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This was written last March but it is very timely for what is happening this very week! ~ Bryan

MARCH 6, 2020 AUTHOR: DOYLE SAGER FOR WORD&WAY

Doyle Sager

No doubt, some churches will choose to ignore the partisan fray and pretend nothing consequential is occurring outside the church walls. Others will wade in with their biases on full display, certain that God is on their side. A third, more helpful approach is for churches to engage this tumultuous political season thoughtfully and honestly.

This third way is possible only if we refuse to give in to despair. Yes, the rancor is more intense than in previous elections. Granted, the vitriol is intensified by social media. But in his book The Soul of America, historian Jon Meacham reminds us we’ve been here before. And believe it or not, it was worse.

My home state of Missouri still bears the scars of the bitter national debate over slavery and the ensuing Civil War. In this border state, the mistrust and hatred ran deep, even within churches.

The church I pastor has no church minutes from 1861-1865. In 1861, Union soldiers confiscated and occupied the First Baptist Church building, using it as barracks. Near the end of the war, the building was used as a stable. Yes, our congregation can affirm that we’ve been here before and it was worse. But we survived.

How do we live together in these uncomfortable and highly emotional times, awaiting the outcome of a very momentous fall election?

1. Distinguish between political and partisan. The gospel is political because it seeks to influence citizens regarding values. On the other hand, to be partisan is to endorse a particular candidate or party. Pastors are not only wrong to publicly endorse candidates, they are naïve to do so. Politicians will use pastors and churches to their advantage unless and until clergy push back and draw a line.

2. Beware of idolatry. No candidate or political party should be blindly worshiped. The Kingdom of God is more than any human construct. When we make our personal political views equivalent to the gospel, that is idolatry.

3. Choose dialogue over monologue. Being prophetic in the pulpit is a worthy goal. But why should the pastor be the only one who speaks? Some topics are emotional and complex. They require a two-way conversation. Moving toward one another instead of away from each other, being curious about another’s convictions, remembering St. Francis’ prayer about seeking to understand more than being understood — all of these hold great promise if we’re willing to do the work.

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The COVID-19 pandemic continues and it is still impacting our lives. It looks like it will continue for while. Many churches have reopened with caution. Some churches will remain closed until next year. Other churches will close their doors for good because of the economic harm this pandemic has brought.

God wants His people to be together. We need to be together for mutual love and encouragement. So we “connect” through Zoom and are coming with creatives to engage. We do so longing for the day we can all gather safely.

Again to quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer who wrote in his classic book, Life Together

“The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer.” (19).

McCormick
McCormick

“Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). This verse has been going through my mind often these past few months. Perhaps this is because there are just so many obvious burdens around us. We are grappling with the realities of living in a world with COVID-19. Our senior citizens often are confined to their homes or care facilities with limited social interaction. Our small businesses and restaurants are struggling to figure out how they will make payroll and follow ever-changing guidelines. Teachers and parents alike are anxiously awaiting plans for the school year; the stress of the unknown is insurmountable. Medical professionals and assisted living staff are trying to respond to many needs with limited resources. The pandemic uncovered racial disparities. Recent deaths of people who are Black fuel debates about racial justice, discrimination, and inequities. This has “front and center” in our daily lives. For many people of color, these conversations speak to daily burdens and hardships they bear.

When surrounded by so much pain and suffering, it is easy to just want to “turn it off” and “tune out.” It is easy to start blaming each other for our hardships and forming “camps” based on these elements of blame.

This, however, is not what we are called to do. As Christians, God calls us to “bear one another’s burdens” in all times and, especially, during difficult times. As things continue to “open up” how do we, as Christians, be sure to spend our time and resources remembering senior citizens in our community who often cannot experience the freedoms many of us are enjoying? How can we, as Christ-followers, support our businesses and restaurants in safe manners? How can we be supportive of our teachers, parents, and essential workers? How do we work with safety professionals and law enforcement to build bridges, understanding, and a more just reality for all involved? For those of us who are Christians and White, it can be easy to become defensive in conversations about race or assume that it is an issue that does not affect us. However, when we do not address issues of racism, we allow people of color to bear the burdens of racism alone. Our communities are not true reflections of God’s love when we allow racism and prejudices to exist. When we “tune out” of conversations about racism, we, as Christians, are saying, “Your burden is not one I am willing to bear.”

You might be thinking to yourself, “I have enough of my own burdens to deal with right now, let alone thinking about anyone else’s issues.” Indeed, there are days and times when we can only handle what is right in front of us and in our own personal lives. However, I doubt this is true for all of us, and it certainly is not true for any of us all of the time. One of the great “holy mysteries” of our faith is that, somehow, when we carry each other’s burdens, all of our burdens become lighter and easier to manage.

July is a month when we talk a great deal about freedom. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor and professor who lived in Nazi Germany. He and other allies worked to bring down Hitler, and, consequently, Bonhoeffer was imprisoned and killed in a German concentration camp. Bonhoeffer noted, “Being freed means ‘being free for the other,’ because the other has bound me to him. Only in relationship with the other am I free.”

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The Rev. Jeanette McCormick is pastor at Worthington’s First Lutheran Church.

A year with challenges unlike any other year before

I think it’s safe to say that when 2020 is over, the world will breathe a collective sigh of relief. (Well, those who survive it will, which is clearly not enough of us.) Just when we think we’re nearing the end of one crisis, another begins. We’re only halfway through the year, but it’s been brutal. Absolutely brutal.

Others have given 2020 a 1-star rating, saying they wouldn’t recommend it.

But as hard as it has been, I’m beginning to think this was exactly what we needed. I don’t mean that in a masochistic way. I don’t enjoy suffering. I also don’t think God planned the CoronaVirus or the Australian bush fires or the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, or Ahmaud Arbery as a way of testing us. But God has gifts to give us that can only come wrapped in suffering. Chief among them this year is the gift of sight.

As we turned the corner into 2020, I braced myself for the inevitable rush of clever plays on 2020: 20/20 vision, seeing clearly, hindsight, etc. I’ve noticed surprisingly few. But now that we’re nearly halfway through the year, it’s time.

2020 is revealing things about ourselves and our society that we needed to see.

We are connected. Now more than ever, we can see that our entire world is interlaced. Beating the CoronaVirus has required the cooperation of every country on the planet. Planes, trains, and automobiles knit us so tightly together that we cannot face our greatest challenges without a coordinated effort. With borders closed, events cancelled, and gatherings prohibited, we’re feeling acutely how much connecting we actually do.

We need to be together. The wonders of technology have not erased our need for handshakes, hugs, and proximity to each other. We are embodied. We are designed to relate to each other as three-dimensional beings who share the same airspace and the same vibes. Singing along to pre-recorded worship doesn’t cut it. Zoom doesn’t cut it. Relating only on screen further polarizes us because we have fewer social cues by which we can “read the room” and build bridges of understanding. It seems we have less wiggle room for disagreement online than we do in person.

We are divided. We talk past each other more than we talk to each other. Social media becomes either an echo chamber in which we “like” those who sound like us or a boxing ring where we duke it out and nobody wins. Constructive dialogue seems rare. Given that this is an election year in the United States, our divisions are likely to feel even more acute in a few months. When a politician speaks, members of the opposing party tend to hear something quite different from what members of the politician’s own party hear. Both sides respond with “See?!” as if the statement proves their point and vindicates their views. For the nation to survive this season, we’ll need new ways to get at the underlying values that drive public rhetoric.

We do not all experience the same world. The pandemic disproportionately affects communities that lack infrastructure, such as the Navajo Nation. Stay at home orders cause undue hardship for some and feel like a staycation to others. Some of us have jobs that can be done from home. Others have lost jobs or lost wages. Some of us have safe homes. Some of us are in more danger at home than out in the world. Some of us see the police force as our allies and others of us experience repeated profiling and lack confidence that law enforcement will act lawfully.

Most of our work is not as “essential” as we thought. Many of us have discovered that without our work, the world will keep on turning. Some of us who thought that slowing down was impossible have been forced to do so. Perhaps we will begin to take ourselves less seriously. We’ve also gained a new appreciation for essential workers in our communities: grocery store checkers and truck drivers, nurses and mechanics, garbage collectors and cleaning crews. Hopefully this new appreciation will translate into increased respect.

Some things are more important and more urgent than we realized. Just a few short weeks ago the angst of our nation spilled into the streets to confront long-standing inequities felt keenly by the black community. More than ever before in my memory, white pastors and white-led organizations have spoken up and showed up to march alongside our black and brown brothers and sisters. My Facebook and Twitter newsfeeds are dominated by conversations about race. I expect they will be for some time. Organizations of all kinds are issuing statements and discussing the way forward. These conversations are not easy. The potential for misunderstanding is high. People of color among us are understandably skeptical of white hashtag activism, wondering whether it will translate into any lasting change.

You’ve likely heard of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor executed by the Nazi regime for his plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. He penned some incredibly profound insights on Christian community in his book, Life Together. They have never been more relevant. He warns:

It is easily forgotten that the fellowship of Christian brethren is a gift of grace, a gift of the Kingdom of God that any day may be taken from us, that the time that still separates us from utter loneliness may be brief indeed.

Until now, I had never been prevented from gathering with other believers. 2020 has shown me what a gift it is to meet together, and what a loss it is when such meetings are not allowed.

But there’s more. Bonhoeffer spent formative time in the black church in the United States before returning to Germany to shepherd the church that actively resisted Hitler’s regime.

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Bonhoeffer would have seen this pandemic as an opportunity to reorder our priorities, says Will van der Hart

I was reading a segment of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book Life Together in the garden this week. He says, “We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God. God will be constantly crossing our paths and canceling our plans…”

Bonhoeffer’s own life was interrupted by the second world war and then cut desperately short in Flossenbürg concentration camp.

I realize that I have been feeling as much anxiety about the interruption of my plans as I have been about getting physically sick. My life up to this point has been so diarised, every moment has been allocated to work, family, or charity. I even have a stock email about bookings needing to be made six months or more ahead of time! I have been so busy doing what my schedule dictates that I have not considered the divine interruptions God has been offering me.

When I am feeling unsettled, I often return to the most familiar stories of scripture. Like an old friend, their wisdom is comfortable and obvious. I was settling into Luke 10; The Good Samaritan and noticed that the characters in the story were all “going down the same road” (v31): In the same way, we are often living with automatic assumptions and priorities, particularly around success and failure. We plan our lives accordingly.

Catastrophe struck in the form of robbers (but it could have been a pandemic), who left the man “half-dead”. Then a priest and a Levite walked past the broken body of the beaten man. I guess that they epitomize so much of what is being shaken collectively and individually right now: It wasn’t their problem; he was a diversion that they weren’t willing to take.

Bonhoeffer’s point is not that we simply “hear the divine interruptions” but that we “allow ourselves to be interrupted”. While sitting in the garden I was surprised by the volume of the birdsong and wondered if it was unusual. Then I realized that this is probably the first time in a few years that I have been still enough to hear it: God is always speaking, but we aren’t often listening.

I am wondering now if I am finally willing to hear, but it isn’t comfortable! Like many anxiety sufferers, I have become addicted to activity and scheduling in order to distract myself from my worries. My busyness is a product of culture, ambition, and illness, not something that is easily broken on a whim. Yet I feel that it must break, not just for the sake of my living attentively, but so that I might live more compassionately.

The Samaritan had every cultural and social excuse not to attend to the wounded man. Yet, he allowed himself to be interrupted. No doubt he had a schedule and worthy plans, but he expended his resources of time and compassion in response to God’s directing.

This interruption to life is an opportunity to reorder our priorities so that we might be more able and willing to hear.

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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…

Eric Metaxas

Eric Metaxas speaks at Judon University’s annual Constitution Day chapel service on Sept. 26, 2018, near Chicago. RNS photo by Emily McFarlan Miller

LAS VEGAS (RNS) — Eric Metaxas might be the most perplexing evangelical in America.

A best-selling author and nationally syndicated radio host, Metaxas spent his early career writing children’s books and video scripts for Rabbit Ears Productions and VeggieTales before becoming a cultural commentator and author of popular biographies of religious figures like William Wilberforce and Martin Luther.

At one point, he was best known for founding Socrates in the City, a series of conversations with writers and thinkers like NT Wright, Francis Collins, Lauren Winner and Sir John Polkinghorne, where he developed a reputation for thoughtful commentary on faith and public life.

Then he discovered Donald Trump.

Since then, the once-genial Christian author who penned “Lyle the Kindly Viking” has become a full-throated supporter of the president and critic of the liberal forces he believes pose a threat to American culture.

His latest book, “Donald Builds the Wall,” features a blond-headed caveman dressed in an American flag saving his people from the forces of evil by building a wall to keep out swamp creatures and a “caravan of troublemakers.”

Metaxas was recently in Las Vegas to appear on a panel during a meeting of the Religion News Association. Bob Smietana, RNS editor-in-chief, spoke with him there about his support for the president and his concerns about the state of American culture.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What do you wish people would understand about your concerns for the future of the country that they don’t get?

Since the ’60s, we’ve kind of drifted away from some basics, and, as with everything, there are some good reasons for that. But at the end of the day, some of it’s gone very wrong. I think this kind of creeping disdain for the founders and the founding vision and the Constitution has now come to a point, unfortunately, where we no longer know what we believe.

We just go by our feelings.

The issue of religious liberty is the most clear example of this.

It’s something so basic, that was so taken for granted, that we’re now living in a time where people hardly know what it is. Every American is similarly supposed to be able to exercise his or her faith in a way that not only would the founders applaud, but they would encourage.

In other words, they wouldn’t just say it’s possible to exercise your faith in every part of life, but they would actually say it’s necessary that we have some large portion of the American electorate that is practicing its faith — that’s living out (its) faith. That’s part of the strength of freedom.

If somebody has a belief you consider backward or stupid, it is that person’s right in America to hold that belief. We should not force people to believe things.

And so to my mind, it’s this ignorance of religious liberty and the ignorance of the founders’ vision that has allowed this to happen. And I don’t just think it’s bad for religious conservatives.

I think it’s bad for America.

Eric Metaxas

Eric Metaxas speaks at the 2013 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. Photo by Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons

The issue of religious liberty often comes up in discussions about LGBT rights. Judges have begun to see discrimination against LGBT people as equivalent to racial discrimination. And despite the fact there were, for a long time, religious arguments made for race-based discrimination, we’ve rejected the idea that religion could be used to justify discrimination.

That is a false equivalence.

It stuns me that I have to bring up that it’s a false equivalence.

To me, it’s part of this victim culture that attempts to silence dissenting voices. You can’t even have much of a conversation about it because people immediately (think) you must be a bigot.

You always hear about slave-owning Christians, or you hear about people using the Bible to justify slavery. Well, even though that’s true, do you hear about the fact that it was what we would today call ‘Evangelical Christians’ who led the battle for the abolition of the slave trade?

They were in the front lines of saying that slavery is wrong — and you can look to the civil rights movement. It’s very similar. The churches were the place where you found that. The ignorance of that history makes it possible for us to kind of slide into this false equivalence between, you know, LGBT folks and blacks in America.

And yet the dominant groups in the United States who practiced slavery and Jim Crow were people who took the Bible very seriously — people in the Bible belt and Southern Baptists who believed slavery was God-ordained and who used the Bible and the doctrine of Ham to justify it.

What I’m trying to say is just because stupid people have existed and have misapplied the Bible is no reason to say that everybody who is taking the Bible seriously has been misapplying it.

Is it possible that intelligent people took the Bible seriously and misapplied it?

Intelligent people have always misapplied everything.

Eric Metaxas

Eric Metaxas. Courtesy photo

The whole point is if you want to be sloppy and use, you know, loud clichés to silence people, there’s plenty of ammunition. But these things are way too important for that. People of faith do feel misrepresented and not listened to because of things like this. Because they know, for example, they’re not racist.

I think there’s a huge disconnect. That disconnect doesn’t just harm social conservatives. I really think it harms the fabric of America.

Because I can tell you most Christians that I know, if they really see racism or injustice, they get more angry about it than any secular people I know. They would rightly get outraged by it.

The idea that being a white evangelical means you are sort of comfortable with white privilege is deeply offensive to people — because not only do they disagree with it, but their whole lives are meant to represent the opposite of that.

Do you think there are long-term unintended consequences of the evangelical support for Trump? He is a person whose business practices and personal practices do not line up with the kind of morality that evangelicals have stood for in the past. Does their association with the president harm the evangelical witness?

A lot of people have said that. I have to disagree. There are many reasons (why) I disagree.

Let’s, let’s start here. JFK routinely brought prostitutes into the White House. This wasn’t something that he did 10 years before being elected. While he was the president.

His face is still on our coinage. We have an airport named after him. Lyndon Johnson behaved extremely swinishly during his time in office. We know, obviously, Bill Clinton did. We’re not talking about in their lifetimes, but while they were in the presidency. I think the idea that we would expect everybody in the White House to act like Mike Pence is silly.

Now, when you have a leader, let’s say, who commits adultery or who does anything like that? If you vote for them, are you voting for adultery or are you voting in spite of adultery? When you vote for Trump, are you voting for every bad thing about him? Or are you voting for him in spite of those things?

Donald Trump

President Donald Trump speaks with reporters before departing on Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House, on Aug. 21, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

But I think with Trump, I think they looked at a guy like that and they said, ‘you know what, I’ve screwed up in my life. I know tons of people that have screwed up in their lives. I have a different attitude toward people who screw up than I would have in the past where I wanted everybody to be an upstanding citizen and never get divorced and never do this.’

So evangelicals are trying to process Trump very differently than they would have processed him 20 years earlier.

I think, people looked at him and they said, you know what, he can be really rough around the edges and he’s got some terrible stuff in his past. But looking at him now, I see a guy who actually loves his country or seems to love his country and in his, kind of wild way, seems to care about some of this stuff that I think is vital to freedom and liberty. And I am willing to take a risk on him.

Why?

Because the alternative is Hillary Clinton. If the alternative had not been Hillary Clinton, I think a lot of people would’ve said, nope, we’re going to go for this other person.

Do you think the president’s use of social media is problematic? Does it exacerbate the divides that are already in the country?

I think most people I know who voted for Trump would prefer that he not use social media as much as he does.

I wrote a biography on Martin Luther and there are bizarre parallels — because what happens with Trump, and it happened with Luther, is that they are both incorrigible counter punchers, and their friends, Luther’s friends would beg him not to do this, and he didn’t seem to be able to help himself and observe somebody attack him. He would attack back three times as hard.

What do you think Bonhoeffer would say about Trump?

I think there’s no question that, from a cultural point of view, Bonhoeffer would not have been a fan of Trump’s style any more than George Bush Sr. is a fan of Trump’s style.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived from 1906 to 1945. Photo courtesy Joshua Zajdman/Random House

My study of Bonhoeffer and of what happened in the ’30s initially made me dislike Trump. But at some point, I began to wonder if the kind of predictable narrative was not the real narrative.

In other words, I think that in the same way that the national socialists gained the upper hand in the ’30s, the cultural elites in America have slowly persuaded themselves, I guess, that they are right on a number of issues. And if it means going around the electoral process, if it means going around the usual procedure that they’re going to do what they must.

I think Bonhoeffer was very lonely in his opposition to Hitler because he was trying to wake up the church at the time and say, ‘Listen: This nation’s going to go down in flames. We’re going to be hanging our heads in shame for a hundred years unless we stand.’

And if in his sometimes ham-fisted way the president is any kind of a counterforce against that, you have to be glad he’s there because of the mad rush toward the left, it’s been so fast and so dramatic.

So to take it back to Bonhoeffer, I think that Bonhoeffer saw some things other people didn’t see, and he tried to wake people up, and he knew he would look unpopular. He knew he would look foolish. But at the end of the day, he had to do what he felt was right for Germany, what he felt was right in God’s eyes. And he knew that tons of people — good people, Christian people — would not understand him.

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The writings, thought, ministry, and life of 20th Century German martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer will be the focus of the final United Theological College (UTC) Colloquium of the year.

UTC’s Michael Mawson told Insights that Bonhoeffer remained ever relevant in the 21st century.

“As the diversity of the papers indicates, Bonhoeffer is not only a significant theologian in his own right, but continues to inspire diverse theological projects and agendas,” Dr. Mawson said.

“Younger scholars, in particular, have begun drawing on Bonhoeffer to develop new and creative approaches to pressing theological, ethical and political issues.”

The colloquium will include three papers that explore different aspects of Bonhoeffer’s writings.

Dr. Jacob Phillips’ paper will explore ‘Bonhoeffer on Simplicity in Adalbert Stifter’s Writings’.

Dr. Di Rayson from the University of Newcastle will explore Bonhoeffer’s contribution to Ecotheology and Ecoethics.

Charles Sturt University’s Dr. Peter Hooton will reflect on the place of mystery and paradox in Bonhoeffer’s work.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer took part in efforts to resist Adolf Hitler, and was executed weeks before the 1945 fall of the Nazi regime.

His most famous works include The Cost of Discipleship, Ethics, and the posthumous Letters and Papers from Prison. 

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Introduction:

       The second reason why Dietrich Bonhoeffer can impact twenty-first preaching is the importance he placed on Christian fellowship. Bonhoeffer was convinced that it was impossible to be a follower of Jesus Christ apart from life in the fellowship of local believers: “Christianity means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ.”[1] This was more than mere theory for Bonhoeffer because he had the opportunity to develop a community of believers while he was the director of the Preachers’ Seminary.

The Seminary was located at Zingsthof by the Baltic Sea when it opened on April 26, 1935. It relocated in Finkenwalde, near Stettin in Pomerania on June 24 of the same year. The Gestapo eventually closed the Seminary in September of 1937. During the period of its existence, Bonhoeffer desired a“genuine experiment in communal living.”[2] It was Bonhoeffer’s desire that the experiment in the Seminary would provide a foundation for the German church after the war. Bonhoeffer realized that biblical community would provide the fresh life the church would need.

This realization led to a burning desire to put the findings of this“experiment” into writing. This led to his classic book, Life Together, which was written a year after the Seminary was shut down. Bonheoffer wrote the book in only four weeks, while he stayed in the home of his twin sister,Sabine in Gottingen. The book was first published in 1939.

Biblical Foundation:

In Life Together, Bonhoeffer appealed to a variety of Biblical references that point to the fact that community with fellow followers of Jesus is a crucial element of Christianity. For example, chapter one begins with Psalm 133:1: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity.” Psalm 133 is a song of ascents. That is, it spoke of pilgrims coming to Jerusalem to worship together.

An important component was that people of different backgrounds were to be united in fellowship. Derek Kinder writes that “all Israelites, including even debtors, slaves and offenders…were brothers in God’s sight. The psalm is surely singing…of living up to this ideal, giving depth and reality to the emphasized word, ‘together’.[3] Unity was a key to how Bonhoeffer understood the Church because Jesus died on the cross to secure such fellowship. The whole purpose of redemption in Jesus Christ was to save the enemies of God throughout the world, and in anticipation of eternal life, believers “are privileged to live in visible fellowship with other Christians.”[4] 

It is a privilege because “the physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer.”[5]  The early Christians understood this truth. Even before the Holy Spirit was poured out on the followers of Jesus on the day of Pentecost in the city of Jerusalem there was community for “they all joined together constantly in prayer”(Acts 1:14). This group included the eleven disciples (verse 13) “along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus and with his brothers.” 

It is significant that both genders were represented here because the cultural barrier between male and female was abolished through mutual participation in the church.[6] Verse 15 indicates that the total number of disciples was around one hundred and twenty. Thus, within weeks of the resurrection of Jesus, his people, made up of varied backgrounds, gathered waiting for the power of the Holy Spirit.

Then on the day of Pentecost, the brothers and sisters “were all together in one place” (Acts 2:1). The Holy Spirit came upon them with power. Peter, empowered with the Holy Spirit, stood before thousands and proclaimed the Good News about Jesus. The result was that about three thousand people turned to Jesus for salvation (Acts 2.41).

Among the foundational disciplines of the early church was a devotion to the “fellowship” (Acts 2.42). The Greek word for “fellowship” is“koinonia”. It means “fellowship”, “communion”, “participation”, “sharing in” and “close relationship”.[7] This “communion” is possible only because believers are united through their salvation in Jesus.

Bonhoeffer wrote:

…without Christ we would not know other Christians around us; not could we approach them. The way to them is blocked by our own ‘I’. Christ opened up the way to God and to one another. Now Christians can live with each other in peace; they can love and serve one another; they can become one.[8]

Thus, fellowship is much more than simply being together. Since Christians are joined together in Jesus, they are devoted to love and serve one another. The early believers modeled this kind of fellowship. Acts 2:44-47 gives us a beautiful picture of their fellowship: “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”

This devotion to one another in the early church in Jerusalem is what the apostle Paul advocated in Ephesians 4:1-3: “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”  

Verse 3 is the punch line in this statement. Paul equated walking worthy of the calling we have received with making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

Application:

To Bonhoeffer, fellowship with our brothers and sisters within the church was a way for Jesus to minister to his people. Fellowship with God’s people provides opportunities to bless and serve and love others. The pastor and preacher in the twenty-first century must not only preach on the necessity of Christian fellowship, but he also must be personally devoted to the fellowship throughout the week.

A preacher who avoids people or is superficial in his relationships with church members will most likely earn the reputation of one does not really care about his people. This can eventually have an adverse affect on his preaching because the people in the pews may read into each message a lack of genuineness. Bonhoeffer was an example. While the students at the Preachers’ Seminary were not always thrilled about Bonhoeffer’s insistence that they spend time daily in scripture meditation, it was indisputable that he genuinely loved and cared for them.

As the preacher builds loving relationships with people in the church, his weekly proclamation of the word will be eagerly received because the man in the pulpit is seen as God’s spokesperson for them. Jesus made it clear that his followers were to be characterized by their love for one another. In John 13:34-35, he said, “a new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love another.”  

Francis A. Schaeffer describes this characteristic of loving one another as the “mark” of Christians “at all times and all places until Jesus returns.”[9] The pastor and preacher must set the example for the church to follow.

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[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1954),21.

[2] Kelly and Nelson, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Testament to Freedom, 27.

[3] Derek Kinder, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Psalms 73-150 (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1975), 452.

[4] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, 18.

[5] Ibid., 19. 

[6] William J. Larkin Jr., IVP New Testament Commentary Series: Acts (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1995), 44

[7] Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1979), 438-439.

[8] Bonhoeffer, Life Together, 23-24.

[9] Francis A. Schaeffer, The Mark of the Christian (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1976), 8.

Pro-life and pro-gun? Evangelical minister talks faith and firearms in Charleston

gun bible.jpg

Standing in the spot where a German pastor was hanged decades ago for resisting the Nazi regime, the Rev. Robert Schenck experienced a conversion.

Schenck, an Evangelical minister and former anti-abortion activist who now considers the conservative Christian right as a “Ronald Reagan Republican religion,” drew inspiration years ago from European theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Nazi resister, who preached ethics and the responsible life and was ultimately executed by Adolf Hilter’s regime.

“As I stood there, it was as if the scales were shed from my eyes,” Schenck said, referring to his change of heart regarding some of the positions held by conservative evangelicals. “I saw something I had not seen in more than three decades of work. I had been part of a spiritual corruption of the Gospel.

It occurred around the same time the 2015 documentary “The Armor of Light” was released. Schenck is prominently featured in the short film about Evangelicals and gun culture. Today, he serves as president of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Institute in Washington, D.C., and travels the nation advocating for gun control, using Scripture and Bonhoeffer’s teachings to bolster his more moderate arguments.

On Tuesday, standing before several dozen pastors and parishioners from various denominations in Charleston, Schenck raised the question at a Lunch-and-Learn event held by local nonprofit Arm-in-Arm. The topic: Can a community be pro-life (anti-abortion) and pro-gun?

“For me, the gun question in our own culture is a gateway question on Christian ethics,” Schenk said at the event, held at All Saints Lutheran Church in Mount Pleasant.

Though mass shootings have impacted houses of worship, Evangelicals are among the most avid supporters of gun rights and most also are against abortion, the Pew Research Center reported.

Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. encouraged students of the conservative Christian college some years ago to arm themselves, citing the need to protect against violent perpetrators.

But for others, the Evangelical view on abortion and gun rights represents a contradiction where the community calls for life preservation at one stage while life at later stages remains at risk.

“I see an inherent conflict,” Schenck said. “I’m not anti-gun. But I do believe whenever someone takes a weapon to himself or herself, they (raise) supreme ethical questions.”

Referencing abortion, Schenck said fictional narratives were drawn around ending pregnancies. For example, the claim that every woman seeking an abortion was either being bullied or was selfishly intending to save herself is false, he said.

“It took me some very painful encounters to realize that was not reality at all,” the minister said.

Spike Coleman, who pastors St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in West Ashley, said at the event that the anti-abortion and pro-gun views are “hard to fit together.”

He pointed to moral injury, the damage that can be done to a shooter’s conscience after they’ve taken a life.

For the rest of the post…

I replied to his post. Is Schenck pro-choice now? Can a follower of Jesus use a gun to protect his/her family. self and others? Dietrich Bonhoeffer said:

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