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I preached on the subject of marriage this morning at Harvey Oaks Baptist Church. Though Dietrich Bonhoeffer never married, he did share some great insights on the subject. Ben Domenech put it nicely below…
|Bonhoeffer’s Sacrificial Love|
|by Ben Domenech|
|In May 1943, German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a letter to a young bride and groom, advising them on the nature of the union they were about to enter:
While his counsel is powerful, the truly compelling part of this story begins when we consider where this letter was written, and who was doing the writing. This was no sunshine musing from a mere relationship counselor, but a wedding sermon offered from a prison cell, written by a hero waiting for the inevitable day of his painful execution.
This is a story about faithfulness, holiness, and sacrificial love.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born on Feb. 4, 1906, in Breslau, Poland. In a family of 10, his parents taught Dietrich the foundational principles of Christian humanism from an early age. By the time he was 14, he chose a path of theological study; at 18, he was learning from the teachers of the day in Berlin; and at 24, he was lecturing in their stead.
As an academic and a pastor, Bonhoeffer impressed the wise men of his era. At Union Theological Seminary in America and at Chichester in Britain, he endeavored to explain the plight of the German Church and the need for ecumenical revival. His message inspired and moved people, who lent help to his underground Christian training college in Germany.
When it became clear that war was coming to his land, Bonhoeffer’s friends urged him to leave Germany, or risk imprisonment and death. For a time, he listened, and came to New York prior to the outbreak of World War II. Yet as Bonhoeffer walked around the streets of the city, he became convinced that, like Jonah fleeing from Nineveh, he had refused the call of God to fight the Nazis from within Germany. And he knew what that call meant — after all, as he once wrote: “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.”
So Bonhoeffer boarded a ship and sailed back toward his homeland and his doom.
He was conflicted about his role as a Christian caught in the horror of Nazi Germany. The state had engulfed and bent the church, as an entity, to its will. The church leadership was made up of men compromised, helpless, or serving as willing participants. And those church leaders who spoke out against the villainy pre- and post-Kristallnacht were either brutally murdered or sent to concentration camps.
Bonhoeffer and his allies could not abandon their fellow Christians in Germany. They made the decision to act, as members of a faith-based resistance, to do whatever they could in this horrible situation. As Bonhoeffer described it:
Bonhoeffer was still, at root, an avowed pacifist. But while he worked in peaceful ways as a double agent of the Nazis, helping 14 Jews escape from Germany, he knew that work was insufficient. He refused to be a silent witness — so he and his allies began to aid the efforts of the German resistance to assassinate Hitler. Faced with the greatest evil of the modern age, they committed themselves to jamming a spoke in the wheel of the state.
Could it be right for a Christian to kill an evil man in the defense of others? Bonhoeffer could not reconcile his non-violent beliefs and the calling of the church to worship God and minister to mankind on this earth with his desire to end another’s life — even if it was the life of a vile murdering dictator.
Yet he also knew that God calls us to work His will, not ours; he knew that God grieved for His children, and that the place of the Christian is by God’s side. Christ is the Lamb of God, who comes to take away the sins of the world. But He is also the Lion of Judah, who sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven, and who will come again in glory to judge the quick and the dead. He is not a non-divisive figure — He comes not to bring the conflict between good and evil to a diplomatic solution, but to a final resolution. C.S. Lewis’ dictum still holds: the Christ is not a tame lion.
Ultimately, Bonhoeffer recognized this truth. As a double agent, he was familiar with Hitler’s works — he knew the true degree of Nazi atrocities long before the rest of the world did. And he believed that the only way of stopping the Reich was by undertaking a mission that would require him to aid in the shedding of another man’s blood. He was convinced that doing any less would be to fail in loving his suffering neighbors.
So Bonhoeffer labored to end the war and the Holocaust. It is in that labor that he was arrested, jailed, and eventually executed — in April 1945, one last casualty of a dying, desperate Reich, stabbing from hell’s heart. We have his letters and his writings from prison thanks to the respect shown by his guards — who could not help but recognize the small man who stood as a giant.
Bonhoeffer’s decision, as emotionally wracked as it was, remains a fundamentally righteous position. There will always be evil men, and there will always be good men. For both, it is up to God to judge their salvation or damnation. But do not allow yourself to believe that He stands neutral between them. Consider John 3:
Bonhoeffer made the right choice. He took the ship back to his Ninevah. Had he taken it to the success he imagined, we might remember him today as a man of God who averted the greatest tragedy in the history of modern man. He took that ship instead to martyrdom, to the concentration camp, to the grave. But God did not forsake him, even in death. As Bonhoeffer wrote from the jail: “A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes … and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent.”
When it comes to our attitude toward marriage and the call to love our neighbor, the lesson Bonhoeffer has for us is not an easy one. It’s a lesson that Christian marriage cannot serve as a haven from the outside world or a justification to set aside the duties of faith. It’s a lesson of the enormous responsibility of a union of two souls to display the sacrificial love of Christ. We cannot underestimate the power of two hearts, united in faithfulness to one another, to minister to a fallen world, a sentiment to which Bonhoeffer pointed us:
|Copyright © 2006 Ben Domenech. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. This article was published on Boundless.org on February 9, 2006.|
I found this quote to be a good supplement to my post last week on “Holy Humdrum.” It’s from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community:
The beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them.
We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths and canceling our plans by sending us people with claims and petitions. We may pass them by, preoccupied with our more important tasks, as the priest passed by the man who had fallen among thieves, perhaps–reading the Bible.
© Copyright by Trevin Wax
Dietrich Bonhoeffer required that his students at the Preacher’s Seminary at Finkenwalde spent time each day in silence and meditation of the Scriptures. Most of the students protested this…
They were not yet used to doing theology other just in their heads. Dietrich, who himself was anything but hostile to reason, compelled them to become aware of both body and soul through meditation. For some people this was strange, and for some even painful (Renate Wind, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Spoke in the Wheel, 102).
How many evangelical Christians consistently meditate on God’s Word? I have to admit that this is the area Bonhoeffer has influenced me the most in. I am thankful that he stressed the importance of this habit.
Say it isn’t so!
Before his return from England, Dietrich had visited several monasteries and communiites. From them he attempted to adopt some guidelines for the seminary:
Morning and evening prayer, periods of meditation and silence, and the rule that there should be no talk about a brother in his absence.
(Renate Wind, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Spoke in the Wheel, 102).
Bonhoeffer is helping me figure out some spiritual practices for us at the Rutba house . I figure his work would be a great place to learn how to do this intentional Christian community thing since he put it into practice at his seminary community. I read his book called Prayerbook of the Bible: An Introduction to the Psalms for some prayer guidance. I don’t know if it is even fair to call it a “book” as it is only 70 pages. The book seemed innocent enough. In it he lays out how he and his community read the Psalms and why we should also. But this seemingly innocuous booklet got him in big trouble with the Nazis and mainline German Christians.
In the mid-1930s German anti-Semitism was on the rise. The German Reich was attempting to rid the country of all Jewish marks in the name of nationalism. Sadly, this poison made its way into the Christian church. In order to find favor with the Nazis, Christian theologians re-introduced the ancient Marcionite practice of making the Old Testament dispensable for Christian practice and New Testament interpretation. The German church and the state partnered in purging the land of Jewish traditions. This was the climate when the young Bonhoeffer started teaching and pastoring at the Finkenwalde seminary.
At Finkenwalde Bonhoeffer made the discipline of prayer and meditation a vital part of theological training and the sustaining practice of their illegal Christian community. Their prayer book was the Psalter. Bonhoeffer’s Prayerbook gives us his learned experience of their communal practice of praying the Psalms. He wrote the book shortly after the close of the seminary by the Gestapo. He wanted to pass on what he had learned through their life together at Finkenwalde. At the time of the publication (1940) Bonhoeffer was under heavy scrutiny. He was required to present any work to the Reich Board for the Regulation of Literature before he could publish it. Bonhoeffer was heavily fined when the Board discovered the nature of the work (theological exegesis on the Old Testament) and that he published without their consent. This book on the Psalms made a politically subversive statement. He submitted that the Psalms, known as a distinctly Jewish book, was the prayer book of Jesus Christ and therefore necessary for the Christian practice of prayer. Thus Bonhoeffer portrayed Jesus Christ, the Christian savior, as a 1st century practicing Jew. As Christians were trying to distance themselves from Jews, Bonhoeffer told them that they were really bedfellows. In the introduction of the book Geffrey B. Kelly describes how Bonhoeffer’s book on the Psalms was a significant political statement:
Against the quasi-apocalyptic background of Europe at war, a church divided, and his own nation engaged in a malignant national policy of genocide, Bonhoeffer’s study of the Psalms offers protest and hope. This book, coming from one who is representative of that small group of resisters acting at great risk and seemingly in vain to restore true Christianity in Germany, stands in sobering contrast to the blind, flag-waving patriotism and nationalistic sloganeering that cheered on senseless violence against innocent people. (p.153)
I briefly sketch the context so as to make clear how this book fits into Bonhoeffer’s life experience. It is important that we realize that behind every word is Bonhoeffer’s concern that the German church has abandoned the gospel for the sake of survival under Nazi rule. He spent his short life calling the Church to return to faithfulness to Christ in the midst of enemies for the sake of the enemies. If Bonhoeffer thought his message was worth possible imprisonment then it is definitely worth spending my time reading it.
Central to Bonhoeffer’s book on the Psalms is that we humans don’t know how to pray. When left to our own devices we can’t find the words of true prayer. We must join the disciples in asking Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray!” (Lk.11:1). It is with those words that Bonhoeffer begins his book. Bonhoeffer has a keen sense for our hopelessness without Christ. Sin has permeated our whole being, even to the point of affecting our ability to discern what we really need. Bonhoeffer writes, “It is not just that for which we ourselves want to pray that is important, but that for which God wants us to pray. Not the poverty of our heart, but the richness of God’s word, ought to determine our prayer” (p.157). We are not the best judges of what we need to pray for. God tells us what we need and tells us how to begin to align our prayers with what God wants us to need. This is why Bonhoeffer turns us to the Psalms. He calls the Psalter “the great school of prayer.” In the Psalter we learn the language of prayer. There is a discipline to the practice of prayer. It does not come easy. Why would we expect learning to talk with God would be easier than learning to drive. Learning to drive took me days of sitting at the wheel with my mom sitting by my side graciously showing how not to stall every time I let out the clutch. I stalled all the time at first, but slowly I started getting the hang of it. This is what Bonhoeffer means when he talks about the Psalms as “the school of prayer.” His analogy is better than mine:
The child learns to speak because the parent speaks to the child. The child learns the language of the parent. So we learn to speak to God because God has spoken and speaks to us. In the language of the Father in heaven God’s children learn to speak with God. Repeating God’s own words, we begin to pray to God. We ought to speak to God, and God wishes to hear us, not in the false and confused language of our heart but in the clear and pure language that God has spoken to us in Jesus Christ. (p.156)
We learn to speak by repeating God’s words to us and for us. The Psalms are God’s gracious gift to us. Through their words we learn how to speak the language of God back to God. We submit our self-centeredness to God and allow him to shape our desires. But did you notice the twist Bonhoeffer throws in at the end? This divine language we find in Psalms is “the clear and pure language that God has spoken to us in Jesus Christ.” How is that possible? Bonhoeffer makes the connection between God’s Word (Holy Scripture) and the Word made flesh (Jesus Christ). The language God speaks is the Word, Jesus Christ. All that God has spoken is through the Word. Thus these Psalms are given to us by God through his Word. Bonhoeffer writes,
God’s speech in Jesus Christ meets us in the Holy Scriptures. If we want to pray with assurance and joy, then the word of Holy Scripture must be the firm foundation of our prayer. Here we know that Jesus Christ, the Word of God, teaches us to pray. The words that come from God will be the steps on which we find our way to God. (p.156)
When we pray in this language of God we are praying with Jesus Christ. He is our priest who is before the throne of the Father, petitioning the Father for us. Thus when we pray the Psalms Christ joins us in our prayers. “We pray together with Jesus Christ, prayers in which Christ includes us, and through which Christ brings us before the face of God. Otherwise there are no true prayers, for only in and with Jesus Christ can we truly pray” (p.157).
This is why Bonhoeffer dedicated the prayer life of Finkenwalde to the Psalms. They learned how to pray from Jesus through the canonical prayer book: the Psalter. So how is this shaping our prayer life at the Rutba House? We have committed ourselves to daily morning and evening corporate prayer where we read and pray psalms together. We follow the assigned Psalms for the day from the Book of Common Prayer. In the morning we have an extended time for silent meditation on the morning passage. I have found it significant that the first and last words from my lips are prayed Scriptures. The morning prayer shapes my whole focus for the day and the evening prayer gives me a chance to offer up my day in thankful prayer to God. Please join the communion of saints in “the school of prayer.”
The Sunday before Martin Luther King Day, I traveled to Houston to speak at a rally designed to protest the opening of Planned Parenthood’s largest U.S. facility. Over 10,000 gathered at Grace Community Church, led by Dr. Steve Riggle, for an evening praise and prayer rally. The crowd consisted of 70 percent twenty-somethings and an incredibly, racially diverse group approximately 60 percent white, 30 percent Hispanic, and 10 percent black. On MLK Day a 10,000-plus group gathered at Catholic Charismatic Center in Houston once again for an additional prayer meeting and rally. Unfortunately, only 3,000 of us were allowed to march near the Planned Parenthood facility.
In my opening words, I recounted my family’s civil rights legacy. This legacy includes many elements: a state trooper threatening my father at gunpoint for getting involved in voter registration, his discovery of several men’s lynched bodies hanging from trees as he worked his paper route and the story of a man in his town set on fire and dragged through his town square.
After sharing that brief glimpse into some of the horrors of my family’s background, I let the audience know that African Americans believe Planned Parenthood, which started with groups like the KKK, continues its targeted genocide focused on blacks and other minorities. Many people are unaware that Margaret Sanger, Planned Parenthood’s founder, was an ideological soul mate of Hitler – part of what was known as the Eugenics Movement.
I told the group that it was important to grasp the progression of the Eugenics Movement. Margaret Sanger wrote in her first handbook, What Every Boy and Girl Should Know, these ominous words, “It is a vicious cycle; ignorance breeds poverty and poverty breeds ignorance. There is only one cure for both, and that is to stoop breeding these things. Stop bringing to birth children whose inheritance cannot be one of health or intelligence. Stop bringing into the world children whose parents cannot provide for them.”
As the movement grew, Madison Grant (a Yale educated lawyer) wrote a popular book in 1916, which includes the diabolical root concepts, which led to the sterilization of individuals from black and other groups who were deemed to have arrested development or retardation. In The Passing of the Great Race he made the following incredible statements:
“A rigid system of selection through the elimination of those who are weak or unfit — in other words social failures — would allow us to solve the whole question in one hundred years, as well as enable us to get rid of the undesirables who crowd our jails, hospitals, and insane asylums. The individual himself can be nourished, educated, and protected by the community during his lifetime, but the state through sterilization must see to it that his line stops with him, or else future generations will be cursed with an ever-increasing load of misguided sentimentalism. This is a practical, merciful, and inevitable solution of the whole problem, and can be applied to an ever widening circle of social discards, beginning always with the criminal, the diseased, and the insane, and extending gradually to types which may be called weaklings rather than defectives, and perhaps ultimately to worthless race types.”
When this book was translated into German in 1925, one of its early fans was none other than Adolf Hitler. Hitler wrote to Grant, “…this book is my bible.” We all know that Hitler became the mastermind behind the systematic plan to destroy the Jews based on the revelations in this book.
With this background in mind, I ended my remarks sharing that my own wife’s two pre-marriage abortions may have caused the two miscarriages she had during our marriage. More specifically, I referenced that we have had two wonderful, accomplished daughters – but no boys. I feel that one of the miscarried babies was definitely a son – A son that I hope I will meet some day in heaven.
I secretly choked back my tears and finished my speech. As an African American, I am outraged that the facility is strategically located in the geographic center of a four-community circle. Three of these communities are home to over 80 percent Hispanics, while the third is home to an 80 percent black population. Once again Planned Parenthood, who receives one third of its 1 billion dollar annual budget from federal funds, has set its sights on aborting the babies of “inferior races.”
Before our press conference, we walked around the entire complex. This building is the largest abortion center in North America. Many of my pro-life associates have dubbed it an “abortion super center.” They are especially concerned about the clinic’s ambulatory surgical unit. This unit can perform abortions up to 25 weeks of gestation under Texas law, instead of the 15th-week-limit allowed by current Planned Parenthood facilities in the region. Although Planned Parenthood leaders have attempted to minimize the size and function of the center, they claim that only one third of the facility will actually be used for “health services.”
They justify their work by citing the fact that their practice is legal under the law. Further, they say that one out of three women in the United States will have an abortion by the time they are 45 years old, remarking that the safe practices of today’s clinics are far better than the deaths and wounding that have historically occurred from home abortions. Finally, longevity is often this group’s ultimate claim to modern-day authenticity. Planned Parenthood spokespersons in Houston were quick to remind the press that their group has operated in Houston for 75 years.
Those of us who gathered decided that we must campaign against abortion in Houston and the rest of the nation. Many of the leaders who participated with us have committed to promote domestic adoptions and to open crisis pregnancy centers around the nation. Preventing abortions is impossible unless we also promote safe births, adoptions and a community of caring that promotes life.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.
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Dietrich Bonhoeffer, at the Preacher’s Seminary at Finkenwalde preferred to be called “Pastor” or “Brother Bonhoeffer,” was faced with the task not only of teaching but also of guiding in confined surroundings the social life of a group of very different grown-up men with minds of their own.
(Renate Wind, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Spoke in the Wheel, 102).
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a pastor and theologian who lived and worked in Nazi Germany. Bonhoeffer lived a courageous life, and is considered one of the most influential Christians of the 20th century, even though there are sadly many Christians who know nothing or very little about him.
Bonhoeffer was one of the Christians brave enough to speak out against the holocaust, when the general German Christian response at the time was apathy or even complicity. Bonhoeffer had a rare boldness, a fiery courage that only God can give. He spoke sternly against the church’s apathy concerning the holocaust. Perhaps one Bonhoeffer’s most controversial statements was something he said to a group of seminary students he was teaching. He remarked that “Only those who cry out for the Jews may also sing Gregorian chant.” Only those who cried out on behalf of the oppressed could sing in church. This concept is reminiscent to the daring words of Amos the prophet, speaking on God’s behalf:
“Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing
To not speak out on behalf of the oppressed was hypocrisy, and God made it clear that all our worship means nothing to Him if we do not speak His truth and share His love. We are as those who honor Him with our lips, but worship other gods with the rest of our bodies. We may praise Him with our song, but deny Him by our silence.
Bonhoeffer also had strong words about abortion. In one of his most important works, Ethics, he writes:
“Destruction of the embryo in the mother’s womb is a violation of the right to live which God has bestowed upon this nascent life. To raise the question whether we are here concerned already with a human being or not is merely to confuse the issue. The simple fact is that God certainly intended to create a human being and that this nascent human being has been deliberately deprived of his life. And that is nothing but murder.”
Far be it from me to presume to know what Bonhoeffer would say to us in our day, but looking at these two aspects of Bonhoeffer’s beliefs sure makes one wonder if he would tell us something similar about our approach to the issue of abortion, as he told the German Christians about the plight of the Jews. Maybe he would tell us to listen to the plight of the unborn more than the sound of our own praise.
If the Church in Germany was going to be strong during the reign of Hitler, then the Preacher’s Seminary at Finkenwalde had to be more than just a place that passed out theological knowledge…
Again Dietrich (Bonhoeffer) saw his task as being more than just communicating specialist theological knowledge. The combination of life and teaching took on a new quality at Finkenwalde. There was no only different church teaching–there was also development of a new life-style. For none of the candidates who received their training from the notorious opposition theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer could count on being a duly installed pastor of the official church.
As they could hardly know that the “thousand year Reich” would last only twelve years, they had to be clear about their own personal perspectives.
(Renate Wind, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Spoke in the Wheel, 101-102).