Dietrich Bonhoeffer (February 4, 1906 – April 9, 1945) is now the subject of about a dozen films and documentaries. This extraordinary Lutheran minister and theologian lived only 39 years, the last two years of which he spent in prison because of his opposition to Nazi Germany. Yet he left behind sufficient theological reflections to fill 16 volumes. His writings covered 10,000 pages, most of which would not emerge in print until years later.
One of his most insightful works, Life Together, was actually the subject of his doctoral research. In Life Together Bonhoeffer talks pointedly about how our “wish dreams” for our fellow believers can actually damage our fellowship. Why? Because through our “wish dreams” we are not loving the church that actually is but loving our idealized picture of the way we wish it was.
Listen to Bonhoeffer’s inspiring perspective:
“Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had sprung from a wish dream… By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world. He does not abandon us to those rapturous experiences and lofty moods that come over us like a dream… He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.
God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly…
He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds men together. When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure. When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to smash. So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, then an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.
Because God has already laid the only foundation of our fellowship, because God has bound us together in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ, long before we entered into common life with them, we enter into that common life not as demanders but as thankful recipients. We thank God for what He has done for us. We thank God for giving us brethren who live by His call, by His forgiveness, and His promise. We do not complain of what God does not give us; we rather thank God for what He does give us daily.
When the morning mists of dreams vanish, then dawns the bright day of Christian fellowship.”
Quotes taken from Life Together trans. John Doberstein, (New York: HarperCollins, 1954).