Book Review: Life Together

_I had to write a book digest for my Adult Small Groups class and decided I would go ahead and post it.  Part of the assignment was to come up with a guiding principle from each chapter.  These principles would be used by those starting small groups. _ Bonhoeffer wrote this book while working at an underground seminary living with 25 students.  He is very systematic and prescriptive in this book.  He begins by looking at what Christian community is and is not.  He then moves on to discuss how the community is to fellowship at various points of the day.  Following this, he looks at how the individual is to go about their individual devotions which in turn will strengthen the community.  Bonhoeffer concludes the book by looking at the ministries that the community is to perform for one another and how confession and communion are to occur within the community.

Chapter 1 - Community

Bonhoeffer begins his discussion of community by describing it as a privilege which many take for granted.  There are those that believe that Christian community is a right; however, Bonhoeffer points out, the Scriptures clearly state that we are to be scattered among our enemies.  He defines community as being in and through Jesus Christ.  “A Christian needs others because of Jesus Christ… a Christian comes to others only through Jesus Christ… in Jesus Christ we have been chosen from eternity, accepted in time, and united for eternity.” (p. 21)

To follow on the discussion of community, Bonhoeffer looks at the things that destroy community.  Many come to the community with their preconceived ideas of what it should be.  When it doesn’t meet their idealized view, they try to bend both people and God to their will.  Bonhoeffer describes this through the differences in human love and spiritual love.  Human loves wants to have its desires fulfilled.  This is the reason many seek out community.  However, spiritual love serves.  True community calls for us to submit and serve others and love our enemies.

Guiding Principle - Community is not a goal we obtain, but something that we are engaged in every day by serving others instead of seeking to have our desires fulfilled.

Chapter 2 - The Day with Others

Bonhoeffer jumps in quickly in this chapter to give practical advice on how the community is to spend its time together.  The community should come together in the morning and begin by bringing thanks to God for bringing them through the night and giving them another day.  Corporately they should read through the psalms and seek to be able to pray the prayers found there.  There should also be time devoted to the public reading of the scriptures.  There should be a time of singing hymns.  As the conclusion of the time, one person should pray for the needs of the group with the others praying in the spirit.

After the community has spent time feeding itself spiritual, it should gather around the table and feed itself physically.  After the meal, it is time for work.  God has ordained work and Paul commanded that if a man did not work he should not eat.  If it is possible, Bonhoeffer suggests that the community regroup at noon for a meal and refreshing.  Finally, he advises the community to regroup for the evening meal and the close the evening with the psalms, hymns and prayer just as they began the day.

Guiding Principle - We should strive to spend time together in the Word and in prayer like a physical family would.

Chapter 3 - The Day Alone

This chapter looks at the individual’s devotional time.  Bonhoeffer claims that many misuse community because they cannot stand to be alone.  So they seek fellowship to provide a distraction from the solitude.  The individual needs this solitude to grow closer to Christ.

There are three things that the individual believer should engage in while in the stillness.  First, there should be a time of meditation on the scriptures, followed by a time of prayer and concluding with intercession for the community.  Bonhoeffer concludes that the time the individual spends in solitude impacts their interactions on the community.

Guiding Principle – If we are spiritually anemic in our personal devotions, this will hinder the fellowship in the community.

Chapter 4 - Ministry

Bonhoeffer begins his discussion of the ministry of the community by looking at a toxic attitude that will destroy a community.  From the inception of each community, each member must be on the guard against judgmental attitudes.  One way the community can guard against this is by engaging in the ministry of holding their tongue.  They are called to refrain from any speech that does not edify the body.  A companion ministry is the ministry of meekness.  Members are to submit their will and desires to that of the community and seek to serve the community.

The community should also learn to listen to each other.  Not simply nodding their heads but engaging in what is being said.  This also calls for the listener to be silent.  In conjunction with serving each other and listening to each other, members must learn to bear with one another.  Members are fallen and will have attitudes, habits and characteristics that will clash with other believers.  Finally, members have the responsibility to proclaim God’s Word to each other as encouragement and admonishment.

Guiding Principle - “Let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger, do nothing from rivalry or conceit, and in humility look to the interests of others before your own.” (James 1:19, Phil 2:3-4)

Chapter 5 - Confession and Communion

Bonhoeffer calls on the community to confess their sins to one another as James commands.  He gives several practical reasons for this.  First, sin causes a person to withdraw from community.  By confessing sins to a brother, the believer restores that fellowship.  Next, by confessing their sins to another, they stand there in humiliation striped of the last bits of selfish pride they might have.  Finally, confessing sins to another provides a certainty to the believer.  The brother’s forgiveness is an earthly representation of the forgiveness found first and foremost in Christ.

There are two dangers that Bonhoeffer mentions with regards to confession.  No one person should hear all the confessions for a community.  This will eventually weary the person listening to confessions and can be a breeding ground for judgmental attitudes.  Also, the person confessing should be humble and not go about their confessions for show and perceived piety.  Finally, the community should come together at certain to observe the Lord’s Supper.

Guiding Principle - We should confess our sins to one another to strip us of our pride and to hold one another accountable.