Bonhoeffer’s Haunting Statement About the Church

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s writings are among those that I return to again and again.  I do not always agree with him, but I almost never read him without benefit.

In a couple of weeks I’ll be preaching revival services at my brother David’s church on the theme, “Christ and His Church.”  This theme brought to mind a comment I saw attributed to Bonhoeffer.  I’ve just located it in vol.10 of Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works.  It’s from a sermon he preached on July 29, 1928, while serving as a pastor in Barcelona.

I think Bonhoeffer is correct here, both in his observation and the urgency of his appeal to reconsider the meaning of “church.”  Check it out.

“There is a word that evokes tremendous feelings of love and bliss among Catholics who hear it, a word that stirs in them the most profound depths of religious feeling ranging from the awe and dread of judgment to the bliss of God’s presence, but a word that assuredly also evokes feelings of home for them, feelings of the sort only a child feels in gratitude, reverence, and self-surrendering love toward its mother, the feelings that come over us when after a long time away we once again enter our parents’ home, our own childhood home.  And there is also a word that to Protestants has the sound of something infinitely banal, something more or less indifferent and superfluous, a word that does not make a person’s heart beat faster, a word often associated with boredom, a word that in any event does not lend wings to our religious feelings – and yet a word that will seal our fate if we are unable to find in this word a new, or rather the original meaning.  Woe to us if this word – the word “church” – does not soon acquire significance for us again, indeed if it does not become a matter with which our very lives are concerned.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Barcelona, Berlin, New York 1928-1931.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, vol.10, Clifford J. Green, ed. (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2008), 505.

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