Some Theses on the Church in North America Today (3)

3.    Church is first and always about Christ. “What keeps gnawing at me is the question, what is Christianity, or who is Christ actually for us today?”[1] And Bonhoeffer’s question must gnaw at us as well if we are to find our way to faithful witness in a world come of age.

a.    But what Christ? That’s always the question. Throughout his writings Bonhoeffer insists on the unity of Christ and his people. From his early concept of “Christ-existing-as-community” (Sanctorum Communio) to his final rendition of this idea as Jesus – the man for others with the correlate of the church as the “church for others” (Letters and Papers from Prison) the identity of the church replicates that of Jesus. He is the identity and DNA of the church in action! And in Discipleship he makes it unforgettably clear that relationship to Jesus, sharing and participating in his life, is the motive power of following him.

Bonhoeffer insists that following Jesus is a conflicted and even dangerous undertaking (as he himself proved with his life). The life of the church can be no different.

b.    Jesus Christ bears what Walter Brueggemann[2] terms the essential “disciplines of readiness” for those serving in God’s Subversive Counter-Revolutionary Movement.

-DANGEROUS MEMORIES of God’s breathtaking promises to Abraham and Sarah and all that God had done to fulfil those promises (e.g. Exodus).

-DANGEROUS CRITICISM that mocks the deadly Empire in terms of religion, a critique of the tamed gods of the Empire (commercialized Christianity) and at the same time a political critique of entrenched power, wherever we find it.

-DANGEROUS PROMISES that imagine a new shape of power in the world, the kingdom of God. The poem of Isa.54:1-3 is first despairing, but then affirms a wild and outrageous hope.

-DANGEROUS SONGS that predict unexpected newness of life. We sing a new song and affirm a reality we have not fully experienced. Worship is a political statement.

-DANGEROUS BREAD that is reliable, abundant, and free of all imperial ovens. Scarcity thinking and practice occurs when we think the Empire controls all the resources.

-DANGEROUS DEPARTURES of heart and body and mind, leavings undertaken in trust and obedience. The Exodus from Egypt lead to Torah, God’s life-giving order for Israel and ultimately the world. Similarly, we need to imagine a time when we leave behind consumerism, ambition, and militarism for other territory.

-DANGEROUS ACKNOWLEDGEMENT of how life really is. Our God is good; but He is not safe. We sometimes cry out for the elusive Presence, and acknowledge like the early Apostle that we are “hungry and thirsty, homeless and ill-treated.”  We face the world with utter realism and extravagant hope at the same time.

c.    This is Jesus Christ. This is who and how he is in our world. His way of living ends up on a cross. That’s the way of God’s love in a world rebellious and hostile to God. Jesus’ call for us to live similarly is his call for us to take up our cross. Thus our lives will be cruciform. We will live by the “theology of the cross.” This is who Christ is for us today and who we are to be in the world as his SCRM.

[1] Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. DBW 8: Kindle Locations 16433-16434.
[2] Walter Brueggemann, Cadences of Home (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), 118ff.


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