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The Cost of His Discipleship

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–45)

On July 20, 1944, the Valkyrie plot to assassinate Hitler failed. The very next day, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a letter to Eberhard Bethge, his former student and future biographer. Bonhoeffer had been in prison since April 5, 1943. In the wake of the failure of the Valkyrie plot, Hitler led a crackdown on the resistance movement. Hundreds were immediately arrested; many in the movement already held in prison were moved to higher security prisons. Many were put on expedited paths to their execution. Bonhoeffer was one of them.

But on July 21, 1944, Bonhoeffer wrote about a conversation he had in America in 1930. He was in the United States to learn of theological developments. He was to spend the year at the patently theological liberal Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He found it wanting. “No theology here,” he reported back to Germany. But he did find dear friends, and he found adventure on a road trip from New York to Mexico City.

Somewhere along the way, as they camped in pup tents and sat around a fire, they asked each other what they wanted to do with their lives. One of them, a Frenchman named Lasserre, said he wanted to be a saint. Bonhoeffer picks up the story from there in his letter to Bethge the day after the failed plot:

At the time I was very impressed, but I disagreed with him, and said, in effect, that I should like to learn to have faith. . . . I discovered later, and I’m still discovering right up to this moment, that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith. One must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, or a converted sinner or a churchman (a so-called priestly type!), a righteous or an unrighteous man, a sick man or a healthy man. By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities.

As we reflect on that list in that last sentence, there’s only one word we really like, “successes.” We tend to avoid the other things mentioned by Bonhoeffer, but those things are part of life, of “this-worldliness.” Bonhoeffer then adds that by living life in this way, “We throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of the God-man in the world — watching with Christ in Gethsemane. That, I think, is faith.”

Bonhoeffer learned this in a very short time in a very short life. He died in his thirty-ninth year. While most people are only beginning to make their mark and offer their mature thought as they turn forty, Bonhoeffer never made it to that milestone.

Young Professor in Berlin

He was born into an academic family. His father, Karl Bonhoeffer, was a renowned psychiatrist at the University of Berlin. One of his brothers, a chemist, would go on to discover the spin isomers of hydrogen. The family home had a large library, a conservatory, and walls lined with very impressive looking oil portraits of his predecessors. Dietrich excelled as a student. He took his first doctorate as he turned twenty-one and a second doctorate three years later. He served in the academy, initially. But he loved the church.

As a young professor at the University of Berlin, he noticed an appeal for a teacher of a confirmation class at a Lutheran church in Berlin, on the other side of the tracks from where the Bonhoeffer family home stood. These were rough kids, who had already chewed through a few prospective teachers. The pastor was hoping to get an idealistic seminary student who didn’t have the better sense to not do this. Instead, the pastor and this band of prepubescent ruffians got a theology professor in wire-rimmed glasses and tailored suits.

Within minutes, Bonhoeffer had won them over. When the day came for their confirmation — a day the pastor was almost sure would never come — Bonhoeffer took them all to his tailor and got them all suits. He was the kind of professor who would just as soon pull out a “football” and hit the soccer pitch with his students as he lectured to them. During the time he spent in America, he got an armload of 78s of blues and negro spirituals. After the soccer games, he would spin records with his students and talk theology. For Bonhoeffer, education was discipleship.

Life Together

When the German Lutheran Church endorsed the Nazi party and became the Reich Kirche, Bonhoeffer quickly became a leader among the Confessing Church, despite his very young age. He lost his license to teach at the University of Berlin, and his books were placed on the banned book list. He was appointed the director of one of the five seminaries for the Confessing Church. At this seminary in Finkenwalde, he taught his students the Bible and theology, and he also taught them how to pray. Bonhoeffer saw these three things — biblical studies, theology, and prayer — as the essential elements of the pastoral office.

Eberhard Bethge, one of his students at Finkenwalde, exemplifies what he was taught by Bonhoeffer. Bethge wrote, “Because I am a preacher of the word, I cannot expound Scripture unless I let it speak to me every day. I will misuse the word in my office if I do not keep meditating on it in prayer.”

The Gestapo found out about the seminary at Finkenwalde and shut it down. Bonheffer spent the next year in his parents’ home. He wrote Life Together, memorializing what he practiced and what he had learned at Finkenwaldeab, and he visited his students and kept them on task with their studies and ministry.

Letters from Prison

The next years of Bonhoeffer’s life, 1940–1943, are debated. He joined the Abwehr at the urging of his brother-in-law. But it does not appear that he is actually much of a spy at all. He used his position to travel freely around the country — a way to keep up with his students and keep up with the churches they were pastoring. Then comes the contested episode of his life as he became part of a group seeking to assassinate Hitler. Bonhoeffer’s role was not one of providing strategy — that was supplied by the other highly placed military and intelligence agency officials.

Bonhoeffer appears to be the pastor in the room, the one who gives the blessing on the undertaking they were about to embark on. Bonhoeffer wrestled with it, wondering if what they were doing was right and not at all presuming it was right and righteous. It was war, and these Germans were convinced that Hitler was an enemy to the German state and the German people, as well as to the other nations plunged into war. Whatever Bonhoeffer’s contribution was to this group, he did not make it presumptively or rashly.

The plots, like the Valkyrie plot, all failed. On April 5, 1943, Bonhoeffer was arrested and sent to Tegel Prison. For the next two years, he would live in a 6’ x 9’ prison cell. He spoke of missing listening to birds. He missed seeing colors. Early in his time at Tegel, he despaired for his life. It was also in Tegel that Bonhoeffer wrote about living a “this-worldly” life. It was at Tegel that he spoke of learning to have faith in life’s failures, difficulties, and perplexities. At Tegel, he wrote poetry. He wrote a novel. He wrote sermons for weddings and baptisms — they were smuggled out and read by others at these occasions. Bonhoeffer’s time at Tegel yielded his classic text Letters and Papers from Prison.

In one of those letters, on June 27, 1944, he wrote, “This world must not be prematurely written off.” He was in a Nazi prison cell while Hitler was unleashing madness upon the world, and Bonhoeffer wrote about being a Christian in the world, in the time and place in which God had put him.

Cost of Discipleship

In 1936, Bonhoeffer published Nachfolge. It would be later published in English as The Cost of Discipleship. In it he declares, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

In Christ, we are dead. The old self and the old way is dead. And, in Christ, we are alive. After the Valkyrie plot, Bonhoeffer could write simply, “Jesus is alive. I have hope.”

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by Stanley Hauerwas

Bonhoeffer For Us?

“Yet one may wonder how Bonhoeffer should be read by those in the ministry in our time. The challenges he faced are so different from the everyday tasks incumbent on those in the ministry in our day. Bonhoeffer confronted the Nazis and Hitler – it is hard to imagine a more dramatic conflict. Dangerous though it may have been, those confronted by the Nazi’s knew what sides they needed to be on. We seldom enjoy such clarity. The result is often a stark divide between activities associated with pastoral care and the social witness of the church.

Those in the ministry today must negotiate a very different world than the world Bonhoeffer encountered. We are unsure who our enemy is, or even if we have an enemy. We lack the clarity Bonhoeffer enjoyed – which, of course, is not a bad thing. But it leaves us confused about how to discern in the world in which we live what the primary challenge facing the church may be. Bonhoeffer saw quite early who the enemy was, though he was surrounded by many who did not see what he saw in the Nazis. Indeed, one of the interesting questions for Bonhoeffer’s relevance for pastors in our time is what enabled him to see the threat Hitler represented.”

For the entire article…

“If I sit next to a madman as he drives a car into a group of innocent bystanders, I can’t, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe, then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Confessing Church
by Wendy McElroy

A destructive myth haunts World War II. It is that a flaw within the German character allowed the rise of Hitler and Nazism. How else can you explain the Holocaust coming from one of the world’s most cultured nations? Oddly, no one seems to consider Mussolini to indicate a flaw within Italians or view Stalin as proof of a Russian defect.

The ‘German character flaw’ is a destructive myth because it deflects attention from the crucial task of analyzing the dynamics that allowed Nazism to rise. It permits other nations to believe “it could never happen here.” But totalitarianism can happen anywhere, to any nationality. Understanding the evolution of totalitarianism involves institutional analysis, especially of the interrelation between institutions that were active or complicit in creating tyranny.

Two institutions are commonplace and powerful around the globe: the state and the church. In Hitler’s Germany, most churches went along with the Nazis. Some did so reluctantly, many were enthusiastic. But there was also dramatic resistance by churches and religious leaders who opposed Hitler at great personal risk. For example, the German Protestant Church became a battleground between the majority who supported the Nazis, either explicitly or implicitly, and a minority who resisted them. At the core of the conflict was the question of how the church should respond to the “Jewish question.”

No man spoke more eloquently on behalf of the civil liberties of Jews than the Protestant pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He became a prominent voice in ‘the Confessing Church’ that was founded when approximately 3,000 Protestant pastors broke off from the main religious body in protest.(Konfession is German for denomination.) Bonhoeffer reminds us that there are people of conscience and moral courage in every nation. He is also a window into the institutional dynamics of church and state that both facilitated and hindered Hitler.

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BY D.G. SCHUMACHER

by

The Barmen Declaration

karl_barth

The Barmen Declaration of 1934 was a call to resistance against the theological claims of the German Christian movement. The German Evangelical Church had given its support to the Nazi state following Hitler’s rise to power in 1933. In opposition to the pro Nazi Evangelicals, the Confessing Church movement was born with the Barmen Declaration as their founding document. Written primarily by Karl Barth, the Barmen Declaration was grounded in Barth’s theological conviction that God cannot be made to serve nationalistic interests, God can only rule the nations. Among the original signers of the Barmen Declaration were Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemöller. Of the 18,000 Protestant pastors in Nazi Germany, 3,000 became members of the Confessing Church.

BZ

Barmen Declaration

In view of the errors of the “German Christians” and of the present Reich Church Administration, which are ravaging the Church and at the same time also shattering the unity of the German Evangelical Church, we confess the following evangelical truths:

1. “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold through the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved.” John 10:1, 9

Jesus Christ, as he is attested to us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God whom we have to hear, and whom we have to trust and obey in life and in death.

We reject the false doctrine that the Church could and should recognize as a source of its proclamation, beyond and besides this one Word of God, yet other events, powers, historic figures and truths as God’s revelation.

2. “Jesus Christ has been made wisdom and righteousness and sanctification and redemption for us by God.” 1 Corinthians 1:30

As Jesus Christ is God’s comforting pronouncement of the forgiveness of all our sins, so, with equal seriousness, he is also God’s vigorous announcement of his claim upon our whole life. Through him there comes to us joyful liberation from the godless ties of this world for free, grateful service to his creatures.

We reject the false doctrine that there could be areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ but to other lords, areas in which we would not need justification and sanctification through him.

3. “Let us, however, speak the truth in love, and in every respect grow into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body is joined together.” Ephesians 4:15-16

The Christian Church is the community of brethren in which, in Word and Sacrament, through the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ acts in the present as Lord. With both its faith and its obedience, with both its message and its order, it has to testify in the midst of the sinful world, as the Church of pardoned sinners, that it belongs to him alone and lives and may live by his comfort and under his direction alone, in expectation of his appearing.

We reject the false doctrine that the Church could have permission to hand over the form of its message and of its order to whatever it itself might wish or to the vicissitudes of the prevailing ideological and political convictions of the day.

4. “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to have authority over you must be your servant.” Matthew 20:25-26

The various offices in the Church do not provide a basis for some to exercise authority over others but for the ministry (service) with which the whole community has been entrusted and charged to be carried out.

We reject the false doctrine that, apart from this ministry, the Church could, and could have permission to, give itself or allow itself to be given special leaders [Führer] vested with ruling authority.

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I rarely quote poems during my sermons. But on Sunday, I will quote the poem, “Guests” by Martha Snell Nicholson. We all have the unwelcome guest of pain in our lives. That is why we also need Jesus to help us.

Pain knocked upon my door and said
That she had come to stay,
And though I would not welcome her
But bade her go away,
She entered in. Like my own shade
She followed after me,
And from her stabbing, stinging sword
No moment was I free.

And then one day another knocked
Most gently at my door.
I cried, “No, Pain is living here,
And there is not room for more.”

And then I heard His tender voice,
“Tis I, be not afraid.”
And from the day He entered in—
The difference it has made!

For though He did not bid her leave,
(My strange, unwelcome guest),
He taught me how to live with her,
Oh, I had never guessed

That we could dwell so sweetly here,
My Lord and Pain and I,
Within this fragile house of clay
While years slip slowly by!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer born FEB 4, 1906

Dietrich BonhoefferAmerican Minute with Bill Federer

The National Socialist Workers’ Party leader, Adolph Hitler, became Chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933, and began implementing a plan of universal healthcare, with no regard for conscience.

The New York Times reported October 10, 1933:

“Nazi Plan to Kill Incurables to End Pain; German Religious Groups Oppose Move…

The Ministry of Justice…explaining the Nazi aims regarding the German penal code, today announced its intentions to authorize physicians to end the sufferings of the incurable patient…in the interest of true humanity…”

The New York Times continued:

“The Catholic newspaper Germania hastened to observe: ‘The Catholic faith binds the conscience of its followers not to accept this method.’…

In Lutheran circles, too, life is regarded as something that God alone can take…

Euthanasia…has become a widely discussed word in the Reich…No life still valuable to the State will be wantonly destroyed.”

When Germany’s economy suffered, expenses had to be cut from the national healthcare plan, such as keeping alive handicapped, insane, chronically ill, elderly and those with dementia.

They were considered “lebensunwertes leben”-life unworthy of life.

Then criminals, convicts, street bums, beggars and gypsies, considered “leeches” on society, met a similar fate.

Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger had been the editor of The Birth Control Review, a magazine that published in April 1933 an article by Ernst Rudin, one of the ‘fathers of racial hygiene.’

Ernst Rudin advised the Nazi Socialist Workers Party to prevent hereditary defective genes from being passed on to future generations by people considered by the State to be inferior mankind – ‘untermensch’.

Labeling the Aryan race ‘ubermensch’ (super mankind), the National Socialist Workers Party enacted horrific plans to purge the human gene pool of what they considered ‘inferior’ races, resulting in 6 million Jews and millions of others dying in gas chambers and ovens.

U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop stated in 1977:

“When the first 273,000 German aged, infirm and retarded were killed in gas chambers there was no outcry from that medical profession… and it was not far from there to Auschwitz.”

British Journalist Malcolm Muggeridge explained:

“We have…for those that have eyes to see, an object lesson in what the quest for ‘quality of life’ without reference to ‘sanctity of life’ can involve…

The origins of the Holocaust lay, not in Nazi terrorism…but in…Germany’s acceptance of euthanasia and mercy-killing as humane and estimable.”

Then there was an event of domestic unrest and violence.

The German Reichstag (Capitol Building) was set on fire in 1933, under suspicious conditions.

Hitler declared an emergency, suspended basic rights, arrested his political opponents and had them shot without a trial.

Hitler forced old military generals to retire, thus purging his administration of any who might resist him.

He swayed the public with mesmerizing speeches.

Then Nazis confiscated weapons.

An SA Oberführer warned of an ordinance by the provisional Bavarian Minister of the Interior:

“The deadline set…for the surrender of weapons will expire on March 31, 1933. I therefore request the immediate surrender of all arms…

Whoever does not belong to one of these named units (SA, SS, and Stahlhelm) and…keeps his weapon without authorization or even hides it, must be viewed as an enemy of the national government and will be held responsible without hesitation and with the utmost severity.”

Heinrich Himmler, head of Nazi S.S. (“Schutzstaffel”-Protection Squadron), stated:

“Germans who wish to use firearms should join the S.S. or the S.A. Ordinary citizens don’t need guns, as their having guns doesn’t serve the State.”

When a suspected homosexual youth shot a Nazi diplomat in Paris, it was used as an excuse to confiscate all firearms from Jews.

German newspapers printed, November 10, 1938:

“Jews Forbidden to Possess Weapons By Order of SS Reichsführer Himmler, Munich…

‘Persons who, according to the Nürnberg law, are regarded as Jews, are forbidden to possess any weapon. Violators will be condemned to a concentration camp and imprisoned for a period of up to 20 years.’”

The New York Times, November 9, 1938, reported:

“The Berlin Police…announced that…the entire Jewish population of Berlin had been ‘disarmed’ with the confiscation of 2,569 hand weapons, 1,702 firearms and 20,000 rounds of ammunition.

Any Jews still found in possession of weapons without valid licenses are threatened with the severest punishment.”

Of the Waffengesetz (Nazi Weapons Law), March 18, 1938, Hitler stated at a dinner talk, April 11, 1942 (Hitler’s Table Talk 1941-44: His Private Conversations, 2nd Edition, 1973, p. 425-6, translated by Norman Cameron and R. H. Stevens):

“The most foolish mistake we could possibly make would be to allow the subject races to possess arms. History shows that all conquerors who have allowed their subject races to carry arms have prepared their own downfall by so doing…

So let’s not have any native militia or native police. German troops alone will bear the sole responsibility for the maintenance of law and order.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt stated of Hitler, December 15, 1941:

“Government to him is not the servant…of the people but their absolute master and the dictator of their every act…

The rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness which seemed to the Founders of the Republic inalienable, were, to Hitler and his fellows, empty words…”

FDR continued:

“Hitler advanced: That the individual human being has no rights whatsoever in himself…no right to a soul of his own, or a mind of his own, or a tongue of his own, or a trade of his own; or even to live where he pleases or to marry the woman he loves;

That his only duty is the duty of obedience, not to his God, not to his conscience, but to Adolf Hitler…

His only value is his value, not as a man, but as a unit of the Nazi state…”

FDR stated in his State of the Union Address, January 6, 1942:

“The world is too small…for both Hitler and God…

Nazis have now announced their plan for enforcing their…pagan religion all over the world…by which the Holy Bible and the Cross of Mercy would be displaced by Mein Kampf and the swastika.”

Churchill, in From War to War, (Second World War, Vol. 1, ch. 4, p. 50) described Hitler’s Mein Kampf as:

“…the new Koran of faith and war: turgid, verbose, shapeless, but pregnant with its message.”

Originally, Hitler was going to allow Jews to be deported to Palestine, but the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Mohammad Amin al-Husseini, convinced Hitler to pursue another solution.

Mufti al-Husseini attempted to follow Hitler’s example by expelling Jews from Palestine, as the Muslim Brother would also do in Egypt.

He recruited 30,000 Bosnian Muslims to join Hitler’s Waffen-SS.

Hitler gave al-Husseini financial assistance, and then asylum in 1941, with the honorary rank of an SS Major-General.

During the final battle in Berlin in April of 1945, around Hitler’s bunker, making their last suicidal stand, were 100 Muslims of the Mufti’s Arab Legion.

Hitler’s view was the Nazi’s had the right solution but the wrong religion, stating:

“Had Charles Martel not been victorious at Poitiers…then we should in all probability have been converted to Mohammedanism, that cult which glorifies the heroism and which opens up the seventh Heaven to the bold warrior alone. Then the Germanic races would have conquered the world.”

Hitler stated:

“The peoples of Islam will always be closer to us than, for example, France.”

According to Albert Speer, Third Reich’s Minister of Armaments and War Production, Hitler stated in private:

“The Mohammedan religion too would have been much more compatible to us than Christianity…with its meekness and flabbiness?”

Nazi Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels confided in The Goebbels Diaries 1939-41, that in reality Hitler “hates Christianity, because it has crippled all that is noble in humanity.”

Though early in his career Hitler pretended to be a Christian in order to get elected, once in power he revealed his nazified social Darwinism and became openly hostile toward Christianity.

Franklin D. Roosevelt stated December 15, 1941:

“To Hitler, the church…is a monstrosity to be destroyed by every means.”

Ministers who resisted Hitler’s attempt to “nazify” the German Protestant Church were imprisoned, such a founder of the Confessing Church, Rev. Martin Niemöller, who wrote:

“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me-and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Another Confessing Church leader who resisted Hitler was Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born FEBRUARY 4, 1906.

He studied in New York in 1930, where he met Frank Fisher, an African-American seminarian who introduced him to Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church.

He was inspired by African-American spirituals and the preaching of Adam Clayton Powell, Sr., who helped Bonhoeffer turn “from phraseology to reality,” motivating him to stand up against injustice.

Bonhoeffer helped found the Confessing Church in Germany, which refused to be intimidated by Hitler into silence.

In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoeffer rebuked nominal Christians:

“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”

Bonhoeffer stated in a 1932 sermon:

“The blood of martyrs might once again be demanded, but this blood, if we really have the courage and loyalty to shed it, will not be innocent, shining like that of the first witnesses for the faith.

On our blood lies heavy guilt, the guilt of the unprofitable servant.”

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