community or isolation?

When I was younger, I used to think that people who could not follow Christ alone were weak because they used the community of the church as a crutch. I use to think the highest form of the faith was the individual who, without anyone to travel with, walked alone. In the words of the old hymn, “Though none go with me, I still will follow.”

Bonhoeffer spends chapter 3 of Life Together trying to find a balance between life in community and life alone. His argument is simple: We shouldn’t need the community so badly that we cannot be alone. We should be able to live alone and in community. He says some strong things like, “If you refuse to be alone, you are rejecting Christ’s call to you…”

And, as I said, there was a time I would have agreed wholeheartedly.

But now, I cant.

I can’t agree with Bonhoeffer on the virtue of silence when he says, “The Word comes not to the chatterer but to him who holds his tongue.” There have been too many times that my own thoughts were made clear in conversation with others in the community. How much sharper my thinking had to be because a brother or sister demanded more through a question or a comment? And how many times have I received the Word from a brother or sister in conversation? I agree that we must be constant listeners and that we must take time away to contemplate and consider the Word. But, many turn this into a mystical experience. And in one sense, this seems to be what Bonhoeffer does here.   

That is not to say silence and meditation are not needed, it is to say that we really need to work out those ideas in the conversations of the community. I’ve seen too many people wind up with crazy ideas because they were never corrected by those in the community. We must find a balance – which I think is where he is going, but there are times he speaks in such absolutist tones that are unnecessary.


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