25 February 2009


Well, it's only fitting that on this Ash Wednesday I must eat some (more) crow, that is, in addition to the usual reminder of returning to dust as ashes were placed on my head. About what? About a Dietrich Bonhoeffer quote that I posted last August. For some reason I thought that the quote about Christ building His Church came from Life Together - at least that's what I thought at some point when I retrieved the quote from somewhere and saved it in the "Quotes" folder on my hard drive, whenever I happened to do that.

A while back I went skimming through Life Together, searching for the page number - you know, finally to make my quote file complete and accurate. But, alas, I couldn't find the quote. At the time I thought that I just didn't skim carefully enough. So I put it on the "To Do Later/Whenever" list. And wouldn't you know it, Pr. Landskroener emailed and asked for the exact source of the quote, since he had had the same problem with his optical skimming scanners.

Well, I was wrong. (What do you expect from a sinner?) I'm man enough to admit it. (No, I won't wander off into that little joke about a man being out in the woods all alone, speaking, and still being wrong. :-) Here's the correct source, or at least what I can glean from "googling" the quote. (I guess one can "google" just about anything these days.)

That great quote from Bonhoeffer is not from Life Together, but from a sermon on Matthew 16:13-18 titled "Peter and the Church Struggle (Church election sermon, Berlin), July 23, 1933." Evidently, it shows up originally in a book titled No Rusty Sword, but I found it here, in a book called A Testament to Freedom: The Essential Writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (just scroll to pp. 215-216 if the link doesn't take you straight there).

In case you don't want to wade through the scanned pages at Google Book Search, here's the quote again, this time with corrected source info. It's always a good reminder of our true life, purpose, and mission in the Church.

“It is not we who build. [Christ] builds the church. No man builds the church but Christ alone. Whoever is minded to build the church is surely well on the way to destroying it; for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it. We must confess—He builds. We must proclaim—He builds. We must pray to Him—that He may build.

“We do not know His plan. We cannot see whether His is building or pulling down. It may be that the times which by human standards are times of collapse are for Him the great times of construction. It may be that the times which from a human point of view are great times for the church are times when it is pulled down.

“It is a great comfort which Christ gives to His Church: you confess, preach, bear witness to Me and I alone will build where it pleases Me. Do not meddle in what is My province. Do what is given to you to do well and you have done enough. But do it well. Pay no heed to views and opinions. Don’t ask for judgments. Don’t always be calculating what will happen. Don’t always be on the lookout for another refuge! Church, stay a church! But church, confess, confess, confess! Christ alone is your Lord; from His grace alone can you live as you are. Christ builds” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, "Peter and the Church Struggle (Church election sermon, Berlin), July 23, 1933," quoted in A Testament to Freedom, pp. 215-216).

Tomorrow I'll have to come back and read the whole sermon. Perhaps there are some other gems for citing (yes, with the correct source reference given).


  1. didn't Staupitz tell Luther not to come back to confession until he had something interesting to confess?


  2. Are you telling me to sin more boldly? :-)

    It's not just owning up to my mistake (confession, if you wish); it's also setting the record straight so I don't mislead anyone.

    Perhaps that's just the "Monk-side" of my personality coming out (you know, like the obsessive-compulsive "defective detective" played by Tony Shalub?).