It is found on Campus Crosswalk…
Our Fall theme is; “Get a Life!” The Dietrich Bonhoeffer story fits better with a “Give a Life” theme. Yet, as Christians, we know what Bonhoeffer knew (and what Jesus taught and practiced); that to get a life, one must give it!
“Wait with me, I beg you! Let me embrace you long and tenderly, let me kiss you and love you and stroke the sorrow from your brow.”
No, this is not an excerpt from a Harlequin romance.These are the impassioned longings of a champion of radical Christian discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, as he wrote from a Nazi prison to his young fiancee, Maria von Wedemeycr. Instead of living happily ever after with his beloved Maria, he was eventually executed for treason.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) had a brilliant career in theology ahead of him. At seventeen, he began his studies at Tubingen, Germany. He earned his doctorate in theology from the University of Berlin at age 21. Then, at 24, he qualified to teach there.
When Adolf Hitler took power, many pastors and theologians yielded to Nazi interference in church affairs. Not Dietrich. For him, there could be no German-Christian compromise with Hitler. He signed the Barmen Declaration, which declared independence from Hitler’s state and from the co-opted church. He helped create the independent “Confessing Church” in Germany.
In 1935, he created and directed a clandestine seminary in Finkenwald (Pomerania) for training young pastors in Christian discipleship. There, he shared life together with about 25 young men devoted to God. It was closed down by the Nazis in 1937 but not before he wrote two classics: “The Cost of Discipleship” and “Life Together.” He was officially forbidden to publish or speak publicly but he continued to work for the resistance to the Third Reich.
In 1943, Bonhoeffer’s record of resistance and his involvement in smuggling Jews out of Germany safely into Switzerland (the “U7” operation) got him arrested. Just before he went to prison, he became engaged to Maria. He wrote love letters from his cell but his plans were never to be. After two years in prison, it was learned that he played a part in a failed Hitler assassination attempt. He was executed by special order of Heinrich Himmler on April 9, 1945 at the age of 39, just a few weeks prior to Hitler’s death and the end of World War II.
One witness said the Bonhoeffer died, “brave and composed.” Nine years earlier, he wrote; “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” These were more than mere words to him. Bonhoeffer’s practical courage was a profound compliment to his scholarly brilliance. From him we learn that real Christianity is not just having correct ideas about God, but following Him at all cost. In the words of the third century preacher and author, Tertullian, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”
Getting a life is something you cannot do alone.
The Christian classic, Life Together, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, outlines the essential principles of Christian fellowship, gleaned in the backdrop of the pre-war German underground. At a time when Hitler’s hate was on the rise, Dietrich lifted up Christ’s love both on paper and as a pastor within a community of faith. He believed that God bestows brotherhood upon us for a reason: We are our brother’s keepers.
Some aspects of Bonhoeffer’s late theological writings may seem controversial or unclear, but Life Together is about as solidly biblical as anything he wrote. His Christ-centered premise is as follows: “Without Christ there is discord between God and man and between man and man . . . Christ opened up the way to God and to our brother.” (p. 23).
In Christian fellowship, we mediate the presence of Jesus to each other. The Christ in one’s own heart is weaker than the Christ found in fellowship.
Bonhoeffer begins Life Together by quoting the Psalmist; “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.” (Psalm 133:1). At a time when there was precious little in Germany that was good and pleasant, he saw and experienced the sweetness of Christian fellowship.
Life Together offers a healthy taste of practical theology. Don’t look for fanciful dreaming about the bliss of fellowship from Bonhoeffer. Instead, he praises the daily practice of Bible reading, prayer, table fellowship and work. He recognized the huge impact of the truthful tongue, the listening ear, the helping hand, and other practical resources that sweeten Christian fellowship.
To Bonhoeffer, life together brings with it a charge to tame our tongues. The tongue is too lethal a weapon to fail to keep it in strict training, for the sake of others.
Life together also calls for singing together: “It is not you that sings, it is the church that is singing.” (p. 61).
Life together also requires regular intercession: “I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me.“ (p. 86).
Finally, Christian fellowship shows how the hand speaks louder than the mouth. It teaches us not place too much trust in verbal proclamation if our lives do not measure up.
He ends the book with a challenge to practice the confession of sin. There can be no Christian fellowship where confession of sin is smothered or concealed. For Bonhoeffer, the worst sort of loneliness grips those who are alone with their sin. Since we are not called into Christian community in order to be lonely, we must practice confession. To withhold confession is the divide the bride of Christ. We can be together without confession but we cannot have life together without it.
No wonder the German church that resisted Hitler was called the “Confessing Church.”
Here are some Bonhoeffer quotes that I cannot improve upon. Just listen:
Joel Mark Solliday, M.Div., is the editor of Campus CrossWalk and the pulpit minister of the Brooklyn Center Church of Christ in Minnesota. A Pepperdine graduate, he later worked in their Campus Life Office and at ACU as a Missionary in Residence. He earned his M.Div. at Fuller Theological Seminary.