Community as Essential

Written by Ryan Evans on October 21st, 2021

The mental health crises caused by COVID isolation has spurred the demand for in-person learning across all education levels. The long-term impacts on mental and spiritual health led our governor to declare in-person instruction a state of emergency. Of course, all this confirms what Christians already know: we are built for community and need one another. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s modern classic, Life Together, offers a succinct and helpful overview of Christian community, and the devastating effects on the Christian who lives in isolation. His thesis is simple: Christian fellowship is not an ideal, but a reality we must embrace. Along with practicing the habits of spiritual disciplines, Christians must be in fellowship with other believers, not only for weekly Sabbath worship but throughout the week for mutual support, accountability, and encouragement. Just how should the Christian balance community with solace? “Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. He will only do harm to himself and the community. Alone you stood before God when he called you; alone you had to answer that call; alone you had to struggle and pray; and alone you will die and give account to God… But the reverse is also true: Let him who is not in community beware of being alone. Into the community you were called, the call was not meant for you alone; in the community of the called you bear your cross.” Bonhoeffer’s book is readable and practical, offering wisdom on habits and virtues, and on sins that plague us with such subtlety that we are deaf to their destructive impact.

  • Gratitude: “If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ.”
  • Gossip: “To speak about a brother covertly is forbidden, even under the cloak of help and good will; for it is precisely in this guise that the spirit of hatred among brothers always creeps in when it is seeking to create mischief…”
  • Self-centeredness: “He who would learn to serve must first learn to think little of himself. Let no man ‘think of himself more highly than he ought to think’ (Romans 12:3).”
  • Patience: “Impatience and self-reproach will only foster our complacency and entangle us ever more deeply in the net of self-centered introspection. But there is no more time for such morbidity in meditation than there is in the Christian life as a whole.”
  • Prayer: “I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me.  His face, that hitherto may have been strange and intolerable to me, is transformed in intercession into the countenance of a brother for whom Christ died, the face of a forgiven sinner.”

Do you struggle with people letting you down? Do you find yourself getting easily frustrated, easily angered? Does bitterness toward others bog you down to the point of dwelling on negative thoughts? Read and re-read Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. He re-tethers us to the “first things” that lead to sanctifying life in community and freedom in the grace of Christ.