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For the Christian serves the fellowship of the Body of Christ and he cannot hide it from the world. He is called out of the world to follow Christ.

Dietrich BonhoefferThe Cost of Discipleship1961 edition, 289-290.

If the world despises one of the brethren, the Christian will love and serve him. If the world does him violence, the Christian will soccour and comfort him. If the world dishonours and insults him, the Christian will sacrifice  his own honour to cover his brother’s shame. 

Dietrich BonhoefferThe Cost of Discipleship1961 edition, 289.


Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The member of the Body of Christ has been delivered from the world and called out of it. He must give the world a visible proof of his calling, not only sharing in the Church’s worship and discipline, but also through the new fellowship of brotherly living.

Dietrich BonhoefferThe Cost of Discipleship1961 edition, 289.


For the past several years toward the end of the Lenten season, I have been reminded of the sad yet heroic life and times of the brave German theologian and scholar, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Although rarely discussed in popular culture, it was on April 8, 1945, that Bonhoeffer, the young, patriot pastor, led his last worship service one week after Easter at a church associated with the Flossenburg concentration camp in the isolated Bavaria town near the Czechoslovakian border.

So who exactly was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and what did he do nearly 70 years ago that he continues to be remembered as an exemplary proponent of the Christian faith?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Born Feb. 4, 1906, to Karl and Paula Bonhoeffer in the small town of Breslau in a part of Eastern Germany that is now Poland, the young Dietrich was home-schooled by his mother along with seven siblings. He went on to graduate with honors from the University of Berlin in 1927.

Too young to be ordained as a minister, in 1931 Bonhoeffer traveled to take a graduate degree from the Union Theological Seminary in New York City. While there, he studied under Reinhold Niebuhr, taught Sunday school at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, and began collecting African-American gospel spirituals.

In 1931 he joined the theological faculty of his alma mater, where his father had been a professor of psychiatry and neurology since 1912. As a lecturer in systematic theology, in 1933 when Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist regime came to power amid a conservative majority cabinet, Bonhoeffer became one of the first outspoken critics of the policies being promoted by the fledgling government.

It was not long before the tentacles of the Nazi regime extended deep into the German Lutheran and Protestant churches across Germany, professing it was race, not religion, that determined one’s civic identity and the character of a nation.

With the strong anti-Semitic wave of public opinion washing over Germany, Bonhoeffer joined with some 2,000 theologians and church men to form the Confessing Church and began making appeals to ecumenical organizations abroad regarding the evils deep within the Nazi government.

In 1935 he took a teaching position in a seminary on a remote Pomeranian estate but visited with his family in Berlin quite frequently.

At several times during 1933 and 1934, Bonhoeffer traveled to England teaching and hoping to garner support for the Confessing Church within Germany. At one point he had an opportunity to study with Mahatma Gandhi at his ashram but decided to return to Germany as the oppression of his organization increased.

From 1936 through 1938, he traveled secretly among the various seminaries within the Confessing Church, teaching young seminarians and preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The following year he returned to the U.S. for a time but became disenchanted.

With many of his friends urging him to stay out of Germany, he wrote to Niebuhr, “I must live through this difficult period of our national history with the Christian people of Germany … Christians in Germany are going to face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive, or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying our civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose.”

Returning to Germany in light of increased oppression of his church and associates, he was repeatedly harassed by the Nazis and was required to report his travels and activities to the Gestapo in 1940.

By 1941 he was forbidden to preach or publish within Germany.

Worked to end Third Reich, Hitler’s Reign
During this time he secretly joined the Abwehr, a German military intelligence operation, which was secretly behind efforts to assassinate Hitler and bring an end to the Third Reich.

Continuing to travel abroad under the cover of the Abwehr, Bonhoeffer functioned as a courier for the resistance movement, conveying information from within the Third Reich to his friends in England and raising money for his fellow churchmen in Germany.

With his brother-in-law Hans von Dohnanyi, he also assisted in the escape of 14 Jews to Switzerland.

In 1943, looking desperately for a means by which to discredit the Abwehr in a long-standing rivalry over control of foreign intelligence, Bonhoeffer, von Dohnanyi and others were arrested for subverting Nazi policy toward the Jews and misusing the Abwehr.

Apparently, when Gestapo agents searched Abwehr headquarters, they found a note discussing a planned trip to Rome to explain to church leaders why the assassination attempt upon Hitler’s life in March 1943 had failed.

For more than a year and a half, Bonhoeffer was imprisoned at Tegel military prison awaiting trial. Impressed by his faithfulness and his dynamic personality, prison guards frequently smuggled books, messages and visitors to see the jailed cleric.

For the rest of the post…

In Defense of Sports

by Barnabas Piper 


Last week I had the chance to sit down with some of the team at Desiring God to talk abouthow Christians should interact with sports. During the conversation we briefly touched on how easily sports can become an idol, whether it’s as an athlete or fan or a parent of an athlete. Overall, though, we explored how Christians can be involved in sports and the goodness of sports in culture as an expression of God’s creativity and the gifts he’s given people.

One Facebook commenter responded to the podcast with a perspective that many people share — sports seems “like a whole other religion.” He went on to describe the amount of excitement and money people pour into sports and how that ought to be poured into “the true battle we live in,” such as healing the sick, feeding the poor, and saving souls. He makes the point that sports clearly aren’t as important as these things.

This perspective is quite common and deserves a thoughtful response. At first blush it has merit, but it is not entirely accurate. Let me take his objections one by one.

“Sports is its own religion”

As we discussed on the podcast, sports can easily become an idol. But that does not make it an inherently bad thing. Money can be an idol. So can music; attend any concert and you will find worshippers there. Or family. Anything that we devote ourselves to can become an idol which can then become a religion; that is, it can become something which gives structure to our lives and determines our values. But the human ability to make idols out of anything does not make those things bad. And sports contain enormous good as a reflection of God’s creative power and the unique abilities he has poured into people as athletes, coaches, strategists, broadcasters, journalists, and more.

“People should devote their excitement and energy to things of eternal value”

Taken at face value, this sentence is true, but when you use it to parse sports (or other forms of entertainment) out of life it creates a false dichotomy. Sports offer rest and refreshment. The energy poured into them is not draining a person from doing things that “matter” — it is restoring them for work. Sports also offer a kind of community and connection to people that is difficult to duplicate. Whether it’s regular pick-up basketball games, rooting for the same team, or being softball teammates, sports bring people together. And people together is where real eternal ministry is done best.

“The money and time devoted to sports are better spent elsewhere, serving those in need”

Such an objection is worthy of consideration as a matter of conscience at the personal level, but it is not a black and white issue. It is always wise to ask whether I am giving what I ought, helping who I ought, and being generous as I ought.

For the rest of the article…

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

In the Church men look upon one another no longer as free men or slaves, as men or women, but as members of Christ’s body.

Dietrich BonhoefferThe Cost of Discipleship1961 edition, 288..

Jon Walker in his book, In Visible Fellowship: A Contemporary View of Bonhoeffer’s Classic Work:  Life Together writes in chapter 36, the final chapter, about the “Ministry of Communion”. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote…

It is the command of Jesus that none should come to the altar with a heart that is unreconciled to his brother. If this command of Jesus applies to every service of worship, indeed, to every prayer we utter, then it most certainly applies to reception of the Lord’s Supper. 

Walker writes that The Big Idea of the chapter is…

Communion is about the sharing of life. It is about knowing others and being known by others, about caring and being cared for on a deep and personal level. And, when we take Communion (The Lord’s Supper) together, we should reflect the life we share with one another because the Life of Christ is active in our hearts.

Walker added:

We cannot love like Jesus loves us unless we enter each other’s lives in an intimate and personal way.

…And so Jesus expects us to come up-close to each others.

…During the Last Supper, Jesus emphasizes the reality of our oneness with him, with the Father, and with each other; yet, we’ve lost that emphasis in the way we shares the Lord’s Supper (Communion) today. We’ve reduced it to a superficial ritual, where we focus entirely on the sacrifice of Jesus, but the exclusion of the oneness we are called to with each other. .

Don’t misunderstand, the death and resurrection of Jesus is the unimpeachable core of our relationship with God and each other. It is the very thing, the only thing, that brings us into communion with the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

…And so our communion with Christ should compel us into communion with each other.

…Jesus spent most of the Last Supper speaking about his love for us, and our oneness with him and the Father.

…Yet, somehow we’ve truncated the message into a memorial service for Jesus. We say, “Let’s remember what he did for us,” but then we stop before we get to the part where we’re supposed to remember what we should do for each other because we are in union with Christ… 

…To be like Jesus is…When we are united in Christ, we “can join together with one voice, giving praise and glory to God…” (Romans 15:6 NLT).

(Jon WalkerIn Visible Fellowship: A Contemporary View of Bonhoeffer’s Classic Work: Life Together, Chapter 36).

Jon Walker in his book, In Visible Fellowship: A Contemporary View of Bonhoeffer’s Classic Work:  Life Together writes in chapter 35 about the dangers of confession. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote…

Only the person who has so humbled himself can hear a brother’s confession without harm.

Walker writes that The Big Idea of the chapter is…

And we’re not qualified to hear the confessions of others of special insight or training or unique spiritual training on our part. We’re qualified to hear each other’s confessions because we are sinners who know sin and its destructive power, and we now know Jesus and his redemptive power.

Walker added:

Bonhoeffer says there are two dangers to watch for as our community practices biblical confession.

First, we should never designate one person as the only person to hear confessions. Confession isn’t about setting up some special, spiritual leader who acts as a mediator between God and us. Jesus is already our mediator and he paid a bloody price so that we could have a direct and intimate relationship with the Father. 

…Second, we should guard against turning confession into a pious work. In other words, we don’t confess to impress. We don’t confess in order to appear spiritual. 

…Jesus is…The blood of Jesus purifies us from every every sin and brings us into fellowship with him.

To be like Jesus…Because we are in fellowship with Jesus, we are authorized to help bring one another into the light, where God purifies us from our wrong doing and where we can “have fellowship with one another.” 

(Jon WalkerIn Visible Fellowship: A Contemporary View of Bonhoeffer’s Classic Work: Life Together, Chapter 35)

Jon Walker in his book, In Visible Fellowship: A Contemporary View of Bonhoeffer’s Classic Work:  Life Together writes in chapter 34 about whom do we confess to in the fellowship of the church. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote…

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Anybody who lives beneath the Cross and who has discerned in the Cross of Jesus the utter wickedness of all men and of his own heart will find there is no sin that can ever be alien to him. Anybody who has once been horrified by the dreadfulness of his own sin that nailed Jesus to the Cross will no longer be horrified by even the rankest sins of a brother. 

Walker writes that The Big Idea of the chapter is…

Only those who live under the cross of Jesus can hear confession. And only those who confess can hear the confession of sin.

Walker added:

…Confessing to one another helps us see each other under the Cross of Jesus, where we are judged, yet granted mercy through the blood of Jesus Christ.

The Cross pushes us past our harsh human criticism and weak indulgences toward “the spirit of divine severity and divine love., We enter into the reality of grace–that we need God’s grace because of our sin–an in that reality, we see the death of our sin.

…We hear confession from one another so that each of us in the fellowship can experience this new gladness: “Give me again the joy that comes from your salvation, and make me willing to obey you. Then I will teach sinners your commands, and they will turn back to you.” (Psalm 51:12-13) 

…To be like Jesus…We must be broken and humbled before the Father in order to hear the confession of others…

(Jon WalkerIn Visible Fellowship: A Contemporary View of Bonhoeffer’s Classic Work: Life Together, Chapter 34)

Lois and I are enjoying the weekend in Nebraska City at the Lied Lodge for the Heartland Converge District Pastor’s Renewal Retreat. We look forward to this weekend every year.

April 2013


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