Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

5/13 2016

Of Sin and Community

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Bonhoeffer, community and sinCommunity tends to be quite the buzzword in the Christian context. From my early days occupying the halls of my more conservative-leaning institution of higher learning to my current days roaming an institution a bit more open to hosting the voice of both ends of the spectrum, the ideals and reality of community continue to be discussed.

Do we have it? How do we get it? How do we give or get it if we have or do not have it?

We form committees, student groups, social events, forums, or invite some people to have a drink at the bar. We inhabit coffee shops and restaurants, read pages of books by experts, and keep our eyes peeled for the perfect and right solution. Much time, energy, and conversation is spent on how do we create community, shape community, or better the community.

Unfortunately, little time, energy, and conversation is spent talking about sin.

In his book Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer says that an essential component to community is the confession of sin, especially the confessing of sin to one another. For Bonhoeffer, Christians can worship all they want, pray with one another, fellowship, be on every committee in the church, and still be utterly lonely. This is exactly what sin wants to happen. Bonhoeffer says:

“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.”[1]

Thus a cycle is created. Sin which is hidden grows roots which pull each woman and man away from community. In their isolation, whether self or community inflicted, they remain in their sin allowing the sin to pull them further down the path of pain, death, and despair. It keeps us broken.

However, confession breaks through the cycle of sin. Confessing to one another, naming the sin we have committed, rids sin of its power over us and we are able to break through to the cross. Or maybe the light of the cross breaks through to meet us. Confession reminds us that we need healing and we need a Savior—desperately and achingly need a Savior. Like a dry and barren land aches for drops of rain so too our bodies crave to intimately know redemption. And grace, parceled in the frail and broken bodies of other Christians.

So then someday, when we are asked if there is community where we are at, we will answer, “Yes, because I have sinned against God and my brothers and sisters in thought, word, and deed, and every time I confess, they do this amazing thing of forgiving me.”

[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, 112.

Rebecca Dix ’15 is a Pittsburgh Theological Seminary MDiv grad and ThM student who hopes to one day combine her loves of food and God in an ordinated ministry position.

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