5 Must-Read Statements on the Church

It’s no secret that one of my favorite theologians of all time is Dietrich Bonhoeffer. His book Life Together is, in my opinion, the best book written on the nature of true community in the church. It is a must-read for many reasons, but one of the most important is the way that Bonhoeffer directly deals with something all of us face with the church: disillusionment. If you have not experienced disillusionment at some point in your involvement with the church, then you probably have not been that involved. At a time when people struggled with living their faith individually and together, when the church was rent apart by conflicting allegiances and hypocrisy, Bonhoeffer stepped forward to train young pastors to serve Christ’s church.

Here are 5 must-read statements on the Church by Bonhoeffer from Life Together. I hope you find them as challenging and encouraging as I have over the years:

  • “Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves. By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world.” [26-27]
  • “Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.” [27]
  • “Thus the very hour of disillusionment with my brother becomes incomparably salutary, because it so thoroughly teaches me that neither of us can live by our own words and deeds, but only by that one Word and Deed which really binds us together – the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ.” [28]
  • “If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is not great experience, not 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 what we 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.” [29]
  • “A pastor should not complain about his congregation, certainly never to other people, but also not to God. A congregation has not been entrusted to him in order that he should become its accuser before God and men….Let him pray God for an understanding of his own failure and his particular sin, and pray that he may not wrong his brethren. Let him, in consciousness of his own guilt, make intercession for his brethren.” [29-30]

[These quotations are taken from John W. Doberstein’s classic translation of Life Together. A more recent translation with thorough annotations and a helpful introduction is found in Volume 5 of Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works.]

The Weekend Wanderer: 25 July 2020

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.


Lewis and Packer“Growing Young and Growing Old: The Legacies of John Lewis and J.I. Packer” – Russell Moore writes after the passing of two great figures last week: “Within a span of 24 hours, we learned of the deaths of two titanic figures—civil rights leader and United States Congressman John Lewis, and evangelical theologian J.I. Packer. Both were old—Lewis was 80 and Packer 93—but upon reflection, I couldn’t help but see each, in my own imagination, at radically different periods in life. With Lewis, I saw the smiling, young civil rights worker in the mug shot after his arrest in Mississippi. With Packer, I saw the frail, wizened theologian ambling through a library, a stack of books precariously cradled in his arms.”


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“Multiracial Congregations May Not Bridge Racial Divide” – Via NPR: “Twenty years ago, a sociologist at Rice University directed a study of efforts by white evangelical Christians to address racial inequality. Michael Emerson’s provocative conclusion, summarized in his book Divided By Faith and co-authored with Christian Smith, was that evangelicals ‘likely do more to perpetuate the racial divide than to tear it down,’ largely because they tended to worship in racially segregated congregations and viewed racial prejudice as an individual, not a societal, problem….Emerson then proposed an answer to the problem he had highlighted: If Christians of different racial backgrounds began worshipping together, he suggested, racial reconciliation could follow. In a 2004 book, United By Faith, a sequel to his earlier book, Emerson and a team of collaborators called for a new church movement.”


alan jacobs“Plurality and Unity” – From Alan Jacobs at his blog, Snakes and Ladders: “A few years ago I would have said that the greatest danger facing the Christians I know was a kind of carelessness about the truth, a shrugging at difference and disagreement; now I think it’s the opposite, a kind of premature foreclosure, which is a way of immanentizing the eschaton. Obviously in any group of people we will find both intellectual flaccidity and intellectual rigidity present, but I do think that rigidity is now in the ascendent, simply because it is in the ascendent in our ambient culture and Christians, for the most part, behave as their ambient culture behaves.”


J I Packer“6 Reasons Christians Worldwide Thank God for J.I. Packer”Ajith Fernando is one of my favorite Bible teachers and commentators. I really enjoyed his reflections on the worldwide appreciation for J. I. Packer after Packer’s passing last week. “Often when the church in the West commemorates the giants it produced, it forgets the contribution these leaders made to the church in the Global South, and the part they played in the renewal our churches are experiencing today. We have just seen the passing away of another of those giants: J. I. Packer. This is a personal reflection on his impact on my life, and I believe on the lives of many Christians in the majority world.”


Evans - systemic racism“What Is Systemic Racism (Dr. Tony Evans)” – There is a lot of discussion right now around issues of racism, sin, systemic racism, and systemic sin. This is not an easy topic to discuss but also requires a good deal of thoughtfulness in how we approach it. In this six minute video Dr. Tony Evans offers a fairly helpful look at the topic in his typically balanced manner.


what is the church?“What is ‘the Church’?” – In Comment, philosopher Peter Kreeft revisits a two-thousand-year-old question: what is “the Church”? His reflections reveal that the answer isn’t simple, which is to be expected. At the same time, Kreeft’s reflections should give us pause in this day of rethinking church and hopefully point us toward more meaningful engagement with who we are in Christ and what it means to be His people.


Music: Aretha Franklin, “Respect.”

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

The Baffling Church by Carlo Carretto

Crying in Church

How baffling you are, oh, Church, and yet how I love you!

How you have made me suffer, and yet how much I owe you.

I should like to see you destroyed, and yet I need your presence.

You have given me so much scandal and yet you have made me understand sanctity.

I have seen nothing in the world more devoted to obscurity, more compromised, more false, and I have touched nothing more pure, more generous, more beautiful. How often I have wanted to shut the doors of my soul in your face, and how often I have prayed to die in the safety of your arms.

No, I cannot free myself from you, because I am you, although not completely.

And were should I go?

From Carlo Carretto, The God Who Comes

The Weekend Wanderer: 26 October 2019

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

PF_10.17.19_rdd_update-00-020“In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace” – How many times have you heard about the decline of Christianity in the US in the past few years? More than you’d like to say, I would expect. There are some voices saying that the statistics speak to many other changes in culture, others the theological truth tells us something else, while other voices say the implications are not all bad. Here is the latest look at the data from the Pew Research Center on religion and public life. The bottom line: Christianity of every stripe is in decline in the US while the religiously unaffiliated (“religious nones”) are on the rise. What does this mean? Well, that is certainly a larger discussion that must take into account the nature of organized religion, shifts in social value of religion, shifts in social engagement as a whole in the US, and honesty about personal engagement within religion.

 

92589“Why We Still Prophesy Hope” – I have been involved here in Milwaukee with efforts to transform the racial divides both in our city and inside the church fellowships here. This type of work involves honest self-assessments, engaging with painful stories, encouraging those different from one another to journey together, and also somehow pointing to real change. It can be exhausting, humbling, and frustrating work at times. It is also hopeful work. Here is Dante Stewart speaking to that from his own journey and story.

 

Screen Shot 2019-10-24 at 9.38.10 AM“Accusing SBC of ‘caving,’ John MacArthur says of Beth Moore: ‘Go home'” – I first encountered the teaching of John MacArthur in probably the worst way possible. After coming to Christ through a charismatic renewal, someone shared MacArthur’s book, Charismatic Chaos, with me in an attempt to fix my “bad” theology of the Holy Spirit. It didn’t work, but it did serve as a strange introduction to a renowned American Bible teacher. Since that time, others I respect helped me to appreciate certain aspects of MacArthur’s expository preaching ministry. Still, I have always struggled with his less than irenic approach to controversial issues. That was confirmed further when, at a celebration of fifty years of ministry, when MacArthur was asked to make word associations with certain theological issues or figures, he responded to “Beth Moore” with “Go home.” You can listen to the whole clip here. I have friends who do not support women in preaching or ordained ministry and we can have a healthy discussion about our differing views, but MacArthur’s sharp words do not seem helpful here. Beth Moore responded via Twitter, and others, such as Kay Warren and SBC President J. D. Greear, have weighed in. In many ways, this is nothing new for MacArthur, as Christianity Today highlighted, “John MacArthur Is No Stranger to Controversy.”

 

8rriw2o“Pilgrims, Priests, and Breaking Bread in an Alpine Monastery” – I’m not alone in thinking that there is not enough silence in our lives. Of course, the lack of external silence is often a reflection of the lack of internal silence in our lives. For me, drawing away from the noise, voices, and busyness regularly helps me to recovery my identity. I often do this in nature, but have at times gathered in spaces set apart for this, such as retreat houses, monasteries, or camps. Every once in awhile it’s refreshing to catch a view of this experience from someone with fresh eyes. Timothy Egan does just that as he relates his encounter with Ignatian spirituality, silence, space, and listening in a visit to the Great St. Bernard Hospice.

 

Columba Stewart“A Monk of the Secular Age” – Speaking of monks, why not read about the life of Columba Stewart, a Benedictine monk who has traversed the world to help save and catalog ancient religious texts. Even finding himself in the midst of war zones, including Iraq, he has worked tirelessly to gather and digitize these texts to preserve them and make them accessible to scholars and the broader world. This reminds us of the historic efforts of monasticism to preserve works that would otherwise be lost, giving us links to earlier eras and societies that have formed the history of thought in ways we should not underestimate.

 

St Lydias Brooklyn“Dinner Church, anyone?” – What is church? How should we live together as church? These questions repeat in discussions again and again. They are not new, but they always bring new answers within the changing context of human culture and social experience. I was talking with a friend over lunch just over a week ago, and we shared our own thoughts about these questions. When I read this article by Michael Frost, I was reminded of some of that discussion, because this very idea had popped up there. I’m not really into pursuing fads in church models, but Frost’s exploration and sharing of examples is thought-provoking. Here’s Frost: “So, what is dinner church? Well, it’s dinner. And church. Scrunched together. But there’s so much more to it than that. Here’s a few dinner churches from around the world to give you a little taste.”

 

Music: Mavis Staples, “You Are Not Alone,” from You Are Not Alone (written by Jeff Tweedy)

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

A Crash Course in Christlike Living (Ephesians 4:17-5:20)

Ephesians

As I continued our series “Ephesians: A Crash Course in Basic Christianity,” last weekend we turned to Ephesians 4:17-5:20 for the following message: “A Crash Course in Christlike Living.” I structured the message around four comparisons that Paul brings to the Ephesians believers around: living holy, living love, living light, and living wisely. Underlying it all is Paul’s call not to grieve the Holy Spirit but to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

You can watch my message from this past weekend and follow along with the message outline below. You can also engage with the entire series here or download the Eastbrook mobile app for even more opportunities for involvement.

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