Bonhoeffer on the Local Church – an Excerpt from Teenagers Matter

The following is an excerpt from Teenagers Matter, by Mark Cannister.


Cover ArtWhile the local church is not perfect, it is our present reality, and we must be careful to live within our reality rather than idealize an alternate one.

Bonhoeffer suggests: “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.” The church exists in real places and is composed of real people—not perfect people, but real people saved by grace. Therefore, Bonhoeffer warns against wishful thinking that exposits an ideal concept of exactly how the Christian community should operate.

A legalistic view of how Christians should fellowship, worship, serve, evangelize, or “disciple” creates a standard by which we judge the health of our church and neighboring churches. This inevitably leads to disappointment, disagreement, and discord within the local church. In Bonhoeffer’s view, the church is not the shadow of some eschatological reality. It is the real kingdom of God “established and real in Christ; it is a divine reality, the social form of revelation.” Hence, we are called to fight gravity’s narcissistic pull of idealism and focus on the people and relationships that compose our daily living.

Bonhoeffer’s view of Christian ethics suggests that the church belongs exclusively to our present reality and must never be considered as separate from the world. There is no moat surrounding the church and no drawbridge to pull up that would separate it from the world. The church is in the world, and the world is the church’s mission.

According to Bonhoeffer the community of faith “may not place itself above the profane and let itself become separated from the world as a kind of ‘exceptional luminary.’” The church is truly the church “only when it is related and open to the world.” The church must engage the world in every aspect of ministry in order to fulfill its redemptive mission through the ministry of Christ.

Bonhoeffer reminds us that the church is not something to be taken for granted. The community of believers is physical evidence of God’s grace in our own lives and serves as the vehicle through which God’s work is conducted here on the earth. It is “humanity being remade and redeemed as a result of God’s creative grace.” When the church operates in this manner, rather than as a club or institution, we gain a clearer sense of the unity and purpose to which we are called in all aspects of ministry—including student ministry.

©2013 by Mark Cannister. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.


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