Spiritual disciplines together

For other posts in this series on the book Life Together, click a number: 123, 4, 6789.


Last time in this series reviewing Life Together, we noted Bonhoeffer's exhortation for churches to practice together the spiritual disciplines. He mentioned first praying the psalms together. Now we'll look at his emphasis on the communal practices of Scripture reading, hymn singing, praying and partaking of the Lord's Supper. In these ways, the community of believers, by the Spirit, share together in their Lord's love and life.

Reading Scripture together
According to Bonhoeffer, "Holy Scripture...is God's revealed Word." He regards this Word as an integrated whole, comprised of both Old and New Testaments. The Word is connected by "inner relationships...of promise and fulfillment, sacrifice and law, law and gospel, cross and resurrection, faith and obedience, having and hoping," through which, through the Spirit, we are given "the full witness of Jesus Christ the Lord" (p51).

This Word becomes an integral part of community life as the congregation reads aloud lengthy passages of Scripture. The communal practice of Scripture reading stands in contrast to the modern habit of occasionally reading of limited, individual verses (what today we might call "sound bytes")--a practice that falls short in that it fails to reveal the multiple, Christ-centered interrelationships within the Word made evident only as lengthy passages of Scripture are read aloud in community gatherings.

Singing hymns together
Bonhoeffer on guitar
By singing hymns together, the community experiences a shared voice that yields a shared heart (song being the language of the heart). According to Bonhoeffer (who was a pianist, guitarist and singer)...
Where the heart is not singing there is no melody, there is only the dreadful medley of human self-praise. Where the singing is not to the Lord, it is singing to the honor of the self or the music, and the new song become a song to idols (pp58-59). 
As we sing hymns in unison as a community, we "sing words of praise to God, words of thanksgiving, confession, and prayer" that is "completely the servant of the Word...[that] elucidates the Word in its mystery" (p59).

This power of singing in unison should not be lost by having music that is more performance than participation (as is now common in some churches). "It is the voice of the Church that is heard in singing together. It is not you [or some solo performer] that sings, it is the Church that is singing, and you, as a member of the Church, may share in its song" (p61).

Praying together
The prayers together are "our word" in response to "God's Word." As people living together under the Word of God, we are led to pray together, in the name of the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ. Such community prayer will, naturally and importantly include intercession for the fellowship as a whole and its members individually. The one praying those prayers will be praying as a brother among brothers. 

The use of formal, written prayers (like those found in prayer books) can be helpful, but the community must not allow prayer together to become formalized, empty ritual--there needs to be a certain freedom and spontaneity. As Bonhoeffer notes, "the poorest mumbling utterance can be better than the best-formulated prayer" (p65).

Partaking of the Lord's Supper together
Bonhoeffer advocated that a Christian community partake of the Lord's Supper each time it meets. By doing so it receives from the Lord, at his Table, many distinctive gifts, including these:

1) At the Table, we come to know Jesus more deeply as "the giver of all gifts...the Lord and Creator of this our world, with the Father and the Holy Spirit" (p67).

2) At the Table we understand more fully that Jesus is not only the giver of such gifts, but is, himself, the gift. He our divine Mediator and Savior--the one who serves us at the Table with the elements that present anew to us his own renewing, healing life. 

3) At the Table we experience the manifest, personal presence of Jesus. What happens there is far more than symbolic; fare more than ritual. Jesus meets us and shares with us his actual life and love. Grace is imparted in mysterious, though tangible ways. At the Table we truly are nourished by the presence of the Lord himself.

4) At the Table we are reminded of our obligation to others in the community. We receive the bread not as "my bread" but as "our bread." At the Table "we are firmly bound to one another not only in the Spirit but in our whole physical being" (p68).

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