11 Dietrich Bonhoeffer Quotes on Discipleship and Christian Community

In these fearful, challenging, and sometimes divided times, I wonder what Dietrich Bonhoeffer would say to us. His suffering looked differently than ours, yet he knew the pain of separation from fellow believers. Despite oppression and imprisonment, he remained committed to the Church until his death.

Today, April 9, 2020, is the 75th memorial of Bonhoeffer’s martyrdom. It is also Maundy Thursday, day 5 of what experts say may be the most heartbreaking week of the COVID-19 pandemic. The following Dietrich Bonhoeffer quotes speak to us in our suffering, helping us refocus on the life of discipleship and what the Christian community requires of us.

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Bonhoeffer on Discipleship

At that time, I was terribly alone and left to myself. It was quite bad. But then something different came, something that has changed and transformed my life to this very day. For the first time, I came to the Bible. That, too, is an awful thing to say. I had often preached, I had seen a great deal of the church, had spoken and written about it—and yet I was not yet a Christian but rather in an utterly wild and uncontrolled fashion my own master. I do know that at the time I turned the cause of Jesus Christ into an advantage for myself, for my crazy vanity. . . . The Bible, especially the Sermon on the Mount, freed me from all this. Since then everything has changed. I have felt this plainly and so have other people around me. That was a great liberation. It became clear to me that the life of a servant of Jesus Christ must belong to the church, and step-by-step it became clearer to me how far it must go.1
—  Theological Education at Finkenwalde: 1935–1937

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The fact that Jesus Christ died is more important than the fact that I will die. And the fact that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead is the sole ground of my hope that I, too, will be raised on the day of judgment. Our salvation is “from outside ourselves” (extra nos). I find salvation not in my life story, but only in the story of Jesus Christ.2 Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible

Suffering willingly endured is stronger than evil; it is the death of evil. . . . The more terrible the evil, the more willing the disciple should be to suffer. Evil persons must be delivered to the hands of Jesus. Not I but Jesus must deal with them.3 Discipleship

In the last few years I have come to know and understand more and more the profound this-worldliness of Christianity. The Christian is not a homo religiosus but simply a human being, in the same way that Jesus was a human being—in contrast, perhaps, to John the Baptist. I do not mean the shallow and banal this-worldliness of the enlightened, the bustling, the comfortable, or the lascivious, but the profound this-worldliness that shows discipline and includes the ever-present knowledge of death and resurrection.4 —  Letters and Papers from Prison 

Cheap grace is preaching forgiveness without repentance; it is baptism without the discipline of community; it is the Lord’s Supper without confession of sin; it is absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without the living, incarnate Jesus Christ.5Discipleship

Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Christian community

The miracle of the Christian concept of community is that love for God involves submission, but that God’s love, in ruling, serves.6Sanctorum Communio

 

. . . a life together under the Word will stay healthy only when it does not form itself into a movement, an order, a society, a collegium pietatis, but instead understands itself as being part of the one, holy, universal, Christian Church, sharing through its deeds and suffering in the hardships and struggles and promise of the whole Church.7 Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible

A Christian community either lives by the intercessory prayers of its members for one another, or the community will be destroyed.8 Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible

Whoever cannot be alone [allein] should beware of community. Such people will only do harm to themselves and to the community. Alone you stood before God when God called you. Alone you had to obey God’s voice. Alone you had to take up your cross, struggle, and pray and alone you will die and give an account to God. You cannot avoid yourself, for it is precisely God who has singled you out. If you do not want to be alone, you are rejecting Christ’s call to you, and you can have no part in the community of those who are called.9Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible

The revealed community-of-love had to be broken up one more time by its founder’s own action, though not before Jesus had tied them tightly together with a close bond at the very last hour. This happened in the Last Supper. Jesus says: just as I break this bread, so my body will be broken tomorrow, and as all of you eat and are filled from one loaf, so too will all of you be saved and united in me alone.10Sanctorum Communio

To flee into invisibility is to deny the call. Any community of Jesus which wants to be invisible is no longer a community that follows him.11Discipleship

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Explore Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life and work in greater depth. For a limited time, you can save on Bonhoeffer’s original writings, biographies on his life, and other fascinating resources.

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  1. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Theological Education at Finkenwalde: 1935–1937, ed. Victoria J. Barnett and Barbara Wojhoski, trans. Douglas W. Stott, vol. 14, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2013), 134.

  2. Bonhoeffer, D. (1996). Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible. (G. L. Müller, A. Schönherr, & G. B. Kelly, Eds., D. W. Bloesch & J. H. Burtness, Trans.) (Vol. 5, p. 62). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

  3. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, ed. Martin Kuske et al., trans. Barbara Green and Reinhard Krauss, vol. 4, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 134.

  4. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, ed. Christian Gremmels et al., trans. Isabel Best et al., vol. 8, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2010), 485.

  5. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, ed. Martin Kuske et al., trans. Barbara Green and Reinhard Krauss, vol. 4, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 44.
  6. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Sanctorum Communio: A Theological Study of the Sociology of the Church, ed. Clifford J. Green and Joachim von Soosten, trans. Reinhard Krauss and Nancy Lukens, vol. 1 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2009), 63.
  7. Bonhoeffer, D. (1996). Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible. (G. L. Müller, A. Schönherr, & G. B. Kelly, Eds., D. W. Bloesch & J. H. Burtness, Trans.) (Vol. 5, p. 45). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

  8. Bonhoeffer, D. (1996). Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible. (G. L. Müller, A. Schönherr, & G. B. Kelly, Eds., D. W. Bloesch & J. H. Burtness, Trans.) (Vol. 5, p. 90). Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press.

  9. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together and Prayerbook of the Bible, ed. Gerhard Ludwig Müller, Albrecht Schönherr, and Geffrey B. Kelly, trans. Daniel W. Bloesch and James H. Burtness, vol. 5, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1996), 82.
  10. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Sanctorum Communio: A Theological Study of the Sociology of the Church, ed. Clifford J. Green and Joachim von Soosten, trans. Reinhard Krauss and Nancy Lukens, vol. 1 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2009), 149–150.

  11. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship, ed. Martin Kuske et al., trans. Barbara Green and Reinhard Krauss, vol. 4, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 113.