “sheep” and those who reject his dynamic personality, are the ones who wind up moving down the road.
    I have seen and read about it happening many times, what else could we expect from the church of Christ, when that is the very way it came into existence. , dynamic men vowing to reform God’s Church.

    The way to keep a church growing in my opinion is to preach the truth from the bible,stay away from false teachings and false gospel, that which can not be proved by scripture. (opinion teaching) I believe it is said God added to the church, do you think he will add where they teach a lie, I don’t.

  21. laymond says:

    Reggie, If Jesus freed you from all responsability, or to live your life as you please, why would he say pick up your cross and follow me,? why not just say go your own way, I’ll meet you up there. No he didn’t free you from anything but sin so you would be worthy to follow in his footsteps. The NT even describes the way he walked, and the way in which you must travel in order to follow him.

  22. Todd Collier says:

    Laymond you have finally posted a response with which I completely and unhesitatingly agree.

    There is just one problem with your logic.

    I have been hired by three different congregations and at all three I have come in and preached nothing but Jesus from the text of the Gospels themselves and in all three a large portion of the membership has freaked out or bugged out.

    I did not preach myself, nor a special application of the passages or from a translation they were not used to. I simply preach Jesus – all of Jesus.

    The sad truth is we have created a doctrine that can be lived and kept under a passing reference to Jesus without folks having to actually know Jesus.

    When this Truth comes in congregations explode. So am I an agitator or am I wrong?

  23. Todd Collier says:

    OTH thank goodness you wrote the second post – that is more “normal.”

    Laymond you have erected a perfect “strawman” and wondrously knocked him on his fanny. Congratulations. The only problem is that I have read Reggie’s post through twice and I don’t see anywhere where he wrote or even suggested that Jesus has freed Reggie from all responsibility.

    Saying that the Bible is not simply a “rulebook” isn’t the same as saying there are no rules in the Bible.

    Saying man-made laws are bad is not the same thing as saying law is bad.

    Jesus said man-made laws were bad on numerous occasions while directing us to keep, teach and follow God’s commands.

  24. Todd, the sad reality is that we assume that our proclaimed love for one another at church is what we say it is. I never saw a CoC which did not claim to be “a family”, especially the ones who wanted me to preach for them. But when disagreement over a particular doctrine arose, that sweet wine of the Spirit turned quickly into vinegar. Members of this “loving family” readily split the blanket rather than accomodate the views of another. What was portrayed as a close-knit family turned into a vicious probate fight over Ma and Pa’s house, complete with religious lawyering and counterclaims.

    It is not the doctrine that separates us, for the most part. It is that too often there is not within us enough love to cover even the smallest differences.

  25. Doug says:

    Let’s say that there’a a church somewhere that has both elders and deacons. The congregation through their appointed representative gives regular thanks for the elders (and occasionally the deacons, but not so much) and asks for God’s blessings upon them. But, a member sits quietly in the pew and wonders especially about the elders “what do these guys do anyway?”. That member has never seen any new ministry initiative come from the direction of the elders and while one or two such initiatives have been started, they started because of the initiative of a few regular members and not the elders. All the elders seem to do is to pass judgement on such initiatives and those initiatives which receive a go-ahead are more likely to get the go-ahead if the members who want to start the initiative are the old guard members who have extended family in the church. It seems to be much harder to get an initiative approved if the member proposing the initiative is a new member without extended Church family in the congregation. What are the options for the member sitting in the pew? Because the way this thread has been posed, the only option I can see is for the member to leave and see if there’s a church somewhere that’s less ingrown. The member could start the ministry initiative themself (this church also might like to take credit for things done individually and consider them as the whole churches work) but where’s the community in that?

  26. Doug says:

    Please note that this is just an imaginary church because I certainly don’t want to be lableled as a reformer…no siree!

  27. Chris Pierson says:

    I would like to comment on the original quote from Bonhoeffer. I hear him saying that deep, faithful gratitude for the body of Christ puts us in a place to be able to discern God’s hand around us. Absolutely!! Both doctrinally and experientially that has proven to be very true. I have been in small groups that have been turned around by an influx of gratitude. It is like breathing the air of grace!

  28. laymond says:

    Todd said,”I don’t see anywhere where he wrote or even suggested that Jesus has freed Reggie from all responsibility”

    “Gentlemen, it is apparent that Laymond views the Bible (esp. the NT) as a RULEBOOK” ———–. Thus such a one falls back on “let me see a ‘thus sayeth the Lord’ on that.”
    This position is the greatest obstacle to freedom in Christ faced by far too many.
    If one thinks asking for proof of what you teach is an obstacle, well it is only an obstacle if what you preach is not in scripture.
    I believe I know more about what I believe, than someone who has read a snippet of the many thousand words I have written on the new testament teachings. and in my opinion if you claim to be freed from the rules and laws mentioned in both the old, and the new, It seems to me you have been freed from all responsibility, to explain why you do what you do.

    Todd said, “Saying that the Bible is not simply a “rulebook” isn’t the same as saying there are no rules in the Bible.” Todd I hope you know from reading some of what I have written I would never say anything that resembles what I was accused of.
    I notice you didn’t feel it necessary to comment on Reggie’s “straw man”

  29. eric says:

    Complaining is something I’m better at than I would like to be. I don’t know if it was philosophy or the Holy Spirit or both that revealed to me that most if not all complaining is telling God that what He is giving me is not good enough. It seems when something is not right it is always better to just do what Paul laid out for disagreements. Take it to those you disagree with if it rises to a level necessary to take action. If that doesn’t work take a brother with you and if that doesn’t work pray for those in error. It seems rare that complaining to any and everyone that will listen can help. I’ve had others correct me and I’m thankful and I’ve had others complain about me and had to find out from someone else. Most often a in those cases I could have explained a misunderstanding if I would have been given the chance. It’s a good rule to love one another enough to share concerns with each other and not gossip or complain about one another. And that goes for groups of us as well I would think. And I agree shielding our kids is very important. We are the filter until they reach a point that they can make informed decisions and that goes for where or if we send them into a school setting that they may not be ready for. God gives a big responsibility when He gives kids.

  30. Todd Collier says:

    My apologies Laymond. I have read through the post in question twice and do not see the straw man to which you refer. That is quite probably due to my own philosophical blinders as it is usually much easier to see problems in statements with which we fundamentally disagree than with those that tend to support our general line of thought. I shall strive to be more careful.

  31. Ray Downen says:

    It was written: “Grumble” is borrowed from Exodus, the same word used of the Israelites in their constant complaining about Moses, the desert, and even God. Several times, God threatened to kill the entire nation for their constant complaining, eventually resulting in those who left Egypt — other than Joshua and Caleb – dying in the desert and never seeing the Promised Land. Complaining is a far deeper sin than we like to imagine.

    The stated reason for all adults who chose to not proceed into the land after the spies returned was their UNBELIEF. That their complaining displeased God is obvious. But the claim that they were caused to all die in the desert because of their complaining is not substantiated by the Bible text.

  32. Jay Guin says:


    (Num 14:27-30 ESV) 27 “How long shall this wicked congregation grumble against me? I have heard the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against me. 28 Say to them, ‘As I live, declares the LORD, what you have said in my hearing I will do to you: 29 your dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness, and of all your number, listed in the census from twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against me, 30 not one shall come into the land where I swore that I would make you dwell, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun.”

  33. John says:

    Every time I get the desire to lead the people to the “promised land” I sit down until it passes or a I encounter a “burning bush”. As Luther said the Church would have been destroyed long, long ago if its survival depended only on our forefather or ourselves.

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