Bonhoeffer on Confession

In Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer provides a treatise on the virtues of confessing our sins to one another. The practice, he argues, is vital to the Christian life and adds tremendously to the fellowship of believers; for in confession, Christians admit to one another that they are sinners in need of grace, and they shine light on their sin, which desperately desires to stay hidden (or at least we seek to keep it so).

Confession benefits the Christian in many ways, according to Bonhoeffer. First, it reveals sin in order to sanctify the sinner. Second, it enhances the fellowship of believers because it highlights the fact that no Christian is the only one struggling with sin; we are all in a fierce spiritual battle, and we can encourage each other in the fight. Third, it uplifts the sinner, for the one hearing the confession is a sinner himself, and can deeply sympathize with the one confessing. (Of course, Christ, too, can sympathize with us, as He took on humanity in the Incarnation and thus experienced for Himself human weaknesses and lusts. See Hebrews 4:14-15. I am surprised that Bonhoeffer did not mention this.)

Bonhoeffer goes on to address some misconceptions and malpractices concerning confession. He starts with the point that confession to fellow sinners should be easier than confession to God, who is holy and pure and the just judge of all evil. Fellow sinners saved by grace are a blessing of God to Christians for help in the midst of sin, as co-strugglers. We can boldly approach God, who loves us as we are and forgives us by His grace; but we can approach fellow Christians even more boldly, as they have experienced temptation and sin themselves. Next, he warns against mere self-absolution in the private confession of our sins to God. (Are we just clearing the record for our own satisfaction?) Also, Bonhoeffer stresses that the one who hears confession ought to practice it himself -- because he may otherwise become overburdened or even power-struck with his knowledge. The one who hears confession must humble herself and commiserate with the fellow sinner. Last, those who confess must keep in mind the gravity of what they are doing; confession is a striving toward sanctification, not an empty act of piety or a mindless duty.

"Therefore, confess your sins to one another. . . ." -- James 5:16a


Childlike or Childish?

Sometimes I need to be reminded that my stoic rationalism is unholy. Lest I be decieved that my melancholy should be equated with righteousness or realism, I sometimes need an electric shock to my system reminding me that am to become like a child. I was never much of a fiction or fantasy person. I would much rather sit down with a theoretical work. But in my old age (my thirties), I have been gravitating to more stories, and I think it is because I am finding in them much deeper and more lasting truths than in any exposition I could read. Recently, on a long drive from RI to AZ, I was able to "listen" to several good ded peepl. Here they are as my recommendations to you, who struggle, as I do, with stoicism, with taking yourself to seriously, with being too mature. A little something thing to remind you that becoming childlike might also mean becoming a little more childish.

Manalive G.K. Chesterton. I know! It's like a broken record for me, but I think I can safely say that this book in some way has saved my life. I think this one needs to be a yearly read for me.

The Golden Key George MacDonald. A lesson in yearning from the fairy land, where two children find themselves on a quest to find the land "from whence the shadows fall"

The Shadows George MacDonald. You may never look at a shadow the same.

Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass Lewis Carroll. Refresh the wonder of a world seen through a child's eyes.


A Reminder of the Blessings of Christian Fellowship

In Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer elaborates upon the joy and grace that God gives us through common life with other Christians. I agree with him, but with reservations. I know that I enjoy fellowship with my brothers and sisters in Christ. I have fond memories of church potlucks, college Bible study groups, and lengthy discussions with pastors of mine (including Brett; we miss you here). I do find joy in meeting people at work who share my faith in Christ. But I have also experienced, witnessed, and heard of many instances of Christian cannibalism -- of Christians "eating" their own when they don't get their way in church affairs, when they disagree with other Christians, and when they view other Christians' lifestyles as out of the scope of Christian liberty.

Such disunity and animosity among Christians is, as Francis Schaeffer puts it in The Mark of the Christian, "ugly." It's a festering wound on the bride of Christ; and we must dress it before he returns.

And the cure is love.

Remember to love the unworthy of love. Remember to forgive the unworthy of forgiveness; for such are we before God. Sin makes it hard to get along with church people; but in Christ we can have victory over sin.