Publisher – New York City: Harper & Row, 1954 (translated and with an introduction by John W. Doberstein)
Several days ago marked the 70th anniversary of the death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. On April 9, 1945, Heinrich Himmler ordered the execution the Bonhoeffer in the concentration camp of Flossenburg just before it was liberated by the allied forces.
On Sunday, the day before he died, he gave a message to inmates entitled, “With His stripes are we healed.”
One English officer who attended that service wrote,
Bonhoeffer always seemed to me to spread an atmosphere of happiness and joy over the least incident and profound gratitude for the mere fact that he was alive. . . . He was one of the very few persons I have ever met for whom God was real and always near. . . . On Sunday, April 8, 1945, Pastor Bonhoeffer conducted a little service of worship and spoke to us in a way that went to the heart of all of us. He found just the right words to express the spirit of our imprisonment, the thoughts and the resolutions it had brought us. He had hardly ended his last prayer when the door opened and two civilians entered. They said, “Prisoner Bonhoeffer, come with us.” That had only one meaning for all prisoners—the gallows. We said good-by to him. He took me aside: “This is the end, but for me it is the beginning of life.” The next day he was hanged in Flossenburg.
Forged in the context of the underground confessional church in Germany resistant to Hitler, the meditations in this book had a profound impact upon me.
Bonhoeffer popped my personal, idealistic expectations of koinonia. By removing idolatrous agendas, he enriched my gratitude for anytime I can experience the fellowship of Christian community. He heightened my anticipation of God’s grace when the church gathers. It is a beautiful work. And a vital necessity.
This book is richly pastoral, exploring ministerial themes of worship, prayer, preaching, confession, and communion. I think it ought to be a required reading for every pastor. In fact, it ought to be a repeated reading.
In the age of twitter, these could be a list of Bonhoeffer tweets:
- “It is not simply to be taken for granted that the Christian has the privilege of living among other Christians.” (17)
- “The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer.” (19)
- “Let him thank God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren.” (20)
- “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.” (27)
- “Only he who gives thanks for little things receives the big things.” (29)
- “We pray for the big things and forget to give thanks for the ordinary, small (and yet really not small) gifts.” (29)
- “What may appear weak and trifling to us may be great and glorious to God.” (30)
- “Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.” (30)
- “Human love breeds hot-house flowers; spiritual love creates the fruits that grow healthily in accord with God’s good will in the rain and storm and sunshine of God’s outdoors.” (37)
- “For Jesus Christ alone is our unity. ‘He is our peace.’ Through him alone do we have access to one another, joy in one another, and fellowship with one another.” (39)
- “Christian prayer takes its stand on the solid ground of the revealed Word and has nothing to do with vague, self-seeking vagaries.” (47)
- “Consecutive reading of Biblical books forces everyone who wants to hear to put himself, or to allow himself to be found, where God has acted once and for all for the salvation of men.” (53)
- “I find no salvation in my life history, but only in the history of Jesus Christ.” (54)
- “We are silent at the beginning of the day because God should have the first word, and we are silent before going to sleep because the last word also belongs to God.” (79)
- “Every member serves the whole body, either to its health or to its destruction.” (89)
- “Self-justification and judging others go together, as justification by grace and serving others go together.” (91)
- “Every Christian community must realize that not only do the weak need the strong, but also that the strong cannot exist without the weak. The elimination of the weak is the death of fellowship.” (94)
- “The sin of resentment that flares up so quickly in the fellowship indicates again and again how much false desire for honor, how much unbelief, still smolders in the community.” (96)
- “The Church does not need brilliant personalities but faithful servants of Jesus and the brethren.” (109)
- “The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship.” (110)
- “If a Christian is in the fellowship of confession with a brother he will never be alone again, anywhere.” (113)
- “But where there is a break with sin, there is conversion.” (115)
- “The most experienced psychologist or observer of human nature knows infinitely less of the human heart than the simplest Christian who lives beneath the Cross of Jesus.” (119)