The following excerpt from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book, Life Together (pages 91-92) highlights the reality that though we’re individuals, in the Church we’re never isolated from other members of Christ’s body.
Americans, perhaps more than other people groups, tend to emphasize a person’s individuality while dismissing, or at least downplaying, the reality that in one way or another we all live in relationship to others, be it in a family, our community, or that we just happen to live on the same rock that’s cruising around the sun as the guy next door. Even in solitude Christians are not alone. This concept rejects the line of reasoning that makes room for “victimless crimes” or any argument that espouses personal choice, for no crime is truly ever victimless and no choice, no matter how personal, is made within a vacuum. Within the Church such a rationale doesn’t exist. As a member of Christ’s body everything I do, indeed even what I think, has an impact on other people – other members of the Body. What a provocative thought for a society steeped in individualism.
“Every day brings the Christian many hours of being alone in an unchristian environment. These are times of testing. This is the proving ground of a genuine time of meditation and genuine Christian community. Has the community served to make individuals free, strong, and mature, or has it made them insecure and dependent? Has it taken them by the hand for a while so that they would learn again to walk by themselves, or has it made them anxious and unsure?… Has it transported them for a few short moments into a spiritual ecstasy that vanishes when everyday life returns, or has it planted the Word of God so soberly and so deeply in their heart that it holds and strengthens them all day long, leading them to active love, to obedience, to good works?… Is the invisible presence of the Christian community a reality and a help to the individual? Do the intercessory prayers of the others carry me through the day? Is the Word of God close to me as a comfort and a strength? Or do I misuse my solitude against the community, against the Word and prayer? Individuals must be aware that even their hours of being alone reverberate through the community. In their solitude they can shatter and tarnish the community or they can strengthen and sanctify it. Every act of self-discipline by a Christian is also a service to the community. Conversely, there is no sin in thought, word, or deed, no matter how personal or secret, that does not harm the whole community. When the cause of an illness gets into one’s body, whether or not anyone knows where it comes from, or in what member it has lodged, the body is made ill. This is the appropriate metaphor for the Christian community. Every member serves the whole body, contributing either to its health or to its ruin, for we are members of one body not only when we want to be, but in our whole existence. This is not a theory, but a spiritual reality that is often experienced in the Christian community with shocking clarity, sometimes destructively and sometimes beneficially.
“Those who return to the community of Christians who live together, after a successful day, bring with them the blessing of their solitude, but they themselves receive anew the blessing of the community. Blessed are those who are alone in the strength of the community. Blessed are those who preserve community in the strength of solitude. But the strength of solitude and the strength of community is the strength of the Word of God alone, which is meant for the individual in the community.”