Henri Nouwen & Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Resisiting Sin is Love for the Communnity

I have been thinking on the topic of community accountability and holiness for a while now. Recently, conversations have occurred between student leaders about reasons for being accountable: love for God, love for self, joy’s sake, to better minister, ect. One motivation that has vividly struck me is the love for fellow believer. Resisting sin is not just a God-honoring or self-protecting endeavor. Resisting sin is a community-honoring and fellowship-protecting enterprise. Christian love is a motive for saying no to gossip, pornography, anger, pride, and the host of other sins sons of Adam who have been made sons of God deal with day in and day out. Some will say, “what I do in private is my own business.” But, as Frederick Buechner has pointed out “The world says, Mind your own business, and Jesus says, There is no such thing as your own business.” As a believer called to fellowship with other believers now and for all eternity, you have no such things as private sins or a private life. Caring for the community includes resisting that which you so insatiably desire to do and say. The idea of caring for each other is a biblical command.

  • Romans 1:11, 12 – I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong–that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.
  • Romans 14:19  Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.
  • Romans 15:2  Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.
  • Ephesians 4:11,12  It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.
  • 1 Thessalonians 5:11 – Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.
  • Hebrews 3:13 – But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.
  • 1 Peter 4:10  Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.

 Below are two excerpts from two different books that concern this topic. The first is from a Christian named Henri Nouwen and the latter is from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Henri Nouwen (January 24, 1932 –September 21, 1996) was a Dutch-born Catholic priest and writer who authored over forty books on Christian spirituality. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–1945) was a German Lutheran pastor, theologian and martyr. He was a participant in the German resistance movement against Nazism and a founding member of the Confessing Church. His involvement in plans by members of the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office) to assassinate Adolf Hitler resulted in his arrest in April 1943 and his subsequent execution by hanging in April 1945, 23 days before the Nazis’ surrender. Heed their calls to self-control for the sake of love of Christ and his community.

“Often we think about sexuality as a private affair. Sexual fantasies, sexual thoughts, sexual actions are mostly seen as belonging to the private life of a person. But the distinction between the private life and the public sphere of life is a false distinction and has created many problems we are struggling with in our day. In the Christian life the distinction between the private life (just for me!) and a public life (for the others) does not exist. For the Christian, even the most hidden fantasies, thoughts, feelings, emotions, and actions are a service or a disservice to the community. I can never say, “What I think, feel or do in my private time is nobody else’s business.” It is everyone’s business! The mental and spiritual health of a community depends largely on the way its members live their most personal lives as a service to their fellow human beings.

The complications of living a chaste life are obvious. If I keep my sexual life a hidden life (just for me), it will gradually be split off from the rest of my life and become a dangerous force. I wonder more and more how much of the sexual compulsions and obsessions that we experience are the result of this privatization of our sexuality. What remains hidden, kept in the dark and uncommunicable, can easily become a destructive force always ready to explode in unexpected moments.

The first step toward chastity rests in knowing that my sexuality is personal and communal. I have to dare to realize that I can harm my neighbors not just by what I do or say, but also by what I think. Confession means sharing my inner mental struggles with a trustworthy human being who can receive that confession in the name of the community…What is important is that I start becoming accountable to the community for my inner life. This accountability will gradually take away the obsessive and compulsive quality of sexual thoughts and fantasies. The more I give up my private life and convert it into a personal life for which I am responsible to the community, the easier it will become to live a chaste life- because the community formed and kept together by Jesus will transform my selfish desires into a desire to serve the people of God with every part of my being. Once I have confessed my inner life, the community can let the love of Jesus unmask my false desires, expel the demons, and lead me into the light so that, as a child of light, I can witness to the risen Lord. Thus I can live a truly chaste life.” The Road To Daybreak: A Spiritual Journey, 168-169.

“Every act of self-control of the Christian is also a service to the fellowship. On the other hand, there is no sin in thought, word, or deed, no matter how personal or secret, that does not inflict injury upon the whole fellowship. An element of sickness gets into the body; perhaps nobody knows where it comes from or in what member it has lodged, but the body is infected. This is the proper metaphor for the Christian community. We are members of a body, not only when we choose to be, but in our whole existence. Every member serves the whole body, either to its health or to its destruction. This is no mere theory; it is a spiritual reality. And the Christian community has often experienced its effects with disturbing clarity, sometimes destructively and sometimes fortunately.” Life Together: A Discussion of Christian Fellowship, 88-89.

Remember that your resistance of sin is not only love for Jesus and yourself, but those you are called to live life together with, the Church.Love the Lord and the community well by saying yes to love and no to sin.

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