Saturday, January 21, 2017

Bonhoeffer on the Ministry of Confession

This quote comes from Bonhoeffer's book Life Together, which is a short work summarizing what he put into practice to foster Christian community in an illegal seminary he led in the early years of World War II.

One important part of community is confession. Yet confession will only occur when one feels there is trust and safety. And that requires listening. Which is why this quote is so important as well. Listening to confession is a supreme act of love toward a fellow Christian. But I have to ask myself the hard question - do others feel that I am trustworthy enough to share their sins with me? Am I approachable? 
"Confess your sins to one another" (James 5:16). He who is alone with his sin is utterly alone... The pious Fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners!
In confession the breakthrough to community takes place. Sin demands to have a man by himself. It withdraws him from the community. The more isolated a person is, the more destructive will be the power of sin over him, and the more deeply he becomes involved in it, the more disastrous is his isolation. Sin wants to remain unknown. It shuns the light. In the darkness of the unexpressed it poisons the whole being of a person. This can happen even in the midst of a pious community. In confession the light of the Gospel breaks into the darkness and seclusion of the heart. The sin must be brought into the light. The unexpressed must be openly spoken and acknowledged. All that is secret and hidden is made manifest. It is a hard struggle until the sun is openly admitted. But God breaks Gates of brass and bars of iron (Psalm 107:16).
Since the confession of sin is made in the presence of a Christian brother, the last stronghold of self-justification is abandoned. The sinner surrenders; he gives up all his evil. He gives his heart to God, and he finds the forgiveness of all his sin in The Fellowship of Jesus Christ and his brother.
What happened to us in baptism is bestowed upon us anew in confession. We are delivered out of the darkness into the kingdom of Jesus Christ. That is joyful news. Confession is the renewal of the joy of baptism. "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning" (Psalm 30:5).

From Life Together, p.112-115.

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