Life Together: Confession & Communion

bonhoeffer2This is the fifth & final post in a series, taking an in-depth look at Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s classic, Life Together (CommunityThe day with othersThe Day Alone, Minstry).

As Bonhoeffer draws this work to a conclusion he refocuses his sight on the gospel and that a gospel community is made of sinners who have confessed their sin and found their salvation, thus the importance of both confession and communion.

He opens the chapter with a wonderful statement of God’s grace:

“It is the grace of the Gospel…that it confronts us with the truth and says: You are a sinner, a great, desperate sinner; now come, as the sinner that you are, to God who loves you. He wants you as you are; he does not want anything from you, a sacrifice, a work; he wants you alone. ‘My son, give me thine heart’ (Prov 23:26). God has come to you to save the sinner. Be glad! This message is liberation through truth. You can hide nothing from God. The mask you wear before men will do you no good before Him. He wants to see you as you are, He wants to be gracious to you.” (p.86)

For Bonhoeffer the place of confession is vital, it is more than accountability it is being Christ to one another. We become Christ to each other, hearing the confession of sin and declaring forgiveness in the name of Jesus. The one to whom we confess keeps our confession as God keeps it.

Bonhoeffer then is sharp in his analysis of sin.

“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.” (p.87)

Confession breaks our reliance on self-justification. In confession we recognise sin’s mastery over us, in the forgiveness we receive we see Christ’s mastery over sin. Bonhoeffer sees no need for public confession of private sin but that one brother or sister represents the whole fellowship, and where we are in fellowship we are never alone.

Yet Bonhoeffer knows how hard confession of sin is; ‘It hurts, it cuts a man down, it is a dreadful blow to pride…Because this humiliation is so hard we continually scheme to evade confessing sin to a brother’. Yet it remains crucial for this very reason;

“Since the sin must come to the light some time, it is better that it happens today between me and my brother, rather than on the last day in the piercing light of the final judgement. It is a mercy that we can confess our sins to a brother. Such grace spares us the terrors of the last judgment.” (p.91)

The power of confession, though, lies not in the act of confession but because it leads us to ‘none other than Jesus Christ himself who suffered the scandalous, public death of a sinner in our stead’. Yet we also come to the cross in confession in ways many of us miss.


“We cannot find the Cross of Jesus if we shrink from going to the place where it is to be found, namely the public death of the sinner. And we refuse to bear the Cross when we are ashamed to take upon ourselves the shameful death of the sinner in confession.” (p.89)

So confession is death to us and death to sin, but it is also the place where ‘breakthrough to new life occurs’.

“Where sin is hatred, admitted, and forgiven, there the break with the past is made. ‘Old things are passed away’…Christ has made a new beginning with us.” (p.90)

It isn’t a law that we confess an offer and an opportunity and Bonhoeffer wonders who can afford ‘to refuse, without suffering loss, a help that God has deemed it necessary to offer?’

Although Bonhoeffer gives most space to confession, the book closes with communion – our picture of the gospel. Here you can see how important confession is – we cannot come to the table unreconciled. Confession is preparation. Mourning before the dancing.

“The day of the Lord’s Supper is an occasion of joy for the Christian community. Reconciled in their hearts with God and the brethren, the congregation receives the gift of the body and blood of Jesus Christ, and, receiving that, it receives forgiveness, new life and salvation.” (p.96)



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