From Jesus to Martin Luther to Bonhoeffer to me
What is church among the nations?
I have been reading a biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer and was filled with excitement when I read about his trip to Rome. He described the scene he saw as alive and inspiring. I too could see the scene he described; the streets of Rome leading to the Coliseum, around to the Vatican and landing in a little old Catholic Church. I could relate to every sensation he felt inside each one of these places…except the little Catholic Church.
As I read and re-read his experience, I was so encouraged and inspired by his description of life and unity. Bonhoeffer was so taken with the way the Catholic Church did community that it changed his whole way of thinking and later his way of studying. A quote from his diary read that Palm Sunday was “the first day that something of the reality of Catholicism dawned on me, nothing romantic or the like, but rather that I am beginning, I believe, to understand the concept of church.”
This he said as he described the universality of the church being illustrated in a marvellously effective manner: “White, black, yellow members of religious orders—everyone in clerical robes united under the church.” Humanity was represented.
I read and re-read a few of these pages, seeing how God through the course of centuries puts vision and calling into His people. As I read, great people kept coming into my mind; Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Jesus, Martin Luther; then me. I popped into my own head as I thought about church and how it has been lived out over the centuries. It has been, through every century, an entity that moves a little deeper towards God, always uncovering more opportunity or potential to take our community closer to the Living God. The church is passed from generation to generation and I (we) are now standing in this new/next generation and we should be people like Bonhoeffer that ask: “what is church among the nations?”
I loved how Bonhoeffer was challenged to think and was inspired by feeling in the midst of a Catholic Mass. I currently live in a VERY Catholic country and have sat in a number of Catholic churches. I have to honestly say that they are far from alive and inspiring in my opinion. After reading a biography on Bonhoeffer and other books regarding the early church I realised it was not always this way. As I sift through various descriptions in many books, the one attribute that sticks out in a variety of churches of old is when the church did community.
Living in a very traditionally Catholic country the word ‘church’ is not a lively or exciting word. In fact, just last week I heard a new term from a student in a school we regularly are at. She described herself as a “Catholic Atheist.” Such irony in that title. But she was describing who she is by culture and who she is by response. As a response to a culture that takes church and covers it in guilt and shame, she had decided she wanted nothing to do with it. So much so, she claims it doesn't really even exist.
I believe the picture Revelations 1:13 gives (my addition in parentheses), “and among the lampstands (the era of churches) was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest.” (NIV)
Where He is there is life. Bonhoeffer witnessed Jesus standing among the era of the catholic church, and it seems to be that there is yet another era of church growing among our generation. One that wants the simplicity of Jesus and relationship. Most often when our church is just being a community in the 21st century as a group that is representing humanity and talking about Jesus, people respond with the most Bonhoeffer like response… their life.
That list of great people all ends with your names. How would you say Church is among the Nations…?