“It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness. The final break-through to fellowship does not occur, because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners. The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his son from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not to be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkingly horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners!
– Bonhoeffer, Life Together.
This last week has been filled with induction sessions to Cranmer Hall. One of those sessions was to introduce us to the importance of discipleship, and to explain how discipleship groups work at Cranmer. During the session we reflected in small groups on a couple of quotes, including this one from Bonhoeffer.
It was fascinating to hear the variety and depth of interpretations and meanings that people drew out of this piece. Reflecting on this relationship between “the devout” and “the sinners” my mind wandered through my imagination to describe it metaphorically.
The picture which came to mind was of campfires.
Jesus is the light of the world, a light which shines in the darkness.
In turn we are told to be the lights of the world, shining like stars.
Often, we gather around one another and look in – content to be warm by the campfire.
There’s nothing wrong with this. In fact if we are finding that our spiritual lives are getting tired, or that our light is growing dim then being refuelled by the fire is a good thing in order that we might shine brighter.
The problem is not with gathering as a community of light.
But Jesus is a light who shines in the darkness…
… and the darkness shall not overcome it.
Light shines in darkness, as the stars hang on the empty canvass of space.
The light is not dependent on the darkness to be light, but it finds its truest realisation when it uncovers that which has not been seen; both revealing what is in the darkness, and bringing into the darkness something quite different.
It can be easy to think of it as “us and them”, devout and sinners, light and dark. The truth is that it’s not as simple as encouraging the righteous to go and evangelise to those in the dark and bring them into the light- though we should do this.
The more complex, and I would suggest richer, reality is that this contrast of light and darkness can be found within ourselves. “If we say that we have no sin then we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us”.
None of us are pure light, none of us are purely good. Infact all of us have our own hidden sins, our secrets and inner darknesses. Though outwardly we may have fellowship, inwardly we can remain trapped in loneliness, as Bonhoeffer aptly observed. To hide this darkness means to restrict where the light can shine, or else the darkness will be seen.
Growth, then, means to allow the light of Christ to expose our sins first to ourselves and then to confess them before God and, where appropriate, with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
The hoped for transformation and renewal of our hearts, bodies, minds and even our lives is therefore nothing less than an invasion of our darkness by light. A single flame stands in the dark as a trained swordsman in a ramshackle fort of bandits.
The darkness shall not overcome the light, nor shall ‘the gates of hell’ prevail against the steady march of the kingdom as we find ourselves claimed by the Lord of Life to be his beloved children.
Let us not live in loneliness, sin and darkness.
Let us live in fellowship, freedom and light – to the glory of the name of Jesus.