Previously, we looked at the context for the classic text Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Here, we’ll look at the actual text. You might recall that the underground seminary in Finkenwalde was shut down November 30, 1937. Bonhoeffer continued his work among the seminarians and the recently graduated pastorates by visiting them throughout Pomerania and privately tutoring them. He spent the month of September 1938 at his parents’ home. It was during that month that he wrote Life Together. It was based on what he was trying to accomplish at Finkenwalde and on his understanding of the crucial concept of the church and what the church is.
Early in the book, he writes, “It is not in our life that God’s help and presence must still be proved, but rather God’s presence and help have been demonstrated for us in the life of Jesus Christ. It is in fact more important for us to know what God did to Israel, to His Son Jesus Christ, than to seek what God intends for us today. The fact that Jesus Christ died is more important than the fact that I shall die, and the fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead is the sole ground of my hope that I, too, shall be raised on the Last Day. . . . I find no salvation in my life history, but only in the history of Jesus Christ. Only he who allows himself to be found in Jesus Christ, in his incarnation, his Cross, in his resurrection, is with God and God with him.”
Bonhoeffer begins there because he reminds us that community begins in our union with Christ. And through our union with Christ, we share a common union with one another. That is true community. That is what Bonhoeffer was trying to do at the seminary in Finkenwalde. He wanted those seminarians as they went out into their pastorates to create churches that were built around the principle that we are united together in Christ, and we are united together to serve one another.
In his chapter titled “Ministry,” Bonhoeffer lists seven ministries of the church. The first one is holding one’s tongue. How quickly we want to speak, how quickly we want to say something when we see something. Bonhoeffer reminds us to hold our tongue and think before we speak. The second ministry is the ministry of meekness. Isn’t this what Jesus said? “Take my yoke upon you.” And then he describes himself, “I am gentle and lowly in spirit.” We who are united to Christ should reflect that in our ministry to one another.
The third ministry is listening. We need to learn to listen. First, we must listen to God as we read His word, and then we need to listen to others. Bonhoeffer says that sometimes people just want someone to hear them. The fourth ministry is the ministry of helpfulness, of being a servant. At one point, Bonhoeffer will say, “There is no one who is above no task.” In other words, there is no task too small, too menial, or too ordinary for any of us.
The fifth ministry is bearing. As Paul commands, we are to bear one another’s burdens. The sixth ministry is proclaiming. We are to speak the Bible. Of course, that applies to the pastor, from the pulpit. But after we listen to one another, we speak God’s Word into each other’s lives. And then, finally, there is the ministry of authority, that pastoral ministry that holds the church together.