Monday 4 February 2013

The Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

As a result of being involved in a church planting work in Berlin, German church history is of great interest to me. In the first church planting study in September 2012, we had a PhD student who joined us at the study who was doing research on Bonhoeffer's ecclesiology. He recommended a biography to me called "Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance" by Ferdinand Sclingensiepen (this is accurate and scholarly). There is also a similar biography by Eric Metaxas, which I am told is very good and it is perhaps an easier read.

While we may not agree with all of Bonhoeffer's theology, he and other German Christians stood up to Nazism at great personal cost to themselves. I did not realise it until I read this book, how much German Christians suffered under Nazi rule and how many Christians and ministers were imprisoned and killed for the their commitment to the Gospel of God. It is perhaps a little known truth of World War II.

One thing that struck me was that Hitler would pass new laws and then make it illegal for anyone to hold a contrary opinion. This struck me. Why? Ironically, we face a similar situation in the UK and many Western nations today. Our governments offer subliminal persecution and ostracism to anyone who dissents to their value system. Whether it be evolution, atheism, homosexuality or other matters. It is virtually illegal in the UK today to stand up and say that homosexuality is wrong or sin (as the Bible teaches) and to do so is to be accused of being homophobic. Freedom of speech has fast disappeared in the name of "freedom of licentiousness".

As a young person I grew up under the threat of nuclear war between East and West. Russia and the East were presented as evil and mainly this was due to their atheistic communism. The bizarre scenario today is that communism has mainly collapsed with the exception of China (where it pursues materialistic communism but it is still atheistic), and yet our own Western governments have taken on the same agenda of secular atheism. Perhaps the West has had good times for too long and the church is already facing persecution as an EU rule against Christians who want to exercise liberty of conscience in their jobs has recently proved. In this respect Bonhoeffer has much to encourage us with.

The church are called to be "Salt and Light" (Matthew 5:13-16) in every generation, no matter what the pressures are to come against the truth of God. Jesus said "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" Matthew 5:10. Christ Jesus also promised his disciples that: "I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18). In many ways Bonhoeffer has much to offer us, to strengthen us in our witness, to encourage us to persevere in the faith, to be bold as a Christian, and to refuse to compromise in the face of anti-Christian teaching.

1 comment:

Bill Schweitzer said...

Kevin, very timely and useful thoughts. From from being told how to be more 'relevant', the church is in dire need of some spiritual preparation to remain faithful under persecution.