Community, Monday Monologues, November 12, 2018 (podcast)

Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018
Stephen W Hiemstra, 2018

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

In today’s podcast, I pray for community and talk about Community

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Hear the words; Walk the steps; Experience the joy!

Community, Monday Monologues, November 12, 2018 (podcast)

Also see:

Monday Monologue On March 26, 2018 

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Prayer for Community

Ceramic churchBy Stephen W. Hiemstra

Merciful Father, Beloved Son, Holy Spirit,

All praise and honor are yours

for you poured out your Holy Spirit at Pentecost

to create the church–

a pillar of faith in an faithless word,

a light in the darkness,

the aroma of your Holy Spirit in a barren land.

We confess that even as we gather

around your communion table

called out from the world and called to faith

we are broken and sinful and without merit

except for the blood of Christ.

Thank you nevertheless for your place of refuge and strength

amid the confusion of life.

Bind us together in unity;

teach us to follow your ways;

bless us that we may bless those around us (Gen 12:1-3).

In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

Prayer for Community

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Stephen W. Hiemstra, Living in Christ“Behold, how good and pleasant it is 

when brothers and sisters dwell in unity!” 

(Ps 133:1)⁠1

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The word for church in Greek commonly used in the New Testament is: ecclesia (ἐκκλησίας;  Jas. 5:14 BNT) The word literally means called out ones.⁠2 The Apostle Paul, for example, writes:

“To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.” (1 Cor. 1:2)

Paul’s usage conveys the idea of connection through Christ which Bonhoeffer (1995, 226) underscores in writing: “The preaching of the Church and the administration of the sacraments is the place where Jesus Christ is present.” Bonhoeffer’s statement echoes Christ’s own words (e.g. John 6:56).

Priesthood of All Believers

While this idea of the called out ones today evokes the image of a seminary, where everyone is specifically called to ministry, every member of the church is called to faith and ministry. As with Abraham, we are blessed to be a blessing to others (Gen 12:1-3). In this way, we are all priests serving under our great high priest, Jesus Christ, and are able to approach God through him (Heb 7:25).

Although the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers is often interpreted narrowly to mean that church members should invite their neighbors and friends to church, the Apostle Peter links this priestly function specifically to sanctification:

“So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander…As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet 2:1-5)

Note how he begins these verses with with a call to purity. Is it any wonder that scripture likens the church to a marriage?

The Scriptural Prominence of Marriage and Relationship to the Church

The prominence of marriage in scripture is unmistakable—the Bible begins and ends with a marriage—suggesting that marriage is God’s idea, not ours (Keller 2011, 13). 

Beginning in the Book of Genesis, we see a couple, Adam and Eve who are just made for each other and whose relationship is more important than the man’s relationship with his family. (Gen 2:24)  This idea that a man’s wife was more important than his family of origin was unthinkable in the ancient near east where siblings, not spouses, were one’s closest confidants (Hellerman 2001, 36).

Jesus treats the creation account of Adam and Eve as foundational in his teaching on divorce and remarriage. From the prospective of advocates of no-fault divorce, he significantly ignores the Law of Moses, which admits exceptions in divorce. If marriage is instituted by God in creation, then divorce cheapens marriage and is obviously not divinely sanctioned. More importantly, the formative aspects of marriage disappear if marriage only survives on sunny days.

Ending in the Book of Revelation, an angel informs us: “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” (Rev 19:9) The church, which was betrothed to Christ on earth, is finally married to Christ in heaven. Because Revelation depicts many pictures of Christian worship in heaven with robes, trumpets, singing, prayer, visions, and processions, the analogy between marriage and the church is most explicit. 

The Formative Characteristics of Marriage

If the church’s relationship with Christ is compared to marriage, then what aspects of marriage are we talking about? 

The Apostle Paul highlights the formative character of marriage in his comments on mixed faith marriages. Paul reports that the believing spouse renders the whole marriage holy for the children (1 Cor 7:12–14). Paul also sees marriage as a witnessing opportunity. Paul asks: “For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?” (1 Cor 7:16) In other words, Paul clearly sees marriage possessing a sacrificial component. 

If marriage is formative, how does it draw us closer to God? At least three examples can be cited.

The first example is that God instituted marriage and commissioned marriage with a blessing and mandate: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion . . .” (Gen 1:28) God created marriage, blessed it, and said it was good—obeying God must draw us closer to him.

The second example is that it starts with an unconditional promise. God is the eternal promise keeper. In marriage we imitate our creator. Making and keeping good promises—even when it hurts—transforms us and draws us closer to God.

The third example marriage is that it makes us accountable. Our spouses know us in the biblical (covenantal) way! Our weaknesses and sin affect our spouses and they tell us. We sin less, in part, because our spouses make us more aware of our sin—a sanctification process that forms us—even if we are not believers! Part of this process is to learn reconciliation skills by practicing them daily. As the Apostle Paul wrote: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Col 3:17)

This list of reasons why marriage is formative is especially interesting because God instituted marriage even before he instituted the nation of Israel or sent his son to die on the cross. God is not irrational. He knows that the biggest beneficiaries of marriage are our children. And he loves them as much as he loves us and, of course, as Christians we all God’s children. 

Formation of Character in Community

Just like in marriage, our Christian character is formed in relationship. Our first relationship in life is with our families. In faith, our relationship is with each of the three members of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Reinforcing these other relationships is our relationship with the church. Out of these relationships we develop a Christian identity that, in turn, becomes the basis for how we act.

The postmodern tendency is to play down the role the importance of Christian formation, especially in leadership, because of a deficient doctrine of sin and neglect of the heart. The New Testament treats the heart as a shorthand for the whole person—heart, mind, and soul. Sin begins in the heart and emanates into action. Acting out sin, in turn, pollutes the heart making future sin more likely, which is why the Bible treats sin not as an act, but as an act of rebellion. This polluting characteristic of sin undermines our Christian formation making the formative activities in the church all the more important.

Formed as we are in Christian relationships, our ethics arise from family, faith, and community of faith. As we mature in our faith, we naturally assume a leadership role in each of these domains.


1 Beginning Life Together with this scripture passage marked Dietrich Bonhoeffer as a dissenter in Nazi Germany where the Old Testament was considered un-German and Jewish (Metaxis 2010, 367-368)

2 Outside the church, it is also translated as assembly, as in a meeting of representatives or elected officials.


Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. 1954.  Life Together:  The Classic Exploration of Christian Community (Gemeinsames Leben).  Translated by John W. Doberstein.  New York:  HarperOne.

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. 1995. The Cost of Discipleship (Orig Pub 1937).  Translated by R. H. Fuller and Irmgard Booth.  New York: Simon & Schuster—A Touchstone Book.

Hellerman, Joseph H. 2001. The Ancient Church as Family. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.

Keller, Timothy and Kathy Keller. 2011. The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. New York: Dutton.

Metaxis, Eric. 2010.  Bonhoeffer:  Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.  Nashville:  Thomas Nelson.


Also see:

Preface to Living in Christ 

A Roadmap of Simple Faith

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

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Prayer Day 46: A Christian Guide to Spirituality by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Disponible en
Disponible en

Holy Father. We praise you for your divine example of life in community. Shelter us through life’s transitions. Grant us spiritual guides for the journey who help us ask the right questions and persevere with us until we do. In the power of your Holy Spirit, teach us to accept guidance and how to offer it in grace. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Padre Santo, te alabamos por Tu ejemplo divino de vida en comunidad. Protéjenos durante de las transiciones de la vida. Concédenos guías espirituales para el camino que nos ayuden a hacer las preguntas correctas y pereservar con nosotros hasta que lo hagamos. En el poder del Espíritu Santo, enséñanos a aceptar ayuda y como ofrecerla en gracia. En el nombre de Jesús oramos. Amén.

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Bonhoeffer: Reframing the Christian Community

Dietrick Bonhoeffer, Life TogetherDietrich Bonhoeffer.  1954.  Life Together:  The Classic Exploration of Christian Community (Gemeinsames Leben).  Translated by John W. Doberstein.  New York:  HarperOne.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Gemeinsames Leben was written in 1938, a year after Nachfolge, when Dietrich Bonhoeffer taught in an underground seminary Pomerania, Germany.  At the time, the Confessing Church, which he helped organize, was floundering under Nazi persecution.  While the last part of Nachfolge dealt with the church and life as a disciple, it was highly theological, not a work in practical ecclesiology.  Gemeinsames Leben appears then to address the question: how then can the church remain a faithful witness under persecution by a high-tech, secular culture?


Gemeinsames Leben is short consisting of a mere 5 chapters:

  1. Community;
  2. The Day with Others;
  3. The Day Alone;
  4. Ministry; and
  5. Confession and Communion (5).

The book begins with Psalms and ends with the sacrament of communion.  In some sense, the community of God is framed with the word (scripture) and the sacraments—and so it is with Bonhoeffer.


Bonhoeffer starts with a provocative quotation: Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! (Psalm 133:1) Today, it would be considered political incorrect because the translation is literal (brothers, not brothers and sisters).  For Bonhoeffer, it was provocative because the Old Testament was considered un-German, worse, Jewish, by the Nazi, hence forbidden[1].

Bonhoeffer’s second paragraph is no less provocative. He says:

It is not simply to be taken for granted that the Christian has the privilege of living among other Christians. Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies (17).

The mere existence of Christian community is a political statement and: a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer (19).  Bonhoeffer expands on this thought saying:

The prisoner, the sick person, the Christian in exile sees in the companionship of a fellow Christian a physical sign of the gracious presence of the Triune God (20).

Bonhoeffer reframes the everyday experience of the Christian into the persecuted world in which he finds himself in Nazi Germany.  This is possible only because: We belong to one another only through and in Jesus Christ (21). Community is also an antidote to self-centered, pretentious dreaming.  Bonhoeffer writes: God is not a God of the emotions, but the God of truth (27).

The Day with Others

Bonhoeffer commends the keeping of the hours. For example, he states: The early morning belongs to the Church of the risen Christ (41).  The psalms are especially meaningful to Bonhoeffer as a model and mode for personal prayer (45).  Here we learn what prayer means, what to pray, and how to pray in fellowship (47-48).  For Bonhoeffer, Christian worship really never stops with continuous readings (50), hymn singing (57), prayer (71), table fellowship (66), and godly work (69).

The Day Alone

For Bonhoeffer, community is not an escape from loneliness—like the television in the psyche ward which is never turned off. He starts his discussion of time alone by saying: Many people seek fellowship because they are afraid to be alone (76).  Bonhoeffer (78) commends silence as the mark of solitude (and speech as the mark of community). He sees 3 reasons to be alone during the day: for scriptural meditation, for prayer, and for intercession (81).


For Bonhoeffer, ministry begins with humility and restraint. Evil thoughts should not even be dignified with expression (James 3:2; 91) and this evil begins with the discord over who should be in charge (Luke 9:46; 90).  Bonhoeffer offers 3 services in ministry:  listening (97), active helpfulness (99), and burden bearing (100).  If these 3 services are not properly rendered, proclamation of the word is most perilous (104).  Leadership accordingly depends also on these 3 services (108).

Confession and Communion

Sin isolates us both from God and from community.  Bonhoeffer observes:  Sin wants to remain unknown (112).  He sees 2 dangers in confession of sin: first that the one hearing confessions will be overburdened and second that the confessor will try to elevate sin to “pious work” (baptize the sin into acceptance; 120).  The sole objective of confession is absolution, not acceptance.  Bonhoeffer proposes that confession occur the day prior to communion as a necessary step to participating in communion (121).  For this reason, in part, communion is a joyous celebration because the slate has been wiped clean, so to speak.


How then can the church remain a faithful witness under persecution by a high-tech, secular culture?  Bonhoeffer does not answer this question in words.  Rather, he answers it by actions—let the church be the church!  And so we should.

[1]Eric Metaxis. 2010.  Bonhoeffer:  Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.  Nashville:  Thomas Nelson.  Pages 162, 367-368.

Bonhoeffer: Reframing the Christian Community

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Galatians 6: Parting Comments

Weights by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (Galatians 6:14 ESV).

What makes a community?

The Apostle Paul’s closing remarks divide into two parts:  A series of proverbs (vv 1-10) followed by a restatement of the main theme of his letter (vv 11-18).

The proverbs can be summarized as:

  • Forgive and restore (v 1),
  • Bear each other’s burdens (vv 2-5),
  • Support your teachers (v 6),
  • You reap what you sow (vv 7-8), and
  • Keep on doing good works (vv 9-10).

These proverbs often pair mutual accountability and personal responsibility[1].

Paul highlights his summary of the letter by wrapping this summary in highly personal remarks.  Before the summary, he signs this letter by claiming that he wrote it with his own hand (v 11).  After the summary, he asserts his apostolic authority claiming that his body bears the marks of Christ (v 17)[2].

The summary then goes on to discuss those advocating circumcision.  Paul makes these points—they want to force circumcision to avoid persecution in spite of not following their own advice and to brag about their influence over you (vv 12-13)[3].  By contrast, Paul basically says—look, I only brag about the cross of Christ and about the scars on my own body, not yours (vv 14, 17).

If you have ever met an evangelist who pulled down his shirt to display the scars on his back from torture, then you know how persuasive Paul’s argument really is.

[1]Scot McKnight (The NIV Application Commentary: Galatians.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 1995, 288) makes this point following John Barclay.

[2]The word for marks here—stigmata (στίγματα; v 17) is used nowhere else in the New Testament and only one other place in the Greek Old Testament (Song of Solomon 1:11).

[3]McKnight (1995, 299).


  1. How was your week? Did anything special happen?
  2. Do you have questions from chapter 5?
  3. What is a proverb?
  4. What does Christian admonishment and forgiveness look like? (v 1; also 2 Timothy 4:2; Titus 3:10)
  5. How do we bear each other’s burdens? (vv 2-5; Romans 15:1; 1 Corinthians 9:19-23)
  6. How does “bear one other’s’ burdens” (v 2) compare with “each will have to bear his own load” (v 5)?
  7. How do you interpret verse 6? What are the good things referred to here?
  8. Why the reference to sowing the flesh (spirit) and reaping the flesh (spirit)? (vv 7-8)
  9. What are the priorities in doing good works? (vv 9-10)
  10. Why does Paul make a point of showing his own handwriting? Why big letters?  (v 11; 1 Corinthians 16:21)
  11. One author notes that Paul’s proverbs pair mutual accountability and personal responsibility? Would you agree?  What are some examples?
  12. What is the motivation of those trying to promote circumcision? (v 12)
  13. What is Paul’s point in verses 13-14?
  14. What implications do you see today from Paul’s comment on circumcision in verse 15?
  15. What is Paul trying to say in verse 17? Why?

Galatians 6: Parting Comments

Also see:

Galatians 5: Healthy Boundaries 

Christian Spirituality 

Looking Back 

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