Sunday, November 20, 2011

Bonhoeffer on the unavoidability of reproof

     "Reproof is unavoidable.  God's Word demands it when a brother falls into open sin.  The practice of discipline in the congregation begins in the smallest circles.  Where defection from God's Word in doctrine or life imperils the family fellowship and with it the whole congregation, the word of admonition and rebuke must be ventured.  Nothing can be more cruel than the tenderness that consigns another to his sin.  Nothing can be more compassionate than the severe rebuke that calls a brother back from the path of sin.  It is a ministry of mercy, an ultimate offer of genuine fellowship, when we allow nothing but God's Word to stand between us, judging and succoring.  Then it is not we who are judging; God alone judges, and God's judgment is helpful and healing.  Ultimately, we have no charge but to serve our brother, never to set ourselves above him, and we serve him even when we must speak the judging and dividing Word of God to him, even when, in obedience to God, we must break off fellowship with him."

     Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life together, trans. John W. Doberstein (New York:  HarperOne, HarperCollins Publishers, [1954]), 107, a passage that should be read within the whole of chap. 4 (on Ministry), but goes nonetheless firmly against the present grain.  From pp. 105-106:

"And yet this correct judgment lies perilously near to the deadly dictum of Cain:  'Am I my brother's keeper?'  A seemingly sacred respect for another's freedom can be subject to the curse of God:  'His blood will I require at thine hand' (Ezek. 3:18).
     "Where Christian live together the time must inevitably come when in some crisis one person will have to declare God's Word and will to another.  It is inconceivable that the things that are of utmost importance to each individual should not be spoken by one to another.  It is unchristian consciously to deprive another of the one decisive service we can render to him. . . ."
     "The basis on which Christians can speak to one another is that each knows the other as a sinner, who, with all his human dignity, is lonely and lost if he is not given help.  This is not to make him contemptible nor to disparage him in any way.  On the contrary, it is to accord him the one real dignity that man has, namely, that, though he is a sinner, he can share in God's grace and glory and be God's child.  This recognition gives to our brotherly speech the freedom and candor that it needs.  We speak to one another on the basis of the help with both need.  We admonish one another to go the way that Christ bids us to go.  We warn one another against the disobedience that is our common destruction.  We are gentle and we are severe with one another, for we know both God's kindness and God's severity."

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