“The Church has unconditional obligation to the victims of any ordering society, even if they do not belong to the Christian community”.-Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
One of the lives that always inspired me was the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945). A voice that cried out in the wilderness for justice and truth, a soul which didnt quench the spirits desire to act when it’s tough. In the midst of deception which kept many leaders in the Church silent, Bonhoeffer put his life on deaths cradle to speak the truth for the sake of his God.May be there will be some disagreements with some controversial ways and methods he believed , but there is no doubt he is a God ordained vessel who taught a much needed lesson to the Church .
Right from the time Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden to our times now, human beings have always faced the challenge of deception and even the chosen fell for this Evil. Throughout the history of humanity we can see that God always revealed himself powerfully to expose deception and raised men and women to speak against Devil’s most formidable weapon. As I was studying the life of Bonhoeffer there was a certain prompt in me by the spirit to write on this topic since we are Living in the times of great deception.
In the recent times, in political discourses and other public conversations some words are taking a prominent place. There is a political shift taking place in the world influenced by an ideological shift in governance, politics and economics. It has given some interesting terms like Post- truths, Alternative facts and fake news. Especially across the globe we see a truth deficit. Its surprising to know that even in the age of great resources for research with modern tools available for probing and a vast exposure to humongous information, people still fall in to deception through the same. Generally people latch on to deception because it soothes their emotions, gives a temporary relief and comfort to their feelings but they dont realize what it conceals from the truth and the bigger picture. Every feeling may not be right, only the feeling associated with the truth will edify. Remember Eve fell in to deception feeling great!!
All the world over there is an increase in political deception, politicians give great hope to people and they suck in the bitter truths to give false emotional hopes so that their power will be assured. Apart from few exceptions we see large number of leaders across the world in the name of Racial, Religious, Cultural and lingual nationalism trying to gain emotional favour from their people. Eventhough it might sound great it can end up in dangerous ways. Especially the Church which is called to be the salt and light in this earth has been warned about deception so many times. We should be careful in acknowledging any leadership, we should test the spirits with the help of the Holy Spirit. It’s very important for the leaders of the Church and members per se to seek the Bonhoeffer’s call of standing against deception.
“The Church is the Church only when it exists for others…….not dominating, but helping and serving, it must tell men of every calling what it means to live for Christ, to exist for others”. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
The Church is called the body of Christ for reason. If the Church is truly the body of Christ then it has got to have the mind of Christ, it has to be the eyes , ears, hands and feet of Christ. It has to reflect the heart of Christ. The world sees Christ through the Church. Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 1:18,
“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of his calling. What are the riches of the glory of inheritance in the saints”.
During the Nazi rule in Germany under the formidable Hitler, it all began with high hopes as people lost faith in Kaisers and the subsequent Weimar Republic Government. The political crisis in the governance lead to people losing hope in the establishment. The deepening economic crisis lead the people to turn towards a person who promised them a better future. Hitler created huge expectations among people promising that when he comes to power everything will be alright, he created a certain racial pride and a sense of supremacy of German race which even affected the Church . Since the people of Germany were feeling down because of many incidents of instability in the previous government, they fell for the glamorous call for greatness which echoed across the nation. It seemed right and they felt good about the proposition. Soon after he took control the political opposition was targeted and vilified as the reason for chaos in Germany, especially the Jews were portrayed as the enemy of the state got tortured and killed in concentration camps. At the end of this brutal regime almost 11 million people were killed ( The NewYork Review of Books). This included Jews, Soviet Civilians and prisoners of war, Polish & Serb Civilians, people with disabilities, Roma( Gypsies), Jehovah’s witnesses, offenders, political opponents, resistant leaders and Homosexuals.
” These are things that you shall do; speak the truth to one another, render in your gates judgements that are true and make for peace. Zechariah 8:16.
According to history, every passing hour under Hitler’s rule brought in nightmares to humanity, but many in the Church who have been called to administer justice to the oppressed kept silent and the worst is many acknowledged this evil act forming suitable doctrines. The Church was sold out to this mad regime instead being sold out for christ. To everyone’s shame more than 90% of the German populace claimed to belong to Christian faith and majority belonged to the state Lutheran Church. It has to be noted that it is in Germany the great reformation of the Church began which gave many many institutions of theology and great theologians, yet with all the knowledge, truth was compromised before the evil. The Nazi government dictated the terms of the Church creed, they infused movements in the Church called “Positive Christianity” and in the name of ‘German Christians “the basic principles of Christ were trampled on the ground.
There are reasons on why the Church got deceived. The years before Hitler the Church went through difficulties especially it saw a decline in the congregation, people found Church not so amusing and there were comfortable lifestyles for clergy and nothing inspirational happened, the Church with its lethargy and lukewarmness within gave way to the tragedy, politics played a major role in the Church and it was left to corrupt it. They didnt seek God and the Inspiration of the Holy Spirit for the revival of the Church, but they put their trust on a political hero who stood against the fundamental human values that Christ taught and the principles the Apostolic community lived for through ages. What a costly mistake!!!
It was in these most turbulent times German Pastor and Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was raised by God to stand against the deception the Church proclaiming Christ was falling in to. Sometimes things happen just so fast that you need someone has to shout you out to sanity. The protestant Reich Church gave allegiance to Hitler in their creed and mislead many, eventhough there were others in both protestant and the Catholic Church raising the voices against the regime, it was a minority. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one of the founding members of the ‘Confessing Church’ which stood against the Nazi propaganda and spiritual blindness of the Church. He was one among the few alongside Theologian Karl Barth spoke against the deception of Adolf Hitler enthusing false hope to the congregation to revive and restore the power for the Church, from the beginning. Bekennende Kirche( The confessing Church) which he was a key member wrote the ‘Barman Declaration of Faith’ stating that the actions of the National Socialist has got nothing to do with Christ, depicting him as a redeemer is blasphemous and the Church state coordination is an unholy alliance against the truth of the scriptures.
Many members of the confessing Church got persecuted and went through severe cruelty. Especially Dietrich Bonhoeffer along with his theological students stood for justice for all people and passionately called out the members of the Church to stand against this deception and injustice so that truth will find its voice. Eventhough some were helpful, the majority of the Church missed the great opportunity to stand with the Jews in their most trying times.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer who sought Justice coordinated with the Churches and institutions overseas in order to help those in need successfully helped some to escape death in concentration camps. He voluntarily joined the spy agency of the government ‘Abwehr’ and disguised as a spy to seek help for those who were suffering. At one point looking at the devastation against human lives for one man’s pride he took a radical step with few others to assassinate Hitler. May be I cant agree with him in this point as vengeance belongs to the Lord and it can mislead people in the name of justice .I believe God saved him from being a murderer as the plot got failed. But one cannot question his desperation to do justice and his heart for the truth. He was soon arrested by the Gestapo ( German Police) and was killed on 9th April 1945 for conspiring against the Furher in the July 20th plot. Bonhoeffer lived in the midst of evil , gave his voice and life for justice to fulfill his saviors call. He showed how the church can be deceived if we are not willing to put God first instead acknowledge a powerful wicked man full of deception. Truly the power of God was manifested through the life of Bonhoeffer.
The call of Bonhoeffer is imminent on the church today. All across the globe the body of Christ is being persecuted in many ways , but we must look to God for help and not seek a political hero. God will raise leaders who do justice but let’s not seek our own. Many times without testing and discerning the spirits we get emotional and carried away by those who promise great things for the church like Hitler did, but we never know what their intentions are. We should be careful and not be deceived. It is in the name of God some heinous crime were committed in the world and especially in nations where Christians is majority people can easily use it for deception so we must be watchful. Even Jesus was denied justice in the name of God. Instead seeking a political saviour let’s seek the real saviour who is already on the throne and ruling our hearts. We are sent as sheep among the wolves, but we were called to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. Our God is a God of justice, it gives me chills to think about the normal Sunday morning worship, singing and sermons were possible in the Church when thousands were dying around due to a moral catastrophe. I wonder , I fear!!
The deception is going to be great in the coming years and it is important that we approach it wisely and not repeat the mistakes of the past. Iti important that we dont lose our birthright in Christ to cry out for justice in the midst of total evil.
As a church we need to prepare for these times and we need Gods wisdom to approach these situations. A very important lesson during the Hitlers period was that the Church was too much caught up in the politics of the day which influenced the Church, we should know our limits when it comes to political discourses in Church, it can be avoided till it becomes an issue of justice . We cannot jump the gun soon, we should wait till we see clear trends especially in the policies of the government and till we are seeing injustice is organized by the state blatantly segregating communities, pitting one against and targeting a specific group mercilessly all are part of a trend which can go terribly wrong. Governments come and go with different ideologies which may not suitable for the Church but we should not make it a spiritual issue unless we see a clear injustice against humanity in an organized collective level. So we need discernment and also we need speak the truth in Love and compassion of God even to our enemies like Corrie ten Boom who forgave the SS soldier who mistreated her. What are the approaches ahead for the Church during these adverse times…
1. Pray in Unity: In the time of persecution the early Apostolic Church was United in prayer and Gods power was manifested through them. The single largest agenda during the times of deception and injustice is to pray together. The churches should be United in prayer in seeking Gods justice, it’s better to seek the justice of God than man. Prayer works wonders, it either changes situations or make us stronger for the trying times, it enables to proclaim the Gospel in boldness. During the time of Esther prayer was the foremost weapon used to overcome deception. That’s our weapon too.
2. Appeal or Affirm: The Church in one voice should appeal to the ruling dispensation of such injustices. Especially in nations where the Church is a minority and not in influence of the state, it’s always better to appeal as Apostle Paul appealed to the Roman authorities . The German context cannot be applied to all since there was a state Church which had the majority members, and in those cases where the Church is directly influenced by the Government in the matters of creed then we must strongly affirm as we saw the confessing Church issuing declaration to expose the manipulation of the Church by the state in the name of God. Jesus too was severe on the Jewish authorities than the Romans because the Jews knew the righteousness and justice of God and yet manipulated it so Jesus was harsh on them, when it came to Roman authorities he handled them with care since they were not exposed to the truth. In the countries like America, its important to affirm against deception. In countries like India its important to appeal till the Church is manipulated.
3. Stand firm : If the Church is pressured to compromise on fundamental values apart from the rules of the Government we must show firmness in faith . As Daniel and his friends showed firmness and rejected to worship idols even after the Governments edict we must no allow practices which is not in line with scriptures and the sstandards of God. Many misinterpret Apostle Paul’s appeal to submit to authorities. He asked us to follow the law of the land, he never supported the compromise of his faith and truth, even he died without compromising. The Romans with Pax Romana had given religious liberty during that time. So we should remember even the anti- christ will be an authority and we cannot submit to him. So we need to be firm where we cant compromise. The Church in Germany changed the creed which supported Nazi ideology and Aryan supremacy which was a compromise.
4. Help : A very important act of the Church during the deceptive and turbulent times is help those in need. The Church might be safe, but if there is danger and injustice to other community the church should be there to help them . As Bonhoeffer helped the suffering Jews we must help those in need of justice. Its important to suffer along with them. The Church called to be Good Samaritans cannot walk by due to religious prejudices but see the suffering person as a fellow human and do justice to them.
“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”- Dietrich Bonhoffer
In conclusion, the Church was never perfect but we cannot lose our right to be perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. We have made mistakes in the past, and Germany is a testament to that. The life Dietrich Bonhoeffer stands as an inspiration. It’s true that the cost of discipleship is huge but the soul of the Church is Justice and truth and what will we gain if we have the whole world and lose our soul.
“Evildoers do not understand what is right, but those who seek the LORD understand it fully”. Proverbs 28:5