Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Example of Bonhoeffer

Prior to Hitler's taking over supreme power in Germany, Bonhoeffer had written about the church's role in the state. He outlined "three possible ways in which the church can act towards the state."
The first way was to question the state regarding its actions and their legitimacy - to help the state be the state as God has ordained. The second way - and here he took a bold leap - was "to aid the victims of state action." He said that the church "has an unconditional obligation to the victims of any ordering of society." And before that sentence was over, he took another leap, far bolder than the first - in fact, some ministers walked out - by declaring that the church "has an unconditional obligation to the victims of any ordering of society, even if they do not belong to the Christian community." Everyone knew that Bonhoeffer was talking about the Jews, including Jews who were not baptized Christians...
The third way the church can act toward the state, he said,"is not just to bandage the victims under the wheel, but to put a spoke in the wheel itself." The translation is awkward, bu he meant that a stick must be jammed into the spokes of the wheel to stop the vehicle. It is sometimes not enough to help those crushed by the evil actions of a state, at some point the church must directly take action against the state to stop it from perpetrating evil. This, he said, is permitted only when the church sees its very existence threatened by the state, and when the state ceases to be the state as defined by God.
In the spring of 1933, Bonhoeffer was declaring it the duty of the church to stand up for the Jews. This would have seemed radical to even staunch allies, espeically since the Jews had not begun to suffer the horrors they would suffer in a few years. Bonhoeffer's three conclusions - that the church must question the state, help the state's victims, and work against the state, if necessary - were too much for almost everyone. But for him they were inescapable. In time, he would do all three.

- Bonhoeffer, Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy - by Eric Metaxas

Bonhoeffer was preaching in this way in German churches before and after Hitler and the Nazis came to power. He was considered radical and very few pastors supported him. Most honestly thought that Hitler would re-build the German Christian church, allying church and state, in a way that would benefit the church. Bonhoeffer saw clearly that Hitler meant to usurp the authority that rightly belonged to God alone.

Today we consider pastors and priests too radical if they speak about abortion clearly from the pulpit, if they address the issue of sexual sin, if they pronounce the Biblical commandments of "thou shalt no kill" and "thou shalt not commit adultery". Tolerance and political correctness rule our churches, just as they did in the Germany of the 1930's.

But in retrospect, whose writings do we read today that inspire us? I don't know of a single pastor who toed the Nazi line whose writings are held in respect now; but Bonhoeffer remains like a light in the darkness. Surely he is an example to our pastors now, an example of how one should preach the Christian message when the state is undermining those very principles.

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