Building on the concept of being baptized into the Body of Christ from the previous chapter, Bonhoeffer turns his attention in this chapter to exploring what it means for the church to be the Body of Christ in the world today. For Bonhoeffer, this is not metaphor, but a literal statement. In the time after the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, the church is the Body of Christ on earth. Just as Christ was the new “Adam,” or the new humanity, so then is the church the new humanity in the world.
This is important for two reasons. First, it means that one cannot be a Christian alone. One cannot be a part of the Body of Christ in isolation; one cannot become a new human absent of community. “Whoever seeks to become a new human being individually cannot succeed.” (DBW IV, pp 219)
Second, it means the suffering we endure as disciples, the suffering we endure as the Body of Christ, is never borne alone. The suffering we bear for the world is borne in community.
It is important to note that being the Body of Christ does not grant the church any sort of infallibility. Neither does its identity as the Body of Christ grant it any authority over Christ. Given both his strong Lutheran background and the context in which he was writing, Bonhoeffer is careful to note that Christ is the head of this Body, that Jesus retains authority over the community of the church.
When have you had the experience of bearing suffering in community? How is that different than bearing it alone?
While each of us is called into discipleship individually, Bonhoeffer seems clear that we cannot live out that discipleship except in community. How does that resonate with or challenge your understanding of our faith? How does that idea fit into our world today?