Deitrich Bonhoeffer in Life Together says this about Christian Fellowship:
It is true, of course, that what is an unspeakable gift of God for the lonely individual is easily disregarded and trodden under foot by those who have the gift everyday. It is easily forgotten that the fellowship of Christian brothers and sisters is a gift of grace, a gift of the Kingdom of God that any day may be taken from us, that the time that still separates us from utter loneliness may be brief indeed. Therefore, let him who until now has had the privilege of living a common Christian life with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of his heart. Let him thank God on his knees and declare: IT IS GRACE, NOTHING BUT GRACE, that we are allowed to live in community with other Christians.
Bonhoeffer in his book Life Together outlines what a community must be like on the inside before it can reach out to the world and invite others to come and see Christ.
The list begins with two more personal practices or attitudes and then has five communal attitudes or behaviors. Here they are:
1. Personal: Holding one’s tongue (look at what is first) our life of faith our testimony begins in silence!
2. Personal: Meekness
3. Communal: Listening
4. Communal: Helpfulness
5. Communal: Bearing
6. Communal: Proclaiming
Holding ones tongue and meekness – Paul describes the Corinthian church as saints – those set apart for God – the idea of holding one’s tongue in judgment, of honoring one’s neighbor in meekness are ways that reflect in action the willingness to see the saint in the other.
Listening: According to Bonhoeffer we first love God by hearing God’s Word, so the love of our neighbor only begins in listening. He says, “it is God’s word for us that God not only gives us God’s word, but lends us his ear, so it is God’s work we do when we listen to others.”
Helpfulness is simple assistance in trifling matters. If we worry too much about the time it takes to do these acts of helpfulness according to Bonhoeffer, than we have an overinflated view of our career—we take the importance of our career too seriously.
Bearing – Christ bore our griefs and carried our sorrows to the cross – we are to bear with one another in grief and sorrow. We are to preserve our fellowship with one another through the forgiveness of sins – so bearing with one another is not only in times of grief and trouble, but also in times of sin. We bear with one another in the act of prayer for each other – intercession.
After all this – biting our tongue and listening. Honoring our neighbor through helpfulness and bearing. Then we can speak – we can proclaim—once we have proclaimed through our actions together ‘where we stay.’ Then we can through our words.
Bonhoeffer says this about proclaiming the Word: We are thinking of that unique situation in which one person bears witness in human words to another person, sharing the whole consolation of God, the admonition, the kindness, and the severity of God. . . . If it is not accompanied by worthy listening, how can it really be the right word for the other person? If it is contradicted by one’s lack of active helpfulness, how can it be a convincing and sincere word? If it issues, not from a spirit of bearing and forbearing, but from impatience and the desire to force acceptance, how can it be a healing and liberating word? Moreover, the person who has really listened and served and borne with others is the very one who is likely to say nothing.
Come and see where I stay – it is a community based in meekness and humility – who is helpful in trivial matters, bears with one another in grief, sorrow, and sin, and listens first – and in so doing testifies/proclaims Christ in us and God’s infinite grace among us and the world. That is my hope.