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by Rev. Dr. Peter Walker, Principal, United Theological College

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed on the order of Heinrich Himmler seventy-five years ago in a Nazi concentration camp in Flossenburg, only days before its liberation, in April 1945. Bonhoeffer had known from the age of sixteen that he wanted to study theology. He died having fully expended himself in that calling. And in so doing, he has become an inspiration to generations of Christians. As his gravestone reads: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Witness to Jesus Christ.

In 1935, Bonhoeffer accepted a call from the Confessing Church, an alliance of faithful resistance to Nazism, to lead an underground seminary for its pastors. There, in Finkenwalde, he wrote Life Together in 1938. Now a devotional classic, Life Together was first of all a guide to life in Christian community – a reflection for his underground seminarians. Within it, Bonhoeffer explores the joy and struggle of community lived in and through Jesus Christ; a spiritual and even divine reality, manifest in human fellowship, and marked by Bible reading, communal singing, sharing a table, prayers, and daily work.

Yet the central chapter of this beautiful book about being together is titled ‘The Day Alone’.

Hearing the voice of God

Bonhoeffer writes, ‘Let those who cannot be alone beware of community’. The noise and activity of life together may crowd out the voice we sometimes need to hear alone, the voice we might sometimes only hear alone – the voice of God.  Yet with a balancing wisdom, Bonhoeffer follows soon after with its opposite. “The reverse is also true”, he writes. “Let those who are not in community beware of being alone”. The voice which speaks out of the silence to our inner-most self, calls us into the community of Christ’s disciples.

Bonhoeffer wanted his seminarians to understand the connection between silence and our ability to hear the still small voice of God which animates our faith; to understand “the essential relationship of silence to the Word.” And, he wanted them to understand that time together and time alone are both essential to Christ’s community. Time with others enriches our time alone, and time alone enriches our time with others. “The day together will be unfruitful without the day alone”, Bonhoeffer writes. And conversely, “After a time of quiet, we meet others in a different and a fresh way”.

“Only in this fellowship do we learn to be rightly alone, and only in aloneness do we learn to live rightly in the fellowship. It is not as though the one preceded the other. Both begin at the same time, namely, with the call of Jesus Christ.”

COVID-19 and ‘the day alone

COVID-19 has brought a form of ‘the day alone’ upon us all. In reality, it will be much more than a day. We are beginning a time of relative solitude that will last for weeks and may hold for months.

Notwithstanding our heartbreak for those to whom this virus brings suffering, for whom we must do all we can in love, I suspect Dietrich Bonhoeffer would encourage us, as individuals and as the church, to embrace this time alone. Embrace it for meditation on the scriptures. Embrace it as an opportunity to be intentional in our listening for God. That will not be easy, and we will need to be patient. Yet we have time. What is God saying to you? What is God saying to this church?

Embrace this mandated time apart as a time for prayer.

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asian american

Pastor Ray Chang and Dr. Michelle Reyes have collaborated with leaders across the U.S. to combat the rising racism against Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic. Under the umbrella of the Asian American Christian Collaborative (AACC), these leaders have released the “Statement on Anti-Asian Racism in the Time of Covid-19.”

“We call for an immediate end to the xenophobic rhetoric, hate crimes, and violence against our people and communities,” write the authors. “We invite all Americans to join us in combating these contagions and work with us for the welfare of all.” The authors go on to say:

In the last two weeks of March 2020, Asian Americans have reported nearly 1,000 incidents of racism, and without mitigation, we expect that number to rise in the weeks ahead. Many of these were violent attacks against life and human dignity, and many more incidents have gone unreported.

The statement recalls previous incidents of racism against Asian Americans in the U.S. during World War II, as well as the racism Middle Eastern Americans experienced following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Noting the two greatest commandments to love God and neighbor, the authors write,

We urge you to speak without ambiguity against racism of every kind. Faithful Christian witness requires anti-racist work, and silence only perpetuates the sins not addressed. This includes going beyond shallow acknowledgement of the most obvious incidents of racism to taking responsibility in confronting the longstanding tendencies of people to discount and dismiss the realities of racism. It also includes addressing the disbelief and disobedience of your constituents who continue to ignore members of the body of Christ who are in pain and under threat.

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April 9 will be the 75th anniversary of the death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor who led German resistance. As the Allies were closing in on Nazi Germany, Hitler ordered Bonhoeffer’s execution and he was hanged at the age of 39.

Bonhoeffer is an important figure for all of us who are trying to live lives of kindness, generosity and compassion in an emerging culture that is dominated by strident and hostile ideologies. Bonhoeffer, who refused to sign an oath of allegiance to the Nazi regime, was banned from speaking, writing or preaching. In his book, “Ethics,” he wrote: “What is worse than doing evil is being evil… to lie is wrong, but what is worse than the lie is the liar, for the liar contaminates everything he says, because everything he says is meant to further a cause that is false.”
The greatest examples from history who resisted evil with measured resistance —Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bonhoeffer — did so with servant leadership…
Baptism Continues, Though Rome Church Services Canceled

Since Italy is a country that has experienced years of decreasing birth rates and is now considered an elderly country; the death rate in Italy is reflecting that reality. Currently travel is severely restricted, and stores and restaurants are all to remain closed until further notice. Only grocery stores and pharmacies are permitted to remain open, with some industries operating with restrictions. Going to a friend’s house for lunch or dinner is not allowed.

IMB church planter Reid Karr baptizes new believer, Akille De Chirico. The baptism took place in De Chirico’s home when the church was not able to meet due to the coronavirus outbreak. Church members watched the baptism online via a livestream.

These restrictions are of course having a significant impact on religious and church meetings of any kind. Churches have had to cancel services and find creative ways to meet and have community. Modern technology has been a huge blessing and help for many seeking corporate worship.

On Sunday, March 8 in Rome, Italy, the evangelical churches Breccia di Roma San Paolo and Breccia di Roma centro (downtown) were to meet together to celebrate the baptism of Akille De Chirico. Akille was adopted as a young boy from Ethiopia into an Italian family. His family has loved him unconditionally and walked with him through good times and difficult times. His father is a faithful pastor and his mother is a dedicated nurse.

Akille spent his childhood in a home where the gospel was taught and lived, and he followed his family to church where the gospel was faithfully preached. For Akille, however, Christianity was just one religion among many and had no claim to absolute truth. Akille began attending the church plant Breccia di Roma San Paolo in September 2018. The Lord built on the foundation of his many years of exposure to the gospel and opened his eyes to the exclusive truth claims of the good news of Jesus Christ. The Lord revealed to Akille that forgiveness of sins, redemption, salvation and eternal life are found in Christ alone. Akille made the decision to follow his profession of faith in Jesus with believer’s baptism.

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Reid Karr is a church planter in Europe. He lives in Rome, Italy, with his wife, Stephanie, and three daughters.

Reid Karr is a church planter with the IMB, serving in Italy

Today in History: German Foreign Office Warns about Dietrich Bonhoeffer

February 29, 1936: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who would later be executed by the Nazis for his involvement in the resistance, had already made a name for himself, stirring up trouble with his actions alongside the Confessing Church. He had broken with the (much) larger German Christians and already declared that they represented a false Christ to the world, in part due to their allegiance to the Nazi state.

Bonhoeffer was heavily involved in ecumenical movements, and had informed the Foreign Office that he would be traveling as the director of the Preacher’s Seminary at Finkenwalde to support ecumenical work in Sweden. Today in history, the Foreign Office sent a letter to the German Legation in Stockholm warning them about Pastor Bonhoeffer’s actions:

The Reich and Prussian Ministry for Church Affairs as well as the Church Foreign Office would like to warn you about Pastor Bonhoeffer because his activities are not conducive to German interests. State and church officials have serious objections to his trip abroad, which has only now become known.
I respectfully ask that you report back concerning his public activities and concerning possible reactions in the Swedish press.

(From Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 14: Theological Education at Finkenwalde: 1935-1937[DBWE 14:146])

This message’s import should not be understated. It shows that Bonhoeffer was already being monitored both at home and abroad.

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By Marv Repinski

By Marvin Repinski
United Methodist Pastor (retired)

In the past week, people who were part of the impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump were asked to give oaths of impartiality and honesty.

The presiding official of the Supreme Court of the United States was requested to: “Place your right hand on the Bible.” Chief Justice John Roberts did so, and repeated a solemn pledge. I assume that he will give legal oversight that the deliberations and process be just, fair, and balanced. More than a symbolic ritual, I believe, is a long held tradition that affirms our nation has Jewish-Christian commitments that are enhanced by the teachings of the Bible; that values attributed to the Bible be one of the basics of the impeachment participation.

The Jan. 24 issue of the Austin Daily Herald placed a historical note. In this column “Today in History,” we read: “In 1848, James W. Marshall discovered a gold nugget at Sutter’s Mill in northern California; a discovery that led to the Gold Rush of ‘49.” Are there “golden nuggets” in the Bible?

There are millions of seekers worldwide in search of a religious life, and they often find strength and at least a partial philosophy to maintain their loyalties. There too are those persons — you’ve met them — who say, “I don’t want to disappoint my mother,” in church on Christmas Eve. You have heard: “I do go to weddings in the Synagogue.”

We face the fact that times change, needs change, other commitments are forged. Our relationships shift one’s outlook, but the Bible remains as a guide to inspiration, values, and a reminder of historic loyalties.

Ask me: “Marvin, as a believer in the Messiah, the salvation through Jesus Christ, are you welcomed in any church to participate in Holy Communion?” Now we have an array of gender questions. Some are told, “You have a different gene, a basic human function or manner of sexual orientation, so membership in my church is not for you.”

A member of the Supreme Court is asked to place his hand on a Bible, which means to me its writings, both Old and New Testaments as the division is made, are offered to a nation. They are out of a foundation to have open covers to divergent applications.

Peter Gomes, in his book, “Biblical Wisdom For Daily Living,” writes: “The only thing that stands between rank and utter chaos, insanity, and an attempt to stand whole and full and complete in the middle of ambiguity and beyond tragedy — God’s love is the only thing.”

Central to the Bible’s message is, for many of us, the love of God. Why keep people away from that love? The Bible first and foremost is a message of GRACE. Can we believe that?

In the devotional booklet “The Upper Room,” writing for the January page, a believer, James Townsend, is listed from Mississippi. (Hello Mississippi!) I find agreement with the following and pass it on to you, the reader. “On my first trip to New York City, I was greatly impressed by the tall skyscrapers that form the Manhattan skyline. However, the exteriors of these structures conceal much more than they reveal. The buildings can reach so high only because of what is inside them. They are fortified inside with steel, concrete, and wire mesh. This reinforcement allows the building to rise upward and remain stable and strong, even when storms come and winds blow. Each structure is a marvel of engineering and construction — on both the outside and the inside.”

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” What is it that motivates a person to write such sentences? That person is Dietrich Bonhoeffer (born Feb. 4, 1906 — died April 9, 1945). To get the larger essence of the manner that this man lived, read from one of several books and commentaries of this pastor. My present writing is to relate his passion, his risks, to the deepest messages of the Bible. Among my resources are “Letters from Prison” and a biography: “Bonhoeffer, Pastor, Martyr, Prophet.” A background of Bonhoeffer’s situation may be necessary to grasp the importance of his life and how the Bible resonated with his work. Adolf Hitler and the Nazis seduced a nation, bullied a continent, and name-called and slandered all who opposed them. There was a fierce kind of self-interest in policies, politics and lies.

The realities that came forth may be captured in three words: Auschwitz, Holocaust, and death camps. Bonhoeffer, as a Lutheran scholar and pastor in Germany for some years, used his teaching, his associations, and his public protests to defeat, if possible, a virus of Jewish hatred. He spent some time in the United States relating to the Union Theological Seminary in New York City and the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. He then returned to Europe.

During the final months of his life, Bonhoeffer was arrested on account of his opposition to the Nazi menace and spent time in several prisons. He was taken to Flossenberg as a prisoner. While there, a record of one of his writings pleading for humane politics is preserved: “Death is hell and night is cold, if it is not transformed by our faith. But that is just what is so marvelous — that we can transform death.”

Bonhoeffer joined the millions (note the number!) of other victims of the vicious Third Reich. Many of us regard him with a sacred term: martyr. The Gestapo called him out of his prison confinement on April 9, 1945 ,and he was executed. He, with many others that day, climbed the steps to the gallows. It is stated that the crematorium was not working, so the bodies of the men hanged that morning were burned in piles. Some of his writings and materials were also burned.

Bonhoeffer’s journey was marked by and with a Bible as a primary focus of learning. In a class in his early years, while teaching young men, he kept a record of this time, and it says, “No one can ever obstruct the way to God. The church still has the Bible, and as long as she has it, we can still believe in the holy Christian Church.” This, a conviction, though he being Lutheran, was that the Roman Catholic Church must also be regarded as an authentic voice of faith. It’s a look into the ecumenical (no labels) view of Christianity.

In a study of Bonhoeffer’s preserved writings, and of those who knew him, the Bible was foundational and all important to his life. The scriptures were the van-guard to his passionate commitments.

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LETTER: Tutu’s anti-Semitic outbursts would have anti-Nazi hero ‘turning in his grave’

29 JANUARY 2020, 07:30AM / CHAIM MYERSON

FILE PHOTO: Archbishop Desmond Tutu attends the unveiling ceremony for a statue of Nelson Mandela at City Hall in Cape Town, South Africa

With reference to “Tutu foundation honours anti-Nazi hero, Dietrich Bonhoeffer” (Cape Argus, January 23):The article is about the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation honouring the late Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was a German theologian.

Bonhoeffer was opposed to Hitler and the anti-Semitism of the Nazis. For his beliefs, he died in a concentration camp. Bonhoeffer must be turning in his grave.

How dare Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his Legacy Foundation have the audacity to have anything to do with an Honourable Christian who stood up for the Jews against Hitler?

In an article which appeared on 08/11/11 in Ynet News, an Israeli on-line news forum they stated, “Archbishop Tutu leads vile, racist campaign against Israel and the Jewish people”.

The article went on to state that Tutu convinced the University of Johannesburg to end its relationship with the Ben Gurion University in Beersheba, Israel, as part of a boycott against Israeli Academic Institutions resembling the dark times when German Universities banned Jewish intellectuals.

Tutu has also demonized the “Jewish lobby” as “too powerful and scary”.

The list of Tutu’s anti-Semitic outbursts could fill this page.

I have no doubt Dietrich Bonhoeffer…

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by Elizabeth Davey

church
(Photo: Unsplash/MattBotsford)

We are all aware of the rising consumer approach to church. We have even begun to use the phrase ‘church shopping’ when talking about finding a new church, and often make our decision based on whether the worship was good, if we liked the preacher, or even who has the best coffee!

As consumerism increased with the rise of disposable income after the Second World War, and church attendance fell as a result of the increasingly secularist influence in society, many churches felt they had to adapt or else be left behind. Unfortunately, this adaptation has not been exclusively left to the different tastes in coffee or music. In an age where we are offended easily, the gospel message has been tailored to the particular demands of the acceptance-based, tolerance-promoting culture. Grace included.

First up, we have Paul’s free grace – ‘for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.’ We like a good bargain and the idea of God’s grace at no price is a pretty good deal.

But we like to have our options, don’t we? Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship is a Christian classic, with his phrase ‘costly grace’ being well known, perhaps primarily due to Bonhoeffer’s own costly witness. With this offer, however, grace is not the free gift we see advertised by Paul, but a more costly endeavor.

For the consumer church, Bonhoeffer’s writing on the cost of grace is unappetizing when the free grace of Romans 3 is on offer. Indeed, because of this many churches feed into the consumer mentality by promoting the free gift that all can receive, almost like when you sign up for a new gym membership and get a free water bottle in return.

The trouble with this is that the gift of grace has been read with the modern context in mind. Any good interpreter of Scripture knows that in order to understand what implications the Bible has today, the original context must first be considered. Whilst today we understand a gift as being free in the sense of pure altruism, that is, without the expectation or demand of a response, this is not what was understood in the first century.

John Barclay in his incredible work Paul and the Gift, shows how the first century Greek society practised gift giving. Whilst a gift could be a result of profound generosity by the giver, the recipient was aware that if they accepted the gift, it was ‘crucial to give a well-measure return.’ Paul would have been well aware of the implication of gift giving in his society.

Nevertheless, the shock factor of God’s gift of grace is that, unlike Greek society where gifts would have been given only if the giver was sure their gift would be equally reciprocated, God gives without regard as to whether or not we will reciprocate, fully aware that we cannot give an equal return. The gift of grace comes through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God’s only Son. What do we have that would even come close to an equal return for this? Paul talks of free gift when he considers the giver, who gives with no prior regard for our ability to respond.

This does not mean that we are exempt from reciprocation, however. Though God gives without calculating whether or not we can respond equally, if we accept the gift we are entering into a relationship with God where we must respond in return. This is where Bonhoeffer’s ‘costly grace’ is put into practice. Jesus talks of the cost of discipleship in Luke 14, instructing his disciples to bear their own crosses (v.27) and to count the cost (v.28). The only response close to what God has given us through His Son, is to give our own lives in return. That’s the cost of the gift of grace.

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In the age of Trump, the life and works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer are often used to justify the removal of President Donald Trump from office. President Trump (yes, he is my President. So was Barack Obama!) generates both hate for him or love for him. I struggle with some of his tweets and statements. I don’t hate him. To compare him to Hitler is silly. And to compare those who voted for him (I did and will again) to those who mindlessly fell under the curse of Hitler is just as silly. Hitler was a monster who was responsible for over 60 million deaths! Anyway, here is yet another attempt to use Dietrich Bonhoeffer to try to get rid of Trump. Blessings to all! ~ Bryan

Two years ago, Sojourners magazine released our February 2018 cover story, asking the question, “Is This a Bonhoeffer Moment?” This week, the board of directors of the International Bonhoeffer Society — an organization dedicated to research and scholarship on the life and writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer — issued an answer from their discernment.

Here is how the statement, obtained exclusively by Sojourners, begins:

As grateful recipients, and now custodians, of the theological, ethical, and political legacy of the German pastor-theologian and Nazi resister Dietrich Bonhoeffer, we believe all persons of faith and conscience should prayerfully consider whether our democracy can endure a second term under the presidency of Donald Trump. We believe it cannot. In 2017, we issued a statement expressing our grave concerns about the rise in hateful rhetoric and violence, the rise in deep divisions and distrust in our country, and the weakening of respectful public discourse ushered in by the election of Donald Trump. We articulated the need for Christians to engage in honest and courageous theological reflection in the face of the threat posed by his leadership. Over the last three years, the need for such discernment has grown more urgent.

The statement starts where any Christian statement in a time like this should — by evaluating a political regime by the standards of the gospel — how their governance affects those on the margins of society. They say:

A hallmark of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s legacy is his insistence that we see the great events of world history from “the view from below” (1942). That is, he urges us to see from the perspective of those who suffer. The policies of the Trump administration both threaten and disempower the most vulnerable members of our society, including people of color, members of the LGBTQ communities, Muslims and other religious minorities, immigrants, refugees, the poor, the marginally employed, and the unemployed. Moreover, Donald Trump has now taken ill-advised military action that raises the specter of war. One of the greatest lessons learned from the history of the Christian churches during Germany’s Third Reich is that it is crucial to respond to threats to human life, integrity, and community when they first appear, and to continue to challenge them.

The signers of this statement are not megachurch pastors, powerful leaders of religious institutions, or influential figures to whom the media typically pays attention. Rather they identify themselves, “As Bonhoeffer scholars, religious leaders, and confessing Christians,” who have “a special responsibility to name crises and discern responsible actions of resistance and healing.”

And this is the significant and sobering conclusion the Bonhoeffer Society leaders have reached:

We believe that one crucial step in this reckoning is ending Donald Trump’s presidency.

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