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Posts Tagged ‘bonhoeffer’

The killing of Osama bin Laden immediately reassembled moral questions that followers in the Judeo-Christian tradition—have struggled with for centuries, if not millennia.  As I read the comments and tweets, it seems to me that most of the questions gather themselves into two main dilemmas:

1.            Can a God-fearer purposefully take the life of an evil person?

2.            Should God-fearing people celebrate the death of an evil person?

As with many moral dilemmas, I think I was first confronted with the question of pacifism through reading war novels as a teenager. I remember reading Mila 18 by Leon Uris and the struggle the Jewish citizens of Warsaw had as the Nazis first captured the city, then literally walled them off into a ghetto, followed by aggressively eliminating them.  I still remember vividly the tense debates between the rabbis who argued for patience and trust in God to deliver them and the Jews that wanted to take up arms and resist the evil perpetrated upon them.

The same dilemma occupied faithful Christians in National Socialist Germany. I just finished reading Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas. In some ways, the whole Confessing Church struggled with resistance to the evil Hitler began introducing long before he was powerful enough to begin killing Jews.  One of the first things he did was to corrupt the church, installing leaders more faithful to him than to Christ, re-writing creed and doctrine to fit new moral standards, and imprisoning those Christians who refused to adopt the new church order!   What would you have done as a Christian when the God-ordained government (Romans 13) corrupted the church?  Would you have disobeyed the government or sought ways to “live at peace with all men?” Would you compromise by keeping silent and not resisting your church leaders  because you were to submit to those who rule over you?

Then, of course, Hitler and his government changed the social rules of morality: no commerce with Jews, report any bloodline discrepancies, have babies for Hitler, ad nauseum! What would you have done when ordered to act like a bigot or to betray your neighbor?

A German friend of ours told us that one day her best friend—a little Jewish girl—didn’t  show up at school—anymore. No one dared to ask—she didn’t ask—because if you asked, you would be the next one who disappeared in the middle of the night! What would you have done?

Would you have hidden Jews in your home as the ten Booms did? Would you have lied to protect them when the Gestapo knocked on the door?

Six million Jews died in concentration camps, four million German civilians died in WWII, seven million Russian civilians, six million Polish civilians—none of these numbers include the soldiers who died.

“Shall I shoot? I can get inside the Fuhrer’s headquarters with my revolver. I know where and when the conferences take place. I can get access!”  In November 1942, Werner von Haeften, a staff lieutenant of Hitler’s High Command, could no longer hold his burning question in check. The man confronted Bonhoeffer with this question because they both were Christians with deeply held convictions.

The two men reportedly talked for hours. Bonhoeffer offered him no easy answers, but one part of their conversation I’d like to share with you to think about. Bonhoeffer told von Haeften that he should not make his decision based on guilt because guilt was going to be the result of either decision. If he did nothing in the face of evil, he would be guilty; if he killed in the name of Good, he will be guilty. He could not emerge without guilt, “but then that guilt was always a guilt borne in suffering.” (quoted in Bonhoeffer, 425-6, Kindle Edition)

Von Haeften was part of the July 20, 1944 failed assassination attempt on Hitler and was executed the next day. Bonhoeffer too decided that he could actively participate in attempts to kill Hitler.Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s best friend and confidante, explained

We now realized that mere confession, no matter how courageous, inescapably meant complicity with the murderers, even though there would always be new acts of refusing to be co-opted and even though we would preach “Christ alone” Sunday after Sunday.

Thus we were approaching the borderline between confession and resistance; and if we did not cross this border, our confession was going to be no better than cooperation with the criminals. And so it became clear where the problem lay for the Confessing Church: we were resisting by way of confession, but we were not confessing by way of resistance.” (Essays on Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995. P. 24).

As I sort through this difficult question myself, I come to what I believe to be true from my own understanding of God. God never asked his people to do anything that was intrinsically evil. He repeatedly told the Jews to purge themselves of those who did evil and to put them to death (Deut. 13:5; 17:5, 7, 12; 21:21 and more.)  He did not order them to do evil.

Moses ordered the killing of Israelites who chose the golden calf. God’s judges killed those who did evil. David, the man after God’s own heart, killed Goliath.  What do you do with these executions of evil people, apparently approved by God?  God does use servants to punish those who do evil!

But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”    (Romans 13:4)

God hates evil. Yes, he is longsuffering so that all can come to repentance—and we must be also. He is rich in mercy–and we must be also, but His wrath is frightening and the wages of sin is death.

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When Do You Leave Your Church?

When is your church so corrupt, or powerless, or meaningless, or empty, or anything—that you can no longer stay? When must you break fellowship, disregard leadership, and abandon community? Or is there never an excusable time or situation?

I’m reading Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas right now and thoroughly enjoying it although occasionally the writing style is too colloquial for me. Occasionally I feel that his research is too apparent—or maybe I have just read too many freshmen research papers and have been “overexposed. ”

Right now I’m reading through the time in the 1930s when Bonhoeffer and his colleagues in the German Protestant church are being forced to choose between Hitler’s perversion of Christianity and what they know to be true faith. Some quite faithful pastors are very hesitant to leave their national church, while others—like Bonhoeffer—see early that there is no alternative but to leave.

Bonhoeffer’s situation is perhaps different from where we might find ourselves in that he must deal with a national organization, whereas, we most often think only of leaving congregations. And yet as I write those words,  I think of the growing number of members of churches of Christ who are leaving the heritage of their youth for everything from orthodoxy to Pentecostalism—but mostly just for what they perceive to be a lively fellowship versus a dying fellowship.

In several conversations recently, Sherrylee and I have posed the following question for ourselves: if we had been common members of the church in 1517 in Wittenberg, would we have left our church to follow Luther’s teachings? Or would we have stayed and tried to preserve the unity of believers—which Luther actually did as well until he was excommunicated by his church.

Does Jesus’ prayer for unity among his followers mean anything to us today? I know we all believe it does, but we have a terrible time defining that unity. Jesus described a united fellowship as built from all who “believe in me” (John 17:20), all who are “in us” (v.21), and all who have received His “glory” (v.22). These transcendent terms sound neither like the basis of fellowship nor like the points of contention that cause people to break fellowship today to me.

Luther’s breach was within the existing church until he was cast out as an outlaw. Even then he himself did not establish a new fellowship. The political and social environment of the time forced people to choose whether they would be Lutheran or Catholic—not God.

Bonhoeffer saw the German state church turned into an arm of a godless political machine. Jesus left the state church, so Bonhoeffer did as well. He followed Jesus—and so should we.

Has Jesus left your church? If so, you should leave too! Have you been excommunicated because of your testimony—officially or unofficially?  Then you have really no choice but to find a new community.

I truly wonder though if my personal preferences, my personal irritations, my personal opinions are any reason at all to leave my church?

I suspect that the part of Jesus’ prayer for unity that is mine to fulfill compels me/requires me to subordinate the petty rests of what are mine to the greater goal of the Greater Unity.

How do you participate in Jesus’ prayer for unity among His disciples?

 

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